What Does the Bible Say about the Incarnation?

This article is part of the What Does the Bible Say? series.

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Definitions and Summary

**In a Nutshell — ** The incarnation means that God’s Son, who was a Spirit and never had a body, took on a human body and life just like ours.

**Summary — ** When God first created humanity, he gave them a law to obey. If they obeyed it, they would know eternal blessing. If they disobeyed it, they would know eternal death. Sadly, our ancestors disobeyed, shattering our relationship with God.

But because of his great love our creator made a way to repair our relationship with him. God’s Son took to himself our human nature: He had a body and a soul just like ours and lived an entire human life like us, except instead of disobeying, he would love God and his neighbor perfectly. And he would do it without any special assistance from his divine nature. He would be hungry and tired just like us. He would be tempted to sin just like us. He would have relationships that blessed and saddened him, just like us. And yet he always loved his heavenly Father and his neighbors, just like we had failed to do. God was born as the man, Jesus, so that one of us would finally live in obedience.

In addition, it was also necessary for God the Son to become human because as one of us he needed to bear our punishment for disobedience: death. He needed to die, but of course as God, that was impossible, since God cannot die. Someone, no matter how loved, would have to die for our disobedience, only a human could do that. And, because Jesus was also God, he was the only one strong enough to bear up under the wrath that we deserved.

As the incarnate God/man, Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserved. And he continues to represent us, still incarnate, as the God/Man standing in heaven for us.

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Why the Incarnation Matters for Everyday Life

Although many Christians fail to consider the incarnation except during Christmas when they’re reminded by the little baby in the manger, it’s one of the most encouraging and important facets of our faith. Here’s why: Jesus knows by experience what it’s like to be you. And he loves you so much that he was willing to bear all the punishment you deserve for all the ways you’ve failed to love--doing it all as a human, just like you.

Let’s unpack those two thoughts now. First, when we’re walking through difficulties, when we feel abandoned or betrayed, when we’re experiencing pain, or falling into that sin once again, we need to know that we’re not alone, that we haven’t been abandoned by the Lord. We need to know that God not only understands our suffering because he’s omniscient, but he also understands it because he’s experienced it. Jesus knows what it’s like to be a child misunderstood by his family and friends. He knows how a single head of a household feels because he was one for many years. He understands how it feels to have your friends misunderstand you while your leaders despise you. He understands loneliness. He knows what it is to be betrayed. He also understands physical pain that is endured for love’s sake. He gets what it is to be you.

He also knows what it’s like to be abandoned by someone you’ve built your life around. He experienced that on the cross so that you can know of a certainty that you’ll never be abandoned.

Your assurance today doesn’t rest on your ability to do all the things right. No, your assurance before a holy God rests upon the fact that Jesus the God/Man lived perfectly in your place, died shamefully in your place, and is watching over every facet of your life right now so that you’ll soon be united with him.

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Key Passages about the Incarnation

  • Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…”. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son was conceived and then nourished as an embryo in the body of a young virgin girl. He was born, grew, and lived just as we do. He did this because we needed a stand-in who would perfectly and finally fulfill all the law in our place. His incarnation brings us redemption from the curse of disobedience that has hung over us.

  • Hebrews 2:14: “Since therefore the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” It was only as a flesh-and-blood human that Jesus could destroy Satan’s power over us by perfectly obeying God’s law in our place and dying the death that hung over us all because of our sin. Satan’s power to accuse us of sin and to insist on our condemnation, has been completely overcome by the forgiveness of all our sins and the imputation of Christ’s record in the place of ours.

  • Hebrews 2:17-18: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted he is able to help those who are being tempted.” We needed a sinless high priest, one who differs from all others, to represent us before God. He did this because he is merciful and faithful and has born all God’s wrath in our place. He knows what it is to suffer under temptation, so he knows how to help us when we do.

  • Hebrews 4:16: Because of the incarnation, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Because of the incarnation, our record of sin and unbelief has been overwritten by the perfect record of the God/Man. Jesus has made the way for us to boldly come to our Father when we’re in need and we can know that he’ll have mercy and grace for us always.

  • John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We would never have known what the Father was like, his grace and his truth, if we hadn’t seen the glory of the God/Man, Jesus Christ.

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FAQ About the Incarnation

Q: What is the incarnation?

A: God the Son became the Man, Jesus, and lived a perfect human life in our place.

Q: Why do Christians insist that the man Jesus was also God?

A: Because if he wasn’t also God, he would not be free from all sin or able to bear up under the full wrath of the Father.

Q: What might stop some people from believing in the incarnation?

A: Jesus is the only one of his kind, so it’s hard for people to believe that a miracle like that actually happened. They might also find belief difficult because Jesus died a shameful death and they can’t imagine that happening to God.

Q: If Jesus was also God, why did he die?

A: He died because he was the only sinless human who ever lived. Every other person who died was receiving punishment for their own sin. But Jesus never sinned, so he could stand in as our righteous representative and he willingly took on himself all the punishment we deserved so that we could go free.

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For Personal Reflection

  1. Write your own definition of the incarnation.
    a. How important do you think it is?
    b. How important has it been to you personally?
    c. What confuses you about it?
  2. Why is the incarnation important to your salvation and faith?
  3. Why is the incarnation important to you personally when you struggle?
  4. We know that Jesus lived a full human life obeying in everything in our place. Can you think of times when his obedience is especially comforting to you?
  5. Because of the incarnation, God the Son was able to pay the price for your sin. How does that assure you of God’s continued love even when you fail?
  6. Jesus is reigning in heaven right now, still incarnate. How does that truth encourage you now?
  7. Why is it important that Jesus is still the God/Man and not a Spirit?

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Elyse Fitzpatrick is the author of Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ.

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