The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 14
The incarnation of Christ brought a radical shift in disclosing God as Father to the beloved Son. The story here is one of moving from slavery to sonship, so it’s worth spending some time engaging with the sonship of Jesus. Jesus was a real ‘hanging out with tax collectors’ kind of guy. Living, breathing, laughing, crying, loving and suffering—always in perfect relationship with His Father. Here, He did what Adam couldn’t do, He did what Israel couldn’t do. He never faltered. He lived in perfect faultless relationship with His Father, through the Spirit as a human.
Jesus obedience to God throughout his life was not so much about doing the right things, but living out His sonship as a human. Obedience is not a good word today (we imagine being controlled and then punished when we fail to obey, and all too often link this to the withdrawal of love). For this reason, it can be more helpful to think about obedience as alignment to the truth—just like I live my life aligned to the truth that I need food. I’m obedient to that; I live according to its reality. In this same way, Jesus’ obedience is the obedience of a beloved Son to a good, faithful and loving Father. It’s relationship-centred; not ‘obeying all the rules’ centred. His success was not a massive feat of will power, but an act of loving relationship empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In this way, Jesus obedience is also Trinitarian. It is the response of the Son to the Father through the Holy Spirit. Again, this is worth pausing to consider because this is also how humans are intended to live and it’s how Jesus calls us to live in the New Covenant. Thus, as Julie Canlis writes, the Holy Spirit is not only empowering Jesus’ mission, but He is the mission! Jesus brought the Holy Spirit back into humanity because being en-Spirited is how humans participate in the life of God and is essential to what it means to be fully human and fully alive.
“I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6
In Calvin’s Ladder, Canlis describes that Jesus’ mission wasn’t just to ascend but to include us in His ascent (Eph 4:8), so we could return to the Father in Him. Through His life Jesus sanctified humanity in His own body (John 17:19), He resurrected humanity in His body (Rom 6:8), and in His ascension brought re-enSpirited humanity into the presence of the Father—back into relationship with God and participation in His life. Thus, salvation is the reality of inclusion in Christ’s humanity and sonship through the Spirit, where we are given a way to participate as beloved sons and daughters to the Father.
“Through him and through the faithfulness of Christ we can approach God.” Ephesians 3:12
As we walk out our Christian life, the primary ministry of the Spirit is to reveal God and minister beloved son and daughtership to us. Here, Christian growth is more about increasingly living out of this reality and identity than a focus on obeying a set of rules. Being included in Jesus’ sonship is also important because it means we participate in his relationship with the Father. As T.F. Torrance states, we can truly know God because we enter into Jesus sonship and His knowing. Here,
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. The Spirit you received doesn’t make you slaves. Otherwise you would live in fear again. Instead, the Holy Spirit you received made you God’s adopted child. By the Spirit’s power we call God Abba. Abba means Father. The Spirit himself joins with our spirits. Together they tell us that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:14-16
Again, Jesus is the faithful one, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect human life and response to God—and we enter into and participate in His perfect faith. When I live out of Christ’s own faith, Christ’s own righteousness, Christ’s own Sonship I get rid of imagery that keeps God distant and I silence the voice of the condemner that would tell me I’m not enough, my faith isn’t big enough, I’m not worthy or righteous enough… I am not made to be enough on my own. I am made to be dependent and to participate in Jesus’ life and faithfulness.
We desperately need to stop looking inside ourselves and trying to fix that—and start looking at Jesus and participating in His life and body.
Today, Jesus is embodied in heaven in the presence of the Father and made available to us by the Spirit. As Canlis shares, the Spirit is not a substitute for Jesus, but the way we participate in Jesus and His sonship. It’s worth noting that everything Jesus did in His life on earth was done through the Spirit, so when the Spirit comes at Pentecost it’s the same Spirit that empowered Jesus’ life, suffering and death and resurrection. God has not left us alone as orphans (God is not far away), but in another tremendous act of self-giving gifts us the very same Spirit that empowered Jesus life. His Spirit, who knows how to empower humanity to live according to their original image-bearing design.
Lastly, Jesus is the firstborn son. In Israelite culture this would clearly communicate that He is the son who inherits everything; everything that belongs to the Father is His. When we enter into the beloved sonship and co-heirship with Jesus, everything that Jesus receives from the Father is available to us in Him, by Holy Spirit.
As you continue to engage in this Christmas and Advent season, celebrating the wonder of the incarnation of Christ, take time to remember the centrality of Jesus’ life and humanity. As Julie Canlis wrote,
“Jesus doesn’t bear witness to what God has done—he is what God has done.”
Julie Canlis (2010). Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension
Eddy, P.R., and Beilby, J.K. (2006). The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views
McKnight, S., (2007). A Community Called Atonement (Living Theology)
T.F. Torrance, (2016) The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church