The Incarnation and Union with God
The Incarnation is the lynch pin to the Christian understanding of union with God. In some religions, union with God is accomplished through the acceptance of esoteric doctrines regarding God. In other religions, union with God is accomplished by the divesting of the illusion of selfhood and personhood, the melting, as it were, of oneself into the divine and impersonal essence. But in Christianity, union with God is accomplished only through the God-man, Christ. As Christ, himself, declared: No one comes to the Father, except through him (John 14:6). Union with God is accomplished in and through a particular Person.
Christianity is different from other religions in that union with God is accomplished by grace through faith. It does not preclude human striving, for Christians are called to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). But it precludes any possibility of that union on the basis of human effort alone (Ephesians 2:8-10). Christianity is different in that, though it does require the acceptance of certain doctrines, of certain ways of life, for Christ called all Christians to be taught everything he commanded (Matthew 28:20), salvation is not accomplished on the basis of the acceptance of these doctrines alone. It is not merely an intellectual faith. It does not compartmentalize the intellect off from the body, the mind from the heart, the soul from the spirit. It is different also in that, though it does require the taking on of a certain form of living, for Christ called all Christians to obey everything he commanded (Matthew 28:20), salvation is not accomplished on the basis of human effort alone. It is not merely a religion of good deeds.
Christ is neither merely a divine Teacher, or merely a moral Exemplar: he is the Author of Life. Being the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word in whom all things were created, all that he says and does is Life. If we are in union with him, we are in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have life in ourselves. This union with God, this indwelling within us of Life, is accomplished in a synergy of grace and faith with our free will. We will to receive him who comes to us. We will to partake of the divine nature revealed to us and manifest in us. This union is accomplished by grace, not by our mere human striving, through the means of faith, which we both freely will and freely receive as gift.
Contact with this Life within us does not leave us the same, but changes us, transfigures us. We cannot partake of the holy without ourselves being sanctified. We cannot be given life without becoming ever more alive. We must strive always to fight the principle of death which has infected our flesh, soul and spirit. And that striving is painful and costly. It is death to the death which infuses us. We must strive because the principle of free will is never abrogated. We may as freely reject the gift as we freely received it. Union is a process, a way of life, that cannot be said to have been accomplished until we are finally resurrected in the consummation of all things.
Just as Jesus is the union of the human and divine, and in this way, our only way to union with God, so the union with God is a transfiguration in that Life that affects heart, soul, mind and strength. It has been said that nothing that has not been assumed can be saved. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, is the reality of not only a mind, a heart and a soul that is filled and transfigured with Life, but so, too, the flesh, the body. Our striving is not merely one of moral effort, of spiritual war, but a striving that involves “strength” our body. Christian theology is completely holistic: every nook and cranny of our lives is invaded by God’s gracious energies. And that invasion, that whole union results in the transformation of all that we are, all the we do, all that we say and think.
This union with God, in short, is pervasive, involving the whole of a human being, body and soul, mind and heart. We know that it is completely transformative because of the relation of the Incarnation with the bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.