In the last week I have several times become lost on my way to familiar venues, totally forgotten an important meeting I was meant to chair, and whenever I think about the future it seems to be wholly lacking in substance. Even worse, I have been more cynical than normal about the prospects of structural change in the Church. If I didn’t know how to bring my feelings to the Lord I would conclude that this is just another burnout or PTSD episode. Praying however in the dark of early morning I sensed God speaking about a subject of vast depth: humanness. As long as I can remember I have experienced my own humanity as a great and demanding imposition, existence itself was at times almost unbearable. Having expanded my circle of contacts in recent days to minister and mentor folk from a huge range of backgrounds, interests and spiritualities I frequently feel overwhelmed. At this desperate point the Spirit swivels my attention away from my/our humanity to the humanity of Christ, then things become wonderfully clear. Not only clear for me, but for what the Lord is proposing to work amongst us.
One of my more painful memories of church life is when a highly respected congregational member was telling others I had “the spirit of antichrist”. He was referring to this text, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3). Notwithstanding the mixed motives this brother later confessed I have come to conclude that he had a valid point. The Spirit has been testifying to me that whilst I very much love the Person of Jesus I don’t love his divine and human natures equally. The scripture very clearly tells us what sort of a human being Jesus became; “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), “since the children share in flesh and blood he himself likewise partook of the same nature” (Heb 2:14). In becoming one of us Christ took up that “flesh and blood” which “cannot enter the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50). In the Incarnation Jesus took up a sinful human nature, the sort of nature which is subject to temptation, tiredness, sickness, wrath, ageing and death. It is easy for me as a fallen human being to become irritable with myself and the very obvious limitations of others, but the chosen humanity of Christ is evidence that “God loves us more than he loves himself.” (Torrance). The real humanity of Jesus is the ultimate foundation for that very difficult commandment, ““You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”” (Matt 23:39).
Loving Like Jesus
The basic Christian confession is that Jesus loved God and neighbour with all his “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30). To simply love ourselves is nothing less than narcissism, but to love ourselves in Christ is to love ourselves is the way God loves us and loves himself. As I sense the beauty of Jesus’ heart I am heartened to be like him, beholding the wonder of his strength I am strengthened in his service, his soul is so pleasurable that I want my inner being to be conformed to his and my mind to be full of his thoughts (Matt 12:18; 1 Cor 2:16; Phil 4:13). The central object of my faith must not be what I think I know about myself or others, a sure recipe for frustration, anxiety, disappointment, depression and pride, the centre of my faith must be the revelation of “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus’ humanity is the location of all the pleasure of the Father; and the exciting place where the reality of Jesus humanity is fully revealed is the gospel (Gal 1:16).
The most radically conceivable transformation occurred in Jesus own humanity through death and resurrection. Like us “according to the flesh” Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). Through his total obedience in suffering Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3) and now lives (as a human being) “by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16). Hallelujah! To be filled with the joy of the Lord is to be filled with the Spirit of excitement that flooded Jesus own personal experience when he went from death to life (Rev 1:18). The exchange in Jesus’ own history, from death to eternal life, is the exchange he offers us (Rom 6:9-10). He doesn’t simply change our lives he is our life (Col 3:4; 1 John 3:2). This is phenomenal.
When grasped by this astonishing reality Paul exclaimed, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:16-17 ESV). It is natural for us as fallen people to think we know what we and other human beings are like, but the central object of faith must be the transformation that has taken place for us in the humanity of the Son of God.
The Spirit of Love
The Spirit expresses his love most powerfully in the transformation he wrought in putting to death Christ’s old humanity and raising him to glory (Rom 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 9:14). He yearns to do this in us with the same passion and strength as he did it for Jesus (Rom 8:26). The reason we don’t experience the presence of the Holy Spirit more openly in our individual and corporate lives is that we love a false image of what it means to be human. Our minds need renewing through an insight into the connection between the Spirit’s work and the cross.
Paul tells the Galatians how God “keeps on supplying the Spirit to you and works miracles among you” on the grounds that “before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal 3:1ff). This public portrayal of the weakness of Jesus’ death on the cross was mediated by the visible physical disability of the apostle; “You know the reason I ended up preaching to you was that I was physically broken” (Gal 4:13). The Spirit was transferred through Paul to his hearers because as a weak conduit imaging Christ crucified there was no emptying of divine power (1 Cor 2:1-2; Gal 2:20). This sharing in the dynamic of Jesus’ weakness-and-power is the place where God can most visibly love us by his Spirit.
It is time to stop loving images of how we think human beings should look like physically, mentally and spiritually and embrace brokenness as the primary site of redemption. Our lost and shattered humanity is the one Jesus took up in the love of the Spirit and redeemed. When the Church truly moves in this direction the truth that “God loves us more than he loves himself.” will become believable in our world. This is a challenge to love the lost more than they love themselves. The radically new form of love that entered the world in the Word became flesh is the solution to all our seemingly unbearable human ills. It is a vast relief to know in Christ we are finally human.
 That he never sinned in this i.e. our nature is the substance of our redemption (Heb 4:15)