By Sandra Glahn, PhD –
Often when we read biblical accounts of the first Advent, we go to the Gospels especially Luke 2 (“And there were shepherds abiding in their fields…”), which is great. These accounts provide the point of view of the nativity events from earth’s perspective.
Yet another passage shifts the point of view and allows us a glimpse of the Incarnation from the perspective of heaven. We don’t often think of it as a Christmas text, yet it helps us comprehend what was involved in God becoming human:
2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.
2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!
2:9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth –
2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Did you notice that little phrase, “he existed in the form of God” (2:6)? The Son of God existed before his own birth! That’s why we say of Christ that he was “begotten not created” (the very phrase that appears in “O Come, All Ye Faithful”). God created you and me from egg and sperm, but Christ was not created. “In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He was and is and is to come.
The Second Person of the Trinity, fully God, demonstrated His humility in “not clinging to equality,” but emptying Himself. In doing so he, who had never known what was to obey, learned to do so by submitting his will to the Father’s. He took on the form of a slave and did for humanity what we could not do for ourselves.
What does it mean when it says that Jesus existed in the form of God? The word “form” in Philippians 2:6 is translated from “morphe,” from which we get the word “metamorphosis.” Though sometimes in English we use “form” to mean the outward shape of something—as in, “The cake has a round form”—that’s not how Paul uses it. He’s speaking of Christ’s essential nature or actual substance rather than only His outward appearance. Paul was saying that in Jesus’ nature, He was God. Yet Jesus took on the form, or essential nature, of a servant.
Bear in mind the point Paul is making here in the broader context—that of the absolute humility of the Son and how we are to share the same attitude. The Son was God, yet He humbled himself. And how far his humility bent him low!
The nature of Jesus Christ has been the subject of past councils, and orthodox theologians have written volumes on it. Heretics have said Jesus was fully human but not fully God; that He was fully God but not fully human; that he was half-human and half-God; that he had a human body, but a divine mind and spirit; that he had two separate persons, one divine and one human; that he had only one nature, the human absorbed into the divine; and that He is below the Father in a hierarchy. All such ideas are erroneous. The Chalcedonian Council was convened in A.D. 451 to articulate orthodox theology, and together the world’s top Christian theologians, after searching the scriptures rigorously, wrote the Chalcedonian Creed:
We, then . . . teach [humans] to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man; of a reasonable/rational soul and body; consubstantial (having the same nature or substance) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has been handed down to us.
The one who is “very God of very God” left heaven to become human. He was rich, yet He became poor for us. O come, let us adore Him!
(Excerpted and adapted from Frappé with Philippians (AMG), by Sandra Glahn. Used with permission.)
Dr. Sandra Glahn is Associate Professor in Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). Dr. Glahn is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books, including the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. https://twitter.com/