The Incarnation: God’s Blueprint for What It Means to be Human

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One day while discussing religion with a group of college students, I posed the question, “Does anyone know what reincarnation is?” One student replied, “Yes, I do!” He proceeded to explain reincarnation as life after death in another form such as a plant or an animal. He later told the class that he believed in reincarnation. “Since we are just spiritual beings, we are capable of inhabiting different living things,” he said. His classmates nodded in approval, and some even served as his personal amen corner.

As I listened to their quick disposal of the human body, I was reminded of how often the body is discarded or disregarded in conversations about being human. Historically, dualistic propositions separated the body from the soul and made many Christians disregard the body and prioritize the soul. Even today, Christians disregard their body when it comes to spiritual formation and focus on what is inward.

But how are we to think about the body? How essential is it to our humanity?

A great starting point in considering these questions is the incarnation. Christian anthropologist Marc Cortez encourages Christians to begin answering questions about humans by looking at the true human —Jesus of Nazareth.[1] What, then, does the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity teach us about the significance of the human body?

The incarnation tells us that the human body is essential to what it means to be a human.

The incarnation tells us that the human body is essential to what it means to be a human.

The possession of a human body is a central part of Jesus’ humanity. Scripture, the Church, and theologians affirm its centrality. In John 1, the Apostle John tells the story of the incarnation — the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed that Jesus possessed a rational soul and body. Theologians such as T.F. Torrance, Herman Bavinck, Billy Graham, Tony Evans, and Adrian Rogers all affirmed that the incarnation is the moment that Jesus assumed a human body.

Not only does Christ possess a body at the incarnation but his body matters in his obedient life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return. He practices obedience not just inwardly but with his body. He physically sacrifices his body on the cross, rises from the dead in his body, ascends to heaven in his body, and will return in his same body. If Jesus assumed a human body in the incarnation, lived in obedience in his physical body, maintained a body in his resurrection, and will return with a body, his body is central to his humanity and his redemptive work.

If the body is an essential component to Jesus’ humanity, what does that mean for our humanity?  It means that having a body is essential to being a human. God gave us a body and that makes it significant to our humanity. Having a body is so important, that we will have them in heaven, though in a glorified and perfect state.

Now that we have concluded that the possession of a body is essential to what it means to be human, what are the implications of having a body?

1. Our bodies matter in regards to our salvation.

When talking about our redemption, we often highlight the soul. We use language such as the “salvation of the soul” and we emphasize that salvation is about the heart. We are right to make such statements. However, the Bible tells us that our bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23). If we exclude the body when we think and talk about salvation, eventually we either deemphasize or discard the body and begin to think that God is not concerned with our bodies. It makes the body at worst a hindrance to overcome and at best irrelevant to redemption. Consequently, we lose our ability to recognize and acknowledge that the body is redeemed and how particular experiences in the bodies may interfere with how someone responds to or even understand the applicability of the gospel in their lives.

2. Our bodies matter in our sanctification.

The incarnation of Christ is not just about the moment of the virgin birth but his obedient life. Throughout his earthly life, Jesus lived out perfect obedience to God in his body. He demonstrated that redemption included a life of obedience. Our lives after our conversion include a life of sanctification that takes the body seriously (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Though it is true that the heart is source of sin, eventually the heart expresses itself in physical expression. Therefore, what we do with our bodies matters. Jesus’ incarnate life shows us to live a life of outward holiness in our bodies.

3. Our bodies matter in our ethics.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of separating the body from the soul in theology is the separation between the spiritual world and the earth. Separating the two can lead us to think of the body as only temporary and which may cause us to deemphasize what we do to the bodies of others or overlook what happens to the bodies of others. To be sure, Bible passages do tell us that this body is wasting away and that the body can be destroyed (Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). However, this doesn’t mean that the body is insignificant. It reminds us that our bodies are plagued by sin and must necessarily be perfected before we get to heaven. The body maintains its significance and if our bodies are significant, so is the body of our neighbors. We must care about what happens to the bodies of others.

With the incarnation of Jesus serving as the blueprint for understanding human anthropology, we see that to be a human is to possess a body and that matters in our salvation, sanctification, and ethical life.

[1][1] Marc Cortez, Resourcing Theological Anthropology: A Constructive Account of Humanity in the Light of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 169–170.

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  • christmas
  • theological anthropology
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Sherelle Ducksworth

Sherelle Ducksworth is a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi and currently serves as a sociology instructor at Louisburg College in Louisburg, North Carolina. She earned an A.A. in general education from Coahoma Community College, a B.A. in sociology from Mississippi Valley State University, an M.S in sociology with a concentration on social stratification from Mississippi State University, and an M.A. in theology. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Aaron currently live in Wake Forest, North Carolina and attend Christ Our King Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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