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Unpacking the Incarnation with J. I. Packer

Unpacking the Incarnation with J. I. Packer


One of my personal traditions over the past few Advents has been to read J. I. Packer’s chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God. This is far and away my favorite chapter in my favorite extrabiblical book, and it’s my joy to revisit it often.

Packer’s classic book is known for the simplicity and clarity with which he communicates profound and complex truths, and his exploration of the incarnation in chapter five (“God Incarnate”) is no exception.

Making Sense of Faith

Packer begins by stating the obvious: many thoughtful people find the gospel challenging to believe, but many also “make faith harder than it need be, by finding difficulties in the wrong places” (52). The atonement, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and miracles are all challenging to believe on face value, but they all pale in comparison to the Christian claim of the incarnation. “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation,” Packer declares (53). 

In grasping this stranger-than-fiction reality, other faith difficulties find their resolution.

Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.

If Jesus was no more than a remarkable man, then all the other hard-to-believe aspects of Christian faith remain hard—if not impossible—to believe. But if Jesus was the eternal Word, then “it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead” (54).

Miracles, the virgin birth, and the resurrection all flow from the belief that the baby in the manger was the God-man. If Jesus really was God in the flesh, Packer points out, then the crucifixion is the only seeming non-sequitur of the incarnation. How can God put away the sins of the world through the death of one man on a “Roman gibbet”? Yet if Jesus was God in the flesh, he was able to remove the sins of the world by dying a sinner’s death though he, himself, was sinless. “The incarnation itself is an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else in the New Testament” (54).

Packer’s simple and clear reasoning prompts me to stop and say with the psalmist: “Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?” (Ps. 77:13)

God Made Man

“The Christmas message rests,” Packer contends, “on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was—God” (57). And not…



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