When studying the person of Jesus Christ, there is often a temptation to focus on his divinity at the cost of his humanity. Christ’s divinity can be over-emphasized to the point where his humanity is described in patronizing ways or simply taken for granted. It is all too common to hear a Christian say, “Yes, Christ was fully human, but he was also fully God.” While the emphasis on Christ’s divinity is clear, the result can be a quick dismissal of Christ’s humanity as solely mystery.
Although it is true that Christ as God is inherently mysterious, there is deep significance to Christ’s humanity. This significance is lost if Christ’s humanity is diminished to being completely unexplainable!
Rather, the importance of seeking to understand Christ’s humanity should not be lessened; God, when a follower seeks after Christ in faith and by the Spirit, opens his or her mind to understanding Christ as both fully divine and fully human. Christ often states in his teaching, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9, NRSV). In other words, even if a concept may not seem initially understandable, it can often be made sense of, usually with some critical thinking! Therefore, whoever has ears, let them hear about the whole person of Christ as both fully human and fully divine.
In order to have an orthodox belief in Christ, one must profess him as human and divine; Christ is, in fact, the revelation of God in human form. Karl Barth writes a great article – “The Humanity of God” – and warns against emphasizing one over the other. He writes, “It would not do to even partially undervalue his humanity, the gift of God, which characterizes him as this being. We can meet God only within the limits of humanity determined by Him. But in these limits we may meet him.”
Barth further states what happens when people consider God without humanity:
“We viewed this “wholly other” in isolation, abstracted and absolutized, and set it over against man, this miserable wretch—not to say boxed his ears with it—in such fashion that it continually showed greater similarity to the deity of the God of the philosophers than to the deity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
“On the basis of the knowledge of the humanity of God, no other attitude to any kind of fellow man is possible. It is identical with the practical acknowledgement of his human rights and dignity. To deny it to him would be for us to renounce having Jesus Christ as Brother and God as Father.”
The danger in understanding Christ without learning about his humanity is that Christ becomes something that he is not.
Thomas F. Torrance writes in another critical book – Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ – about the importance of realizing Christ for who he fully is. His humanity and divinity cannot be “divorced” from one another. He gives the example of historians; historians examine the historical Jesus and, as a result, many do not want to take into account anything that is supernatural, unexplainable, or theological.
Torrance writes, “The historian can only try to place Jesus on the horizontal plane in a time series or in the midst of a historical movement: he cannot deal at all with the vertical movement in and through which Jesus came into being in history.” They often do the opposite of what many Christians do: they separate his divinity from his humanity, and only look at his humanity.
A person cannot be broken down into various characteristics and then defined in his or her totality as only one of those characteristics. This is reductionism; while it sounds like an easy solution, it is always a solution that does a disservice to understanding the person or concept as a whole. Christians cannot fall into this temptation when seeking to understand Christ; if followers truly love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength as Christ commands, Christians must examine him for who he fully is: human and divine. Christians fail to realize many of the profound implications of Christ if he is reduced to only one of those characteristics.
Still, with the exploration of Christ’s humanity, it is critical that one does not presume a removal of Christ’s divinity! Rather, exploring Christ’s humanity must be complete with the knowledge that Christ is also fully divine.
In Christ becoming human, he took on a fallen humanity as our representative in birth, life, and death, in order to redeem our fallen humanity to God. The significance of Christ’s humanity demonstrates the real possibility of sanctification, holiness, and Christ-like living in a person’s life. Christ’s humanity defines what true humanity and a relationship with God looks like in fallenness.
Tom Noble, in yet another essential book – Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Historic Doctrine of Christian Perfecting – summarizes the early Church Fathers as they make this same point: “Their line of thought may perhaps be most clearly expounded in three statements: Christ sanctified our humanity by assuming it. Christ sanctified our humanity by living in it. Christ sanctified our humanity by crucifying it.”
Moreover, in order to understand Christ taking on a fallen humanity, it is essential to understand the difference between fallenness and sinfulness; they cannot be confused. While Christ assumed a fallen nature, he remained sinless.
Finally, scripture offers critical evidence regarding the nature of Christ’s humanity. Christ’s birth, along with details of his life, and finally the events of his death, clearly show that Christ took on a fallen humanity. It is only because Christ assumed a fallen humanity that people, living in fallenness today, can seek holiness in God through Christ and the Spirit.