The Flesh of Our Savior: the importance of the body in Jesus’ redemption

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald.jpg

The entire life of faith begins with God reaching out to us first. In response to humanity’s fall from grace and sin’s impact upon this world, God sent Jesus, fully God and fully man, to live, die and be resurrected to bring us and all creation back to God through relational restoration. This is how Paul describes it:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, through for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

In the face of humanity’s sin-soaked efforts to stand at the center and push God to the periphery, in the face of humanity’s guilt and shame, God steps in to demonstrate His love by sending Jesus into our midst.

And through that demonstration of love in Jesus, sin’s disordering power in our lives and choices is broken by God’s grace.  Here is Paul again, just a few verses later:

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:17-21)

Let me summarize Paul’s flow of thought like this:

Adam’s sinful action Christ’s righteous action
Death comes to humanity Grace and life to humanity
Condemnation to humanity Justification and life to humanity
Humanity becomes sinful Humanity becomes righteous
The Law highlights sin’s victory in wrong and death Grace highlights Jesus’ victory in eternal life

Death reigned through Adam’s sin, but those receiving the grace of Christ will reign in life. Condemnation came down through Adam’s one sinful act to all humanity, but Jesus’ one righteous act eradicates judgment and opens the way to life. Adam’s disobedience made all humans sinners, but Jesus’ obedience makes many righteous. The law of God highlights the victory of sin in which human beings are trapped to the point of death.  But the grace of God in Christ has victory over sin, bringing us into eternal life.

The background of Genesis 1-3 is important here because Jesus is, in a sense, the second Adam, bringing redemption to humanity from the power of the Fall.  This is a re-introduction to the way things were supposed to be in the original creation, and the doorway into that renewal is Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus gives grace, life, and freedom from guilt and shame. We don’t have to be afraid of God or ashamed of God because of Jesus and what He has done. The access point for us to this is new life and grace is faith. We reach back to the God who first reached out to us.

The Importance of Jesus’ Redemption in the Body
Now, we all know this is really important in terms of salvation, but we may wonder what any of this has to do with our love, sexuality, and body life. 

It is important to remember that Jesus came in a body to do this work of salvation. That incarnation – that physicality – is not tangential but vital to the redeeming work of Christ. The Apostle John writes:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus came in a body because we live in bodies. His saving work – His redeeming work – had to be physical to bring God’s power to bear upon the created world. It may seem outlandish that God would draw near in a human body, but this is the way salvation works and, in a sense, must work. This is the fleshed-out reality of the title “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

Without Jesus’ body, there would be no redemption or salvation. John the Apostle knew this and so a major theme of his letters is counteracting the proto-Gnosticism so prevalent and popular in his day. 

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3)

The fleshy-ness of Jesus is vital to the truth of what God is doing. Why? John goes on a bit later in that same chapter:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Paul told us earlier that Jesus’ death demonstrated God’s love for us (Roman 5:8), and now John echoes that, saying God’s love is shown in Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Sin ruptures relationship with God. That rupture happened through human bodies and human activity in the garden. The physicality of sin had far-reaching spiritual impact:  humanity trying to be at the center of the universe, including self-will, the condemnation of guilt, and the hiding of shame.

In like manner, Jesus dealt with sin’s impact through a human body and through human activity. The physicality of Jesus’ sacrifice had far-reaching spiritual impact: restoration of relationship with God, new life, acceptance, and freedom from condemnation.

[This post is excerpted from the message, “Redemption and Embodied Sexuality,” delivered at Eastbrook Church on November 16/17, 2019.]

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