Monday, January 8, 2024

Incarnational. . .

We always speak of the incarnation of our Lord but there is something to be said about faith itself being incarnational as well.  Faith is not something abstract or theoretical but the most practical and incaranational thing.  You cannot reduce faith simply to opinions or theories or likes.  It cannot be reduced merely to words on a page and an intellectual agreement with something in the abstract.  It most certainly is beyond a pious slogans or saying or mantra.  It is about life.  The God who enters our humanity in order that He might tabernacle within us.  It is not about a personal holiness which merits God's affection but the affection of God that is manifest in a holiness not our own but which becomes ours in baptism.  It is about a new life, a transformed life, that is not the fruit of our effort but is indeed a partnership with the Spirit -- the Spirit doing the heavy lifting, of course.  It is about not being beyond the Law while at the same time being out of its reach -- no longer being condemned by it but yet learning by the Spirit to love it and to walk in its ways. 

True faith is always incarnational -- it takes on flesh and in this case my flesh.  God dwells in me as an act of His pure grace and the Spirit awakens within me the knowledge of this truth and the joy of it.  Even more, the Spirit works in me so that this incarnated faith in me may serve as witness and proclamation to the world of the goodness of His love and the sufficiency of His grace and of the unchanging character of His mercy.  We human beings are not purely spirit.  We cannot be reduced to our feelings nor are we mere intellect and will.  We are embodied creatures by God's design.  We are  flesh and blood -- not simply as a container for our spiritual nature but as part of who we are.  We cannot be something other than the material creatures we are and were created to be.  So God became incarnate for His incarnate creation.  Faith is not then something imagined or felt or reasoned by lived. Glorify God in your body -- is this anything but a call to live out your faith?

We are so goofy that we often reject this incarnational shape of us and our faith.  We say to those who cannot be present in their bodies to be with us in "spirit."  It sounds good but what does it really mean?  What good is it to have loved ones who are apart from us but with us in spirit -- unless we shall be with them and they with us in the new and glorified flesh that is God's promise and pledge?  We do not believe in the circle of life -- of spirits who descend to inhabit flesh for a time before they ascend from the flesh to return as spirit.  God may be spirit but we surely are not.  We are fleshly creatures -- not simply in the sense of sin but as who we are by God's creative design.  Flesh does not always mean sinful flesh.  Being a creature is not a bad thing.  God made us this way.  Being a creature to our Creator God is not bad or even a reflection of sin's work corrupting things; it is who we are.  I fear that we have emphasized flesh so much in the sense of sinful flesh that we have forgotten this.  

The radical dimension of Protestantism always tries to tie faith to an even usually having to do with our cognition or decision -- or accepting the Lord as “personal Lord and Savior.”  Sometimes we Lutherans also adopt such language.  Sacramental Christians are also tempted to tie faith to an event -- like baptism (or even confirmation).  But the reality is that we were baptized into a way of life.  It is not an event in isolation but one that is lived out within the realm of the means of grace -- the Word and the Sacraments.  Though we may try, you cannot make the event live in isolation from the life it bestows.  Devout Christians go to Church, are people in the Word, live under the doctrines and dogmas we profess, and seek to live, as best they might, holy, upright, and godly lives.  This is also a dimension of our incarnational faith.  What we do is not what saves us (only what Christ did) but that does not mean how we live is incidental to our faith.  Though faith and works are distinguishable, they are always together.  Indeed, faith without works is dead (it is not faith!).  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us once in Christ Jesus and again in each of us.  And to those who received Him He gave the power to become the children of God.  What a blessing to remember and rejoice in this gift and grace!

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