Knowing God, Chapters 5 and 6: The Incarnation and the Holy Spirit

Knowing GodWe’re continuing to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer along with Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together Series. This week we are in chapters 5 and 6.

Chapter 5, “God Incarnate,” is probably the most…I hate to say difficult or technical, because that immediately turns people off. It is a little more difficult and technical than the previous chapters, but not at all insurmountable. I love that Packer says, “This is the deep end of theology, no doubt, but John [in John 1] throws us straight into it” (p. 66). Some people prefer to avoid theological discussions and feel that, “We’re just supposed to love God and people. Why waste time on that stuff?” Because it matters. If people talk about loving Jesus but don’t know Him for Who He really is, they can be totally lost even while thinking all is right with the world. False steps either on the side of Jesus’ humanity or His deity lead to grave errors.

That said, I couldn’t possibly reproduce what Packer said in this chapter in distilled form. It would be long and involved and I just don’t have time this particular week. But it’s good reading to cement the truth that Jesus is totally God and totally man into our thinking, drawing primarily from John 1:1-14,  Philippians 2:5-11, and II Corinthians 8:9.

A section particularly interesting to me involved what it meant for Christ to “empty Himself” in Philippians 2:6-7: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” We know this doesn’t mean He set aside His deity, for He displayed omnipotence (still the storm, feeding 5,000+, raising the dead, etc.), omniscience (knowing others’ thoughts), and omnipresence (talking about being in heaven at the same time He was talking to people on earth – John 3:13)) while in human form. So what did He empty Himself of? “Does  it not imply that a certain reduction of the Son’s deity was involved in His becoming man?” (p. 59). No, answers Packer. Such a theory is called kenosis, and it has been around in various forms for years. Packer discusses it and its manifestations and implications more fully and then says:

When Paul talks of the Son as having emptied himself and become poor, what he has in mind, as the context in each case shows, is the laying aside not of divine powers and attributes but of divine glory and dignity, “the glory I had with you before the world began, as Christ puts it in His great high priestly prayer (p. 60).

We now see what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory (the real kenosis); a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and understanding; finally, a death that involved such agony – spiritual even more than physical – that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they through his poverty might become rich (p. 63).

I like the way he applies this truth to Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation, the fact that God came to us in the form of a baby, to grow up as a human, yet still fully God, for the purpose of dying on the cross for our sins:

We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians–I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians–go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians–alas, they are many–whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor — spending and being spent — to enrich their fellow men, giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others — and not just their own friends — in whatever way there seems need (pp 63-64).

Chapter 4, “He Shall Testify,” is about the Holy Spirit. He asserts that preaching and teaching about the Holy Spirit has been sadly neglected but is vital, for He is fully God as well and testifies of Christ. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26).

Again, I am not going to list point by point his instruction about the Holy Spirit – you’ll just have to read the book. 🙂 But one section that stood out to me was this:

In the Old Testament, God’s word and God’s Spirit are parallel figures. God’s word is his almighty speech; God’s Spirit is his almighty breath. Both phrases convey the thought of his power in action (p. 67).

He then discusses the parallels are mentioned in the creation account and in reference to Christ. This caught my eye because I had noticed a long time ago that in the passages telling us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16-25) and to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-33), the aftermath is remarkably similar: speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, letting the Spirit and the word affect all our relationships, etc.

After showing that one of the Holy Spirit’s ministries is to illuminate and convict people of God’s truth:, Packer says:

It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments; nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart. It is the sovereign prerogative of Christ’s Spirit to convince men’s consciences of the truth of Christ’s gospel; and Christ’s human witnesses must learn to ground their hopes of success not on clever presentation of the truth by man, but on powerful demonstration of the truth by the Spirit (p. 71).

That’s not to say we shouldn’t share the truth of Christ since opening people’s eyes is His job and not ours: no, we must. We’re commanded to, and the Spirit used the Word to open eyes. But we trust in His working, not our “clever presentation.”

These chapters were beneficial to study, even though they tossed us for awhile into the “deep end of theology.” It’s good to “gird up the loins of our minds” sometimes and exercise them beyond what we’re used to.

4 thoughts on “Knowing God, Chapters 5 and 6: The Incarnation and the Holy Spirit

  1. I enjoyed these chapters, too, but yes, I had to keep my thinking cap on a little more than usual. ha. That’s good though. Packer really knows how to say a lot in such short chapters! I didn’t even get to write anything on my blog post about the incarnation chapter, but I really appreciated his thoughts there too on the absurdity (and wonder!) of it, and about Christ emptying himself.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Problem of Pain | Stray Thoughts

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Knowing God | Stray Thoughts

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