Vicarious Humanity: By His Birth We Are Healed
Similar thoughts are found in evangelical theology. In his Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan pastor-theologian, argues that God's desire in salvation is to bring us into increasingly intimate communion with himself. Our glorified life in the world to come will involve drawing ever closer to God in an infinite embrace, yet without being absorbed into God like a drop of water in the ocean. We are to be united with God without being "godded with God," as Edwards puts it.
So how is it that the Incarnation, and not just the Crucifixion and Resurrection, makes this unity possible?
The Image of God
Today, many are asking what makes human beings different. What sets us apart from other creatures? There are many answers to that question. Theological leaders through the centuries have labored long and hard to comprehend human uniqueness. Many of them have focused upon the biblical idea found in Genesis 1:26-27 that we are made in the image of God. According to Scripture, no other creature possesses this divine image. But interestingly, Paul tells us that Christ is himself the image of the invisible God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), while the author of Hebrews says Jesus is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb. 1:3). He has been made temporarily "lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:9) in order to be crowned with glory and honor on account of his suffering for our salvation.
Much ink has been spilled in trying to understand what bearing the image of God entails. But rather than attempting to isolate some quality that only humans possess, we should begin, like the New Testament, with Christ. For if Christ is the image of the invisible God, then he sheds light on what it means for humans to carry the divine image. This is hardly a new insight. In Against Heresies, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons observed that when "the Word of God became flesh … he both showed forth the image [of God] truly, since he became himself what was his image; and he re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word."
In other words, in becoming human, God the Son took up our humanity into God. By becoming human, Christ bridged the divide between God and man, doing so from God's side, by God's initiative—the exact opposite of Eve's, and our, natural grasping inclination. Christ's participation in our humanity, then, enables us to participate in his divinity, through being united to God in Christ.
This is what it means, then, to be made in the divine image—to participate in the life of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine. In becoming human, God has taken up our humanity into his own divine life. He has endured the hardships and temptations of earthly life not merely to provide us a moral example, but also to begin renewing and sanctifying our humanity. His Incarnation actually repairs the defaced image of God that results from our sin. As Irenaeus suggests, God remakes us in his image.
Christ's Vicarious Humanity
In this way of thinking, the Incarnation itself is also a vicarious work. Evangelical theology already imagines the Crucifixion in this way: As Christ's work on our behalf, performed by a representative standing in our place to take upon himself the penal consequences of our sin. But now we see that God the Son also acts on our behalf in the very act of taking upon himself human flesh. His work does not come in two parts, becoming human and living a perfect life, and then dying on our behalf. No, his work is one whole. He acts on our behalf and in our stead from the Incarnation onwards—in his birth, life, death, and resurrection.