Over the past weeks, we have seen how deeply immersed Romans is in Paul’s dominion theology.
- Today, in light of Christmas, I want to explore how this theology helps us understand the incarnation.
- We need to flesh out Paul’s dominion theology just a bit before we can see what it tells us about the Incarnation.
In Romans 3:9, Paul first introduces the idea that all are “under sin”.
- We saw that this phrase refers to the idea of a realm or dominion – a place – in which sin reigns.
In this place…
- People are subject to the power of sin.
- They serve its purposes.
- Sin is their ruler.
- And this place of sin’s dominion is their home address.
Sprinkled throughout Romans 3-6 are descriptions of both the people and address of “under sin”.
- “None is righteous” – 3:11
- “No one seeks God” – 3:11
- “No one does good” – 3:12
- “There is no fear of God” – 3:18
- “All…fall short of the glory of God” – 3:23
- All our “sinners” – 5:8
- Under “the wrath of God” – 5:9
- In Adam – 5:12
- Under condemnation – 5:16
- Subject to the reign of death – 5:17
- Subject to the reign of sin – 6:12
- “Under law” – 6:15
- Slaves to sin – 6:16
Sadly and horribly, this is the default position of humanity.
Adam was the “under sin” architect or reign-maker.
- Because of his disobedience…
- He was expelled from God’s garden presence and life and exiled into the wilderness.
- We have called this Garden Exile – born “under sin”, estranged from God’s Garden life and presence.
As a result, all of humanity, since Adam, has been born “under sin” in Garden Exile – estranged from God’s life and presence.
- So the dominion of “under sin” is the address of all those born after Adam.
- And as a result of this new address – all sin, and all die (Romans 5:12).
In Romans 5:2, Paul first introduces the idea that those in Christ have “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand”.
- And just as with “under sin”, this refers to the idea of a realm or dominion – a place.
- Except in this place it is grace that reigns.
In this place…
- People are subject to the saving and redeeming power of God’s grace.
- Grace is the context of their life, not sin.
- And this place of grace’s dominion is their home address.
Sprinkled throughout Romans 5-6 are descriptions of both the people and the address of “this grace”.
- We are justified – made right with God – 5:1
- We have the “hope of the glory of God” – 5:2
- We rejoice in our sufferings – 5:3
- We have God’s love “poured into our hearts” – 5:5
- We have the Holy Spirit “given to us” – 5:5
- Saved from “the wrath of God” – 5:9
- “Reconciled to God” – 5:10
- “Rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” – 5:11
- “Free gift of righteousness” – 5:17
- In Christ – 5:17
- “Made righteous” – 5:19
- “Eternal life through Jesus Christ” – 5:21
- Baptized, dead, buried and risen with Christ – 6:1-11
- “No longer…enslaved to sin” – 6:6
- “Death no longer has dominion” – 6:9
- “Not under law but under grace” – 6:14
As Adam was the reign-maker of the dominion of sin…
- Only Jesus is the reign-maker of the dominion of grace.
All are born into the dominion of sin because of Adam.
- And only those born again, and connected to the work of Christ by faith can enter into the dominion of grace.
- Romans 5:18 (ESV) — 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
So the picture painted by Paul’s dominion theology makes it clear…
- Our problem, fundamentally, is NOT…
- Our behavior…
- But our address.
This means the solution to our problem is NOT a change in behavior.
- We need a change of address.
- We need a transfer from the dominion of sin to grace.
Therefore, whoever is going to give us a change of address…
- Has to accomplish some very specific things.
In fact, there are at minimum two things that need to be accomplished.
- (1) We require someone who can create a new dominion – the dominion of grace.
- (2) We require someone who can then bring us out of the dominion of sin and place us in the dominion of grace.
- There are clearly more – cover our sin, turn away God’s wrath, etc. – but the first two will get us where we need to go today.
So this is where Paul’s dominion theology can inform our understanding of the incarnation.
- Who could possibly accomplish all of this?
- The answer to this question is found only in the incarnation.
F.F. Bruce frames this beautifully.
“If there is, among the distinctive articles of the Christian faith, one which is basic to all others, it is this: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man for our salvation” – F.F. Bruce.
- Matthew 1:21 (ESV) — 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
First, what is the Incarnation?
The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, who John calls the eternal Logos, became fully man without ceasing to be divine.
- This means that in the one person of the Son of God (Jesus) there exist two natures – one fully divine and one fully human.
It is important we get this right!
- “The person involved in the incarnation is not derived by adding above and below, but comes down from above and takes to himself what is below” – Fred Sanders.
“His humanity is not a distinct person, but instead a set of properties that the Logos possesses after the incarnation, so that the Logos himself can personally live as a man. Thus one can say unequivocally that God the Logos was born, the Logos suffered, the Logos died on the cross and was raised” – Donald Fairbairn.
The Bible speaks of the incarnation in a number of passages:
- John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word [Logos] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- Romans 8:3 (ESV) — 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
- 1 John 4:2 (ESV) — 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
- 1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) — 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Christmas day, then, is the celebration of this incarnation.
- Jesus Christ – the divine and eternal Son of God and Logos – “has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2).
So when Paul says, “He was manifested in the flesh”…
- He does not mean, “He [the second person of the Trinity] was manifested in the flesh [Jesus]”.
- He means that, “He [the divine person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity] was manifested in the flesh [became a human being].
All this means that…
- The Logos, the Son of God, didn’t become Jesus the person.
- He has eternally been this person in the second person of the Trinity.
- But with the incarnation, the eternal Son of God, Jesus, put on human flesh and a human nature.
- A body the Father had prepared for Him.
- Hebrews 10:5 (ESV) — 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Need for Incarnation:
So now we are equipped to see why looking at the incarnation through Paul’s dominion theology can inform our understanding of the incarnation.
I love how Douglas Fairbairn sets it up:
- “What does God have to be like in order to give us the kind of salvation that we Christians know we have?” – Douglas Fairbairn
- A salvation that involves the establishment of a dominion of grace and the believer’s change of address into this grace.
(1) The first thing Paul’s dominion theology can show us about the incarnation is…
- Jesus’ address – the dominion he was born into.
If all men are born “under sin” and in Garden Exile because of Adam…
- Then all men are powerless to provide a way out.
- This is the classic blind leading the blind scenario.
So, if Jesus were merely a man, He too would have been born “under sin” into Adam’s Garden Exile.
- And so, like Moses, Joshua, David or Elijah, He could only point the way.
- He could not establish or move us into the dominion of grace.
But, was Jesus born “under sin” into Garden Exile estranged from God’s life and presence?
The incarnation shows us that though Jesus shared our human nature – He didn’t share our address.
- Jesus as the second person of the Trinity IS God’s Garden life and presence.
- So, He is not disqualified from being able to establish or move us into grace.
- He didn’t live under the power and dominion of sin.
(2) The second thing Paul’s dominion theology can show us about the incarnation is…
- Jesus’ ability to establish the dominion of grace – a new Garden.
The establishment of the dominion of grace is a work of the Trinity – God in three persons.
- The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all work in concert to establish the dominion of grace.
The Father loved and sent His Son.
- The Son became flesh and did all the Gospels say He did for us.
- The Spirit regenerates the hearts of the elect to receive and apply the work of the Son.
What all this means then is this:
- If Jesus were only a man and thus “under sin”, the work of the triune God to save us collapses.
- Jesus would be working under and for the power of sin.
His work would therefore be unable to establish anything other than a moral example.
“If the one who suffered and died on the cross were not the second person of the Trinity, then Christ’s death would have had no power to accomplish our salvation. It had to be God’s own blood that was shed on the cross for us to be redeemed” – Donald Fairbairn.
But because Jesus is the second person of the Trinity…
- His Gospel work actually did establish a dominion of grace!
- “Trinity makes possible incarnation, which makes possible atonement” – Fred Sanders.
- After all, it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
- And as we have seen, impossible for just a man “under sin” to take them away as well.
(3) The third thing Paul’s dominion theology can show us about the incarnation is…
- Jesus’ ability to change our address from “under sin” to “under grace”.
In His divinity, Jesus established the dominion of grace.
- But by taking on flesh, he could provide a bridge to lead us into it.
The writer of Hebrews captures this well.
- Hebrews 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
John Piper, says of this text:
“The incarnation was God’s locking Himself into death row” – John Piper.
- And the death of the Son of God was the bridge to the dominion of grace.
Paul puts it this way:
- Colossians 1:21–22 (ESV) — 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
- See also Romans 6:3-5.
So because Jesus, the Son of God, put on flesh…
- He could die that he might bring those connected to Him by faith into the dominion of grace.
I love how Mark Jones puts it:
“After all, if Jesus were in all things only a man, he would be at an infinite distance from God just as we are. In the same way, if Jesus were in all things only God, he would be at an infinite distance from us. As the Mediator, however, he bridges the gap between the infinite God and finite man” – Mark Jones.
So, Jesus didn’t just point to the way to a new dominion.
- He didn’t just speak of it or hope for it.
- Jesus in concert with the Father and Spirit, made it and brought us into it.
Going back to Paul’s dominion theology:
- “The logic of the gospel compels us to say that to be the Savior, Jesus must be God and man” – Fred Sanders.
- So, only the divine Son of God in the flesh could both establish and move us into the domain of grace.
- The two things that Paul’s dominion theology tells us are necessary.
So Paul’s dominion theology makes clear…
- The incarnation was necessary to save us.
- So, Merry Christmas!