Living in the part of the world where I do, desiring to be a faithful Christian witness, requires the ability to answer certain questions, especially those regarding the deity of Christ and the Trinity.
A question that has come up not only here, but across history is, “Why did God have to become man?”
There are a lot of dimensions to the answer to that question. Why did the atoning sacrifice have to be God as well as man?
The most common answer given is something along the lines of “an infinite guilt before an infinite God required a sacrifice of infinite worth”. This is a true answer, but left to itself that is somewhat of an unsatisfying answer and even difficult to thoroughly substantiate from scripture alone. I think this answer is absolutely true, but another dimension that is often neglected in answer to the question “why the God-man?” is the jealousy of God.
The answer to the question central to the Christian faith has multiple dimensions. The justice of God, the love of God, the wrath of God, the mercy of God, the righteousness of God all must be considered in finding the “why” of God becoming man. But I think that there is one foundational doctrinal dimension that isn’t mentioned.
That is the jealousy of God. When we talk of the jealousy of God we must not think of a pouty child who didn’t get what their friend has. No, God must be jealous because he is perfectly righteous. God must always act in a way that upholds his glory. To do otherwise would be unjust. For God to seek anything other than his glory as his ultimate aim would be unrighteous, which he cannot be.
The first and second commandment that God gave to his people highlight this as a foundation which all else must be built on.
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5 ESV)
To worship anyone else as God or to place alongside God any competitor is the root of wickedness.
Thus even in His acts of grace God is working for his glory, as he makes clear in his mercy toward Israel in the midst of their rebellion:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV)
In Ezekiel, God was making a promise to show his chosen people amazing mercy and we know from other places that though he loved them, his ultimate reason for saving them instead of destroying them, was his “name”, his reputation, his glory. God does not need to pretend to be something that he is not. In fact he must be and act according to what he is – ultimate. He must vindicate his glory.
Therefore, in saving a people for his glory from their sins it was necessary that God structure that salvation in such a way that without mistake he would get all of the glory for that salvation. Not only did his justice have to be met and his law kept, it had to be done in a way in which he received all of the praise for it. Therefore, Ephesians 2:8-9 declares to recipients of that salvation:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
Salvation must be by grace because God alone must get all of the glory. This is important for us to see in order for us to understand the “why” of the incarnation. A plan of salvation, if it were even possible, that required 99% God’s grace and 1% the works of man would conflict with God’s righteous demand that he get all of the glory.
So how does this relate to the incarnation of Jesus Christ? What does the jealousy of God have to do with why God stepped into time and became man? Seems like a bit of a paradox – that God in the vindication of his glory would humble himself to such a degree. But when you understand what God accomplished in the flesh it becomes clear why.
This much is certainly clear. It had to be a man, a perfect man, who would die in the place of men (Heb. 2:9-18). There had to be a second Adam to be the head of a new humanity. But this man had to be God because in saving a people for himself God had to be the one who did the entire work so that God alone would get the praise.
Christ, as a man, was completely obedient to God, even to the point of death on the cross for sin that was not his own. What was the result of this? Philippians 2:8-11 tells us:
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)
Do you see the “therefore”? As a result of Jesus’ obedience in dying for sin that was not his own, he is given this lofty position, such that at his name every knee would rightly bow.
This bowing and calling “Lord” is behavior that only God himself is worthy of. Let’s imagine for a second that it was possible for a man, a mere man, to be perfect and to die for the sins of God’s elect. The debt of gratitude is immediately transferred to the one who died! If the fire department sends a truck to come to my rescue and a firefighter dies in the process of rescuing me, who do I remember? Who do I praise? Best case scenario I split the credit and praise the firefighter and the department for sending him. But can God share his praise with man?
“I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)
If God shared his praise with a merely human savior he would not be good or righteous.
God had to become man and secure our entire salvation himself from start to finish because he must get all of the glory.(1) This is a fixed reality in the universe because of who God is. He must get all of the praise. God humbled himself in love and became man to die for sinful men because this was the only way he could save us and get all the glory. If, theoretically, it were even possible for a man to be perfect and die in the place of men, it would not be right because it would divert praise away from God himself. God must get all of the credit for our salvation, that – I would argue – is the crowning reason that God became man.
Someone had to die in our place that was a pure sacrifice. That someone had to be a man. And he had to be God – because among other reasons, God must get all of the glory.
Salvation must be accomplished in such a way that we declare with David:
“Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8 ESV)
And praise God it was accomplished. Because God became man this is the song that we will sing forever,
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10 ESV)
This is how it must be.
So when someone here asks me, “Why do you believe God had to become man?”
My first answer is, “Because if God is going to save us, he must get all of the glory.”
(1) This introduces another interesting fact that only a God that is Trinity could save us. Without a God who is Triune there is no salvation.