The first reason the catechism (WLC 39) gives for the incarnation of the Son of God is “to advance our nature.” That phrase probably feels a bit awkward to us. What does it mean to advance our nature? It’s getting at the basic story and plot-line of the Bible.
God created mankind as morally good creatures. God entered into a covenant with Adam, the first man, promising him that if he obeyed, he and all his children (us) would be rewarded with glory and eternal life. God warned Adam that if he disobeyed, he and all his children (again, us) would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam was created and equipped to fulfill this calling that God had given him. He knew what was at stake. He was well-informed of what his situation in life was. But we read in Genesis 3 that instead of obeying God, he followed the sinful words of the serpent and rebelled against God. In doing so, he plunged himself and all of us into a state of sin and misery (cf. Rom. 5:19).
Since Adam’s fall, human beings as children of Adam are born into this world “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), condemned and guilty before God (Rom. 5:18; cf. Rom. 3:19), and deserving of everlasting punishment (Rom. 6:23). Many object to the idea that Adam’s sin should have such profoundly negative consequences for the rest of us. “How is that fair?,” they might say. Admittedly, the concept of solidarity with Adam in sin is challenging, but there can be little doubt that a look at our own lives reveals that we have fared no better than Adam. We, in our own ways, have rebelled against God’s Law, just like Adam. Ever since the fall, no mere man is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God. Whatever our concerns about this issue of solidarity with Adam, there is no denying that we, by our own personal choices, thoughts, words, and actions have greatly increased our sin and guilt before God. This is the basic problem of mankind. This is our story.
Some speak as though our biggest problems in life are lack of job satisfaction, stress at home, general unhappiness, or a lack of fulfillment in life. I don’t at all deny that these are problems, but these are symptoms of the much more serious problem which is that we are fallen sinners who stand rightly condemned before a just and holy God. This doleful reality is reflected throughout human existence in myriad ways. Our fallen nature is our greatest problem. Do we see this as our greatest problem? Many of our other problems in life, may indeed, have this as their root.
What we need is a Savior to come and deliver us from this fallen condition and bring us into a condition of redemption. We need a Savior to come and bring renewal to human nature. Our catechism tells us that this is the first reason that the Son of God became man: to advance our nature. In order to bring redemption to fallen man, the Son had to become man. The church father Gregory Nazianzus (ca. 325-389) once wrote, “For that which [the Son of God] has not assumed He has not healed.” It’s a way of saying that for God the Son to redeem man, he had to become man.
By saying this, Nazianzus was only repeating what Scripture teaches. When Adam sinned, God promised that the seed of the woman would bring redemption to mankind (cf. Gen. 3:15). This is a promise that mankind’s redeemer would be a human being. The Apostle Paul on several occasions describes Jesus Christ in terms of a second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). The author of Hebrews also speaks of it being “fitting” that Christ should share in our sufferings and human-ness in order “to bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10-18). For the Son of God to redeem man, he needed to become man.
It is through Christ saving work that our fallen nature is redeemed. We are made alive in him (Eph. 2:1-8). We are cleansed of our guilt (Heb. 9:14), and enabled to serve God righteously (Rom. 6:17-18). Christ came to save us from our sin and its dire consequences.
But Christ’s role as a second Adam means that he came to do more than him simply recover what was lost through Adam’s and our disobedience. Christ came to do what Adam should have done, and to earn what Adam should have earned for his people. Christ has come as the one to “advance our nature” into the state of glory. And he has come not just to advance our soul into a state of glory, but through his cross and resurrection he advances our bodies into a state of glory (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:35-49; cf. Dan. 12:2-3), and he even advances the entire universe into the state of glory (Rom. 8:21-23; Rev. 21 cf. Matt. 19:28). We read those remarkable words of the unveiling of that new creation in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
This is the renewal and glorification of all things, which God’s people receive as their inheritance through Christ’s redeeming work. How incredible that such a glorious end flows out of such an insignificant beginning–a little Jewish baby born in an insignificant part of Judea. It seems that Matthew wanted us to catch the connection between Christ’s humble birth and that glorious new creation. He begins his Gospel with these words literally, “the book of origin of Jesus the Messiah.” That phrase, “the book of origin” is drawn from Genesis 2:4 and the creation narrative. Matthew wants us to interpret the humble advent of Christ, his genealogy, his birth, his earthly ministry as the first beams of new creation light and life breaking in on a fallen world of sinners. The Son of God became man to advance our nature into that new creation.
May the Lord stir our hearts to faith in Christ!