God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things. (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 1:15-19; John 10:30; 14:9; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; John 5:22; Luke 1:35; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 2:9-18; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4; Heb. 8:1, 2; John 14:1-3.)
There are some good turns of phrase in this belief—”forever truly God, He became also truly man”—but where is the call to be like Jesus? Noting the language above, it reads as though His miracles primarily proved His divinity while there is no mention of how any of his actions, beyond death and resurrection, helped humanity. Oddly, we have coming up in number nine another entire fundamental belief on the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ just in case anyone didn’t catch it in this one. But, spoiler alert, despite the first part of the title, it also glosses right over the actual life of Jesus, merely noting that he was obedient to God.
As documents of their times, it is interesting to see how these fundamental beliefs emphasize what was important to the Adventist Church leaders in the late 70s and early 80s. But where’s the Jesus who inspired followers to resist Roman militarism, create hospitals, fight to end slavery or raise the status of women around the world? Where is the God in the gap between being born, dying and the sanctuary in heaven?
Missing is the entire tradition of Christology and ethics—imitatio Christi. While Phil. 2:5-11 is cited, the central point of it is not actually included in this fundamental belief: “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Classic works like Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages or Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps have helped Christians understand Jesus as more than a symbol on the cross. His calls to “Follow me” and his Sermon on the Mount show that the Son of Man preached and practiced a radical spirituality and social ethic that continues to inspire disciples.
This mimicking of Christ is developed by Paul in 1 Cor. 11; 1 Thess. 1:6; Eph 4:32. In the latter, followers are called to be imitators—mimēntai—of God in forgiving others “as God in Christ has forgiven you.” In the “Imitation of Jesus” entry in the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, F. Scott Spencer writes:
The imitation of Jesus in tradition and Scripture stresses a thoroughgoing, wholehearted response of discipleship to Jesus as sovereign Lord and suffering servant more than adherence to a set of characteristics or rules of conduct. Guidance and strength for following the Lord Jesus in today’s world come from the foundational portraits of Jesus in the NT and the abiding Spirit of Jesus within individual believers and the community of faith.
In addition to this mimetic, moral example, the Son is also the Word of God and thus reconciles our hermeneutical difficulties between the OT and NT. As Charles Scriven as written for Spectrum and published in books like The Promise of Peace, as the incarnate Word of God, following the example of Jesus helps us interpret scripture. He writes: So here was Someone like you and me—who, by the Father’s grace was so fully responsive to divine leading that He was the human form of who God is. In Him you could see the identity of God” (106). In Matthew 5, the Son reveals this principled divine identity that subtly fulfills, and reconciles with, the actions and commands of God recorded in previous cultures. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” This is godliness according to the Son of God. It is through the incarnation of the human and divine identified in Jesus that all imitators elevate their understanding of our relationship to God—in acting like Jesus, we see everyone’s relationship to the divine.
Image: Rene Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964.