In order that we prepare ourselves for eternal dwelling, God knew that we needed an extreme example that would motivate us to turn our minds from the ways of this temporary world, to an existence beyond this world. So in order for us to make this mental transformation, God wanted us to be driven to transform our characters for eternal existence in a heavenly paradise.
The serendipity of this process of transformation would be an inner power that would enable us to endure this present world. For this reason, it was necessary that in the grand plan of eternal redemption that an example be revealed from heaven alone that would compel us to turn our minds to heavenly thinking and behavior.
A. The powerful example:
In His eternal plan of redemption, God knew that there had to be a powerful example that would motivate us to make a very difficult life transformation. In order for this example to be convincing, only God could produce such an example. Any example that might have been provided by the most faithful person on earth could never have been sufficient to warrant our own transformation. Therefore, the example to motivate us to make life changes was the incarnational journey of the Son of God Himself from spirit to flesh. Not only into flesh was He incarnate, but also into a fleshly body that could be sacrificially nailed to a cross, which cross would allow us to crossover into an eternal paradise.
In order to justify us of our sins, the Son had to make an incredible sacrifice. He had to make a redemptive payment for all those who would sign up to be His disciples. Such an incarnational sacrifice is certainly beyond our finite minds to fully comprehend. Nevertheless, we do know enough about His sacrificial coming into this world to be stirred into an “incarnational” transformation in our own lives. If such an incarnation of Deity is true—and it certainly is—then its reality should penetrate to the very heart of our humanity.
B. The power to transform:
Since the Son of God would make this incredible journey into this world on our behalf, then there is nothing we would hold back in our own personal transformation in order to be eternally with Him in the presence of so much love (Jn 3:16). We cannot but respond with eternal gratitude. The motivation that is reaped from His loving and sacrificial example is simply overwhelming. This is a reality about which tears are inspired. John, the apostle of love, said the same in the following statement:
“In this the love of God was manifested to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9,10).
It was love on the part of the Father that necessitated the sending of His Son into this world of flesh and pain. That which inspired such an extreme action on the part of God was God’s unending love for us (Jn 3:16). His love was accentuated in the fact that we were so unloving when the incarnational example was made. So just in case we might forget this, we need to read again the words of the Holy Spirit: “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). His love reigned regardless of the fact that we were so unloving. Our unloving spirit, therefore, accentuated the extreme incarnation of God in spirit becoming as man in the flesh.
C. The church of the transformed:
While still on this earth, Jesus promised His immediate disciples that they would eventually be established as His assembly of the transformed. They would be established on the foundation of their belief in the fact that He was the Christ, and thus the incarnate Son of God (See Mt 16:16-18).
While He was with His disciples in the flesh, Jesus wanted them to understand clearly that He was not establishing some sort of religious legal organization that would be identified by earthly bylaws. Neither would it be founded on a legal obedience to any laws, and certainly not on some system of assembly that the disciples might ceremonially orchestrate on Sunday morning. It would be established firmly on the fact of the Son’s fulfillment of all prophecy, and that He indeed was the incarnate Son of God. We must be very cautious, therefore, about defining the church of our Lord on any other foundation, especially on some meritorious legal performance of ceremonial ordinances.
The disciples would be established as the church of Christ because of their belief and behavior in reference to the example of the Son’s journey into and out of this world in order that they make the same journey. Jesus’ assembly of disciples, therefore, would be the “church of the incarnationally transformed” (See 1 Jn 4:1-8).
And since it was love that offered to us the Divine incarnational road map into eternal glory, then it can only be our love for one another that would identify us to be on that road. It was for this reason that Jesus stated,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34,35).
D. The incarnational mind of Christ:
Many years after the Son of God’s incarnational journey into and out of this world, the Holy Spirit had to remind some early disciples through Paul, that the prime motivation for their gospel journey was to emulate the mind of Christ Jesus in their lives:
“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance of man, He humbled Himself …” (Ph 2:5-8).
This is the revealed road map for our own transformation. For this reason, therefore, the Holy Spirit can make the following mandate in reference to us taking ownership of our own transformation, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2). This is not an option, but an imperative.
Since the transformation of the mind of Christ into our thinking and behavior can be accomplished, then John was right: “In this the love of God was manifested to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 Jn 4:9).
We are certain that John had in mind more than salvational matters when he said “that we might live through Him.” We would assert that his statement in 1 John 4:9 was a reflection on what Jesus promised: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
It is only through incarnationally living the mind of Christ that we can, in this world, enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised. If one is not spiritually experiencing this abundant life, then it is time to check our souls with the mind that was in the Son of God when He came into this world. It is because of His thinking and behavior that He was willing to leave the environment of heaven and the form of God in Spirit, in order to transition into our earthly environment. He sacrificed to be as we are in order that we become as He now is—“We know that when He appears, we will be like Him” (1 Jn 3:2).
E. The road map to be like Him:
In the gospel journey of the Son of God into this world, the Son established the only spiritual road map for us to live in order to transition out of this world and right on into heaven. As the Son of God gave up being on an equality with God in order to show the way, then all those who would claim to be His disciples must likewise go through a similar incarnational transformation in order to be assured that we are on the gospel road. As the Son could not have provided the road map without giving up something, then we also must give up something to get on this road to heaven.
We must never forget that this gospel journey could never have been revealed by words alone. It had to be demonstrated.
The behavior of the incarnate Son of God is our road map demonstration for incarnational transformation. Therefore, the true identity of the church of Jesus’ disciples is demonstrated by their love for one another as they were loved from heaven. This is why Peter encouraged some disciples in the early church to stay the course on the road map to heaven: “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). The more we understand the grace of God that was extended to us through the Son of God, the more we are encouraged to live in thanksgiving for that grace (See 2 Co 4:15).
F. Looking unto Jesus:
We endure living on this incarnational road because of the destination to which it will eventually bring us. We thus, the Hebrew writer encouraged, “lay aside every weight [of sin] … and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hb 12:1,2). Jesus would never have asked us to do something that He would not do Himself. He is thus the author of our faith because He paved the incarnational road for us into eternal glory. If we follow His introduction to the gospel way, then He will lead us down this road right on into the arms of God.
We are certainly not at the end of our incarnational journey. As the Son of God, the initial incarnation was only the beginning of His journey to the cross. So in baptism, our incarnational journey begins. Our incarnational transformation will end only when we, as Jesus, are faithful unto death (Rv 2:10).
During our earthly journey we know that at any one time along the way we are not yet incarnationally transformed as we know we should be. We must simply confess that we have not yet allowed the mind of Christ to control totally our every thought and action (See 1 Jn 1:7-9). It is for this reason that we walk by faith in the grace of God (See Ep 2:4-10)
G. The beginning of our journey:
John reminded some disciples, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It was because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). Though we are not there in loving one another perfectly as He loved us, we are zealously striving to be so transformed.
This was the deeply spiritual meaning behind Paul’s supposedly contradictory statement—so say some—in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” What Paul was emphasizing was the fact that the good news of the love of God that was poured out through the Son was his priority message. Baptism, on the other hand, was the natural response to this gospel. He, as we, know that the proclamation of the love of God that was revealed through the good news (gospel), is the primary motivation that will encourage people to respond to God’s love in being baptized into His Son.
Baptism can be marginalized by simply being baptized in obedience to a command. However, gospel is in reference to the powerful motivation of love that was poured out upon us through the gospel of the incarnation. It is the gospel that gives substance to baptism. Connect gospel and baptism and salvational magic happens.
Baptism, therefore, is not simply some legal act of obedience wherein one can proclaim his own salvation that is based on a meritorious act of obedience to law. On the contrary, those who would refuse to be baptized in response to the gospel are simply saying to God the Father, and His incarnate Son, “We do not love You enough.” Baptism, therefore, finds its full meaning in the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See Rm 6:3-6).
John would add, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments [baptism]” (1 Jn 5:3). Therefore, “everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). This is why Jesus stated to Nicodemus in reference to baptism, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).
In other words, if one does not respond to the gospel of God’s love in baptism, then he or she cannot get on the gospel road that will eventually bring one into eternal glory. It is only reasonable to make this conclusion. It is for this reason that we are so ardent in preaching the gospel. We want to give others a piece of this glorious conclusion. We can do so by giving them the opportunity to be touched by the incarnate blood of the Son of God that was poured out on the cross for the remission of sins (See Gl 3:26-28).
H. Staying focused:
Baptism is a signal to Jesus and others that we have made a decision to respond to and follow the incarnational road map of Jesus. It is through baptism that we get started down the road that will eventually end in eternal glory. And thus, in being baptized into the incarnate and crucified Son of God, we are signaling to the Son that His journey was not fruitless. Because we seek to respond to His love, we are committing ourselves to follow all His signposts right to the destination for which He incarnationally sacrificed Himself. We will do this in order that we eventually enjoy being one with Him in eternity (See Rm 6:3-6).
This is why the journey of Jesus into and out of this world is good news. It is good news (gospel) because it was initiated by His personal incarnation into the flesh of man in order that a redemptive payment be made to get us to where He now is. It is this powerful example of love that motivates us to first get on the “gospel way” through baptism, and then stay on that way by continually transforming our minds and behavior into the character of the One we follow.