Did Jesus Become God When He Was Born?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
Out of the mouth of babes come some of the toughest issues that ever confront theologians, to say nothing of Sunday school teachers or parents. For example, the question that my son, then five years of age, once put to me in rush-hour traffic: “Daddy, how did Jesus get to be God?” What struck me about the question was that we hadn’t even been talking about the subject. Surprising as it may seem to you, that very issue was one of the first controversies in the early church. Did Jesus become God when He was born? Or rather was He always God and only appeared to be a man?
“The first heresy in the church,” writes Richard Halverson, “did not deny the deity of Jesus, it denied His humanity. Gnosticism, believing matter to be evil, rejected the idea that Christ had a physical body, and affirmed that He only ‘appeared’ to be human.”
For a long time, men have argued this very question. Even in our generation it has been very much of a live issue. Some emphasize the humanity of Jesus and fail to recognize that He was indeed God; and then others have so emphasized the fact He was God that they have almost produced a plaster-of-Paris image and failed to show that He was Man who felt, and cared, and wept and hurt. In some cases, we have reduced Him to the contempt of over-familiarity; but in other cases, we have pushed Him beyond the realm of care and have chosen to do this so we are less uncomfortable to think of Him as being in our midst.
Long ago Jesus brought the question to the point of an issue when He turned to Peter and asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus had just asked about what others said, and Peter replied that some considered Him to be a prophet, and others a great man, but Jesus wanted to know what he thought about Him. Then Jesus said that “flesh and blood” hadn’t revealed the fact that He was the “Son of the Living God,” but rather His Father in Heaven revealed this (Matthew 16:15-17).
That’s much the way it is when you understand that Jesus was both uniquely Man and God, a unique fusion of each – unlike anything, certainly, in our experience as mortal men, and beyond the natural laws of procreation which always decree that the son is like the father, the offspring of the union of a male and a female.
The simple story of the incarnation, a word which means “God in the flesh,” is that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit–not Joseph, nor another man. But God reached down and allowed her body to bring forth a son who was man, completely human, and God, completely divine. Do you understand that? Well, I admit that to accept it as truth may be beyond my understanding, but it is not beyond my comprehension. God is God, and I am man. But then if I understood all there is to understand of the divine, my God would be human as I am, and not in the least beyond my understanding.
There is, however, one thing far more important than understanding the truth of the incarnation, and that is to know the Person, Jesus Christ. In some cases, we accept the position of the church on important issues, but we have never come to know the Person, Jesus Christ. Our theology is straight, but our hearts are empty and aching. Want to know more about this wonderful Person? Then read the first epistle of John. The author of this book wrote, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life…” (1 John 5:13). That’s what counts.
Resource reading: John 1:1-51