The fact that God would incarnate shows how deep God's love is.

Incarnation and Justification

Definitions and Meanings

What Is Christian Spirituality? > > Incarnation and Justification, and the Apophatic and Cataphatic approaches.

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What Is Incarnation?

incarnation, defined : [ < in- + Latin carn- (flesh) + -ation (to become, transform into).] When a divine being or spirit becomes human or takes on an animal form of life. The adjective 'incarnate' is used to describe someone who becomes or personifies a certain trait or characteristic.

For Christians, incarnation refers to God loving us so much that God chose to become a certain earthly being, Jesus of Nazareth. In doing that, the Lord chose to be born, to live, to die in the manner of human beings, and to experience the good and bad that makes up human life. By incarnating, God gave a new holiness to all that exists, to the earth Jesus walked on, the world of nature he had all around him, in, the ethnic/religious group he was a member of, the wood he cut and pieced together, the temple he hung out at, the boat he spoke from, the crowds he spoke to, the nation and empire he lived in, the garden he prayed in, the city he was executed in, and the tomb he walked out of. Jesus' incarnation doesn't make created things into God, but makes all created things blessed by God, and re-activates the image of God in which we were created.

"Christian humanism is not based on the presumption that our humanity is self-justifying. Rather Christians are humanists because God showed up in Mary's belly."
Stanley Hauerwas

You can also check the for "incarnation".


'Incarnational' refers to the act of actually entering into a people, series of events, nation, or culture. It's a mode of operation, which breeds methods but it's not about method. Being 'incarnational' is the way God operates in the world around us, and in us, the ultimate example being Christ Himself. We can't incarnate our mission or our love in quite the same way as God does, but we can live in a way that follows God's pattern. God does not wait for us to move Godward, because we won't, or if we do, we won't stay there. Christ's followers operate incarnationally when they seek to introduce the faith to new lands and peoples. They re-orient the culture to teach about the true God; they teach by way of living among the people, building trust, living as disciples of Christ. Then, once they have succeeded, they generally stop doing things incarnationally like the Lord does them, and start trying to draw people to an institution or a set of ideas or rules, or through use of power. This has sometimes worked in the short run, dramatically reshaping many of the world's great cultures. But eventually, the institutions, ideas, and rules fail, because they are not God but the work of humans. People drift away, or even rebel. And the church starts to die.

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You yourself are 'incarnate' just by being alive, but your faith might be so abstracted or bound by rules or ideology that it no longer breathes. In order to bear witness in a culture that no longer believes, or one that is even in open rebellion against God, Christ's followers must start the incarnational process again. This means actually going into the people and the culture, not calling them to come to us. It means finding where the people suffer, and why, and what Christians (and others) may have done to help cause it - without our typical guilt-tripping. And then, going face-to-face, taking actions that really address those people, alongside them, in their lives. It is more than just serving them, it is being a part of the Spirit's revealing and empowering work among them. This is how God works. Our role is not so much to consciously imitate the method as to live and breathe the faith.

What Is Justification?

Justification [ < Late Latin iūstificare (to act justly toward).] definition: the act of rendering someone / something just, that there was no wrong done in their action(s). The verb form 'to justify': to make just. Related to 'justice' and 'to be just'.

For Christians, justification is God's act of declaring sinners forgiven, or 'not guilty'. A related word: exoneration. This is the key word in the "juridical" or "courtroom" approach to what Jesus did. A related term in that view is 'substitutionary atonement'. There are other ways to describe it in the New Testament. This one catches, in terms we can all recognize, a central aspect of God's approach to us, in that we are far from worthy of God's grace. All people break God's Law, which is a deadly thing to do. God declares us 'not guilty', by declaring Jesus 'guilty' in our place. Why would God do it? Because the Lord loves us, even though we keep showing that we are not otherwise worthy of it. Jesus carries out this divine purpose. Jesus takes on your unrighteousness; God grants Jesus' righteousness to those who put their trust in Jesus. Nothing you or I did can cause this act of grace. Justification from our wrongs is strictly something God does. It is never partially done, any more than an inmate on death row can be partially pardoned so that they can execute just the soft organs and several vertebrae. The whole being is justified, and changed.

You'd also be justified in checking for justification in the .

What Does Apophatic Mean?

apophatic [ < Greek apophanai (to say no) < apo- (away from) + phanai (to say)] also cataphatic [ to say thoroughly or for the record; < Greek kata (down)]

It sounds like some sort of bizarre mash-up of "apathetic" (not caring) and "apoplectic" (a form of rage in which one loses control of bodily actions). But it's not. In a Christian context, the apophatic approach is a way to understand mysteries and complex phenomena. Since we can't have a complete understanding of that sort of thing and can't accurately say what it is, we are left with using the clearest knowledge we have on it to say what it is not without claiming to know what it is.

Apophatic Wisdom and Eastern Orthodoxy

Apophatic understanding is a long-standing part of ancient wisdom traditions. It's often referred to as the 'via negativa' (though perhaps it is better to use one's own language to say it). It is most used in the field of religion (since God is seen as the ultimate in being 'beyond'), and is especially characteristic of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Apophatic theology is seen by some postmodern Christians as a less-arrogant way to think about the faith.

There are two facets of this: (1) determining what the subject, by all indications, is not (for instance, using what God has self-revealed in Scripture to find that some idea or occurrence is not of God), because you can't truthfully say what it is; (2) describing by way of blanket or general negations of what we can understand ('in-comprehendable', or 'un-fathomable', or 'im-measurable'). The idea is that it is important to our senses of humility and reality that we understand and accept that we are limited in our ability to know, and always will be this side of the Kingdom.


A different approach dominates the Roman Catholic (and thus also the Protestant and Pentecostal) traditions. "Cataphatic" makes statements that something is true about God or God's mysteries, again based on God's self-revelation in the Bible. In Catholic theology, the positive statements are more important than the negations, however both can easily be found in that tradition. (For instance, John of the Cross had a strong strain of the negative way in his writing.) To Thomas Aquinas, knowing and not knowing acted as correctives to each other, in a sort of dialogue. (The knowing boldly was at the center in his Summa, but at its end, Aquinas had to turn to not-knowing.) A back-and-forth pattern is the main format of the Athanasian Creed. Under the influence of the Enlightenment's beief in reason and science, Protestant theology has been characterized by making definitive deductions about God, limiting apophatic approaches mainly to devotional life or to the attributes of God. Most Protestant thinkers believe that a cataphatic framework (of building on what we know) is the way to make headway on knowing more from what we hold to be mysteries. Such growing knowledge is seen as human progress, part of the way the Holy Spirit leads us. Protestant Calvinism represents the strongest strain of cataphatic thinking; yet even there, thinkers such as Dooyeweerd would dip into the apophatic way. Recent ideas in emergent and charismatic circles have attempted to bring apophatic elements back into the Protestant picture, as an opposing thrust to liberalism's and fundamentalism's excessive sense of certainty about what it knows. Postmodernist Christians are suspicious of the sand much of our 'knowledge' is built on. Eastern Orthodoxy uses both ways, too, but holds the theology of the negative way to be more important, especially when talking about the nature of God, but even in other parts of theology, wherever a mystery is encountered. And there is at least some mystery to everything.