[Full Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through these links, at no extra cost to you. You can read my complete disclosure statement here.]
In today’s episode we look at the reasons why God became man, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we’re actually given four reasons for why God became man in Jesus Christ.
The paragraphs we’re looking at in the Catechism are paragraphs 457 to 460.
So the first reason for God becoming man is mentioned in CCC 457: “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God[.]”
The second reason is in CCC 458: “The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love[.]”
The third reason is in CCC 459: The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness
And the fourth reason given to us in CCC 460: “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature[.]’”
All right, so those are the four reasons given to us in the Catechism for why God became human. And what I want to do now is go through each of the four paragraphs that give these four reasons for God becoming man. However, before we go into the first one, I want you to be aware that all four of these reasons sort of address two themes: Revelation and Redemption.
What I mean by Revelation is that in each of these four reasons for why God became human, God reveals something of himself. And, in addition, all four reasons are for the sake of our Redemption.
So consider those two themes in the background as we go through these four reasons for God becoming man.
Reason #1: Reconciliation with God
So let’s look at CCC 457:
“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who ‘loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins’: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world’, and ‘he was revealed to take away sins’:
“Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?”
OK, so let’s make sense of reason number one.
Ultimately the first reason for God becoming man is reconciliation. Right? God wants to reconcile humanity to man.
Now, why are we in need of reconciliation? Well, I think a lot of the time people today don’t turn to God who is their savior because they don’t think they need a savior.
One of the prayers I actually pray almost every day, usually in a spontaneous way, is this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I’m in need of a savior. And you are my savior. Be my savior.”
And this comes from this recognition that I am broken. That I am a sinner, and I need someone to save me. And that God has literally come to save me.
And so again, go back to what I was saying before. I think a lot of times people don’t turn to God because they don’t realize they’re in need of a savior.
They don’t realize that they’re sinful. And trust me, I felt this way for most of my life as well. So I don’t mean for it to seem like I’m perfect or something, or that I never experienced this. Because I did, and I do.
And so how can we come to realize that we are in need of a savior?
Well, Scripture gives us the story in the very beginning, in the Book of Genesis. You know the story of Genesis 2: the story of humanity in Adam and Eve being created in the state of what the Church calls original holiness, the state of original communion with God. There’s this perfect harmony between Creator and creature.
However, in Genesis 3, the first human beings eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—the exact fruit which God tells them not to eat—and they commit the sin of disobedience. Immediately, this original sin causes chaos and a loss of this original communion that humanity has with God.
And so therefore we can say that before the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ the rest of human history included this division, this divide, this tear, this break between Creature and creator, between God and humanity.
Therefore, by God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, we have God and humanity reunited in one again. This is because the two natures of human and divine are truly one in the Person Jesus Christ.
So, whereas we lost this communion with God at the original sin, it is in the Incarnation, the moment that Our Lady said “yes” to the Angel, that we were restored to this communion with God.
That moment is so sacred because that is the moment that God and humanity came back together. Right? We often think of our reconciliation with God or our redemption with God having been accomplished merely on the cross, at the crucifixion and maybe even in the resurrection.
But actually, the work of our redemption, the work of our reconciliation with God began at the moment of the Incarnation: the whole life of Jesus is a work of reconciliation and redemption.
And so the church tells us that just as in Adam, all have sinned. So through Christ, all have salvation.
And this is why the Church proclaims the faith to us and calls us to the Sacrament of Baptism because it is through this sacrament that we are reunited with God.
It is through Baptism that we become by grace Sons of God through Christ, and, therefore, it’s through the gift of Baptism that we are then reconciled to God in Jesus Christ.
Reason #2: The Revelation of God’s Love
All right, so let’s move to reason number two in CCC 458:
“The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love: ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.’72 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’”73
As I said in the beginning there are two themes to watch out for in these four reasons for God becoming man… and I would say that this second reason here very much is focused upon the theme of Revelation: that in the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ it is revealed to us that God is love.
In fact, in 1 John 4, St. John himself describes God as love. He says God is love, not that God is loving, but that God is love.
And this truth has been revealed to us in the Person of Jesus, in the life of Jesus, in the teaching of Jesus, primarily in His unveiling of God as a Trinity—a communion of persons and an eternal exchange of love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And so when we look at Christ on the cross, a lot of the times we want to think that it’s a symbol of condemnation: look what your sin did. And in a sense this is true, our sin does lead to the crucifixion of our Lord.
But ultimately, the crucifix is a symbol of love. It’s a sign of God’s love for us. It is in the crucifix that we see the sort of pinnacle of God’s love that His love is not merely sentimental, but is self-emptying.
You could say it’s cruciform. He completely empties all that He is to us, His beloved.
And, therefore, if God in His very nature is this sort of self-emptying love, and we’re made in God’s image, what this reveals, then, is not only that God is love, but that you and I are made to give and receive self-emptying love.
Reason #3: Model of Holiness
Let’s turn to reason number three in CCC 459:
“The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.’ ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’74 On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: ‘Listen to him!’75 Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’76 This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.77
Christ is our model for holiness. Now, before we can make sense of what that really means, we have to understand what holiness is.
What does it mean to be holy? Well, holy literally means “to be set apart.”
Similar to the sense of being consecrated. Just as things or people are consecrated to be set apart for a purpose, to be holy is to be set apart for a purpose.
However, in addition to this literal meaning, “to be holy” also means to be without sin. And therefore we can say that God in and of himself is holy because He is without sin. In fact, it would be fitting to say that He is holiness itself. He’s not only set apart from the rest of creation, but He is, of course, completely without sin.
And so when God becomes man, when he’s incarnated in Christ, this is why the church teaches, based on Scripture, that Jesus Christ is like us in all things but sin.
This will lead many people to oftentimes say things like, “Well, does that make Christ less human? Isn’t it human to sin?”
But this line of thinking is actually theologically inaccurate. It is not human to sin. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. To sin is inhumane. Which is why those who commit grave sin are often viewed to be acting as animals.
In other words, to commit sin is to act animalistic; it is to lower ourselves of our dignity as human beings who are made to act according to reason to the level of animals who act merely on instinct and carnal desires.
And so to go back again, if it doesn’t mean that Christ is less human by not sinning it must mean the opposite: that by Christ not having sinned, He is even more human than us. In fact, this is why we understand our Lord Jesus Christ to be a perfect human being, without sin.
And therefore, if Christ is without sin, He is ultimately the best model for holiness.
But He really is not only a model for holiness but also a model for how to be a human being in the best possible way that we can be. He shows us what it looks like to live a fully human life.
Christ reveals that we can become human beings who live fully in the image of God by living fully according to the image of the Son.
Reason #4: Sharing in the Divine Nature
Now to reason number four in CCC 460:
“The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’:78 ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’79 ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’80 ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.’”81
Bam. Paragraph 460 is one of my favorite paragraphs in the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church.
This is the end, the goal of all things in Christ. Our salvation is not merely a legal declaration of being found not guilty or an experience of forgiveness.
God wants to do more than just save us from hell. God wants to do more than just save us from sin. God wants to save us for something, for everything, and that everything is Him.
Ultimately, God wants us to share in who He is. And so the Church teaches that we, as human beings, get to participate, by virtue of the Incarnation, in the sonship of Jesus Christ.
And what this means is that what Jesus is to the Father by nature, we receive by grace, by gift, by participation. Whereas Jesus is the Eternal Son of God made flesh. We get to become Sons of God in Him and share in His filial relationship with the father. And this is why we believe that when we’re baptized into Christ we are then made unto sons and daughters of the Father.
It’s not a metaphor.
We truly get to participate in God’s own nature. And another way of saying this is we’re participants in God’s family, His Life.
I’d like to share a couple of quotes here that I think are very powerful.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[a] his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4
“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” – St. Leo the Great
“For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” – St. Irenaeus
“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” – Words said by the priest at Mass
So, what should our response be to these four reasons for God becoming man?
Well, if God truly became human then our entire lives should be changed. It should affect the way we wake up in the morning, the way we go to sleep at night, the way we speak with people, the way we look at others, the way that we perceive ourselves… everything needs to change.
And so, in conclusion, I invite you to take the time to contemplate our Lord more closely.
I’d like to encourage you to spend more time carefully reading about our Lord. Of course, begin with the Four Gospels. Maybe pick one of the four and begin reading one chapter each day, with the intention of meditating on what you read.
In addition, I encourage you to consider reading one of the following books about the life of Jesus Christ.
- Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen
- To Know Christ Jesus by Frank Sheed
These are both great books to read alongside the Gospels so as to really help you dive in and meditate on the life of our Lord.
Which of the four reasons do you connect with the most? Why?
Let me know below in the comment box!
Are you often asked what the Catholic Church teaches about tough subjects? Are you curious about what the Church teaches?
In this Tough Catholic Teachings cheat sheet I provide for you direct links to the paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that speak specifically about these tough topics.
You won’t need to go searching for what the Catholic Church actually teaches about these subjects as you will have direct access to the Catechism’s teaching all in one place!