I can’t let the beginning of the new year go by without first wishing you a happy (happier?) one; and second, commenting on the plethora of advice on how to have a better year than the one that just ended. It seems everyone has something to contribute to the mix, from being your best self to getting out the clutter, both physical and mental, and all forms of self-improvement. My advice might sound a little different: die a little every day.
Galatians 2:20 tells us we’ve been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but he lives in us. Our lives are not our own; we’ve been bought with a price. As a human on earth, Jesus didn’t live for himself, but lived to do the will of his Father. In Philippians 2:5, before talking about how Jesus emptied himself, Paul said we are to have the same mindset or attitude. While we can never achieve anywhere near the level of self-emptying of Jesus, it’s part of who we are as Christians and deserves serious thought, prayer and even effort.
Jesus lives in us, which means the kenosis of the Trinity and Jesus in particular naturally point to a form of kenosis in humans, especially in, but not limited to, his followers. Becoming more like Jesus means we practice self-emptying and die a little every day.
Next week: more on dying to self, including thoughts from Dallas Willard.
I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring a little bit about kenosis as much as I have. As the point of this blog is learning more about God, I’ve given this fascinating and foundational aspect of who he is extra space. Going deeper into and contemplating the self-emptying of God is an amazing look into how love functions and how it motivated everything he has done for us.
“The self-humiliation of God is fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son. God permits an existence different from his own by limiting himself. He withdraws his omnipotence in order to set his image ̶ men and women ̶ free. The divine kenosis which begins with the creation of the world reaches its perfected and completed form in the incarnation of the Son. And the kenosis is realized on the cross. God becomes the God who identifies himself with men and women to the point of death, and beyond” (Jurgen Moltmann).
Barry Robinson (see below) adds this to Moltmann’s thoughts: “It’s the phrase ‘and beyond’ that’s intriguing. Could this imply that the fullness and consummation of God’s self-emptying is witnessed in the ascended and exalted Christ retaining his humanity as the God-man and not shedding it at the resurrection? (Paul speaks of the man Christ Jesus after his resurrection in 1 Timothy 2:5.) As Graham Kendrick’s hymn Meekness and Majesty says, Jesus
Barry Robinson (see below) adds this to Moltmann’s thoughts: “It’s the phrase ‘and beyond’ that’s intriguing. Could this imply that the fullness and consummation of God’s self-emptying is witnessed in the ascended and exalted Christ retaining his humanity as the God-man and not shedding it at the resurrection? (Paul speaks of the man Christ Jesus after his resurrection in 1 Timothy 2:5.) As Graham Kendrick’s hymn Meekness and Majesty says, Jesus ‘lifts our humanity to the heights of his throne.’ To mysteriously include humanity within the eternal being of the Word seems to me to be the greatest act of self-emptying ̶ not so much by the subtraction of who the Word is, but by the addition of who we are.”
If you’d like to read more about kenosis, this article and this chart might be interesting to you. They are provided courtesy of Barry Robinson. His bio is included at the end of the article, as well as a suggested reading list. His article, published as a six-part devotional on Day-by-Day out of the UK, is what first sparked my interest in this topic.
Some of us are better at sharing than others. Starting when we’re little, we usually have to be taught to share because selfishness seems to be innate.
One thing we know about Jesus is that he’s good at sharing. God’s plan, from before the foundation of the world, was to share himself with us by becoming one of us. We know how he did this – emptied himself of his omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence (Kenosis of God: The Self-Limitation of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, David T. Williams) to become a human being, while still being God. He retained his love and holiness while humbling himself in submission to both his Father and to humanity.
He continues to share himself with us by sharing his faith, obedience, love and humility. We have very little of any of these and I know from experience that we can’t attain faith, obedience or any other godly attribute on our own or by our own effort. It doesn’t work. We have to trust God to impart these things to us by sharing his power and who he is with us. God continues to be kenotic in both his self-emptying and his munificence to us.
My first memory is of a pink toy washing machine, probably a Christmas present when I was five. Before that, I only know what my parents told me – my birth at a Navy hospital, moving to a farm as a baby, and then moving to another state as a toddler. You probably have a similar experience and I imagine Jesus was the same. He was human after all, which makes me wonder, when did he know? When did he become aware of who he was? I doubt little three-month-old Jesus knew he was God and understood why he was starting life as a helpless baby. But we don’t know, do we?
The first hint we’re given is when Jesus was in the Temple as a 12-year-old. When his parents came looking for him, he told them, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house [or about my Father’s business]?” (Luke 2:49, NIV). Verse 52 tells us he grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Later, we see more indications: his mother’s comment at the wedding in Cana; Satan’s comments in the desert; and of course, in the garden when he told his disciples he could call down twelve legions of angels.
Regardless of when he knew, coming as a baby and having to grow in wisdom was a choice of Father, Son and Spirit to empty himself or fulfill his kenotic nature on earth the same as in heaven. He was no less God when he cried in his mother’s arms; he wasn’t diminished by having to learn the scriptures in the Temple or learning a trade from his dad. Rather he added humanity to himself. Jesus was fully human and fully God, the same as he is today. And his nature remains kenotic – he continues to give himself for us in love.
How did December get here already? I know many of us are ready for 2020 to be over, but before that happens, we might want to contemplate the deeper meaning of Christmas. Everyone knows it’s not just about giving and receiving gifts, not about getting together with family (if we even can this year) and not even about going to church. It’s about who God is and why he came to earth as a human.
The passage in Philippians 2 might not come to mind when you think of Christmas. Verses 5-8 talk about having the mind of Christ, followed by how God emptied himself to become a slave. The word for this is kenosis, or self-emptying. He set aside the privileges of deity, not counting equality with God as something he needed to cling to or hold tightly or use to his advantage. When Jesus became one of us, he put kenosis into action on earth – he gave up all the “trappings” of being God to become a helpless baby, be an obedient son to human parents, learn what it means to be human and then die as a criminal, with criminals.
Why did he do this? Because that’s who he is. Father, Son and Spirit, as three in one, exist as a self-emptying being. Each empties self or pours out for the other in love. Because of this way of being, God naturally did the same for us in the incarnation. He became Emmanuel, God with us, in the greatest act of kenosis in history. Perhaps we should say “Merry Kenosis”!