Let’s Stop Under-Humanizing Jesus

In Newsletter, Spiritual Growth, Theology by Kurt WillemsLeave a Comment

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Hi friends,

Today I want to share something that is a major theme in Echoing Hope. In the church, although not in any “official sense,” we have an experiential tendency to minimize Jesus’ human nature. Let me explain….

Underhumanizing Jesus

While overdeifying Jesus isn’t possible, since as a Christ follower I’d rather not rob God of any glory, it’s increasingly clear to me that many Christians underhumanize him. Christians often talk about  as though this one image in the New Testament is meant to split physicality from spirituality. I’ve heard sermons and read books and blogs that talk about “the flesh,” referring to our bodies (and sinful desires) as what we will leave behind for brand-new spiritual bodies in heaven.

Sometimes we get the impression that our human bodies will not be redeemed in the end, that we’ll be ghostly. No. The body is good. Very good. Its impulses and lusts (“the flesh”) must be transformed for the good life Jesus offers. These impulses, of course, are often the inversion of healthy desires (lust is rooted in a desire for intimacy, for example). But the point is that the human body isn’t disposable; it’s redeemable. The imaginations of the writers of the New Testament were always informed by the idea that spirit and matter are deeply intertwined. When did we lose this?

Some Christians believe that our humanity will be shed in eternity. But if we are invited to become like Jesus, why would we desire to escape the humanity he willingly put on himself? Jesus was and is human. So are we.

The Humanity of Jesus Changes Everything

We miss half of Jesus’s significance when we miss his humanity. I’m not talking only about cognitive beliefs about him (most people believe Jesus was a human). Instead, we experientially neglect his humanity. In a strange way, lots of us want to primarily associate Jesus with the God “up there” so that we can keep him at a safe distance from the muck and mess of our daily lives. He’s in the sky somewhere when we need him for a crisis or when we’re feeling connected to God because we’re having a good day. (I want more of Jesus than this.)

Honestly, I’ve had seasons when going to church to worship Jesus on Sunday gave me just enough to get through the struggles of the upcoming week. Church can become a means of spiritual survival to remind us of a God out there who helps us. The rest of the week we sprint from work, to day care, to carpool duty, to soccer practice, and eventually to bed, only to start the marathon all over again the next day. Jesus the human being shows us that a more truly human life is possible. In short, Jesus gets it.

Look, it would be easy to let a lot of this divinity versus humanity stuff stay in the abstract. Shoot, the early church had to host multiple ecumenical councils (gatherings of bishops and theologians) to settle what the Bible teaches: in Christ are two perfect natures. I’m not stepping into that argument. It was settled a long time ago.

So then, what’s the payoff, really, for you and me? At the end of the day, Jesus offers us example after example—through teaching and lifestyle—of what we humans should do when we encounter situations similar to those he did. He shows us a real picture of how to be human. We can become human, just like him. (Even if imperfectly until the final day of resurrection.)

Jesus wants us to see him. All of him. This means we have to look closely at his humanity. The Incarnation—God taking on human flesh and experience—is what makes Christianity so compelling. God in a body. That body means God is human. Jesus is what it looks like to perfectly live as an image bearer. We could learn a thing or two by watching how he does it.


[This newsletter/blog contains excerpts from Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain. It is copywritten material. All rights reserved by the author, Kurt Willems, and the publisher WaterBrook, an Imprint of Random House. © 2021.]

Author: Kurt Willems

Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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