The Two Wills of Christ Part 3

This is the fourth post in a series. For part one click here, part two click here, and part three click here.

‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ Hebrews 2:14-18

‘Will the reason not become abundantly clear to anyone who reflects on it? As I have said, the Son came, or rather was made man, in order to reconstitute our condition within himself; first of all in his own holy, wonderful, and truly amazing birth and life. This was why he himself became the first one to be born of the Holy Spirit (I mean of course after the flesh) so that he could trace a path for grace to come to us. He wanted us to have the intellectual regeneration and spiritual assimilation to himself, who is the true and natural Son, so that we too might be able to call God our Father, and so remain free of corruption as no longer owning our first father, that is Adam, in whom we were corrupted,’[1] Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ

I hope that I’ve explained in previous posts how the two wills of Christ a) gives us a better understanding of how salvation works through the God-man, and b) works in harmony with the ruling at the Council of Chalcedon regarding the two natures of Christ.

To recap: The Council ruled that the two natures are joined in the one person of Christ ‘without confusion, without change, without division, without separation: the distinction of natures being in no way abolished because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved.’

Maximus argues that just as the two natures of Christ exist distinctly but in harmony in the one person, so with the two wills.

Although it’s dangerous to speculate on the inner life of Christ (and I do so with caution), it’s also important that we attempt to make sense of the story of salvation as it’s been handed down to us. In addition to this, I think that there are rich truths about the nature of God and about the nature of our lives in him in this strange question of the two wills of Christ that are there to be mined.

A Non-Competitive Model

The picture we have is of one person, and this person is Jesus of Nazareth. It is irrefutable that this person is a human person in a human body. He was born, breathed, ate, grew, suffered, died. This one person is also the divine Son, the second person of the Trinity. This one person is the one subject of all the actions of Christ. So the two natures, and the two wills, are harmonized into one, but (see above) ‘the characteristic property of each…being preserved.’

One of our problems in understanding this is that we assume that in order for one nature to function, the other must diminish or ‘give way’. If God is in control, I can’t be. If I’m in control, no-one else can be.

How about we see the two natures of Christ functioning in one person in what is sometimes described as a ‘non-competitive’ fashion?

It is not that God ceases to function when assuming the human nature and acting in the human nature in Christ. In fact, it is the opposite, but this requires thinking in a different way about what happens to our humanity when God engages us.

What if there was a way for God’s will to fill my willing in a way that means that my will is not negated (I am still able to will of my own accord), but so that my life flourishes into its full potential? What if God’s will behind and in my will is an empowering and enriching force, shaping my will so that I am capable of far more than in my own capacity, but it is still me and still my capacity? What if I can only really be free if that happens? What if that is God’s ultimate will for all humanity?

How does that sound? Not too bad.

What’s the flip side though?

What if insisting on our own self-determination and ‘free will’ ultimately leads to the destruction of ourselves and of others in the end?

This offends us because submission is offensive, but it is precisely the pattern of life we see in Jesus Christ.

Remember the sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel:

For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).

This dynamic, I want to suggest, is not just the means of our salvation, the offering up of the Son of his own accord for our sakes, but the pattern of the Christian life. (See Phil 2:1-11 which describes both in Christ.)

So in Jesus Christ, for the first time, a human willing is brought into perfect harmony with the will of God.

How might this work?

There are various explanations of how these two wills harmonize in Christ. The Western Church might speak of ‘grace’ and the Eastern Church of ‘energy’ and ‘energies’. I would say that both these categories could come under the overarching work of the Spirit.

In Christ, we see God the Son submitted to a frail, limited, human life, and yet this human life is first brought about in Mary’s womb, and then empowered, baptized, shaped, comforted, and even driven, by the Spirit.

The reason that the two wills debate is so fascinating is that even though the union of divine and human natures is effected in Mary’s womb (the hypostatic union), and thus the human nature is perfected, this is only the beginning of the human life of Christ. He then lives a life, which to all intents and purposes, looks like a life that any human being might have lived. The perfecting of the human nature in the hypostatic union is also the beginning of the journey of growth, of intimacy with the Father, of empowerment, of temptation, of knowledge, of obedience, of submission to death, and of eternal and resurrected life that takes place over the course of Christ’s life.

The human nature is at once perfected and being perfected through loving obedience in the power of the Spirit, and this is the pattern of living that becomes attainable for all humanity in Christ and the Spirit. It’s possible.

Cyril talks about the incarnation as ‘a new rootstock, a new beginning’. It is the promise of the gospel and what Paul describes in Romans 8.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:14-17).

A Final Point

Although we read of the actions of God in the NT in the Father, Son, and Spirit, they are all the actions of the one God in his one will. The Son assumes the human nature and God as Father, Son, and Spirit acts upon the human nature of the Son to perfect humanity, first in him, and as a promise for us.

Imagine the reality that when God himself takes on a human nature it is with the sole purpose of saving humanity from destruction and re-creating it in all its glory and beauty.

Imagine that when God wills from and through a human nature, given the choice, he chooses to act solely and sacrificially for us.

[1] Cyril of Alexandria. On the Unity of Christ. Translated by John Anthony McGuckin. NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1995, 62.

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