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For ancient heresies the rejection of Christ entailed one of two things. Either they would reject that Jesus was God or they would reject that Jesus was human. Few accepted Him as both God and man (some did, but their heresy dealt more with the specifics of such a union). They would often teach that Christ was a created being who was spiritual and appeared to be human, but was merely an apparition. The other side taught that Jesus was a man who was inhabited by the spirit of Christ or was simply enlightened. The Arians attempted to combine the two, teaching that Jesus was like God, but still created by God, and thus was just a created being, though created above all other beings. In Arius’ own words,
“We know one God – alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone possessing immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone master, judge of all, manager, director, immutable, and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law, Prophets, and New Testament – who begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom he made the ages and everything…But, as we say, he [Jesus] was created by the will of God before times and ages, and he received life, being, and glories from the Father as the Father has shared with him.” (Arius’s Letter to Alexander of Alexandria, paragraph 2)
What Arius is saying is that Jesus was no mere human, but rather created before time (how such a contradiction could exist is beyond me – time is the indicator of change, for something to come into being constitutes change, thus time would exist at such a point) and through whom all other things were created.
It is popular in the modern world to call any heresy that denies the deity of Christ “Arianism,” but this will not suffice. For instance, the Dan Brown books that indicate that Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion and went on to have a family indicate that Jesus was only human. Thus, they do not qualify as Arianism, since Arianism still saw Jesus as a supernatural being. Rather, such modern heresies found within Dan Brown’s works, or more applicable in Protestant Liberalism, seek to deny any supernatural act about Jesus.
We can look to those Christians who have bought into the Enlightenment who see Jesus as nothing more than an enlightened human. They deny His miracles and His resurrection. In short, the Deity of Christ is ignored and sacrificed and we are left with a purely human Jesus.
Alternatively, we can look to Protestant Conservatism and see the opposite heresy take place. We see an implicit denial of Christ’s humanity. If you mention that Christ went to the bathroom, belched, laughed, told jokes, felt pain, or acted like any other human (though without sin), then you are treated as impious. We elevate Christ to a point where we ignore His humanity. We ignore that He was like us in all respects.
Unfortunately, some have taken such a high-view of Christ’s deity that they’re beginning to teach that Christ had celestial flesh, or that He was already in a “post-resurrection” body. That is to say, that if not for the crucifixion, Jesus would have never died of old age. They argue that He couldn’t have been sick and that He inhabited a perfect body. Their belief is nothing more than that of the Aphthartodocetae, who also believed that Jesus was born with incorruptible flesh. They say that though He could eat, He never hungered, though He could sleep, He was never tired, and though He could drink, He was never thirsty. They say when Christ did “suffer” it was voluntarily, as He was not subject to the laws of nature.
Of course, both extreme views are wrong. If Christ was not Divine, then our sins are not forgiven. If Christ was not human (in the sense that we are human, only without sinning), then He didn’t really live like us or face the challenges we face. Many heresies begin by not understanding who Christ was.
We must understand that Christ was both God and man. This means that He has a divine nature and a human nature, a divine will and a human will, a divine operation and a human operation, but in all of this both natures, wills, and operations worked perfectly while existing in one person, the Word.