The Hypostatic Union: What it is and Why it Matters

Awhile back at my church (Sovereign Grace Bible Church), I taught equipping hour. I decided to teach on arguably the toughest doctrine: the hypostatic union (hereafter HU). I believe I taught it well by God’s grace, but getting into all the detail and nuance can get pretty sticky without accidentally saying something heretical.

So, with that being said, I decided to write a post on it. I’d like to describe what the HU is and why it matters. Though this is a heavy doctrine, it is one that we can understand (the best our finite minds can) if we just use our God-given brains. It matters immensely. When we understand what it means, we will therefore understand that’s its essential.

I won’t pretend to answer every nuanced question that usually comes up. There’s not enough time or space for that. I would have to make this into a series of blog and, well, that could get complicated. So…bare with me. If I don’t answer I question, look it up!

What is the Hypostatic Union?

To put it as simply as I can, the HU refers to the fact that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. We know what union means, but where do we get the term hypostatic?

Kevin DeYoung helps us answer that question:

Hypostasis is the Greek word for subsistence (think: individual existence). The hypostatic union, therefore, is the technical term for the unipersonality of Christ, whereby in the incarnation the Son of God was constituted a complex person with both a human and a divine nature (source).

In his article, DeYoung uses the Chalcedonian Definition (AD 451) for the precise definition. In the answer, it gives four terms: without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. I think the best way to not only describe the HU, but also answer any questions is going from those four terms.

Without confusion. What this means is that his divine nature and human nature are not mixed to form Jesus Christ. There are no mixtures in the person of Christ. There are, however, to natures: divine and human.

Without change: When Christ came to earth, He did not shed His divine nature. All that happened at the incarnation was addition, that is, he added a human nature.

Without division: Jesus Christ is not half divine, half human. As Shai Linne once said in his song “Hypostatic Union”: “Jesus, both God and man–200%!” If we our percentages on it, Jesus is 100% God and 100% human.

Without separation: The union of divinity and humanity is real. We need not separate them. In fact, we cannot separate them. They make up Jesus, the God-man. You can’t take one away and have the same Jesus.

Why Does it Matter?

Ultimately, the HU matters because knowing and believing in the right Jesus matters. If we don’t have the right Jesus, we don’t have the gospel. And if we don’t have the gospel, we are doomed. Dozens of false religions believe in some type of Jesus–but not the biblical one. The biblical Jesus is fully God, fully man. Take away one of those–or distort it in any other way–the implications reveal heresy.

It also matters for (at least) two other reasons, relating to His divinity and humanity.

If Jesus isn’t divine. Jesus being God is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. If Jesus isn’t divine–if He’s not God!–then our faith is futile, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). All hope is lost if Jesus is not God. As Shai Linne said (again), “only God can take the wrath of God and survive.” God was the only One that could’ve died because 1) He is the only One able to bear His wrath and survive it; and 2) If Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh, that means He was sinful. Jesus couldn’t be sinful and, well, die for sins.

If Jesus isn’t human. Above all else, if Jesus wasn’t human, He wouldn’t have been able to be man’s representative. As in Adam all stand condemned, man needed another representative to live justified before the Father (Romans 5:18).

A Complex Doctrine Made Practical

Though this doctrine is extremely complex in its nuance, when we dive into the depths of it, we see how practical it is to Christian’s lives. We can look to Christ, who was and is our representative, and know that we are secure as children of God because of what He did! Not anything about us, but all of Him! He is the federal head of those whom believe.

The HU can be difficult to learn, but as Christians, we need to commit ourselves to complex doctrines. We should love to plunge deep into the depths of who Jesus is. Jesus, our Savior, was and forever will be the God-man who not only died for us but bore the wrath of God!

It is because of Him that the wrath of God no longer abides on us; it is because of Him that we can run full force into the everlasting arms of the Father; it is because of Him that we can be assured that we will be in glory with the triune God one day soon.

Knowing who Jesus is–knowing His nature–is vitally important. Though we may not be able to understand it all, given that we’re finite and He’s infinite, we can understand enough. So soak it all in!

Soli Deo Gloria

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