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article • A to Z of Apologetics

Kenosis

Jesus' putting aside of all the advantages and powers of divinity in order to save us

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father ” (Phil. 2:5-11).

This passage eloquently sums up the Incarnation, God becoming man. At the center of the passage is the statement that Christ Jesus “emptied himself.” The Greek term Paul uses for “emptied” is kenosis. This kenosis is the ultimate expression of the humility of Jesus, who put aside all the advantages and powers of divinity in order to save us. Paul is making clear that Jesus didn’t just appear to be a man (as a heresy of the time taught), but he really was a man, with all humanity’s frailties and weaknesses, except sin.

The kenosis of Jesus is a model for his followers of complete self-renunciation. We too are called to “empty ourselves”—ridding ourselves of our pride, our self-love, our passions—and conform our lives to Christ’s. The result of this personal kenosis is, paradoxically, exaltation. Jesus himself said, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). If we join ourselves to Jesus by emptying ourselves, then we will join him in being exalted, as we enter into union with God forever in heaven.

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