Practical Kenosis

One of the greatest doctrines in all of the pages of Holy Scripture has to be the doctrine of kenosis (Greek: κένωσις). Christ emptying Himself and coming to earth in the form of man. The pinnacle of this doctrine is found in Philippians 2:7 “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Taken from the Greek word here in this passage, the term refers to the doctrine of Christ’s “self-emptying” in His incarnation. I am actually not a big fan of the phrase “self-emptying” but much prefer to say Christ “set aside” the privileges of deity that were His alone in the heavenly kingdom.

In his book: “The Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ” Stephen J. Wellum says: “kenosis was a self-renunciation, not an emptying Himself of deity”. Some false teachers take the concept of kenosis too far, saying that Jesus lost all or some of His divine nature when He came to earth. This heresy is sometimes referred to as the kenosis theory, kenoticism or kenotic theology. It does not reflect the true biblical idea of Christ condescending to earthy form.

There have been libraries of books written about Kenosis, some of them very helpful some of them not so. When it comes to this theory we have sometimes focused too much on what Jesus “gave up” and have failed to focus on what Jesus “took on” from the same passage. To His divine nature, Jesus took-on a human nature as He humbled Himself for us. Jesus went from being the Glory of Glories in heaven to being a lowly human being who was put to a slave’s death on a cross.

One of the real shortcomings I see from most of the proponents of this doctrine is that they rarely speak of Christ taking back up His Deity and that is the emphasis of this passage. Talk about context! Two short verses later we find this:

Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

He was to be exalted above everyone/everything that has ever existed! Anti-Kenosis if you will.

Let me take this one step further. The old English Puritan Thomas Manton once said:

“Doctrine is only the drawing of the bow, application is hitting the mark.”

So as I looked at this passage many years ago, holding my third born child in my arms, this doctrine moved from theological speculation to practical application. As I read verse nine the words: at the name of Jesus every knee Shall bow, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the little body that I held in my hands will one day bow her knee to the one who “emptied Himself” in this passage. The one who “set-aside” His “rights of deity”, took it back up again and now reigns in Him rightful place.

So now, some thirty years later, I have been blessed with four grandbabies. Two boys and two girls with Lord-willing, many more to come. As each of them comes into this world, I don’t take the time to count to make sure there are ten fingers and ten toes. Nor do I look to see if their nose looks like my side of the family or the in-laws. I don’t check to see if their earlobes are attached or dangling. I grab their little leg and begin to bend it back and forth, all the while thinking: this little knee will one day bow. My prayer goes up sorta like this:

“Dear Father, let this little knee bow early in life accepting the One who set-aside His deity and came to earth as her Savior…may this knee not wait until it is compelled to in eternal judgement”.

That is my practical theology. This is what Kenosis means to me!


The Gospel PostScript