Regrettably, “incarnational ministry” approaches fail to recognize key New Testament passages about union with Christ. The New Testament makes strong claims about the “missions” of the Son and Spirit in the world. This makes the “sending” of the church fundamentally derivative and subordinate. We are adopted into Christ by the Spirit; we do not have a divine nature, like the incarnate Christ, but only a human nature. The Spirit brings us into the benefits of Christ as ones who belong to him; fundamentally, the church is sent as witnesses to Christ and ambassadors of reconciliation in him. We are always to point beyond ourselves, as witnesses.
Christ lives in us by the Spirit. But a biblical account of union with Christ is clear that we are not Christ; we are not an “ongoing incarnation” in the world. While John’s gospel speaks about how we are sent into the world (John 20:21), the gospel uses different language for the sending of the Son. As New Testament scholar Andreas KÃ¶stenberger points out, terms such as ” ‘coming into the world’ or ‘descending’ or ‘ascending’ ” are “reserved for Jesus.” The way we are sent, he writes, is “not the way in which Jesus came into the world (i.e. the Incarnation), but the nature of Jesus’ relationship with his sender (i.e., one of obedience and utter dependence).” We are not sent into the world to perform another incarnation, but as disciples who bear witness to Christ and his reign by the Spirit.