The Spiritual Life of Jesus Christ, pt 2

powerlift.jpegThis article is the 2nd of a 2 part series. Please scroll down for part 1.

We’re talking about the spiritual life of Jesus. It’s important because most people don’t think he had one. We simply assume that he was born full-grown, overlooking the shattering impact of the Incarnation. He really was a baby. He really thought like a baby. He really grew up.

And he did all of that as a human, though he at the same time always was and always will be true God.

And that’s exactly what makes average evangelical followers of Jesus scratch their perplexed heads.

The brilliant WW2 era writer and apologist, Dorothy Sayers, states the problem better than I can. Please indulge an extended quotation from one of my favorite writers:

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“But, John Doe and Jane Doe will instantly object, “It can’t have mattered very much to him if he was God. A God can’t really suffer like you and me. Besides, the parson says we are to try and be like Christ; but that’s all nonsense–we can’t be God. And it’s silly to ask us to try.” This able exposition of the Eutychian heresy can scarcely be dismissed as merely “interesting to theologians”; it appears to interest Jon and Jane to the point of exasperation. Willy-nilly, we are forced to involve ourselves further in dogmatic theology and insist that Christ is perfect God and perfect man. . . .

“That,” replies John Doe, “is all very well, but it leaves me cold. Because, if he was God all the time, he must have known that his sufferings and death and son on wouldn’t last, and he could have stopped them by a miracle if he had liked, so his pretending to be an ordinary man was nothing but playacting.” And Jane Doe adds, “You can’t call a person ‘altogether man’ if he was God and didn’t want to do anything wrong. It was easy enough for him to be good, but it’s not at all the same thing for me. How about all that temptation stuff? Playacting again. It doesn’t help me live what you call a Christian life.”

John and Jane are now on the way to becoming convinced Apollinarians [an ancient heresy], a fact which, however interesting to theologicans, has a distinct relevance also to the lives of those average men, since they propose, on the strength of it, to dismiss Christian principles as impractical.

[Sayers, in Letters to a Diminished Church, 55, 56.]

Simply put, most Christians dismiss the life of Jesus as irrelevant for all practical purposes. They do it because they are a) under-instructed in the person and work of Christ–the heart of theology and, b) understandably eager to be evaluated by any standard other than the life of Christ.

Enter today’s blog. Here’s my central point: JESUS VOLUNTARILY RESTRICTED THE USE OF HIS DIVINE POWERS SO THAT HE COULD LIVE AS A HUMAN. He restricted himself to the same powers that you and I would have once we were saved.

The implication of my central point is: YOU CAN, THEREFORE, WALK IN HIS STEPS, BUT ONLY IF YOU UTILIZE HIS POWERS.

I see three such powers operating in his life: The Holy Spirit, The Word of God, Unbroken Communion with the Father.

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1. THE HOLY SPIRIT

When Jesus loved the unlovable, when he resisted temptation, when he cast out demons, when he performed miracles, and when he fulfilled the will of God, the source of his supernatural power was the Holy Spirit. The Third, not the Second Person of the Trinity.

I’m not making it up, honest!

  • His conception: “18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:18, NKJV.
  • His ministry: “18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;” Luke 4:18, NKJV.
  • His anointing and power: “22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”” Luke 3:22, NKJV.
  • His direction and performance of God’s will: “1 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” Luke 4:1, NKJV.
  • His divine mission: “18 “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.” Matthew 12:18, NKJV.
  • Casting out demons: “28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Matthew 12:28, NKJV.
  • Speaking forth God’s Word: “34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.” John 3:34, NKJV.
  • His resurrection: “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” 1 Peter 3:18, NKJV.

The role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life has been radically neglected. That’s too bad, because the same Spirit stands ready to empower you to walk in Jesus’ steps. If Jesus did what he did by his own divine power, then we cannot walk in his steps. If he did what he did by the divine power of the Spirit, and if he gives us that same Holy Spirit, then we’re good to go.

Not only that, but his temptation and suffering were real. Actually more real than ours because we cave in before temptation has reached its peak; he didn’t. He, therefore, felt a fuller, more vicious temptation than any of us ever will. Jesus walked in the Spirit. So can we.

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2. THE WORD OF GOD

The Word of God is infused with God’s own power. It is not only the truth of God, it is also a container for the power of God. Think of God’s Word not only as “truth pills” but as “radioactive truth pills.”

When you take in God’s Word, you not only receive truth, you also receive power.

Says who? Says the Word:

  • “12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, NKJV.
  • “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16, NKJV.
  • “11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” Luke 8:11, NKJV. (Later he will say that it grows “automatically.”)
  • “32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able [lit. “has the inherent power”] to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32, NKJV.

“Okay,” you’re thinking. “So the Word is powerful. What does that have to do with Jesus. He IS the Word, incarnate. So he had a massive head start.”

Yes, he is the Word incarnate. But no, he didn’t have a massive head start. Jesus grew in his knowledge of Scripture. As a baby he knew what all babies know: “Feed me, shelter me, help me, change me, burp me, goo-goo, smile, squeeze the finger.”

  • “52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52, NKJV.

The fact that he “increased in wisdom” means that he was not always complete in his knowledge, humanly speaking, of God’s Word. He learned, studied, contemplated, and grew. This is the true humanity of Jesus.

And you have access to the same Word of God that he did. And the same power it created in him, it will create in you. You can be a WWJD kind of person–but not by your own power.

The spiritual life of Jesus points the way.

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3. COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER

Communion with the Father is both a cause of power and the result of power operating in Jesus’ life. I used to teach that communion with the Father was the result of #1 and #2 (above) in Jesus’ life. Now I teach that it is a 3rd source of power, though it’s still a result. What I mean is that the Spirit and the Word are means to an end: fellowship with God the Father. Or, as our postmodern friends love to call it, “Intimacy with God.” Though that phrase still gives me the willies.

It is that closeness to God, that felt sense of God’s presence, that in itself increases your momentum to walk as Jesus walked.

Jesus love his father, so Jesus obeyed his father. That love was the end result of his spiritual life and growth. It can be the same for you.

  • “29 “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”” John 8:29, NKJV.
  • “25 “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”” John 17:25, 26, NKJV.
  • “7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.’”” Hebrews 10:7, NKJV.

It can be the same for you–the same communion with the Father’s heart that Jesus enjoyed can be yours.

  • “3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3, NKJV.

Give Jesus his due. He did what he did as a man, with the same limitations of other men and women (except for sin). Since Jesus lived in unbroken communion with the Father, his life demonstrated the fullest human potential possible. He is the first human to live up to his potential. He displayed what God created us all to be.

His love, his character, his wisdom, his magnetism, his integrity, his humor, his gentleness, his fierceness, his perfect timing in ministry and prayer, his miracles… all flowed out of his human nature, in perfect fellowship with the Father.

And that fellowship, in turn, was energized by the filling of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Jesus lived with one arm tied behind his back. But God made it up to him. He’ll do the same for you.

You can be like Christ. He has left you his legacy, his example, and most importantly, his sources of power. You can walk in his steps. You can resist temptation. You can love like he loved. You can become emotionally and spiritual healthy. You can have his joy.

The power is there just waiting for you to use it.

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6 thoughts on “The Spiritual Life of Jesus Christ, pt 2

  1. So as the scripture says, “Christ emptied himself and became a man”. Seems that he emptied himself of His divinity. Perhaps this is why he always called himself “the son of man”.
    You mentioned in part on of this that Jesus will always be God and always be man. How does that work and where is the acripture to back that up. I’m not finding disagreement with you on this, I’m just wondering.

  2. Hi Jon,
    I wouldn’t say that he emptied himself of divinity. He remained full deity; I can’t imagine that his divine nature could “cease to exist” in any way. Rather, he emptied himself of the use of divine attributes which he always possessed. This is the thrust of the first part of Phil 2. He had the powers; he voluntarily restricted himself and didn’t use them.
    There are a lot of places in Scripture that affirm the dual natures of Christ, including Phil 2. It’s a big topic, and maybe I’ll take it on in my blog someday.
    Thanks for stopping by.
    Bill

  3. A)The Dorothy Sayers’ quote above demonstrates the importance of educating our congregants not only in the Scriptures, but in the history of how the Church has affirmed the correct interpretation of Scripture. A quick tutorial in gnosticism goes a long way to stave people off of junk like “The Gospel of Judas.” Much like one ought to know one’s own earthly-family heritage, we have much to gain from learning about our heavenly-family ancestors.

    B) The works of the Apostles in Acts, I think, pretty clearly demonstrates the power available to us to be Christ-like via the Holy Spirit. Those stories of early church life are important and bold visions of what the Christian life can look like.

    C) A technical question for you: Does the Holy Spirit allow us to “fulfill” or “perfect” (if you’re a medievalist) our nature or does it allow us to “transcend” our nature? If the former is the case, how does one avoid Rahnerian theology of immanent sanctification (which, I’ll add for inflammatory purposes, leads to Liberation Theology) and the belief that Christianity is a set of techniques to make me “all that I can be?” If the latter, does it make sense to speak of Christ abandoning all divine power to descend to humanity? or wouldn’t we rather put it in terms of lifting humanity up to divine power? and how does that mesh with Phil. 2?

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts, though It’s probably worth mentioning that this is a difficult and legitimate theological problem that is still debated among very intelligent people.

    Thanks! I’m greatly enjoying this series of articles!

  4. Bill,

    This topic in very interesting, and very edifying!

    We have to be very grateful that Our Lord did not have an Inner Mess. Instead of the “Inner Mess” he had “Inner Grace,” since his human and divine natures “concurred” in one person in complete, absolute perfection.

    The Apostle James describes Inner Grace as “pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). The Apostle Paul says this nature is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). The Aposle Peter describes this divine nature as “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving blessing instead” (1 Pet 3:8-9). The Apostle John (First John) says this Inner Grace is “LOVE.”

    Our Lord Jesus was not descended from Adam (because he was virgin born), so he was therefore not born with the Inner Mess. We, however, have this Inner Mess since we were born as descendents of Adam. That is, when Adam died spiritually (separation from God), the result was Inner Mess. (Consider how Cain went and killed Abel… the Inner Mess did not take long to bear fruit.) We, therefore, are born spiritually dead in the pattern of Adam (Romans 5:12). That is why we are born slaves to sin (Romans 6:17, 20), and why our physical bodies suffer corruption (1 Cor 15:33 ff.), which is another way of saying that we all find our ultimate, physical demise in natural death. In other words, each of us lives in a “body of sin and death” (Romans 6:6; 7:24). What a mess!

    That is why we have to be “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus is not only the Lamb — who pays for our sins and provides for us life everlasting (by grace through faith!) — but is also the Person through whom we “partake of the divine nature” or Inner Grace (2 Pet 1:4). Peter clenches the truth, when he says, “Being BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet 1:23).

    Wows!

    Our daily choice then is to ask ourselves, Will we live (habitually) in “Inner Grace” or will we live (habitually) in the “Inner Mess” (Romans 13:14)…?

    “Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin [Inner Mess] which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)

    Grace.
    Joe

  5. Bill,

    Your comments are very refreshing. It is hard to comprehend, but it is very true that the Person of Jesus subsists in two natures, one divine and one human. Eternity will not be long enough to adore, glorify, nay, comprehend, the glory of God in the Person of Jesus.

    There is one passage in the gospels that leaves me intigued, and it is the story of the woman (who had a hemorrage) and who was healed by touching Jesus’ garmet (albeit surreptitiously). The story is found in Mark 5:24-34. Essentially, a woman touches him while he (Jesus) is moving through a crowd, and she is healed.

    Jesus’ reaction was, “Who just touched me? I felt the power leave me.” If we read the passage just the way it is, and we do not analyze and second guess the plain-reading of the gospel account — but take the account in a normal, literal reading — we see that Jesus does not know who touched him BUT he knows that power left his body.

    The point here is that we have a marvellous example of the humanity and divinity of Jesus in perfect harmony. He was ignorant, but he was omniscient. He was weak, but he was omnipotent. Both natures in subsisting in perfection in one Person.

    Yet another observation from this passage is its humor! Imagine how the disciples were both incredulous and sarcastic — but in a very light if not funny way — when they answered Jesus that he was being thronged by a mass of people. (And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?'” [verse 31].)

    What an interesting gospel story!

    The outcome of this gospel story was very “touching” (the woman confessed her desire for healing [by touching Jesus] before everyone) — and there are many sermons we could write on this episode — but it’s simplicity and even its “touch” of humor leave me quite intrigued with a sense of awe of the Person of Jesus subsisting in both His divine and human natures.

    Grace.
    Joe

  6. Jonathan,

    You questions are intriguing — I recall the “dualism” of the material (visible) and immaterial (invisible), which has resulted in many, many books and many, many discussions in theology — certainly no blog could contain the volumes of thought in this area. Does the chicken come before the egg? Does the “spiritual” overcome what is physical…? If so, is therefore what is “material” evil, then…? You have the idea. We can go back and forth, and back and forth.

    As believers, we look into the mirror of the Word of God (1 Cor 13:12) and we see “but dimly” the reflected glory of the “Word” — that is — Christ, who is the “living” word. Sometimes, we “forget” what we see in this mirror (Jam 1:23-24). That is where some of our problems stem in our daily experience.

    What we derive from renewing ourselves in the Word (looking “intently” into the mirror and not “forgetting” what we behold) is our power from God. This “fruit” is gentleness, kindness, patience, forbearance, peace, joy, rejoicing; not returning evil for evil; not returning insult for insult. There is no law written anywhere in the Bible that mandates this fruit (Gal 5:23), because the law was written, or intended for evildoers (1 Tim 1:9).

    In other words, this power from God and His Word “fulfills” the law, which law otherwise mandates, or compels, the individual to respect, or love his neighbor. That is why Christ “fulfilled” the Law, because he was full of the Power of the Holy Spirit, which power we now have available to us.

    We can talk about the flesh and the spirit; we can look at the “dualism” and its implications; but we cannot argue with the fruit, which derives its power from God’s Spirit (within us) and His Word, or mirror, into which we look daily.

    I hope this helps clarify some of the issues you presented.

    Grace.
    Joe

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