A woman in her twenties who is stuck in her Christian life came up to me recently and basically said, “Jesus was and is God. I am not God. So, how can I possibly live a life like Jesus?”
This is a great question. I will answer it with two points that I hope are helpful and insightful.
- Jesus was humble on the earth.
Jesus is God come in the flesh (John 1:14). We must be careful to confess that he is not God only, but the God-man. Many theologians explain that when the second person of the Trinity came among us as Immanuel, he humbly gave up his eternal glory and equality with the Father to be like us, laid aside the independent use of his divine attributes, put himself under the authority of the Father, and yielded himself to the leading of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; 11:1–4; 61:1–3; Matt. 1:23; Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; John 1:32; 3:34; 5:19, 30; 8:28, 42; 14:10; Acts 1:2; 10:38; Phil. 2:6–8; Heb. 2:6, 9).
Jesus set aside the privileges of His divinity during His life on the earth to live as a human being (Phil. 2:1–11). This does not mean that while on the earth Jesus Christ, the second member of the Trinity, ceased to be God. But it does mean that during that time He did not avail Himself of all the privileges of divinity but lived as a human being to identify with us. Practically, this means that when Jesus grew, was tempted, or suffered that he was not cheating or faking and really experienced those things as we do.
For example, when Jesus was tempted by the Devil, he didn’t respond by leaning into his divinity but rather battled back as we must. In fact, that was the very thing the Devil tempted him to do, but he refused. Jesus countered the Devil’s temptations just as we do: he quoted well-interpreted Scripture and commanded the Devil to get away from him. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
- Jesus was Spirit-filled on the earth.
The question persists, however: how could Jesus live the extraordinary life that He did if He did not avail Himself of His divine attributes? The answer is perhaps most clearly taught in the gospel of Luke, where Jesus is portrayed as the perfect Spirit-filled man who lived the perfect Spirit-filled life.
- In Luke 1–2, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and named “Jesus,” which means God saves, “Christ,” which means anointed by the Holy Spirit, and “Son of God,” which is a synonym for divinity. Together, these reveal that Jesus is eternal God who was born and lived by the power of the Holy Spirit to save sinners.
- In Luke 3:21–22, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism.
- In Luke 4:1–2, Jesus was “full of the Spirit” and “led by the Spirit.”
- In Luke 4:18, Jesus began His ministry reading from Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.”
- In Luke 4:14, Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” and the rest of His ministry is therefore by the power of the Holy Spirit, or Spirit-filled.
- In Luke 4:31–32, people were amazed at the authority of Jesus’ teaching because it was Spirit-filled.
- In Luke 4:33–37, Jesus cast a demon out of a tormented person because He was Spirit-filled.
- In Luke 4:38–44, Jesus healed many people because He was Spirit-filled.
- In Luke 10:21 it says “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit…”
- In Luke 11:13, Jesus said God the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
- In Luke 12:12, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come.
- In Luke 24, Jesus rose by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:11).
- In Acts 1, Jesus told His followers to wait for the coming empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
- In Acts 1, Jesus ascended back into heaven.
- In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came and the church exploded from 120 to 3,120 people in a day as Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit to continue the Spirit-filled ministry of Jesus.
Today, Christians are sealed by the Holy Spirit at conversion and are enabled to be filled with the Holy Spirit like Jesus was (Eph. 1:13–14; 5:18). This means that we can live like Jesus, doing what He did, with two exceptions. One, we must continually repent of personal sin, which is something the sinless Jesus never had to do. Two, we are not continually and perfectly able to live like Jesus because of our sin.
Why does all of this matter? It helps to alleviate the tension between the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Sadly, Jesus has often been portrayed as a sort of Superman. As Superman, Jesus only appeared to be a normal human being who was tempted to sin, suffered, and wept—that was His earthly disguise. Underneath, it is often said, Jesus remained God, incapable of temptation or suffering, much like Superman who hid the “S” on his chest under the disguise of the simple Clark Kent. Seeing Jesus as the perfect example of a Spirit-filled human being allows us to say that Jesus was and is eternally fully God. But during His life on the earth as a human being, Jesus chose to set aside His powers and privileges as God to live a thoroughly human life. Jesus was able to overcome sin, defeat Satan, and perform miracles and such because He lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Jesus serves for us as the perfect example of what it means to live the Christian life by the power of the Holy Spirit.