Many Christians assume that Christ was able to perform miracles because he was God. It certainly is true that he is God. However, if we argue, for example, that Christ’s divine nature necessarily and always acts through his human nature, thus enabling him to perform miracles, a serious problem emerges concerning the many texts that speak of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of Christ.
If the divine second person of the Godhead is the sole effective agent working on the human nature, then we need to ask ourselves a serious question: What is the point of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ? Many Christians (and even some formidable theologians) seem unsure what to do with the Holy Spirit when speaking about the person and work of Christ.
Savior by the Spirit
For example, neither Roman Catholic nor Lutheran theologians can adequately account for a meaningful role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ if they remain faithful to the basic christology of those traditions. Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians generally do not know what to do with Christ’s gifts and graces (for example, faith and hope).
However, the Puritan John Owen (as well as others) had an insightful way of explaining the relation of Christ’s two natures. To my knowledge, this had not been as clearly articulated by anyone before him. One of his chief concerns was to protect the integrity of Christ’s two natures (divine and human). In so doing, he made a rather bold contention that the only singular immediate act of the Son of God (the divine second person) on the human nature of Christ was the decision to take it into subsistence with himself in the incarnation.
Every other act upon Christ’s human nature was from the Holy Spirit. Christ performed his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit, not immediately by his own divine power. In other words, the divine nature acted not immediately by virtue of “the hypostatic union” (the joining of two natures in Christ’s singular person) but mediately by means of the Holy Spirit. The conventional way of understanding Christ’s miracles has typically been to argue that Christ performs miracles by virtue of his own divine nature. But on Owen’s (and others’) model, the Holy Spirit is actually the immediate author of Christ’s graces. This manner of understanding the relation of the Spirit to Christ’s human nature preserves his true humanness and answers a host of biblical questions that arise from a close reading of various texts.
He Took a Human Soul
Some Christians seem to imagine that Christ’s divine nature takes the place of his soul. This idea, though well–intentioned, is wrong. Christ was a perfect man with a rational soul as the immediate principle of his moral actions. In other words, Christ had a human self-consciousness. Some might say that the person of the Son is Christ’s self-consciousness, but as Reformed theologians argued, personality is not an act but the mode or identity of a thing. “Who is Jesus?” refers to his personhood. The answer: “He is the God-man” (which refers to his identity).
Importantly, Christ’s humanity, both body and soul, does not get lost in or “gobbled up” by his divinity. Because of this, Christ’s humanity needed the Holy Spirit in order to have communion with God. His prayers to God were never simply the prayers of a man, nor even the prayers of the God-man to the Father; but more specifically they were the prayers of the Son of God to the Father in the power of the Spirit. Never was a prayer uttered before God from the lips of Christ that did not have the Holy Spirit working powerfully upon his human nature to enable him to speak the words the Father had given him to speak. In this way, we aim to pray as our Lord prayed: in the Spirit.
Christ’s inseparable companion during his earthly ministry as a true man was the Holy Spirit. Therefore, at all of the major events in the life of Christ, the Holy Spirit took a prominent role. The Holy Spirit was the immediate, divine, efficient cause of the incarnation (Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). This was a fitting “beginning” for Christ since Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as one endowed with the Spirit (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1).
The New Testament confirms Isaiah’s testimony in several places, noting, for example, that Christ received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). At Jesus’s baptism the Spirit descended upon him (Matthew 3:16); and the Spirit plays a significant role in leading Christ to and sustaining him before, during, and after his temptation (Luke 4:1, 14). In that same chapter Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1–2 (“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me”) and announces that he is the fulfillment of that prophecy (Luke 4:21). Christ performed miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:18; Acts 10:38). Hebrews 9:14 may be taken to mean that Christ offered himself up not by his own spirit but by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Like his death, Christ’s resurrection is attributed to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11), and by it he “was declared to be the Son of God . . . according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4; see also 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18).
Because the Spirit was Christ’s inseparable companion during his earthly ministry, there is little doubt that Christ called out (prayed) to his Father by the enabling of the Spirit, which would put an implicit christological emphasis upon Romans 8:26–27. The preponderance of references to the role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Christ finds its best explanation in the Reformed interpretative tradition.
He Humbled Himself
Given the basic christology above, Hugh Martin (1821–1885) argued that Jesus inevitably placed himself, therefore, in a position of acknowledged weakness and infirmity — of absolute dependence on God — a dependence to be exercised and expressed in the adorations and supplications of prayer. He was born of a woman, under the law — under the law of prayer, as of other ordinances and duties — the law by which a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven, and except the Lord be inquired of for it (Ezekiel 36:37).
Christ exercised, according to his human nature, faith, love, reverence, delight, and all the graces proper to a true human nature in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he naturally would have desired to offer vocal requests and supplications to his Father in heaven. He also would have praised God with the knowledge he had of his Father. Additionally, he would have sought God out with a holy determination, making all other duties subservient to the duty of communion with God. In other words, true and proper humanity is realized only in communion with God.
Christ’s Gift to Us
What does this mean for us? Consider three truths, among others. First, the Spirit’s ministry to us comes from Christ (Acts 2:33). Just as Christ ministered to us on the cross, his heavenly exaltation continues his ministry whereby he pours out the Spirit upon us since he is now the exalted Lord of the Spirit. The Spirit, therefore, comes in his name (“the Spirit of Christ”).
Second, the Spirit makes us like Christ. What is the role of the Spirit who has been given to us from the hand of Christ? He takes the copy of Christ’s religious life in the Spirit and works those same affections and desires in us so that we are truly Christlike (Romans 8:29).
Finally, the Spirit glorifies Christ. The Spirit, who worked in and through Christ during his life on earth, now works in and through us. Just as the Spirit enabled Christ to bring glory to his Father, so now the Spirit enables us to glorify both the Son and the Father. In other words, a true understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in believers begins and ends with the declaration that we are here on earth to glorify the Son and the Father by the power of the Spirit.
Jesus indeed has not left us as orphans (John 14:18). He has poured out on us and in us the very Spirit through whom he lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously.