If you had to choose, who would you say is more like Jesus—Batman or Superman? Was Jesus an “alien” with divine powers we don’t have access to? Or was he a more human hero? Was Jesus’ power on earth rooted in the benefits of his Trinitarian membership or was it rooted in participatory dependence upon the Trinity?
700 years before the arrival of the Messiah, Isaiah tells us that the Savior would be full of the Holy Spirit. “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Apparently Jesus thought “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-anointed” were pretty good descriptions of Himself. He uses another “Spirit passage” from Isaiah 42 to describe Himself in Matthew 12. “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”
It is safe to move forward with the understanding that Jesus walked perfectly in step with the Spirit, was led by the Spirit, was filled with the Spirit, and perfectly displayed the fruit of the Spirit. It is also safe to assume that in Jesus, believers have a visual illustration of what it means to walk in the Spirit. So when we are exhorted to do the Spirit filled life in the Pauline epistles we can look to Jesus in the gospels for greater clarity on how to do that.
Early on in the gospel accounts, we’re told that Jesus would often retreat to places of isolation for extended times of prayer (Mark 1:35). For example, he spent all night in prayer before choosing his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12). These prayers were an expression of friendship with the Father and the Spirit, submission to the Father and the Spirit, and dependence upon the Father and the Spirit. Prayer expresses (or at least should express) these same elements for you and I today. And when we talk about what it means to walk in the Spirit as Jesus did, we cannot miss these three components.
Friendship with the Holy Spirit
In Luke 11, Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray and He begins to talk about asking God for good gifts. He promises that God wants to give good gifts when we ask. He then instructs us that the best gift we can ask for is the Holy Spirit (v13). That’s high praise for the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit comes highly recommended from Jesus. Jesus could honestly tell us that the Holy Spirit is the best gift the Father gives because Jesus Himself enjoyed an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. How do we know? We know based on the same criteria we’d use to evaluate any relationship between two people. “What good things flow from that relationship? What fruit is produced from this friendship?”
In the case of Jesus and the Spirit, Galatians 5 summarizes the produce of the relationship: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The problem we run into is in trying to bear the same fruit without pursuing the same Spirit. Jesus never intended for us to imitate him without the help of the Helper.
Submission to the Spirit
It seems logical Jesus came to an understanding of His Messianic identity through the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit probably spoke to him as he read the Scriptures. Imagine Jesus at ten-years old, listening to Isaiah 61 being read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Then the Holy Spirit speaks to Him, “That’s talking about you…”
In his early years, as Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, it was his submissive listening to the Spirit that led him to embrace his Messianic identity and job description. During Jesus ministry, it was the same submissive listening that allowed Jesus to know what he should do or say in a given situation. The Spirit often told him what people were thinking, who to heal, and what would happen in the future.
Jesus explains this at one point without directly mentioning the Holy Spirit (but clearly referring to Him). “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29) Elsewhere Jesus says, “I do nothing on my own accord, but only what I see the Father doing.” (John 5:19)
It seems the whole of Jesus ministry was a response to what he heard when he was watching and listening. As he observed the will of the Father through the illumination of the Scriptures by the Spirit, or heard the voice of the Spirit during a moment of need – Jesus then acted accordingly. Jesus did only what he heard the Father speaking to Him through the Spirit.
To follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must cultivate a sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit. A heart that says, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening!” Of course, as we obey the revealed will of God through Scripture, our conscience becomes more and more tuned to the ways of God and we are better able to hear the voice of God (John 10:3-4). As we walk in the Spirit we come to think like Jesus – this is why Paul referred to the possessing the Spirit as having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:14-16).
Dependent upon the Resources of the Spirit
Through the incarnation Jesus made a declaration of dependence. We’ve already seen that in his ministry Jesus only did what he heard the Father speaking through the Spirit. But it’s also important to note that Jesus did not fulfill the will of the Father using his own human resources. Jesus accomplished the will of the Father using the supernatural resources the Spirit provided.
As Luke sets the scene for the story of Jesus healing a paralytic, he says, “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” The final phrase of the verse is significant. The fact that it is stated serves as an indication that there were times when the power of the Lord was not with him to heal. Why would this be the case? Because Jesus only needed healing power from the Spirit when he was healing people. The rest of the time healing power was unnecessary.
Later in his ministry Jesus reminds the disciples that in their own strength, they do not have the ability to resist temptation, do miracles, endure persecution, or answer kings as they are speaking the gospel. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus warned the disciples, “Watch and pray for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In other words, “You’d better ask God for some help because otherwise you’re going to fail.”
The psalmist offers the identical perspective: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
Both Scriptures are intended to point us to the one who can strengthen our heart – the Holy Spirit. We can be encouraged that it is God who works in our hearts to will, and to do according to His good pleasure. We are not sufficient ourselves but our sufficiency is from Him.
Reality Check – Am I Relying on the Spirit?
Looking at Jesus Spirit-filled life points us to a startling realization. We may lack the fruit and miracles of Jesus because we fail to ask for the Holy Spirit as He did. We must ask ourselves the challenging questions: “When was the last time the Holy Spirit clearly showed up in my life? Is the fruit in my life, relationships, and ministry reproducible without the Spirit of God? Am I relying on the Spirit at all?”
The Christian is commanded to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). Being empowered by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit refer to the moment by moment decisions we make about where we will draw our energy and resources for daily life. Through his Spirit, God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:4). Will we choose to draw from God’s divine resources or seek to live the Christian life by our own effort (Gal 6:12)?
Practically speaking, God’s indwelling presence should be on our mind regularly (1 Cor 6:18). When Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” the prayer we ought to pray ceaselessly is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to fill us, focus us, strengthen us, and help us (Eph 5:18, 1 Thess 5:17). How can you cultivate a conscious dependence upon the Holy Spirit?
Thankfully, Jesus is not only our perfect example but also our perfect sacrifice, forgiving all our self-dependent sin. He’s not a Savior who is stingy with his power and privilege. He extends it to us, as his sons and daughters, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we have the help of the Helper.
Sean Post resides with His wife and son in Maple Valley, WA. He serves as Academic Dean for Adelphia Bible School – a one-year Bible and mission immersion experience for young adults. Sean is also a leadership coach, doctoral student, book-lover, and a has-been basketballer. Twitter: @Sean_Post
An excellent resource on this topic is A Primer on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit by Winfield Bevins.