While evangelicals commonly speak of Jesus Christ as fully divine, we tend to give less attention to his full humanity. One aspect of Jesus’ humanity that is especially relevant to Christian living is his experience of the Holy Spirit. But was Jesus’s experience of the Spirit vastly different from our own? During his earthly life as the God-man, Jesus’s experience of the Holy Spirit differed from ours in extent, but not in kind.
Jesus was different from us in that he possessed a divine nature in addition to his human nature. Although, as the Apostle Peter indicates, we can become “partakers” of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), it is not an aspect of our personhood in the same way as it was for Jesus. But should his divine nature be the primary explanation for his exemplary life? In his excellent book The Man Christ Jesus, Bruce Ware argues that the New Testament emphasizes Jesus’s humanity, rather than his divinity, as primary in his resistance to temptation and the other exemplary aspects of his life on earth (p. 31). Because God cannot be tempted (Jas. 1:13), we must look to Jesus’s humanity, rather than his deity, for an explanation of how he could be tempted (Heb. 4:15) (p. 74). As a human, he lived his life “as one indwelt with and empowered by the Spirit of God” (p. 32). In support of his claim, Ware cites prophetic passages from the Old Testament (e.g. Isa. 11:1–3) and descriptive passages from New Testament (e.g. Acts 10:38) that reveal a picture of Jesus as a man empowered by the Spirit. To connect Jesus’ experience with our own, Ware states, “It seems rather that Luke’s point would be this: the very power by which Jesus lived his life and carried out his mission (Acts 10:38) is now ours since the Holy Spirit who was on him is given to us, his followers (Acts 1:8)” (p. 39). By comparing these passages, Jesus’s significant promise becomes clear: the same Holy Spirit who empowered his life and ministry will empower the life and ministry of his disciples.
Jesus’s experience of the Holy Spirit seems to be one of dependence on the Spirit’s resources. Issler (2007) discusses several passages that provide evidence for this conclusion. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit (Matt. 1:20), he was filled with and led by the Spirit into his time of testing (Luke 4:1), he was anointed or empowered by the Spirit (Luke 4:16), he cast out demons by the Spirit (Matt. 11:28), and he provided instructions to his disciples by the Spirit (Acts 1:2) (p. 208). Further, Luke describes Jesus as rejoicing in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), and Hebrews states that he offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to fulfill his calling, and Jesus had to avail himself of this power to accomplish the Father’s will.
One passage that may highlight a key difference between Jesus’s experience and ours is John 3:34. In reference to his relationship to the Father, Jesus said, “He gives the Spirit without measure.” Some interpreters understand this as a statement of God’s generosity toward all, while others understand it as a statement about Jesus’s unique, limitless experience of the Holy Spirit’s fullness. Apart from this passage, however, the inference that Jesus experienced a greater measure of the Spirit that we can expect can be based on Jesus’ unbroken unity with the Godhead and his sinlessness, both of which are clearly taught in Scripture (John 17:5–8; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15).
Although Jesus experienced a greater fullness of the Holy Spirit than we can realistically expect, his dependence on and empowerment by the Spirit, as a man, is the basis of his example for us. Differences between our experience of the Spirit and his are only differences of extent, not of kind. We ought to depend on the resources of the Holy Spirit and receive his empowerment for life and ministry, just as “the man Christ Jesus” did.
Issler, K. (2007). Jesus’s example: Prototype of the Spirit-dependent life. In K. Issler & F. Sanders (Eds.), Jesus in trinitarian perspective: An introductory christology. Nashville, TN: B&H.
Ware, B. A. (2012). The man Christ Jesus: Theological reflections on the humanity of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.