EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears (Crossway).
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE?
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.
Jesus. If one word were to be chosen as the most important word in the history of the world, it would be the name Jesus.
God preached the first gospel to our parents, Adam and Eve, shortly following their sin in Genesis 3; he promised that Jesus would come. From that day onward, God inspired his prophets to reveal in great detail the events surrounding the coming of Jesus.1 Consequently, for roughly a few thousand years God’s people longed for Jesus’ arrival.
Jesus came into history in the most humble manner. He was born roughly two thousand years ago in a barn to a poor, young virgin woman named Mary. Although he was God, Jesus’ first earthly throne was the feeding trough of an animal, which was used for his crib.
Jesus’ unparalleled humility is one of his most shocking attributes.2 Our culture believes that pride is our greatest friend although it is the reason why Satan himself was kicked out of heaven. Pride covets the success of others and is about self—my glory, my arrogance, and my independence. Our culture, tragically, considers pride a virtue rather than a vice. Conversely, Jesus came in great humility and lived his life in great humility. Before repeatedly and emphatically declaring himself to be God,3 Jesus spent the first roughly thirty years of his life in relative obscurity in a humble town with humble parents working a humble job as a carpenter.
Theologians use the word incarnation as shorthand to explain the coming of the second member of the Trinity into human history as the man Jesus Christ. Incarnation is taken from the Latin translation of John 1:14 and literally means “becoming flesh.” The word speaks of Jesus’ humility in temporarily forgoing being worshiped by angels as God in glory to come instead on a mission to glorify God in heaven and save sinners on the earth.4 In 451 the Christian Council of Chalcedon confirmed the biblical position regarding the divinity and humanity of Jesus that remains the accepted doctrine of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians alike, despite their other differences. Using the phrase “hypostatic union,” they rightly declared that Jesus was one person with two natures, human and divine. Jesus is both fully God and fully man, or as the Bible says, “Immanuel,” which means God with us.
As God who became a man, Jesus came to fully identify with our humanity and serve as the mediator between us and God to deal with our sin problem and reconcile us back to God.5
Significantly, Jesus lived his sinless life on the earth in large part by the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that Jesus in any way ceased to be fully God while on the earth, but rather that he humbly chose to limit the continual use of his divine attributes. Thus, he lived as we must live—by the enabling power of God the Holy Spirit. We want to be clear: Jesus remained fully man and fully God during his incarnation, and he maintained all of his divine attributes and did avail himself of them upon occasion, such as to forgive human sin, which God alone can do.6 Nonetheless, Jesus’ life was lived as fully human in that he lived it by the power of the Holy Spirit.7
As the church father Augustine rightly said, by becoming a man Jesus did not lose anything; rather, he added humanity to his divinity. Echoing this point, Bruce Milne writes, “The biblical equation is . . . incarnation = God plus. In becoming incarnate the divine Word did not relinquish his deity; he added to it, if one may so speak, by taking a full human nature into hypostatic union with the Word.”8
The most thorough section of Scripture regarding the incarnation is Philippians 2:5–11:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus had the divine life and full equality with God in every way, yet he emptied himself of that divine way of living. He who created and rules the universe became a servant. He took on flesh with the same image and likeness of God that Adam had, while keeping his identity as the second person of the Trinity. In that humble state, he obeyed God the Father in every way. He lowered himself even further to the point of shameful death on the cross. So, God exalted him as Messiah and bestowed on him “the Name,” that is, “Yahweh,” the personal name of God that he always had as second person of the Trinity but now has as the God-man, Messiah Jesus.
The confession of Jesus as God come in the flesh is a biblical test of orthodoxy. Any person or group who compromises this ceases to be part of the church and is a false prophet, serving the devil rather than Jesus.9 It is of greatest concern that many professed Christians never confess this truth plainly. They use the name “Jesus” but never clearly declare him to be God in the flesh. On the other hand, some have effectively denied his true humanity in their zeal to protect his divinity. They miss the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. To understand how Jesus’ life of sinless humility was empowered, we will now investigate his relationship to God the Holy Spirit while he was on the earth.
Jesus grew from infancy to adulthood, lived among a family, worked a job, ate meals, increased his knowledge through learning, told jokes, attended funerals, had male and female friends, celebrated holidays, went to parties, loved his mom, felt the pain of betrayal and lies told about him, and experienced the full range of human emotions from stress to astonishment, joy, compassion, and sorrow. Furthermore, Jesus experienced the same sorts of trials and temptations that we do,10 with the exception that he never did sin.11 Subsequently, Jesus lived the sinless life that we were supposed to live but have not, both in our place and as our example.
Sadly, all of the major creeds compiled during the early church ignore the missional life of Jesus between his birth and death. The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed all declare that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and then skip forward to his suffering under the rule of Pilate without speaking a word about the years in between. What is lost is the example of Jesus’ life, in general, and his exemplary relationship with God the Holy Spirit, in particular.
Regarding the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Abraham Kuyper wrote:
This ought to be carefully noticed, especially since the Church has never sufficiently confessed the influence of the Holy Spirit exerted upon the work of Christ. The general impression is that the work of the Holy Spirit begins when the work of the Mediator on earth is finished, as tho [sic] until that time the Holy Spirit celebrated His divine day of rest. Yet the Scripture teaches us again and again that Christ performed His mediatorial work controlled and impelled by the Holy Spirit.12
The empowerment of Jesus through God the Holy Spirit is repeatedly stressed in the Gospel of Luke. There we find that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and given the title “Christ,” which means anointed by the Holy Spirit.13 Jesus’ aunt Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when greeting Jesus’ pregnant mother, Mary, and his uncle Zechariah went on to prophesy that their son John was appointed by God to prepare the way for Jesus.14 An angel had revealed to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus; when Mary asked how that was possible since she was a virgin, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”15
Once born, Jesus was dedicated to the Lord in the temple according to the demands of the law by Simeon; “the Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon]” and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until seeing Jesus Christ.16 Simeon was “in the Spirit” when he prophesied about Jesus’ ministry to Jews and Gentiles to the glory of God.17 John later prophesied that one day Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit.18 The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his own baptism.19 It is curious that while the Gospels give scant information about Jesus’ childhood, all four include the account of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew adds the interesting statement that the Spirit rested on Jesus, as if to suggest that the remainder of his life and ministry on the earth would be done under the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit.20
Regarding Jesus’ baptism, Graham Cole writes, “The symbol of the dove and Jesus’ emerging from the waters, soon to reenter the land, possibly conjure up the old stories of Noah’s flood and Israel’s exodus from Egypt and its eventual crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is about to do something of extraordinary significance in salvation-history.”21
In the remainder of Luke’s Gospel we discover that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” “led by the Spirit,”22 and came “in the power of the Spirit.”23 After reading Isaiah 61:1–2, which says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”24 Luke continues by revealing that Jesus also “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”25 Regarding the Holy Spirit’s ministry to and through Christians, Jesus promised that God the Father would “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”26 and that the Holy Spirit would teach us once he was sent.27
In the charismatic and Pentecostal traditions of the church there has been a great devotion to the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. However, sometimes the emphasis on the Holy Spirit comes at the expense of a full appreciation of the person and work of Jesus and/or a subtle impression that somehow Jesus and the Holy Spirit are competing for glory. This is Holy Spirit-olatry.
In some Reformed and dispensational traditions there is a devotion to Jesus that results in a practical denial of the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus and in the church today. This is Jesus-olatry. They affirm the reality of the Spirit, but in their zeal to glorify only Jesus and to protect the uniqueness of the Bible, or in their fear of falling into emotionalism, they stress the cessation of the work of the Spirit. They limit the work of the Spirit in pointing to Jesus instead of empowering the church to continue the mission of Jesus.
Gerald Hawthorne, who has written one of the most compelling books on the subject of Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit, says, “Not only is Jesus their Savior because of who he was and because of his own complete obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Heb. 10:5-7), but he is the supreme example for them of what is possible in a human life because of his total dependence upon the Spirit of God.”28 By closely examining the relationship between Jesus and God the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ earthly life, we see that they work in cooperation, not in competition. Furthermore, we see that Jesus and not some goofy guru is the quintessential example of what it means to live a Spirit-filled life. Important also is the fact that Jesus’ life was lived by the power of the Spirit as a missionary in culture.
SPIRIT-FILLED MISSIONARY JESUS
Jesus is the greatest missionary who has ever lived or will ever live. In fact, Jesus’ incarnation was in many ways a mission trip led and empowered by God the Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus came into a sinful culture. As a missionary, Jesus left the culture of heaven to come into a sinful culture on the earth. This cross-cultural transition was starker than any missionary has ever experienced. Jesus came from the culture of heaven, where there is no temptation, sin, sinners, or death. In entering into culture on earth, Jesus was tempted by Satan to sin, surrounded by sinners, and both witnessed and experienced death as the penalty for sin.
Second, Jesus learned firsthand about a sinful culture. As the perfect missionary, Jesus did not learn about the sinful culture from a careful and safe distance. No, Jesus built friendships with sinners, Jesus learned the language of sinners, Jesus ate food with sinners, Jesus drank wine with sinners, and Jesus participated in the parties and holidays of sinners. The religious types in Jesus’ day were incensed by his participation in sinful culture with sinners, and Jesus himself reports that when they saw him they would rebuke and mock him, saying, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”29
Third, Jesus did not condone sin, nor did he sin, himself. Jesus said that he never sinned.30 Furthermore, the Bible elsewhere emphatically declares that Jesus is the only person who has never sinned.31 While Jesus never broke any of God’s laws as revealed in Scripture, he did not hold certain social and religious customs (those that do not find their authority in Scripture) in high regard. Subsequently, Jesus frequently broke various social and religious customs when he felt it was necessary to further the work of God. Examples include healing on the Sabbath,32 throwing over tables in the temple,33 eating with godless sinners,34 and not washing his hands before eating.35 Some people who were committed to defending their social and religious traditions, despite the lack of biblical support, were offended by Jesus’ unwillingness to submit to their rules in addition to God’s. Their tribe continues to this day among those who are prone to place the authority of cultural trends and religious traditions above Scripture. You can hear them saying, for example, that we who preach in jeans without tucking in our shirts dishonor God.
Furthermore, during his earthly missional ministry Jesus not only confessed that he was sent into culture as a missionary, but he also sent Christians on the exact same mission. For example, in John’s Gospel alone, Jesus told us no less than thirty-nine times that he was a missionary from heaven who came to minister incarnationally in an earthly culture.36 Jesus also commands us to be missionaries in culture as he was: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”37 He also said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”38
Before sending Christians on their mission, though, Jesus accomplished his mission by dying on the cross in our place for our sins. Theologically, we call this penal substitutionary atonement. In common vernacular, this means that our God became the man Jesus Christ who, though without sin, died on the cross in our place to pay the penalty of death for our sins. In the garden our first parents, Adam and Eve, substituted themselves for God, and since then we each have done the same by living as our own gods. Yet at the cross Jesus substituted himself for us to bring us back to the real God. The Bible uses the word for to explain that the historical fact of Jesus’ death was for our sins:
- “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”39
- “[He] was delivered up for our trespasses.”40
- “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”41
- “Christ died for our sins.”42
- “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”43
The importance of the cross to the church is that apart from Jesus’ death on it in our place for our sins, the church does not exist and has no good news to tell. Unless our sin is taken away, our new life as God’s people cannot begin. It cannot be overemphasized that where the cross of Jesus is not exalted and proclaimed as the central act in all of history and in our own redemption, the church is not present. Spiritually speaking, the church is the community of people who gather around the cross of Jesus to humbly repent of sin, trust in him, sing his praises, and follow his example.
Furthermore, the church has as its answer to every important question the good news of the person and work of Jesus. His work includes the following ten things he accomplished for those who are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone without any false notion that they can in any way contribute to their salvation through human works such as morality, spirituality, or religious devotion.44
1) Jesus is our victor who conquered Satan and demons on the cross so that we could live a life free of slavery to sin, of vain regrets for past sin, of condemnation and torment.45
2) Jesus is our redeemer who freed us from slavery to sin and death, not unlike the Old Testament saints who were liberated from tyranny and oppression in Egypt to live new lives of worship, joy, and holy freedom.46
3) Jesus is our new-covenant sacrifice and our great high priest who offered his own body as a sacrifice in our place for our sins in fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system.47
4) Jesus is our justification who takes away our sin and gives us his righteousness as a gift by exchanging places with us on the cross so that we can be justified in the sight of God.48
5) Jesus is our propitiation who stood in our place to divert the just wrath of God away from us by enduring it himself in love.49
6) Jesus is our expiation who cleanses us from the sins we have committed and the sins that have been committed against us, which commingle to make us dirty and defiled.50
7) Jesus is our ransom who has mediated between us and God and paid the price for our sins.51
8) Jesus is our example who has shown for us the perfect human life, which includes laying down our lives for brothers and sisters by the power of the Holy Spirit.52
9) Jesus is our reconciliation who has taken away our sin and reconciles us back into loving relationship with God and others.53
10) Jesus is our revelation, and on the cross we see God’s wrath and love, justice and mercy, holiness and compassion revealed in perfection.54
In every way, the church is the people who have benefited from Jesus’ work on the cross, live in light of it, and gladly proclaim it.
Following his death on the cross in our place for our sins, Jesus rose by the power of the Holy Spirit.55 In the New Testament, the cross and the resurrection are treated as essentially one event because if Jesus had not risen to conquer Satan, sin, and death, all we would have is the death of a great man, not the remission of sin. Following his resurrection in victory over Satan, sin, and death, Jesus gave the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”56 Indeed, the authority of our mission rests on nothing less than the authority delegated to us by the exalted Lord Jesus Christ who rules over all.
The sequel to Luke, the book of Acts, reveals how our mission is to occur. Whereas the Gospel of Luke focuses on the cultural life and missional ministry of Jesus in his physical body by the power of the Holy Spirit, the book of Acts reveals the continuing ministry of Jesus in his metaphorical body, the church, by the power of the same Holy Spirit.57
With the ascension of Jesus, a great reversal of sorts occurred. While on the earth, Jesus bore the Spirit. Following his ascension and return to glory in heaven, however, Jesus bestowed the Spirit upon the church. This is precisely what we read of in Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit descends upon the church in much the same way that he did at the baptism of Jesus. We read in Acts 2:4 that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” After this birth of the church, many miraculous activities occurred. For example, Graham Cole says, “Just as there had been with the Messiah’s birth an outburst of prophesying by various people filled with the Spirit (e.g., Luke 1:41, Elizabeth; v. 67, Zechariah) or having the Spirit upon them (e.g., Luke 2:25–26, Simeon), so too at the birth of the Messiah’s eschatological community [the church] (Acts 2:17–18).”58
THE SPIRIT-EMPOWERED GOSPEL (ACTS 2)
Acts 2 is widely appreciated by Christians across varying denominational traditions and theological persuasions as the record of the dawning of the new covenant church. Jesus poured out his Spirit to begin and to commission the church—the community of Holy Spirit–regenerated and–empowered people who continue the ministry of Jesus.
Some people ask, “What is the gospel?” and then proceed with their own speculations, as if God never revealed it. A better answer is to read the Bible! There we find Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, which summarizes the gospel, the power center of the mission of the church. The gospel pattern of Acts 2, as well as of other Scriptures, breaks down into three aspects: (1) revelation, or what God did; (2) response, or what we do; and (3) results, or what God gives.59
Revelation: What God Did
Peter begins by affirming that Jesus fulfills the promises of a divine Messiah, God come among us, as accredited him by miracles, signs, and wonders (v. 22). Next, Peter declares that Jesus died on the cross according to God’s prophetic purpose (v. 23). Peter proceeds to emphasize the reality that God raised Jesus from death in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vv. 24–32). Peter concludes with the final acts of God exalting Jesus to the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Spirit in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vv. 33–35).
Response: What We Do
The first thing we are to do in response to God’s revelation is repent (vv. 36–37). Repentance is the Spirit-empowered acknowledgment of sin that results in a change of mind about who and what God is in my life, what is important, and what is good and bad. This is followed by a change of behavior flowing out of an internal change of values. The second response is to accept the revealed message about Jesus by Spirit-empowered faith (v. 41). Faith means taking God at his word and trusting my life and eternity to the truth of his revelation. All of this is seen in the act of baptism, which is the visible expression of our connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus through repentance and faith (vv. 38, 41).
Results: What God Gives
Peter immediately announces the gift of forgiveness of our sins, which is the result of the propitiatory death of Jesus (v. 38). This gift flows into justification, or the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Peter goes on to the second gift, the Holy Spirit and the new heart and new life of Christ (v. 38). This regeneration, or the imparted righteousness of Jesus, is for living a new life as a Christian with, like, for, to, and by the living Jesus. The third gift is membership in the body of Christ, the new community of the Spirit called the church. This community is a supernatural community where God’s power is seen from miracles and supernatural signs to the sharing of possessions among the community members and giving to all in need (vv. 41–47).
This full and robust biblical understanding of the gospel is incredibly important. There are many truncations of the gospel in today’s church. Some overemphasize the missional aspect of the church and in so doing abandon the theological truth that Jesus is God who came in the flesh to die and propitiate the just wrath of God toward sin. Others overemphasize the experiential aspect of the church and focus almost exclusively on renewal and worship while neglecting God’s missional calling for the church to be incarnational like Jesus and actively involved in their community and its culture. Perhaps the most common overemphasis is the confessional reduction of the gospel to Jesus’ death, forgiveness of sin, and imputed righteousness leading to eternal life in heaven. While this is true, it neglects Jesus’ exemplary life, resurrection, imparted life of regeneration, and the rich life of the missional community of the church on the earth until we see him face-to-face.
Tragically, many Christians have lost the understanding of the new life of the Spirit. They do not preach or live the regeneration of believers. Rather than living out a joy-filled life flowing from their deepest desire to be like Jesus, they settle for being sinners saved by grace, obligated to do all they can to keep the law of God by duty rather than by delight. Subsequently, they have lost the double gift of imputed righteousness, which accompanies our justification, and the imparted righteousness of the indwelling Spirit, which accompanies our new heart and regeneration. On the cross God did a work for us by saving us through the death of Jesus in our place for our sins. At Pentecost we then see that God does a work in us through the Holy Spirit in our hearts for our regeneration. Together, both our eternity and every step along the way can be filled with hope, joy, purpose, and passion if we see the relationship between the cross and Pentecost.
God promised a new covenant when the Messiah came: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”60 In the Bible, “heart” does not usually refer to the physical organ but rather the metaphorical center, seat, and sum of who we are. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Therefore, if our life is a river, it flows from the wellspring of our heart. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart is the source of the Christian life and Christian church.
People who are regenerated are repeatedly spoken of throughout the New Testament as new people with a new identity, new mind, new desires, new emotions, new power, new hope, new joy, new love, new passion, and new freedom to live a new life. Therefore, by the Spirit’s power and our heart’s desire, we live for, like, through, by, and with Jesus Christ for God’s glory and our joy. We live as missionaries for Jesus in the world by loving our neighbors. We also gather together as the church to grow together in love for our spiritual brothers and sisters, all of which is done out of love for God because he has loved us so well.
One of the great debates among various denominations and theological traditions is how we can distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. Various answers such as being baptized, taking communion, asking Jesus into your heart, going to church, and living a good life are often given. The problem with each of these is that while true Christians do bear each of these marks, there are also non-Christians who do the acts without having regenerated hearts that belong to God. Such people are like the religious people God speaks of in Isaiah 29:13: “People draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” In the end, as 2 Timothy 2:19 says, “The Lord knows those who are his.” This is because he alone knows our hearts and whether the Holy Spirit has regenerated them. Regarding the regenerated heart, which is the mark of a true Christian, the theologian Millard J. Erickson has said,
All of the people of God are marked with a special brand as it were. In the Old Testament, circumcision was the proof of divine ownership. It was required of all male children of the people of Israel, as well as of all male converts or proselytes. It was an external sign of the covenant which made them God’s people. It was also a subjective sign of the covenant in that it was applied individually to each person, whereas the ark of the covenant served as an objective sign for the whole group.
Instead of this external circumcision of the flesh, found in the administration of the old covenant, we find under the new covenant an inward circumcision of the heart. Paul wrote, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Rom. 2:29; see also Phil. 3:3).61
The heart is both regenerated and empowered by God the Holy Spirit to live a life patterned after Jesus. In speaking of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”62 Likewise, prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus promised that those who believe in him would do greater works than he by the power of God the Holy Spirit who empowered his own life and ministry; we see this in the church spread across the earth to continue Jesus’ ministry in a greater number of places than he could minister while limited by his human body.63
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus spoke of how the church was supposed to continue with Spirit-anointed ministry.64 Just as Jesus promised, today Christians are sealed by the Holy Spirit at conversion and are able to be filled with the Holy Spirit like Jesus was.65 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 ongoing sinful desires.66
Subsequently, seeing Jesus as led and empowered by God the Holy Spirit eliminates any apparent conflict between the two for prominence. If Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, then Jesus and the Holy Spirit are obviously not in opposition but work together in perfect union. This allows us to love, worship, obey, and follow Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit without any conflict in loyalty between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, seeing Jesus as Spirit-filled allows us to keep the cross at the center of our Bible and theological convictions rather than viewing the cross as the precursor to Pentecost, where the more important work of sending the Holy Spirit occurred. It allows us to see the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the most important events in all of human history. It also allows us to see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost not as a distinct and greater work but as the application of the work of Jesus on the cross to sinners for their salvation, bringing the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and empower them to live the life of Jesus.
Practically, this also means that living the Spirit-filled life includes enduring hardship, pain, weakness, and loss as Jesus did. If we suffer while Spirit-filled, we will, like Jesus, grow in perfection through these hardships.67 Therefore, we must embrace the truth that our joy lies through hardship, not in spite of hardship, if we remain led by the Spirit.68 We must also accept that evil happens to even the most Spirit-filled people and is not an excuse for rebellious sin or a reason to believe that God is unjustly punishing us.69 This Spirit-filled suffering is also required of whole churches, which suffer as the “body of Christ.”70 Therefore, being Spirit-filled like Jesus ultimately means denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following him wherever the Spirit leads, which may include suffering and dying like Jesus.
This Spirit-filled perspective of Jesus’ incarnation allows us to remain Jesus-centered in our thinking, Spirit-led in our practice, and humble in our hardships. This is made possible when we realize that because being Spirit-filled means being like Jesus, such things as poverty, sickness, and hardship are not incompatible with living a Spirit-filled life, as many false health-and-wealth teachers preach. Indeed, the only perfect Spirit-filled person who has ever lived, Jesus Christ, worked a simple job, lived a simple life, and died a painful death as a flat-broke homeless man by the power of the Holy Spirit as a missionary in a sinful culture.
Among many pastors today is a growing interest in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Rightly understood, the incarnation of Jesus as a missionary in culture led and empowered by God the Holy Spirit serves as our pattern of life as Spirit-filled missionaries with regenerated hearts made possible by the cross. Wrongly understood, an overemphasis on the past humble incarnation of Jesus fails to see Jesus in his present glorious exaltation. If we were to see Jesus today we would not see him in his state of humble incarnation as a poor, homeless Galilean peasant. Rather, we would see Jesus as both Isaiah and John saw him71— enthroned in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords ruling over everyone and everything with “all authority in heaven and on earth,” just as he said.72
Therefore, it is the supremacy of Jesus Christ as our sovereign and exalted God that is our authority for mission. There is not one inch of creation, one culture or subculture of people, one lifestyle or orientation, one religion or philosophical system, over which Jesus’ throne does not rule. We derive our authority to preach the gospel to all peoples, times, and places from the glorious exaltation of our great God and savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed all authority for himself and commanded us to go in his authority to preach the gospel truth: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”73 Jesus himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”74 Indeed, the authority of our mission rests on nothing less than the authority delegated to us by the exalted Lord Jesus Christ who rules over all. It is the one gospel of Jesus Christ that is needed by all tribes, races, nations, tongues, ethnicities, religions, and cultures.
Nevertheless, as we Christians enter into our local culture and its subcultures, we must also remember that it is Jesus who is sovereign, not us, and it is Jesus who rules over all, not the church. We are to come in the authority of the exalted Jesus, but we are also to come in the example of the humble incarnated Jesus. This means that we must come into culture like Jesus did—filled with the Holy Spirit, in constant prayer to the Father, saturated with the truth of Scripture, humble in our approach, loving in our truth, and serving in our deeds.
Jesus gave his life for the church and continually lives to care for his church. The connection between Jesus and the church is incredibly clear in Scripture. In Acts 6–8 we read of a zealous man named Saul who persecuted Christians and even oversaw the murder of a church deacon named Stephen. In Acts 9 the living Jesus actually got off his throne to come down and confront and convert Saul, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?” To which Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”75 Thus, Jesus’ own words reveal that Jesus is so closely connected to the church that he too suffers when it is persecuted.
Perhaps the most vivid metaphor used in the New Testament for the church is Jesus’ own words that he is the vine and we are the branches.76 Therefore, both the life and unity of the church, despite all its diversity, is its connection to the living Jesus. One theologian has said:
Unity, however, does not demand uniformity. Indeed, from the beginning the church has manifested itself in many local churches (in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.); and the one NT [sic] church had neither uniformity of worship nor structures, or even a uniform theology. . . . Unity is possible when we stop thinking of our church or denomination as the vine and all others as the branches. Rather, Jesus is the vine and all of us are branches.77
Because the church is so dear to Jesus, it is dear to Christians who love Jesus and are part of the church because of justification on the cross and regeneration in their hearts. This is why the church father Irenaeus rightly said, “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church.”78
ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
It is important to remember that the power of salvation is not in the strength of our faith but in the completeness of Jesus’ saving work. Jesus said that even faith as small as a grain of mustard seed (Matt. 17:20) connects us to God’s power, which raised Jesus from death, giving us new life and forgiveness of all sins (Col. 2:13). Through faith we can know the truth of what Paul said, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
The three dimensions of the Christian life are confession, experience, and mission. These dimensions are like the three legs of a stool on which you can sit solidly when you want to know that you are a Christian forgiven of sin, regenerated, and adopted as a child of the Most High God.
The first leg is confession. Being a Christian means that you “confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). Ask yourself, “Am I trusting the truth of the gospel?” To help you answer this question, you may also want to reread chapter one and discuss it with a pastor or Christian friend.
Many people emphasize the moment when you prayed to accept Jesus. Some go so far as to declare that if you can’t remember the moment you prayed, then you cannot even be a Christian. But if you look in the Bible, that kind of statement is never made. Conversely, 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” It is real belief and not a magical prayer that saves a Christian. In fact, many who grew up in Christian homes never remember a time when they prayed a prayer or made a decision for Jesus, but they lovingly confess Jesus all the same.
The second leg is experience. A Christian experiences life change. Practically, this means that it is important for you to prayerfully examine yourself looking for evidences of God’s Spirit-guided work in your life (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10). Do you see evidences of a new heart, a yearning to be like Jesus? Do you want to be with other believers in Jesus, as they “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42)? Do you find that you wish you could stop doing sinful things? When you see these things, you are experiencing the fruit of “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5–6).
The third leg is mission. Are you beginning to enjoy living a life in obedience to Jesus? Do you find that you want to join his rescue mission in the world? Do you want to help others to find forgiveness for their sins and healing for their brokenness? Do you want to help stop evil? Do you want to seek the welfare of the city in which you live? If so, then, as a Christian, you are becoming a missional follower of Jesus.
If you aren’t quite sure whether you are a Christian, it will be helpful to find someone to speak with. Prayerfully seek out someone who lives for Jesus and has a knowledge of Scripture as well as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12) and talk to him or her about Jesus.
You Defined Regeneration as God Giving Us a New Heart By the Power of the Holy Spirit. What Does It Mean to Live a Regenerated Life?
Living a regenerated life primarily means that our deepest desires are to live in loving obedience to Jesus out of our new heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. The opposite of this is either living in sin out of the deepest desires of an unregenerated heart or trying to live in compliance to a standard of righteousness without a new nature, when our deepest desires are for sin and not holiness. Like Jesus, regenerated living is serving not out of duty and fear of punishment but out of joy and delight (Heb. 12:2).
We want to please God, to be with him, to be like him. The longings of a regenerated heart are for his Word, for prayer, for worship, for fellowship with God and his people, for service, for holiness, for witness, and for being home with him in his eternal kingdom.
However, the conflict with sin continues because we still have sinful desires, what the Bible calls “flesh.” The sinful desires are opposed to the desires of the new heart (Gal. 5:17). Romans 7:14–25 describes the conflict in the justified (Romans 4–5) and regenerated (Romans 6) believer. In regeneration, love for God and neighbor is written on our heart in the depth of our being. At this deep level, we can say, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Rom. 7:22). But Paul sees in himself “another law waging war against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). This is the presence of sinful desires, and the conflict they cause makes us feel wretched. Paul’s answer is not more law but instead more Spirit (Rom. 8:2–4).
This is also how Paul deals with the sins of the Corinthian believers who were involved in rampant sexual immorality, hostile factions, and even idolatry. Paul could have easily opened his Bible and thundered, “The Ten Commandments order us not to worship idols and to abstain from sexual immorality, so stop it!” But he didn’t. Again and again he called them back to Jesus and their life with him. Don’t go to prostitutes because you are united with Christ. Don’t go to demon feasts, because that is not who you are in Jesus. It is the same principle in every case: Jesus, Spirit, life, heart—not law. Do right because of who you are in Christ and because he’s in you. Everything is defined by our new identity and our new love.
If we take time to think and pray, consulting with other new covenant believers, and do what will give us the deepest joy, then we will almost always do the right thing. We serve God with delight rather than drudgery. Obedience, or keeping in step with the Spirit, means that we stop doing willful sins and do the things Christ asks us to do, because that will make us and Jesus happiest. We do this by the gracious direction and empowerment of the Spirit. Rather than focusing on mere morality, or conduct, we live transformation from the inside out. As we draw close to God and spend time in his presence, the Spirit progressively transforms our character into conformity with the character of Christ. As this happens, Jesus says, “You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29–30).
You can find more on this approach to the Christian life in books like Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart; John Piper, Desiring God; and Gary Thomas, The Beautiful Fight.
Your Statement of the Gospel Is Very Different from What I Learned in Church.
Sadly, you are not alone. Many Christians have learned only the forgiveness part of the gospel. These gospel presentations begin with our sinfulness, separation from God, and impending eternity in hell and go on to say that Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for our sin so that if we believe and receive him as Savior, we will have all our sins forgiven and spend eternity with him in heaven.
Everything in this outline is absolutely true. But it leaves out some vitally important aspects of the gospel as Peter preached it in Acts 2 (see page 23). For example, if we leave out regeneration, the Christian life is reduced to duty-based religion rather than the joyous spiritual life. Without membership in the community of the Spirit, people bring culturally conditioned values of radical individualism into their Christian experience. Subsequently, Christianity becomes only a matter of private devotion between me and God, something that’s all about me and what I get from God instead of a participation in a community committed to fulfilling the mission of God. Without exaltation and the defeat of the powers of darkness, people are left thinking they are helpless in their subjugation to the pagan gods and evil spirits.
Didn’t Jesus Come to Earth to Die for Our Sin?
Absolutely! But that’s not all he came for. In addition to coming to die for sin, Jesus came to redeem captives out of slavery into freedom (John 8:32–36), to destroy the authority of the powers of darkness (Eph. 1:20–23), to show us how to live (Phil. 2:1–5; 1 John 4:9–11), to reveal the Father to us (John 1:18; Rom. 5:8), and to bring us life. When Jesus speaks of this life, he exclaims, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
This life is not just being with Jesus in heaven after we die but having a Spirit-empowered relationship with Jesus in the present. John 17:21 says we actually share the life of the Trinity now. Jesus prays “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” It is a serious mistake to affirm one facet of truth with the implication that it is the whole truth. Even if we do it with good intention, we still deny truth.
Copyright 2009 by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.
1.For further study on this see chap. 3 of Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).
2. For further study on humility see C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005).
3. Matt. 26:63–65; Mark 14:61–64; John 8:58–59; 10:30–33.
4. John 1:14; Phil. 2:5–6; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:2.
5. 1 Tim. 2:5.
6. Mark 2:1–7.
7. For a more thorough study of this and other issues regarding the Holy Spirit, a helpful resource is Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007).
8. Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 185.
9. Matt. 24:4–5; Rom. 16:17–19; Gal. 1:7–9; 1 John 4:1–4.
10. For example, Matt. 4:1–10 and Heb. 4:14–16.
11. John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:14–16; 1 Pet. 1:19.
12. Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans.Henri de Vries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 97.
13. Luke 1–2.
14. Luke 1:41–43, 67, 76.
16. Luke 2:25–27.
17. Luke 2:27–34.
18. John 1:14; Phil. 2:5–6; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:2.
19. For example, Matt. 4:1–10 and Heb. 4:14–16.
20. Matt. 3:16.
21. Cole, He Who Gives Life, 158.
22. Luke 4:1–2.
23. Luke 4:14.
24. Luke 4:14–21.
25. Luke 10:21.
26. Luke 11:13.
27. Luke 12:12.
28. Gerald F. Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus (Dallas, TX: Word, 1991), 234.
29. Luke 7:34.
30. John 8:46.
31. Matt. 27:3–4; Luke 23:22, 41, 47; Acts 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; James 5:6; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 3:5.
32. Mark 1:21–27.
33. John 2:14–17.
34. Matt. 9:11.
35. Mark 7:1–23.
36. John 3:34; 4:34; 5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38; 6:29, 38, 39, 44, 57; 7:16, 28, 29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44, 45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21.
37. John 17:18.
38. John 20:21.
39. Isa. 53:5.
40. Rom. 4:25.
41. Rom. 5:8.
42. 1 Cor. 15:3.
43. 1 Pet. 3:18.
44. Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3–5; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:4–6; Phil. 3:8–9; Titus 3:7.
45. Col. 2:13–15.
46. Titus 2:13–14.
47. 1 Pet. 1:18–19.
48. Gal. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:21.
49. 1 John 4:10.
50. 1 John 1:7.
51. 1 Tim. 2:5–6.
52. 1 John 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:21.
53. Eph. 4:31–5:2.
54. John 1:18; Col. 1:15.
55. Rom. 1:4, 8:11; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 3:18.
56. Matt. 28:18–20.
57. Acts 1:1–9
58. Cole, He Who Gives Life, 193.
59. These three organizational points are adapted from Steve Walker, pastor of Redeemer’s Fellowship, Roseburg, OR. The same basic outline can be seen in Luke 24:46–47; Acts 10:39–43; 13:26–39; Rom. 4:22–25; and 1 Cor. 15:1–8.
60. Ezek. 36:26–27.
61. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 1036.
62. Acts 10:38.
63. John 14:12–27.
64. Acts 1:8.
65. Eph. 1:13–14; 5:18.
66. Gal. 5:16–18; Col. 3:5–8; James 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:4.
67. Heb. 5:8–9.
68. Heb. 12:1–3.
69. 1 Pet. 2:19–25.
70. 1 Cor. 10:16; 12:13.
71. Isa. 6:1–5 cf. John 12:41.
72. Matt. 28:18.
73. 1 Cor. 15:3–4.
74. Matt. 28:18–20.
75. Acts 9:4–5.
76. John 15:1–11.
77. R. L. Omanson, “The Church,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 232.
78. Quoted in Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), 34.