Q&A: Jesus' Power

Jesus' Power

Question

Did Jesus do miracles by his own power?

Is the answer to the following question from a reformed website correct?

Q:"How did Jesus really fulfill these three offices(Prophet, Priest, King)? As a divine or as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit?

A: Jesus did miracles as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit... Jesus is God but chooses to lay aside His divine power in order to, as a human being, depend on the Holy Spirit.

I totally disagree, but what I wonder, is this heresy?   As the same website goes on to say, "The same Holy Spirit who empowers Jesus also empowers us.  Thus, John 14:12 may be fulfilled - we may do the same works that Jesus did."

Answer

Jesus did do at least some miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Luke 4:14ff.; Acts 10:38; Rom. 8:11). Others he is said to have done by asserting his own divine authority (e.g., Mark 1:24ff.; 4:37ff.). I would also add that it is not necessary that one be powerless before he can rely on another. Jesus had divine power, but often relied on the Holy Spirit as the agent who operated on his behalf.

But it is not the case (by any stretch of the imagination!) that Jesus laid aside his divine power. God cannot divorce himself from his own attributes, or else his character is mutable. Rather, Philippians 2:6ff. refers to Jesus humbling himself by taking on flesh and leaving his glorious station in heaven. The specific examples of his humility include the incarnation and the crucifixion. In other words, Paul is not talking so much about the Son of God's attributes but about his actions. At his ascension, Jesus was restored to a position of glory, so that the glory he had veiled during his earthly ministry was one again unveiled and manifested (cf. John 17:1ff.).

Moreover, we formulate our doctrine of the Trinity in the traditional way: three persons, one essence. I would argue that "power" belongs to the "essence" of God, not to the "personality" of God. Therefore, the "power" of Jesus is the same power that is wielded by the Holy Spirit and the Father (cf. WLC 9). So, when the Holy Spirit acts, he exercises the power of the entire Godhead — including the power of Jesus — not a power that is particular to the Third Person of the Trinity. In conjunction with this, consider that the Holy Spirit is also called "the Spirit of God" and "the Spirit of Christ" (cf. Rom. 8:9ff.).

Regarding John 14:12, it is certainly the case that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit's empowerment when he said that the apostles would do works greater than Christ's own miracles. But the nature of the works that would be done under the power of the Spirit is not stated. I do not believe the primary referent was to charismatic displays. After all, Jesus himself taught that it was harder to say "Your sins are forgiven" than it was to say "Get up and Walk" (Matt. 9:5). And the great works we see done by the apostles in Acts are spreading the gospel, converting people and planting churches. Yes, spectacular displays accompanied these other displays of divine power, but they were not the focus. Rather, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the charismata were designed as a tool for a greater purpose, namely, to support, apply and fulfill the gospel. The Spirit's work through believers is also "greater" in that the Holy Spirit now gifts everyone rather than just a few select individuals, such as Jesus.

Assuming that your presentation of the website's position is correct, I would not, however, call it "heresy," unless it is furthered in some significant ways. Heresy may be defined in a number of ways. One is that it contradicts traditional confessional symbols/standards. The author here does not seem to have done this to a terrible degree. That is, while I believe his ideas are not compatible with the traditional creeds, he probably thinks they are, and would affirm the traditional formulations. Another way to define heresy is as an "error worth dividing over." I think he is in error, but his error is not so great as to warrant division. A third way to define "heresy" is simply as "error." I sometimes use the word in this way, but I try to be careful that people understand me clearly so that they do not get the false impression that I mean something else. I would say that the author is wrong on this point, but I would prefer not to say that he is a heretic. The third use of this word is too easily misunderstood to be used to refer to honest errors by true Christians in good standing.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.