“…Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…” – ESV Ephesians 1:4
When the Eternal Son of God, the One who is eternally begotten, not made, who is very God of very God, became man, he took to Himself our nature, conceived by the Holy Spirit, from the substance of Mary (Luke 1:31-35). It is hard for us to understand, but the Scriptures teach that the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer of God’s people, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures (human and divine), and one Person forever (see Shorter Catechism, Q&A 21).
This means that while the Eternal Son did not change in His Being or substance or power as God in the Incarnation (Heb. 1:1-3), by assuming our nature into permanent hypostatic (personal) union with Himself, He did become something He was not before, namely man (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:16-18). As our Redeemer, Jesus Christ serves as our Mediator, and we must seek to honor the One Person, and acknowledge properly and biblically the two natures of Christ.
In considering the Spirit of Holiness, we will focus on the human nature of Christ today. What was done by the human nature was done by the one Person, so that we understand that the Eternal God does not die, yet He who was God did die, as man. The one Mediator died for sinners, the one Mediator between God and man who is both God and man in one Person. Jesus was God-Man. How does the Spirit’s work on Jesus Christ, God-Man, help us understand our holiness before God that we find in Him? Let us understand this in a time when the true humanity of Jesus Christ is begin undermined or misunderstood. While our Mediator was God and Man, He was truly God and truly man.
As a man, he was our representative in permanent-personal union with the Eternal Son, and He had to perform perfect obedience before God as man. There is to be no confusion, or mixture of His divine and human natures, but careful distinctions made. We should want to stress in understanding Christ’s true humanity, that like us He depended upon the Holy Spirit for grace, although He was without sin, He was truly man, dependent as a creature upon Almighty God. As Joel Beeke writes: “Christ’s obedience in our place had to be the real obedience of a human being. He did not cheat by relying on His own divine nature while He acted as the second Adam. Rather, by receiving and depending upon the Spirit, Christ was fully depending upon HIs Father (John 6:38).”
John Owen wrote: “The Lord Christ, as man, did and was to exercise all grace by the rational faculties and powers of His soul, His understanding, will, and affections; for He acted grace as a man….His divine nature was not unto Him in the place of a soul, nor did [the divine nature] immediately operate the things He performed, as some of old vainly imagined; but being a perfect man, His rational soul was in Him the immediate principle of all His moral operations, even as ours in us…. [Christ’s] growth in grace and wisdom was the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit; for as the faculties of His mind were enlarged by degrees and strengthened, so the Holy Spirit filled them up with grace for actual obedience” (John Owen, Works, 3:169-170). Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote similarly: “Whatsoever Christ did as man, He did by the Spirit” (R. Sibbes, Works, 1:102).
The Spirit of God that Jesus received from the Father is the same Spirit that the Father and the Son have sent to be within His people. What the Holy Spirit helped Jesus to do: live by faith, resist temptation, endure by grace, be a faithful servant, be comforted in affliction, etc. is what the Spirit still does for God’s people united to Jesus. The ministry of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus Christ has tremendous implications for believers’ holiness in Christ (Psa. 133; Isa. 61:1ff). Jesus is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). As theologian Mark Jones writes: “Jesus Christ, in His human nature, is the holiest man ever to have lived on earth. He exercised faith, hope, and love in a manner so extraordinary that if there were millions of worlds of loving creatures, they would not have, combined together, the same degree of love that was in the heart of our Savior. These graces bestowed upon Jesus did not remain on Him alone, but trickled down, as oil on His forehead, to His bride.” Jesus as exalted King poured out His Spirit upon His people (Acts 2:33).
We should understand that there was a twofold mission of the Triune God to secure the salvation of God’s people that are intimately (covenantally!) related, but should be distinguished: 1) The sending of the Eternal Son by His Father to become man and to perform and accomplish as Mediator of God’s people all of the acts of obedience unto death as Prophet, Priest and King; 2) The sending of the Eternal Spirit by the Father and Jesus the Enthroned King at God’s right hand to His people to enable them to follow Him in obedience and suffering and holiness until they would meet safely in heaven, and behold the Son face to face. This is the grace we speak of when we say that we do all things for Christ “because of His grace, by His grace, through His grace, in light of His grace, etc. The grace is particularly the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” given to us by God’s Spirit to enable us (although sinful) to make progress in obedience and holiness (we are saved by faith alone but not a grace that is alone; we are saved to be holy and obedient unto God, Eph. 1:3-5, 2:10; Phil. 1:6, 2:12-13).
John Owen wrote: “If Christ is our mediator, our union with Him means not only that we must be holy (that it is necessary), but also that we will be able to be like Him (and in our motives desire this), and, of course, that we will enjoy being holy (in communion with Him).” The grace we need for sanctification as believers is the grace of God that is given to believers in and through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 13:14). Whatever grace we received for our holiness first belonged to our Savior who is “full of grace” (John 1:16). To be holy is both to look at Christ’s substitutionary work for us in reconciliation, but it is also to labor after conformity to His image because of, and in dependence upon His grace in Christ (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4).
Although Christ was sinless and needed no grace as sinners need grace, nevertheless, Christ Jesus lived by faith in his estate of humiliation. Christ is the holiest man who ever lived and the greatest “believer” (or man of faith) ever to have lived (Heb. 12:2). There has never been, nor will there ever be, a more perfect example of living by faith than Jesus. By faith, He believed the word and promises of God. If Christ had not had faith, His people would remain in their unbelief; if Christ had not been vindicated (1 Tim. 3:16), adopted (Psa. 2:7; Rom. 1:4), sanctified (Rom. 6:9-10; John 17:19), and glorified (1 Cor. 15:35-49), His elect would not receive these blessings!
There is no grace we received by the Spirit that was not first present in Christ Himself, particularly the grace of faith. The Holy Spirit bestows all the blessings of Christ upon the members of His church only because they were first bestowed on Christ. Richard Sibbes wrote: “We have not the Holy Spirit immediately from God, but we have Him as sanctifying Christ first [not from sin, but consecrating him as man to the Father’s will], and then us, and whatsoever the Holy Spirit does in us, He does the same in Christ first, and He does it in us, because of Christ.”
The life of holiness is the life of faith. The way we begin the Christian life with faith is the way we continue in the Christian life until we get to heaven and faith becomes sight. Those who belong to Christ are as dependent upon the Spirit for their holiness as they are dependent upon air to breathe. Just as Christ lived by faith and depended upon the grace of the Holy Spirit to work on His human nature, so we are likewise to live by faith and depend upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
In Christ’s love,
* For further reading: ‘A Puritan Theology’, ed. Beeke and Jones; ‘Holy Spirit’, S. Ferguson; John Owen, ‘Works’, Vols. 1-4; ‘Hebrews’, Vol. 3; ‘Works’, R. Sibbes; ‘Antinomianism’, M. Jones.