The Humanity of Jesus: Growing in Faith

ManSometimes my faith is pathetic. Hindsight allows me the privilege of recognizing how dumb I am, and how in silly situations I doubt an awesome God. Thankfully I continue to grow in my faith; my spiritual keeps getting deeper and stronger. Such is true for all maturing believers, and in some sense it’s true of Jesus too. Though Jesus never doubted like us, in his earthly life it was right for the Scriptures to testify to his spiritual growth. Jesus can be our model in spiritual growth.

There is a way to talk about Jesus’s spiritual growth that would be sinful. It is possible to think of Jesus’s humanity in exact, sinful, parallel to ours. That is, it would be wrong to suggest that Jesus’s doubted, disobeyed, or sinned. That he matured in his spiritual life by sinning less, and believing more. That is not what Scripture teaches. As Dr. Ware declares:

Since Jesus never sinned, and since he always did the will of his Father, he always enjoyed the unbroken approval of the Father and lived in intimate and unbroken union with his Father. As John 15:10 declares, Jesus abided in his Father’s love because he always kept his Father’s commandments. (59)

The testimony of Scripture is that Jesus, as the second member of the Trinity, lived in perfect union and obedience to His Father. In that sense he didn’t grow in his faith, he was simply faithful. Yet, we must wrestle with the full testimony of Scripture, and there are passages that warrant our consideration today on this topic.

Hebrews 5:8, in particular, tells us that Jesus “learned obedience.” What could this mean for the Son of God? We know that this verse applies particularly to “the days of his flesh” (v. 7), so that reminds us again that Jesus lived his earthly life primarily out of his humanity. If we consider carefully the full context of this phrase we can begin to understand it more clearly. The text does not assert merely that Jesus learned obedience, as if he had not been obedient before his incarnation. Jesus, as the Son of God, had already been obedient to his Father by his coming into the world. The very incarnation was evidence of his obedience (John 6:38; John 8:42). More particularly this text tells us that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” It is the second half of this phrase that helps us understand how Jesus grew in his faith.

Prior to the incarnation Jesus had not suffered. He is King, and as King he had always deserved nothing less than honor, praise, adoration, and glory. In his earthly life, however, he received ridicule, hatred, mocking, persecution, and crucifixion. Jesus obeyed the Father even in the face of great suffering and never once turned away from his Father’s will (John 8:28-29). But that key word “learned” is important. The point of Hebrews is not simply that Jesus obeyed even through difficulty, but rather that he “learned” to obey. Bruce Ware sheds some insight into this concept, he writes:

Must it not be that Hebrews is indicating that Jesus learned to obey the Father through the whole of his life with an obedience that was rendered in increasingly difficult situations as he grew and developed? As the Son learned to obey the Father in earlier times of “lighter” divine demands upon him and consequent “lighter suffering…these earlier experiences of faith in the Father’s provision, protection, and direction prepared him for the greater acts of obedience he would need to render as he got nearer to the time of the cross. In other words, those earlier “obediences,” we might call them, under circumstances with lighter suffering and affliction, were prescribed by the Father as the training program necessary to prepare Jesus for the later and much harder obediences that were to come. (64)

Jesus learned obedience through his early difficulties that prepared him to obey in greater difficulty. Jesus was perfect in his obedience, but that doesn’t negate the reality of his “learning obedience through what he suffered.” We get glimpses of this reality throughout the Scriptures.

In Hebrews 5:7 we read that Jesus “in the days of his flesh” “offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” Jesus, the divine Son of God, cried out for God’s help. “To put this point differently,” Ware writes, “Jesus’s faith and obedience during these times of testing , in which he offered supplications with loud cries and tears, were not experiences of an easy walk of faith or effortless acts of obedience” (65). Though Jesus is God, in his earthly life, living out of his humanity, Jesus put forth great effort to trust His Father. He never doubted, but it was never easy either.

A look at Gethsemane shows too a man who fought hard for his faith. His prayer, three times uttered, that God would remove the cup of wrath from him evidences a fight to believe. He certainly did believe God, but that didn’t change his desire to avoid the agony of the cross and the separation from God. He desired to do the will of the Father more, but the passage reminds us that Jesus was the God-MAN. Speaking of Jesus sweating drops of blood, Bruce Ware comments:

It is simply impossible to think deeply about these accounts and draw the conclusion that since Jesus was God, and since it was impossible for him to sin, his obedience here in the garden was both automatic and easy. (65)

We are reminded again that Jesus, living out of his humanity, “learned obedience through what he suffered.” That isn’t altogether totally different from our experience.

God uses difficulties and trials in our lives to shape us and to grow our faith, just as he did with his Son. Every day we are presented with opportunities to obey God or disobey him, and the choices we make are important. The “little obediences” matter to God and matter for us. So do the “little disobediences.” Our faith grows as we fight for that faith, as we wrestle with obedience. Like Jesus we can “learn obedience through what we suffer,” and like Jesus we can see our faith grow as we fight for obedience. Yes, Jesus was the sinless, perfect, Son of God. But living out of his humanity reveals that his obedience was not easy nor automatic. We can learn from that as we too fight in the power of the Spirit to obey God.

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