Christianity 201

March 28, 2014

Did Jesus Experience Spiritual Formation?

Nearly two weeks ago, we asked the question, Was Jesus Ever The Recipient of Grace? The purpose of that question, and the one today is not to go off on tangents or formulate some weird doctrine, but simply to get us thinking about the implications of certain scriptures.

Spiritual formation is a term that some find particularly upsetting; probably because the term went into widespread use with a particular movement they object to, The Emergent Church. But the term spiritual growth — or it’s aim, spiritual maturity — has been around much longer and means the same thing. In a familiar passage we learn that,

Luke 2:52 …Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (NIV)

The purpose of this sentence is to provide narrative structure linking a passage showing Jesus in the temple at age twelve — Luke is the only gospel writer to include this — and the beginning of his ministry in chapter 3.

But in Hebrews, the King James introduces the idea of Christ being ‘perfected by his sufferings.’

Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

I can hear some of you asking, “Wait a minute! He was already perfect wasn’t he?”

Yesterday, someone suggested to me that this is analogous to the rest of us being formed and shaped through testing, trials and tribulations. But was this true of Jesus? If so, is this referring to unwritten things that happened between age twelve and age thirty; the period Luke sums up in a single phrase? Or is it saying that Jesus experienced ‘sufferings’ even as he pursued his earthly ministry; trained disciples; healed the sick; taught in parables; and challenged the Pharisees?

The answer is probably neither.

Rather the ‘sufferings’ of Jesus almost always refer to his suffering in the humiliation and pain of his death on Calvary.  The NLT renders the same verse,

Hebrews 2:10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

The last phrase doesn’t occur at all in the KJV but introduces the idea that the perfection of Christ is in the atonement; that Christ becomes our perfect sacrifice, but this can only take place after (i.e. through) his suffering and death.

The NIV blends the two. In this he becomes perfect through completing God’s ultimate plan and purpose:

Hebrews 2:10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

So how do we resolve this? Was Jesus spiritually formed by the hard times in his life?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that this was part of the whole humility of Christ, to be found in the human condition (i.e. “found in like manner as we”) and coming as carpenter and an itinerant rabbi and not a king (i.e. “taking on the form of a servant.”)(Both ref.’s Phil. 2)

But no in the sense of what is happening here is that we’re confusing two different ideas and we think the text is talking about something that more often applies to us not Him, namely that we are perfected by our sufferings.  We get that from:

Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

II Cor. 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

I Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

I Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

For the Christ-follower, this is simply the way it is; these are life principles.  But while the language is the same, I don’t believe the Hebrews passage fits the same pattern, and therefore I don’t believe that Christ was being shaped or formed by his circumstances or challenges the way we are. This seems to rob him of the divinity he possessed, at the very, very least, at the outset of his public ministry. (I phrase it that way only because some do not ascribe to Jesus an awareness of his divinity at earlier stages. I’m only making a concession here, I personally believe the Luke 2 passage is included to give us an insight into his full knowledge of his unity with God the Father.)

Some of the less common translations flesh this out to various degrees.  The Amplified Bible:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was an act worthy [of God] and fitting [to the divine nature] that He, for Whose sake and by Whom all things have their existence, in bringing many sons into glory, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect [should bring to maturity the human experience necessary to be perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest] through suffering.

This ties in well with Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.

The Voice Bible seems to suggest a perfecting taking place,

10 It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation.

But in a narrative section that precedes it, states,

Here is God’s Son: Creator, Sustainer, Great High Priest. Jesus has to take on our feeble flesh and suffer a violent death. He suffers for what we need.

So again, he is our perfect sacrifice; he is not being shaped by things taking place in his earthly ministry, but he is becoming — as the writer will say in the verse from chapter four above — our perfect High Priest in death.

Jesus was the perfect man already. He didn’t need to be refined the way we do. His earthly existence did not shape him but it did make him perfectly able to identify with our condition. His submission to death made him the perfect sacrifice and thereby he is the perfect completion of God’s plan.

 

1 Comment »

  1. The phrase “Jesus grew. . . “. Says what we need to know. He had to “grow” in these areas after he was 12 years old.thar is the text. Being a perfect human does not mean there us no room for growth I.e.transformation. The areas of growth are interesting, wisdom- He did not know everything as a human being, only what the Father tells Him. Stature, He had to grow physically, of course. But growing in favor with God and man is astounding. Especially, that He grew in favor with God. I find that phrase amazing. Just some things to think about. Thank you for a very stimulating article.
    Kathy

    Comment by sidelites46 — April 1, 2014 @ 3:32 am | Reply


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