Christology Determines Pneumatology–and Vice Versa


'The Baptism of Jesus' by William Brassey HoleWhat people think about Jesus will reflect in their pneumatology, their ideas concerning the Holy Spirit. As a result, what is taught concerning where Christ and the Holy Spirit intersect often becomes wildly divergent.

1. Some believe Jesus performed His miracles through His divine nature. Because He was God, he could raise the dead, heal, and command nature.

2. Some believe Jesus performed His miracles solely through His human nature, as a man fully empowered by the Holy Spirit.

What people believe about Jesus as the God-Man is largely interpreted through this lens:

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 emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
—Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

What “emptied himself” means becomes problematic for everyone. Is is possible that this verse forces people to rely on their conceptions of pneumatology to reason back to how Jesus did His miracles?

People who believe Jesus performed miracles through His divine nature are far less likely to believe that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit are for today, whereas those who believe He did miracles through His Spirit-filled human nature more likely will embrace a position that what Jesus did Spirit-filled people can do because the Holy Spirit, being God, is immutable and timeless.

The swing verse:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
—John 14:12 ESV

Which couples with this:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
—John 16:7 ESV

Jesus’ ascending to heaven resulted in His sending the Holy Spirit, and now people can do greater works.

Those “greater works” also split people based on pneumatology. Are they greater by nature? Or are they greater in number? Or both? How people understand this will also determine how their Christology and pneumatology intersect and inform each other.

But Jesus walked on water and commanded the wind and it obeyed. Surely this is due to His divinity and not anything men can do, even Spirit-filled men.

Jesus says this about faith, which is also one of the nine gifts of the Spirit:

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
—Matthew 17:20 ESVb

Where do I stand on this? I believe that as one delves deeper into the Scriptures it becomes clear that Jesus elected to do His miracles as a Spirit-filled man to show what is possible for anyone who believes. This is a hallmark of those who are part of the Kingdom of God, or as Jesus said, “Nothing will be impossible for you.” And it is as Jesus said because He modeled for us what a truly Spirit-filled man can do, not relying on His nature as the Son of God to do these things, which would be impossible for us to emulate, but instead relying on his mantle as the Son of Man and the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:43-49).

What we believe about Jesus informs how we think about the Holy Spirit. And vice versa.

25 thoughts on “Christology Determines Pneumatology–and Vice Versa

  1. Very interesting. I think the problem of what it means for Christ to be fully God and yet also fully human is a difficult one. I would tend to see the power of Christ exhibited as both divine fulfillment of prophecy as well as demonstrations of His divinity so I would probably fall into the first school of thought but it is an interesting thesis nonetheless.

    • Arthur,

      Wayne Grudem discusses this briefly in his Systematic Theology and though he believes in the continuation of the gifts, he sides more with the idea of Jesus using His divinity to work certain miracles (specifically command over nature), such as turning the water into wine and calming the storm.

      Even so, you look at some of the natural miracles in the OT and there are similarities, such as Joshua praying for the sun to halt in the sky, Elijah praying for rain, and Elisha making the axe head float. The question there is whether there is any partnership between God and man in those events or whether it is all God working outside of the faithful.

      One of the issues here is Jesus saying, “Nothing will be impossible for you,” meaning the apostles, and subsequently, all believers. (Who He does NOT say is as important as who He does. He could have said, “Nothing will be impossible for God,” which then takes the faithful out of the equation, but I think Jesus said what He said on purpose. Something was going to happen to these people because of the New Covenant that was extraordinary.) One can take the position that because the believer is in Christ and Christ is in him or her, it is still God working through the believer. Others teach that it is God operating outside the believer, but the more I read the Scriptures, the less I see that being the case. Instead, there is a synergy of God working through the faithful which makes “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me” take on a deeper meaning.

      I don’t have the final word on this, but it is interesting that people divide down this line. Grudem may not–exactly–but most do.

  2. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    In the OT we are told that the ‘Spirit’ came upon individuals and they were able to do the extraordinary. I’m thinking of the Judges in the OT. Of Gideon, of Samson, etc. God raised up deliverers for his people Israel to free them from the oppression of those nations who oppressed and abused them.

    Then we have David ‘a man after God’s own heart’, and Abraham ‘the friend of God’. These men were chosen and annointed (enabled?) as I’m sure the Judges were also.

    When we think of Jesus, we see that his hometown did not experience miracles from Jesus before he was baptised in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit decended on Jesus there as a dove. His hometown was offended when they heard about the miracles of Jesus. ‘Isn’t this man Joseph’s son?’ ‘We know this man, there is nothing special about him’ ‘we know his background and know about his growing up years’. ‘Who does Jesus think he is?’ ‘This man is delusional’.

    Then we have Jesus breathing on the apostles to impart power to them to heal, preach, and cast out devils before the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven and came down upon the 120 believers who were gathered during Pentecost at Jerusalem.

    Were miracles done at will by the believers or the apostles? This doesn’t seem to be the case in Scripture. Jesus said he only did what he saw the Father doing. That he was working the works of his Father. We know that Jesus did not heal everyone in Israel. There seems to be a part that the people played as well. Faith and belief.

    Jesus seems to present the situation as He is in the Father, the Father is in Him, he and the Father are one, we are in Jesus Christ, and He is in us. The hope in Scripture is that we (the disciples) will be one with Christ and the Father.

    just some thoughts from me. Challenging post.

    • Linda,

      The upon versus in issue regarding the Holy Spirit and the faithful is a big one that I could probably talk about for a L-O-N-G time.

      I should have mentioned that point about Jesus and his miracles and ministry starting at his Holy Spirit indwelling. That point may reinforce that Jesus worked His miracles as a Spirit-filled man, because clearly his divine nature was with Him from conception.

      I have never had a good framework from which to understand the various impartations of the Spirit on believers before Pentecost.

      Miracles were worked at will in the NT. Peter and the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, and also the resurrection of Tabitha. There are more, but those were both intentional and seemingly without preparation.

  3. Good thoughts, Dan. I tend to come down in the same place as you. Which, of course, begs the question, where are all these “greater things” being done? When was the last time you raised someone from the dead?

  4. Brendt Wayne Waters

    Related question for you – just to get your take. When Christ “emptied himself”, there are some attributes of divinity that he obviously had to set aside (e.g. omnipresence). What I’ve been wondering for quite a while is this: did he lay aside his omniscience?

    Put another way – was he operating on a “need to know” basis with an omniscient Father? With the caveat that since Jesus had a perfect relationship with the Father, the instant that Jesus needed to know something, he did.

    • Brendt,

      Gonna give you my honest answer: I don’t know.

      Jesus was fully Man and fully God, and I don’t believe He ever stopped being either. And as for omnipresence, even that can be debated.

      I believe the attributes of divinity that Jesus could have accessed, He chose not to use when He was a Man; this constitutes the “emptying.” I think that issue of accessing the divine nature is the undercurrent during His temptation by Satan. Possibly the Enemy was attempting to get Jesus to operate in His divinity from out of His manhood for “selfish” reasons (in a way, replicating Adam’s error). I wonder if doing so would have negated everything.

      But that’s conjecture. And the truth is, MANY people have conjectured on the the paradox of Christ’s God-Man status, people better than this blogger. So, in the end, what I think in this regard doesn’t matter much, and I’m probably better off with “I don’t know.”

      • Brendt Wayne Waters

        Darn, I was hoping for a definitive “thus saith the Lord” response. 🙂

        Seriously, though, I just wanted your take since it’s clear you’ve given thought to related issues. Whether the theory I floated is right or not, nothing in Scripture changes (as far as I’ve been able to determine), but it does occasionally shed some new light on things.

        • Don Costello

          I have taught for years that the following verses settles the question if Jesus laid aside his Omniscience. Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Hebrews 5:7 “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

    • I’m reading a commentary on Genesis by John Goldingay, and he suggests that not only did Christ lay aside certain attributes in the New Testment, like omniscience, but so did God in the Old Testament (based on the wording of several verses), at least at certain times during his dealing with humans. It’s an interesting thought. I for one think Jesus must never have experienced any quality that men cannot experience. He may, for instance, have had supernatural knowledge of someone, but it was through his oneness with the Father, not an innate ‘magic power.’ A oneness with the Father which any human can also have, through him.

  5. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    I’m going to take a stab at something here. When Peter and John saw the man at the gate beautiful. For some reason Peter’s eyes fastened on this man. In that instant Peter recognized that this lame man had faith to be healed. Who showed Peter this? The Holy Spirit. Jesus was already taken up to heaven. The question is: ‘could Peter have healed this man just because he wanted to?’ I wonder. The Bible says that the lame man had been placed at the gate beautiful many times to beg for alms. Surely Peter and John had seen him there many times as well.

    What was different this time? The Holy Spirit focused Peter’s eyes on the man. Peter was given the information or revelation that this lame man had faith to be healed. What if this lame man did not have this faith? Could Peter have still healed him? It’s doubtful. Because Jesus could not do many miracles among the people of Nazareth because of their unbelief. Literally their rebellion and comtempt of Him.

    I cannot remember Tabitha’s story. However, many times prayer was made before the dead were raised to life in the Bible. In the case of Paul being raised from the dead the disciples gathered around him and prayed. What these disciples were praying the scriptures do not say. Life came back into Paul, and God raised him up from the dead. We have to remember that our purpose on earth (in Christ) is to glorify God. In whatever way.

    The Bible makes it clear that miracles alone will not bring anyone to Christ as Savior of their souls. If this were the case, the Bible says, the rich man’s brothers would be saved if Lazarus was brought back from the dead to testify to them.

    What is our purpose as believers? To glorify God in righteousness, holiness, and purity. Do we do this as believers? Do we function in God’s wisdom and Christ’s mind? The Bible says that Moses did not do the miracles of parting the Red Sea by himself. Isaiah? says that God put his mighty arm next to Moses’ right hand. What does this mean?

    Moses did not perform these miracles apart from God. I believe that we do not either. Do we as mere people have this kind of power within ourselves? No. We are as dependant on God as Moses was. Therefore, I’m thinking miracles are only possible for us if God is working them.

    again some thoughts from me.

    • Linda,

      I hope I never gave the impression that we can do ANYTHING apart from God. Without Him, we can do nothing.

      The issue here is the “at will” part of the charismata. I believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in each believer, so wherever the believer is, God is also, because we are the vessels for Him. That seems to be a major point of the New Covenant.

      I also think this is where charismatic/Pentecostal theology diverges from some others, because the others never seem to operate from that idea for any of their theology. Yes, the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer, they contend, but it is not the Holy Spirit doing those works, but God who is outside the believer doing them apart from the believer. On the other hand, charismatic/Pentecostal theology tends to root those miraculous actions in the activity of the Holy Spirit working through the believer. This is a critical difference in understanding and explains much of the rest of the theological differences between the groups.

      From there, the contention would likely be the issue of “and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets (1 Cor. 14:32),” which would seem to endorse the “at will” nature of the charismata, especially given the context of that verse.

      For those reasons above, I believe this:

      A Spirit-filled believer gifted in the charismata HAS THE POTENTIAL to operate in those gifts AT WILL.

      That first qualifier is a big one, though. The POTENTIAL is there. Obviously, other factors will bolster or frustrate that potential (such as unbelief).

      • Linda

        Hi Dan,
        I agree with what you say here. However, Jesus states that He only did the will of the Father. Not His own will, but we also know that Jesus’ will was the will of the Father. Such as his obedience to the Father in laying down his life on the Cross. Jesus states ‘not my will but your will be done’.

        Can we do anything less or more than this? Would we be in rebellion if we did our own will with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and not the will of the Father? Would the Holy Spirit allow us to use Him in this way? I don’t think so. He’s his own person and he fully knows the mind of God ,the Bible says.
        Balaam tried to do his own will with the gift from God that he had. He tried to curse Israel, when God wanted to bless Israel. Balaam was not successful.

  6. I find that I have developed a real dislike for any sort of language that prioritizes Jesus’ Godhead over his humanity. With much western theology, it’s as if God came down and we HAVE to acknowledge that he was True Man, but the point is that he was God, not that God became man. If we could, we would just as soon leave that behind and just talk about ‘godness’ all the time.

    But there’s no Gospel without the humanity of God. And there’s no pneumatology without the Man Christ Jesus. It was a real challenge sorting out what was wrong with my charismatic background, but that seems to be the central correction, at least in my experience. That the Spirit is the Spirit OF JESUS, and the Jesus was and IS the True Man, the human that God commended and blessed as his Son and his anointed King. Once the church’s concept of the Spirit becomes understood in his unity with Jesus’ person and work, and the human nature of that work, the church then is free to operate in the power of the Spirit. It’s human, embodied work. And it’s Spiritual. Kinda like Jesus’ Resurrection. (1 Cor 15:45)

  7. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    Whether Jesus was a man or God or some of both while he lived here on earth for about 33 years, we know that his body nailed to the cross and his blood that was shed there was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Father in order to redeem fallen mankind. Jesus met the legal requirement, so to speak. He met the requirement of the Law of Moses by being ‘a lamb’ without sin. In this way we know that his birth was different from other men. He was born sinless.

    We also know that Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit, because he was able to breath on the disciples and impart the Spirit to them. He received the testimony of the Holy Spirit that He was the ‘lamb of God’ when the Spirit decended on Jesus like a dove after the baptism of John the Baptist.

    The Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples in Jerusalem like ‘tongues of fire’. This was different from what came down upon Jesus. The same Spirit, but different. ‘like a dove’ vs ‘tongues of fire’. Jesus was aware that God was his Father when he was twelve, if not before that time. Is this the usual experience of a child? No. So we know that Jesus had insight beyond his years. He was asking questions and teaching the rabbis in the temple at Jerusalem when he was twelve.

    At around 30 years of age he experienced the assault (so to speak) of the devil in the wilderness. He was on his own. He overcame the temptation or sin. The devil could not entice Jesus to sin against God. He was well versed in scripture and teaching, he also had the Holy Spirit.

    Is this the average experience of believers today in North America? No, it seems not. Believers are folding quickly to the power of sin. Many believers seem to have little if any real experiences with God in their personal lives.

    Christian leaders in some christian circles are frustrated with believers because they are not conquering and dominating the ‘world for Christ’. It may be that these believers are being asked to do something that they have no power to do at this time. This is abuse of these believers.

    People know where they are in Christ. They know the experiences they are having with God. Before we conquer the world, we need to conquer our sins. Before we rule and reign we need to be disciples and students of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Many believers have little idea of what the Word of God says.

    I don’t think that we need to be surprised that we see very little of the power of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives or in our times.

    • Linda,

      You raise an issue that troubles me greatly, one I’ve written about several times in the past.

      Why is there not more evangelism? I used to think it was because people struggled with a lack of expertise in handling the Scriptures. While most people don’t have expertise in handling the Scriptures, I think that people are more wary of the supposed lack of evidence of God’s working in their lives, which you mention.

      In a culture that rewards success, not many of us are successful from a worldly standpoint. If we are trying to evangelize people whose lives appear to be more successful and carefree than ours, then what do we have that they would want?

      Freedom from sin? Most people don’t acknowledge sin.
      Freedom from want? They already have it.
      A savior? They don’t think they need one.

      Meanwhile, we may be the ones who look like a bigger mess than those other people do. Why would they want to take on whatever is that put us in this messy state?

      I think this is a huge issue that doesn’t get enough scrutiny from Christian leaders. People don’t evangelize others because they can’t point to their own lives as a reference for how God improves it–at least not in a form that is transferable (“Oh, you’re NOT a drug-sniffing biker like I used to be? You’re stockbroker? Hmmm….”)

      Now this is a lie, but people still believe it. And it hinders evangelism everywhere in the West.

      • Dan,

        I guess I’d never really thought about evangelism in quite that way, but I think you’re right. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how churches (and individuals) can begin to address this. What should effective evangelism look like? (I should add that I’m not a big fan of evangelistic “programmes” and campaigns. I think true discipleship – which should always be the goal of evangelism – is always born out of relationship.)

        • Rob,

          A couple things:

          1. I am firmly convinced that power evangelism works. That’s a term John Wimber of the Vineyard coined as a reference to evangelism with a charismata element. (I don’t want everything I write to be a reaction to that recent conference I noted, but this is just coincidental now.) More than ever in human history, the Church needs to demonstrate supernatural power. In an age when skepticism reigns, SOMETHING needs to shake people, especially if those three “normal” aspects of spirituality I noted in my comment no longer sway people. A word of wisdom, word of knowledge, or a healing while evangelizing can make a profound difference. And I’ve heard too many pro examples to ignore this aspect of evangelism.

          2. Beyond power evangelism, I think just showing up matters more than we give it credit for. Caring at all about someone opens doors. We are more disconnected as a society than ever, I believe, and reaching out to another person, ESPECIALLY when that person is in a time of trial, is critical. Today, I think people are mostly only open when they are suffering, especially if they are not used to suffering. At this point, sharing how Jesus comforts amid suffering and being salt and light by showing up when perhaps no one else does, well, that may gain people an opening. Then, talking about how Jesus has been there amid suffering in the evangelist’s own life makes a difference. Anyone can share his or her own story. I think we neglect that, but the ending of the Gospel of John tells of the many stories about Jesus’ works that could fill the world with books, and I believe that accounts for your story and mine, because He did a work in our lives. Sharing that matters, especially in times of trouble. Plus, you don’t need to be a theologian to share your own story.

          • Great points, Dan. A couple of thoughts in response:

            1. Re power evangelism, I can see why you would say that. I seem to recall reading Wimber’s book of the same name many moons ago, and I remember attending a series of healing meetings led by a Vineyard team from America (I’m in the UK) in the mid-80s. There were some quite amazing miracles. Whether they resulted in salvation, I don’t know.

            I guess what worries me is the potential for abuse in this area. So many who pursue these types of gifts (healing/miracles, and to a lesser extent prophecy, words of knowledge, etc.) seem to end up abusing them and/or turning them into spectacle, thus bringing God’s name into disrepute. Of course, I’m not saying this should invalidate the gifts, just in the same way that the bad apples in the charismatic movement should not tarnish the entire movement. But I do think there’s a discussion to be had about how these gifts can be rehabilitated in a way that brings honour to God and best demonstrates his love to others, rather than aggrandizing man-made ministries and making a few people a lot of money.

            2. Yes, yes and yes. Suffering with the suffering and mourning with the broken-hearted. I read a post yesterday by a Christian who was recently diagnosed with cancer. She said one of the things she had found hardest to deal with was the number of well-meaning Christians who said “I’ll do anything at all to help” – and then proceeded to do nothing at all. So yes, just “showing up” when people are at their lowest can be a powerful demonstration of love.

            Many Christians aren’t good at this, primarily because (i) they themselves have been very insulated from suffering, and (ii) they have been brought up and nourished with a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. I think this is one of the most grievous errors in the modern church.

            • Rob,

              1. I agree completely that power evangelism is abused. The entire charismatic movement is awash with charlatans and people operating in questionable giftings. As I’ve written about many times, I believe this issue is largely because leadership in those churches have abandoned their God-given responsibility to identify and manage the giftings of their people. This is one of my “sticks in my craw” issues. If someone is in a leadership role in a church (elder, pastor, etc.) they MUST be partnering with people to identify genuine giftings and to correct “pseudo-giftings.” Too many churches allow self-identified “prophets” and “healers” to operate when they should instead be shut down and disciplined. I’ve watched far too many people operate in questionable gifts because leaders simply let them rather than show genuine discernment and leadership. I don’t believe any church leader should let anyone in their church do anything “charismatically” unless that person has a positive track record that has been overseen by the leaders. Just because someone claims she has the gift of word of knowledge does not mean she does. Test these things! And leaders, that’s your responsibility. (See this too:

              2. When my mother was terminal, it was like pulling teeth to get anyone at her church to do anything for her, including pick her up and drive her to her church on Sunday. Watching that happened taught me the saddest of lessons: You may be a pillar of your church for decades, but get sick, and everyone may forget you–especially if you are not on the leadership team. How sad! I also learned that when people volunteer to help you in caregiving (“If you need any help with your mom, just call!”), they don’t really mean it. Their offer is a reflex and not truly intended to be called in. You can hear the frustration in their voices when you actually take them up on their offer. Again, how sad!

              • Dan,

                1. I agree wholeheartedly.

                2. How incredibly sad. I tend to think “show me how you live and I’ll show you what you believe” is a good maxim – and if it’s true, you have to wonder what the people in that church had been fed all those years.

  8. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    Alberta got snowed in from Friday to Monday. Over a couple of days we had about 1-1.5 ft of snow fall. Wet, heavy snow. An unusual amount for early November. I also have another renter in my house. Three other females plus myself are now living in my home. I was preparing a bedroom and moving furniture around on Friday. I’m nearly 60 years old. The only way I can figure it, is that God is helping me do this physical work. I shoveled snow Sunday and Monday. Lots of snow. I moved big pieces of furniture between two rooms on Friday by myself. Anybody want to arm wrestle? Just kidding:) I’m in another community (close to me) using the computer in their library because the local library computers are down today where I live.

    For that stockbroker that you mention in your comment. Guilt and shame might be on his/her mind more often then we might think. In 2008/2009 some financial portfolios of hard working ordinary people were reduced by 25-30%. A lot of client’s retirement income may have been lost depending on what the stockbroker was selling and investing in. I would not want to be in that position. There may be more financial portfolio loss in years to come as well. I think I would want to get out of the stockbroker business as soon as I could.

    I think that evangelism has declined partly because of a powerless message coming from church leadership. Leaders hardly seemn to know which end is up or down in our times. They seen unable to preach God’s word because they don’t believe in it themselves. How or what are they going to teach others? This may be why christian leaders have gone to teaching the ways of the world in their churches. It’s what they understand and know well.
    Sorry for the long comment Dan.

  9. Spot-on, Dan. I happened upon your site today doing some research and agree with what you’re saying here about our Spirit-empowered life in Christ. When we stop with all the legal and positional separating of ourselves from Him in Christ, turning what Jesus actually said into nothing more than theory, we will start doing what He did. We will actually believe we are IN Christ via the Spirit.

    And I agree with the comments about the power abuse. Power can blow people up without love. We must learn how to be loved by the Father, and love like Jesus loved with the Father’s love, before we should want His power.

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