Myk Habets, Jesus and the Spirit
Myk Habets is head of Carey Graduate School in New Zealand. He received his PhD from the University of Otago in 2006.The interviews with Dr. Habets were originally done for the video series You’re Included. The technical quality was not sufficient for audio or video, but we were able to transcribe the interviews.
You mentioned that Jesus was the Messiah, which means “The Anointed One.” That
made me think – anointed with what? The name “Messiah” is reminding us of the
role of the Spirit, the importance of the Spirit and who this person is. How
does this help us in our Christian walk?
Myk Habets: It makes Jesus more real – certainly for me. I go back and read any Gospel (it doesn’t matter which one) – and I read it with this understanding that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy, fulfilling all of Israel’s promises – that there is a coming one. They couldn’t conceive of how that all jelled together until the coming of Christ – as we read, the prophets wrote, but they didn’t fully understand even what they were writing about [1 Peter 1:10]. Jesus comes, and Paul talks about the mysterion, the mystery. It’s not a whodunit – it’s a mystery that we now understand more than we did – it unlocks that. So in terms of practicalities – it makes Jesus more real, more human.
That makes him no less divine – in fact it makes him more divine. A God who will go to such great lengths to redeem me, when I’m not worth it. Arguably, humanity isn’t worth it. Why would God do it? That’s the question you always get: why does God love us? Why does God want to save us? There’s no answer. Why? Because that’s who he is. That’s what Jesus reveals. That’s the magnificence of it. The more human Jesus becomes, the more magnificent he becomes as the God/man. God, who knows no sin, became sin for me. God, who knows our limitations, would choose to live as a human – through human eyes, through human mind, through human will and temptations.
I can identify with that. I can relate to that – because he has first identified with me. He’s first related to me. So when I pray, we read in Hebrews [7:25] that we have one before the Father who’s interceding for us. Someone I read recently suggested that Jesus’ very presence as a human in the presence of the Father is his intercession. It’s not a pleading, “Wrathful Father, be merciful on Myk – he’s not so bad.” No, that splits God from Jesus. His very presence as a human before the Father shows that humanity is acceptable to the Father. My humanity is now found in that Jesus Christ. Now, in the already-not yet before the resurrection, I can pray and there is a listening, there is a responsiveness, there is a sympathy, an empathetic person – the second person in the Trinity – as a human.
MM: Because Jesus knows what’s it like to be human.
MH: Yeah, he’s lived it, he’s felt it, he has conquered it.
MM: And he is able to communicate that perfectly to the Father.
MH: He says: I will not leave you orphans in the world, I won’t leave you alone [John 14:18]. I’ll be with you till the end of the age [Matthew 28:20], by my Spirit. In the great Pentecost event, he doesn’t just seem spirit to us. We read so much “spirit” story everywhere, it seems to be one of those plastic words, a hair spray word, you spray it everywhere, but it loses any sense of meaning. We have seen in this narrative the Spirit of the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity.
We receive the Spirit of his journey with the Son to the far country, to his humanity – he has accompanied him on that journey – has been the one who, with him, has been the power of his resisting temptation, the power of his obedience to the Father. Just as he is for you and for me. That’s the Spirit that Christ gives us – his Spirit – the Spirit enfolded and imprinted with an obedient human life. So I now have resources within me because I’m in Christ to live this life. So when I’m tempted, I can’t say, “Ah, if I stumble, the devil made me do it.” That is not an option anymore. So again, I think the practical response to your question is: Jesus becomes more real, we become closer. God becomes more holy and more loving and more attractive. He’s not just a fuzzy power. He’s not just an energy, not just some force – he’s Christ in us.
MM: He’s the Spirit who has done this, and done that.
MH: Then he commits through Christ, because the first act of Christ’s exaltation was to send the Spirit – to pour the Spirit on the church and on every believer to unite us to Christ, to himself by the Spirit so that we can participate in God. So by giving us his Spirit, by giving us his presence, he’s giving us himself. Wherever we go, Christ is there first by the Spirit, throwing us into the situation, into this conversation, into this event, into this murky fallen existence.
So it transcends a hobby-horse of mine, “What-Would-Jesus-Do.” That’s okay for five minutes. But it’s all external. As if I would know what Jesus would do. What would Jesus do if someone cuts in front of him on the motorway? Well, Jesus didn’t drive cars, did he? So unless I could think of a donkey coming in front of them… Then it gets bizarre… So if you’re a woman in certain situations… It becomes really bizarre. There’s something good about it – an imitation of Christ, but the imitation is external and effectively, what happens is that Christ becomes me to the nth degree. I’m imitating myself. I’m justifying my actions.
MM: You’re creating Christ in your image…
MH: Yeah, and justifying actions on that basis. Is that not what we see in much of the “What would Jesus do” movement? It’s a good movement, with good intention, but a lot of it is simply human justification. They say, this is what Jesus would do. I’m looking it like, “You don’t even know the Scriptures – so how would you know what Jesus would do, if you don’t even know that story?”
So this is moving beyond that to participation in Christ. I think of more of Hebrews’ idea, the biblical idea, where Christ is at the right hand of the Father. He sends us his Spirit in order that we may participate in what he did and what he is also currently doing.
MM: So it’s not us imitating an external, but the external coming into us…
MH: Yep, so that we could participate with Christ by the Spirit. It’s active, it’s dynamic, it’s internal – it’s not me controlling the situation in an external way.
MM: You seem to use Christ and God and the Spirit sometimes interchangeably. I’ve often thought of God being Christ-like, but as you were talking there, it seems that you think that the Spirit is Christ-like. Is that accurate?
MH: Yeah, I think so. Over 200 times in the Pauline epistles we find “in Christ” and “in the Spirit.” Two hundred times – that is pervasive, and they seem to be utterly synonymous. If you’re in the Spirit, you’re in Christ, or if in Christ, then in the Spirit. The same dynamic, the same power – the Spirit and the risen Christ are identified. They’re not collapsed into each other (so it’s not what we would say ontological, that now Christ ceases to be and he’s just Spirit), and yet their functions now overlap. “I will not leave you as orphans, I’ll send my Spirit” [John 14:18] so it’s how you define form, conform, sanctification, etc.
MM: The Spirit represents Jesus and his ongoing presence with us.
MH: Yes, without collapsing Jesus as also being a person of the Trinity. So the Spirit is like Jesus and Jesus is like the Spirit.
MM: Jesus called him “another comforter” [John 14:16].
MH: Yea, another of the same kind, the same quality. We could add the Father into that discussion as well, and do it three ways. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father [John 14:9]. The idea is that “if you’re in me, you’re in the Father.” The great John 17 prayer, that you will be one with me, as I am with the Father [John 17:21]. Really? Now, if that’s the Logos, you’ll be one with the Father as the Logos is – that means I become God. I’m the fourth member of the Holy Trinity – so now it’s a Quadtinity, you know. But Jesus is speaking to God as man: as I’m accepted by the Father, as I’m a beloved Son, now that you are in me, you are also accepted – it’s a relational oneness, and that’s profound.
MM: Just as Jesus is in the throne room – to use that metaphor – with God, all humanity is brought there…
MH: Yeah, you remind me of Paul: we are seated in Christ Jesus in the heavenly realm [Ephesians 2:6].
MH: So this is the sense in which we are found in Christ – we come into him, we live and breathe and have our being – while at the same time there is this other reality.
MM: But then that is done by the Spirit.
MH: Absolutely: Church, communion, baptism, mission, worship, witness…
MM: The three persons of the Trinity are all together in that somehow… We can’t separate, but we can distinguish…
MH: Augustine says (and theology has largely followed) that everything God does, he does as one – because he’s one being: Father, Son, and Spirit. But it’s appropriate to talk about the Father doing stuff, the Son doing stuff and the Spirit… As long as we’re not thinking three Gods. We need to constantly remind ourselves of one and three – divine and human – all the tensions in Scripture.
MM: Jesus is our Savior, but the Spirit is also involved in our salvation.
MH: Yea, and the Father in Christ is reconciling, the Father equally. It’s not the Father saying, “Look, I’ll have none of these primordial pests – that’s your job.” And Jesus, the Logos: “What if I don’t want to go,” you know. “Well, too bad. I’m the Father, you’re off.” That would deny the one being. Thomas Torrance has the phrase, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.” I think it’s a useful phrase. If Jesus loves us, the Trinity loves us. If Jesus accepts us, the Trinity accepts us. If we know Jesus, we know the Trinity.
MM: So what we see is what we get?
MH: Yeah, there’s far more, but what we will get is not other than what we see in Jesus. So I will stand before the judgment seat of Christ I have an assurance that I will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” because that’s what Jesus says now and that’s what the Trinity will say then.
MM: If Jesus was of such a mind as to becoming human, to condescend to our level, then that means the Father has that kind of humility as well?
MH: Yes, because they’re one being. Homoousios, of the same stuff – the Father, the Son, the Spirit equally work together in all things – for creation, for salvation, for redemption, for renewal.
MM: So the judge comes down to us.
MH: Yeah, the judge is judged our place…
There is this temptation to think of the Father as a bit of a tyrant, the Old Testament God versus the New Testament Jesus, the Law versus Sermon on the Mount. That’s a false dichotomy that Christians intuitively know is false. God loves us in Christ Jesus.
MM: You say intuitively and yet some people still fear…
MH: Sure… Sunday-school child-like faith gets swamped as we get older – we start listening to voices we should not, some of the people from within the church. Doubts creep in, and we need to do good theology, good Bible reading to correct us. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is good enough for me. Now I’m adding to that understanding — what does that mean? How do you unpack that? That’s not to base my salvation on. I have salvation, I have faith as a gift, it’s grace; now I’m adding to that knowledge. Theology is worship, worship is theology – at least that’s how it should be. When it’s turned into a philosophy, well…
MM: Seeking more understanding is worship.
MH: Yeah – having the mind of Christ, following after with our entire mind, body, and soul, spirit.
MM: Whereas some even in the church, as you said, would turn that, “Jesus loves me, this I know, but the Father, I’m not so sure about…”
MH: Yeah. Christ would be horrified. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. You’re not getting it.” The disciples come sort of mid ministry, they’re following Jesus, they’re seeing what he’s doing, but they’re Jews. “We worship Yahweh.” The Shema says, “Behold, the Lord your God the Lord is one.” They say it repeatedly, they say it every day, but here’s this Jesus who’s doing God stuff, Yahweh stuff. He can’t be Yahweh, it’s incomprehensible. Yahweh’s Yahweh. You’re you… So they come to him, they have that wonderful narrative of Jesus…
You can just see, you know, they’re discussing who’s gonna ask: “no, you ask”; “no, you ask”; “you’re the one – ok, you’re gonna ask.” “Ok, I’ll go.” “Ah, sorry, Jesus, now look, we know we’re Jewish, we know for several millennia that Yahweh’s taught us how to pray, how to approach him, how to think of him, how to ready and prepare ourselves and how to worship. Uh, how do we pray?” They’re asking “who can we address?” “We pray to Yahweh, is that ignoring you? Do we pray to you? Is that ignoring Yahweh? We don’t want to be idolaters.” And Jesus says, “this is how you should pray.”
MM: Kind of odd, why Jews who have been praying all their life would ask how to pray.
MH: Staggering. And he says, even more staggering, “This is how you pray: Our Father…”
MM: They realize that Jesus has completely transformed (or at least that’s the potential) their understanding of God and their relationship with him.
MH: So it is not other than the God of the Jews. It is the same. Richard Bauckham talks about Jesus sharing the divine identity. Jesus shows us what that identity really means. When he says, Our Father – they’re thinking, “Our Father? I know with whom you [Jesus] talk about him as your Father, even at the baptism, ‘This is my beloved Son’ [Matthew 3:17]. Therefore he’s his beloved Father. I know there’s this unique and utter relationship between you two.” He said you should pray, Our Father.
MM: But they have the potential to have the same kind of relationship.
MH: And so it’s working that out. “Our Father” because he’s your Father because I’m related to you. You’re saying you are God. You’re saying you are equal to the Father. You’re saying, in the later language, a homoousios, a one, a perichoretic, all these terms, this is the language of prayer: Our Father, Abba. What Jesus prays, what Jesus reveals, the unique relationship Jesus has with his Father, he’s saying yes you have that too. Only because of me and only in me. And you just see them with more questions, after mid ministry, and still, after that, “we really don’t know who you are.” After the resurrection – ah, “you were who you say you were.”
MM: Several aha moments.
MH: Whether you’re a Thomas, or whoever… “Ah, you are who you said you were.” So we can take you at face value, we can take your word as gospel, literally. You are the way the truth and the life. Ah, you meant it.
MM: And then at Pentecost there was a deepening of their understanding.
MH: The internalization that talks about this new covenant. The Spirit of John 2:28, Ezekiel and Isaiah and all these prophecies, that in those last days you will have this Spirit, too. Well, Jesus was conceived, baptized, lived, empowered and now he gives – he’s Lord of the Spirit.
MM: The same Spirit in them.MH: But under now his lordship. So we’re not messiahs, we’re not individuals doing the work of Christ. We are now under his lordship, a church, a body of which he is the head corporately and collectively. We often miss that collective – in a lone-ranger Christianity. Or someone says, “I’m the Lord’s anointed; you come to me for stuff.” No. Jesus Christ is the Lord’s anointed. We go to him for stuff and then he gives it to his church. He doesn’t give it to individuals or geographical locales or holy fountains of grace. That can be translated into church hierarchies or pseudo-prophets or any other current manifestation. There’s this collective church that we have to really wrestle with.