The Humanity of Jesus: 'Jesus: Pattern for Piety and Power'

Jesus: The Pattern Human

Jesus is the Pattern for Piety and Power

Because of centuries of debate both pre and post-Reformation, the belief that Jesus is “God in the flesh,” is nearly universally understood at least at a dogmatic level among anyone who claims adherence to two millennia worth of Christian doctrine. However, among that same company, the implications of the full humanity of Jesus are not nearly as well understood. Jesus is God is a convenient escape hatch: “Well, let’s be reasonable, I mean, after all, He was God and I am not, so the best I can do is try to be like Him in character.” Jesus–fully human and fully representative as the pattern human–closes that escape hatch, and our carnality would rather leave it open. The implications are too profound, too deep, and too challenging: Jesus is not just a moral example. He is the pattern for piety and power.

The offense of the gospel has always been Jesus’ identity: to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness.[1] The incarnation and nature of Jesus Christ are a mystery.[2] There’s no need to apologize for it in spite of Jehovah’s Witness’ attempts to get Christians to do so. It’s the explicit testimony of Scripture.[3]

Controversy has always surrounded the gospel record concerning Christ. It is inherent, inside and out of the evangelical Christian community when the finite attempts to understand the infinite, to explain the unexplainable. A slight change in emphasis, over-emphasis, under-emphasis, a poor choice of words, or a different shade of meaning can mean the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.[4] G. Campbell Morgan expressed the concern this way:

The Lord Jesus Christ is a Person infinitely transcending the possibility of perfect human comprehension. Nevertheless the Scripture declares certain facts concerning Him, which account for His glory and His grace, and without which He remains an unsolved problem, defying every successive age in its attempts to account for Him. It should at once be admitted that no final words of explanation can be written concerning Him.[5]

Perfect analysis and explanation of Him are impossible.[6]

Nevertheless, the post-apostolic church fathers had to struggle for centuries with various theories before definitively formulating the “orthodox” view at councils at Nicea and Chalcedon.  Criticizing the outcomes of these councils has been fashionable of late. It is simply beyond my scope to go there. Some of the theories that came out of these councils appear (on the surface) to split the finest theological hairs, yet the implications of each are profound and the early fathers recognized the fact. Heretical fruit begins with a seed of truth. Truth pushed too far or over emphasized at the expense of another equally valid or balancing truth invariably becomes heresy. Heresy results when men and women push to logical conclusion things God designed to be unresolved.[7] The difficulty lies in defining emphasis—one person’s over emphasis is another’s corrective to under emphasis! Connor writes:

If we over-emphasize His deity, we obscure His perfect humanity. If we over-emphasize His humanity we obscure His deity.[8]

Those outside Christianity have always challenged Christ’s deity. It has also been under assault from within Christianity for nearly two hundred years. In the “scientific” era, the attack is intense and its effectiveness thorough.

The West is a post-Christian society. The conservative and evangelical response in the pulpit and seminary against the onslaught of liberalism, unbelief, humanism, and skepticism is to ardently argue for Christ’s full deity. This legitimate emphasis has overshadowed the equally valid and vital truth of the full humanity of our Lord. The implications of His full humanity in regard to spiritual gifts and charismatic issues have not been extensively addressed in popular literature, or taught in congregations.

Forty years experience in local church life and ministry has provided me a subjective, yet valid, observation. In the minds of the average congregant, the deity of Jesus is comprehended and accepted far more readily than His full humanity. The unfortunate aspect of this emphasis is the revelation of Him as one of us is lost. The revelation of the first chapter of John, the Word incarnate, God in the flesh, is not understood beyond the elemental details of the Christmas story. Christ is worshipped and admired in a philosophical and metaphysical sense, but faith for realized life on the order and quality that Jesus Himself experienced with the Father is non-existent or reserved for a few “deeper-lifers and overcomers.”

Jesus is admired and emulated for His perfect holiness that believers strive and hope to reflect before they die. Most conservative Evangelicals concede the soteriological representation of Jesus as the federal head of a new race. Yet the actual character of His life in every dimension and degree cannot be, and, according to evangelical theologians who view only post-Pentecost experience as normative, should not be considered relevant for believers today.

For them, He is not the representative head in the manifestation of supernatural power. He is the exception. He was God. We are not. Therefore, it is held illogical to expect supernatural manifestations through redeemed human flesh. The Jesus of the average Christian is God, the object of worship, but not the God-Man. The point may seem belabored and insignificant, but the issue has great practical implications.

Cessationism reinforces this subconscious sentiment by theologically eliminating the experience of Jesus (or the apostles) as relevant for the believer: Christian “professional ministry” exists to “assure” that the church experiences the apostle’s teaching, not teach the apostle’s experience—a common axiom in Cessationist pulpits.

For Cessationists, Jesus is primarily a vessel through which divine precept is extended. The believer inherits only the precepts via the Scripture, not the pattern and experience of life portrayed in Scripture in and by Christ. For Cessationists, Jesus’s role as a representative man is undermined. Is the exception based on honest hermeneutics or a priori reasoning?

How does the full humanity of Christ relate to the manifestation of supernatural power through Jesus of Nazareth? Did He accomplish deeds of power as “God in disguise on earth” or as one “who dwelt among us?”[9] The answer to these questions affects the whole gospel.[10]



[1] 1 Cor. 1:23.

[2] A mystery is not a thing unintelligible or perplexing, rather that which is undiscoverable except by revelation.

[3] Col. 2:2.

[4] Edward Irving discovered this the hard way.

[5] G. C. Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), 47.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Scriptural principle of antinomy—two contradictory propositions that both cannot simultaneously be true, but are—the Scriptures are full of antinomies. Heresy usually results by human effort to resolve the tension.

[8] Connor, Foundations of Christian Doctrine, 189.

[9] Thompson, The Incarnate Word (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 56.

[10] Strachan, Pentecostal Theology, 101.


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A Scholarly Critique of Cessationism

Jesus is the Pattern Human for All Time

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2 comments on “The Humanity of Jesus: 'Jesus: Pattern for Piety and Power'

  1. Steve – thanks for the insight into this very important issue. I also have found the crippling mindset you mentioned is all too common in western Christendom. The false belief that Jesus does everything “for” us as God rather than Him “in” us manifesting his presence, spirit, and nature. Cessationism and extreme sovereignty seem to sit very comfortably with one another.

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