In the mid-90’s and early 2000’s no matter where you looked in the church there was someone with a bracelet, tee shirt or coffee mug emblazoned with the ubiquitous WWJD — “What would Jesus do?” The idea, of course, was to get people to think about Jesus during their daily lives. Before reacting to a rude co-worker, or making a big decision, or succumbing to a temptation, the hope was to get people to stop and think about what Jesus would do in this situation. Without commenting on the merits or folly of the WWJD movement, I’d point out that we have an answer to that question. In passages such as, John 6:38; 14:31; 17:4 the Bible shows that Jesus’ entire focus while on earth was on doing the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Sanders 2010,171)
There is, in other words, a Trinitarian shape to the life and ministry of Jesus. We see demonstrated in two ways throughout the Gospels. First, in His exclusive His focus on fulfilling the will of the Father. Perhaps no other verse in Scripture captures this as well as Matthew 26:39, where Jesus prays to the Father, “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” But we also see the Trinitarian shape of Jesus ministry, in His reliance on the Holy Spirit. Through out His ministry, Jesus did not rely on His own strength or power to accomplish the Father’s will, but on the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look at both of these aspects of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus Focused on Fulfilling the Will of the Father
The entire focus of Jesus’ life and ministry was to carry out the will of the Father. I’ve already noted the most famous example of this in Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. But we see this expressed in a number of other places, especially in the Gospel of John. In John 4:34, for instance, Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Then in the next chapter, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (5:19) Then in 5:30, He says, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” One chapter later, in 6:38, He added, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (see also 8:29 and 12:49) These verses, and many others show the overarching focus of Jesus life on earth was do the will of His Father.
Jesus’ focus on doing the will of the Father serves as an example of how we are to live the Christian life. In Mark 3:35, Jesus said: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Commenting on this verse, William Lane writes, “It is the performance of the will of God which is decisive in determining kinship with Jesus. In the new family which Jesus calls into being there is demanded the radical obedience to God which he demonstrated in his submission to the Father and which the disciples manifested in their response to the call.” (Lane 1974, 148)
God’s greatest desire is not to give us a better life, or a happier existence. He’s not merely blessing us with things to make our life easier, or to make us more prosperous. It’s not even to guarantee our eternal life in heaven. God’s ultimate goal is that we glorify Him by carrying out His commandments and participating in His life. But this is only possible as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Was Empowered by the Holy Spirit
Jesus did not carry out the will of the Father in His own strength. From beginning to end, His ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:35 says that He was begotten by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. In Matthew 3:16, John the Baptist saw “the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him [Jesus].” In Matthew 4:1, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted. During His first sermon in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (see Luke 4:18-19) Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20 show that He cast out demons by the Spirit of God. Later, Paul notes that it was through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead (Romans 8:11). Jesus’ constant reliance on the Holy Spirit to carry out the will of the Father, serves as the model of how the Christian life is to be lived.
In the same way the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus for service, He also empowers us. In Acts 2:33, Peter announced that, “Being, therefore, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus carries out His Lordship through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Notice the Trinitarian shape of the Christian life. We live out our daily lives under the Lordship of Christ for the glory of the Father through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is fleshed out in more detail in John chapters 14-15.
Four Ways the Trinity Empowers Our Daily Lives (John 14-15)
This passage is one of the most familiar in the entire New Testament. On the night before Jesus was crucified, after leaving the upper room where He’d just celebrated the final Passover meal, Jesus began to talk to His disciples about His departure. This news must have shaken the disciples to their core. With the shock of the moment still lingering in the air, Jesus turned their attention to what would happen after He was gone. Specifically, He showed them four ways the members of the Trinity would continue to work in the lives of disciples.
- By Empowering Us for Greater Works (14:12-17)
While Jesus was on earth He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. All of these were intended to give credibility to His message and identify Him as the Messiah. After His departure, however, Jesus promised He would empower the disciples to do even greater works than these:
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. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:12-17)
Jesus starts this passage off with the familiar words, “Truly, Truly.” By starting off this way, Jesus calls our attention to the importance of what He’s about to say. It’s like the teacher saying, “Heads up! This is going to be on the exam!” As soon as we hear the words “Truly, truly” we need to raise our spiritual attenna and tune in to what He’s about to say
Knowing that His departure was just around the corner, Jesus promises His disciples that they will do even greater works than what He had been doing. While there’s been much speculation over exactly what Jesus meant by this phrase, the context suggests it’s related to the preaching of the gospel. The subequent history of the disciples further supports this interpretation. While the book of Acts begins with a number of miraculous events tied to the preaching of the gospel, there is progressively less emphasis placed on these signs as the book progresses. The further we read, the less attention is given to miracles while increasingly the spread of the gospel takes center stage. It’s this miraculous growth of the church and the spread of the Gospel that Jesus has in mind when He talks about the “greater works.” Frankly, it is far more miraculous to see one person born-again into eternal-life than to see 10,000 raised physically from dead only to die again later.
We are able to do the “greater works” for two reasons. First, because Jesus returned back to the Father. This is a reference to His ascension back to heaven as Lord of the entire universe. (see Acts 2:33) We see this same idea expressed in Hebrews 1: 3b where the writer says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” F.F. Bruce notes that being “seated at the right hand” of God the Father is not a literal, physical location but rather a symbolic reference to Jesus’ Lordship. (Bruce 1990) Similar expressions of His Lordship can be found in Ephesians 4:10 and Philippians 2:9. The point here is very simple, we are able to do the “greater works” of Jesus’ because we operate under His Lordship. By His authority, we are able to carry out the work of the Gospel and live the Christian life.
The second reason, we can carry out these “greater works” is because of the Holy Spirit. (14:15-17) The Bible connects the Ascension of Jesus with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church. (see Acts 2:38) What Jesus predicted in John 15:16-17, Peter reported as being fulfilled on Pentecost. As we engage in the mission of preaching the gospel to the nations, it is essential to remember where our authority and power come from. We have the authority to preach the gospel because Jesus ascended back to the right hand of the Father. We have the power to preach the gospel because the Father gave the Holy Spirit to Jesus to pour into our lives and empower us for service. We do not rely on our own authority or might but draw our strength from the inexhaustible riches of the Triune God. This is vitally important in our day and age because we are so prone to rely on our own strength and technology in living out the Christian life. None of these are sufficient to empower us for service.
- By Teaching Us (14:25-26)
Not only do the members of the Trinity work together to empower us for greater works, but they are also involved in teaching us. John 14:25-26 says:
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Notice that each member of the Trinity is involved in this process — the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus to remind the disciples of all that He taught. This is consistent with the statement Jesus made earlier in this same gospel when He said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” (7:16)
There are two issues I want to draw special attention to here. The first, is the fact that the Holy Spirit never speaks on His own but always points us towards Jesus (John 16:13-15). This is a matter of the eternal procession of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus is co-equal with the Father in regards to His nature, but He is eternally subordinate to the Father as the Son. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and Son, even though He is co-equal with both of them according to His nature. In these relationship the Holy Spirit never points to Himself — He always directs our attention to the Son.
The second issue, I want to draw attention to is the Holy Spirit’s ministry of teaching and reminding. The Holy Spirit was not sent to be a replacement for Jeus, but rather to call to mind those things Jesus did and taught for future generations. (Borchert 2002, 132) We see this same idea reiterated in John 16:13-15, where Jesus says,
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine, therefore, I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Initially this promise was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to pen the New Testament. But there is an ongoing sense in which the the Holy Spirit continues to teach, remind and guide us into all truth through His work of illumination. We covered these issues back in chapter 4, but it is important to be reminded that all three members of the Trinity are actively involved in teaching us how to live the Christian life. God has not left us on our own to figure it out the best we can. He has taken a vested interest in our daily Spiritual lives and personally teaches us how He wants us to live by calling to mind the teachings of Jesus through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
While we have the sure and certain promise of the Trinity’s continued work of teaching us how to live the Christian life, this is not an excuse for laziness. Over the years, I’ve met several people who had the idea that the Christian life was essentially passive – they would just wait on the Lord and He’d give them whatever they’d need when the crucial hour came. But this isn’t how it works, they’ve bought into a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it commands us to wait on the Lord. (see Ps 27:14, Isa 40:31) Waiting on the Lord is not passive, it requires that we actively place ourselves in a position to listen to and hear God when He speaks.
If we want to experience the Trinity teaching us how to live, we must place ourselves in the position of being taught. Above all this means we need to actively engage in reading, studying and discussing the Bible. We must place ourselves within a body of believers where we can be challenged to grow and held accountable by other believers. We need to be active while we wait on God to teach us and as we respond to Him our lives will bear fruit.
- By Causing Us to Bear Fruit (15:1-11)
John 15:1-11 contains one of the most poingant images of how God works in our lives in the entire Bible. Given the context of this passage, its not hard to imagine Jesus using either a cup of wine or perhaps a cluster of grapes as a visual aide when delivering this message. Regardless of whether or not He used any visual aides, Jesus was making an apt comparison of how fruit is produced.
He points out that all three members of the Trinity are involved in producing fruit in our lives. Jesus identifies Himself as the vine, the Father as the Vinedresser and His disciples as the branches. While Holy Spirit is not explicity mentioned in this passage, His presence is implied through the phrase, “Whoever abides in me and I in them, he it is that bears much fruit.” Since Jesus abides in the hearts of believers via the agency of the Holy Spirit, we should see here an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit
- The Father Prunes the Branches
In v.2, Jesus lays out the expectations of our relationship with Him— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He [the Vinedresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” The word fruit is used three times in v.2, reminding us of God’s expectation that every believer will bear fruit in their walk with Jesus. The image of the Father in this passage is that of a Master-gardner “distinguishing between productive and unproductive branches and dealing appropriatley with them in both cases.” (Borchert 2002, 140)
This text states emphatically that the Father “takes away” branches that bear no fruit. For many this will be a disturbing image, because so often we’ve lost the proper, Biblical view of the true church. The New Testament, however, is clear — genuine Christians always bear fruit in their lives. The idea that someone can confess Christ as their savior but remain a “carnal” Christian is foreign to the New Testament. Those who profess Christ but never bear any demonstrable fruit, show they never really belonged to Him. But this is not the primary point of this passage.
The far more important issue here is the work of God the Father in the lives of those who do bear fruit — He prunes them so they’ll bear even more fruit. Pruning is always a painful and traumatic experience in our lives, but it is absolutley necessary. When I was a kid, my dad planted several fruit trees in our yard. We had couple different types of apple trees, a pear tree and for some reason he even attempted to grow peaches in Eastern Ohio. Honestly, none of them were very productive, largely because we hadn’t any idea of how to properly prune a fruit tree. While I still don’t know how to prune a tree, I do know it requires a great amount of skill and wisdom. A good tree surgeon knows exactly what to remove and how much so as to not kill the tree but still maximize the harvest of fruit.
God the Father is more skilled at producing fruit than any tree-surgeon who ever lived. Through the lens of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, our Father knows exactly what to trim away from our lives to accomplish His purposes. What may feel capricious and unnecessary in the moment is actually part of God’s eternal plan to conform us into the very image of His Son. Furthermore, because He is loving, compassionate and kind beyond measure, we can be certain that whatever He does in our lives is motivated by the noblest of purposes. This is important because the process of pruning always hurts. He often cuts away things in our lives we weren’t expecting to have to lose. Many years, ago when I first surrendered to the ministry, I lost a very good friend who rejected me because of my faith. That hurt more than I could possibly have imagined, but now years removed from the situation I can look back and see it was absolutley necessary. Hindsight is 20/20 and now that I’m years removed from the situation I can see just how negative of an influence he was on my life. Honestly, he would have hindered me from obeying God’s call on my life and doing the things that I am doing now. So, while it hurt greatly when it happened, I am now glad that God pruned that influence from my life.
A few years later, I was permanently laid off from a job. I won’t lie, the experience initially created a great deal of anxiety and pain. But looking, I can see that God knew exactly what He was doing. By pruning my life of that job, God moved me towards full-time ministry; something I would not have done without Him removing my secular job. Through the process of pruning my life, He taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned — to rely on Him for my needs. Through these experiences I learned that God is the master surgeon who knows exactly what needs to be removed in order to cause us to bear fruit.
- The Son and the Spirit Produce Fruit
There is a question about exactly what Jesus meant by “fruit” in this passage. Some have been tempted to think of the fruit in this passage as relating to evangelism — i.e. additional souls won to Christ. But R.C.H Lenski shows this will not work within the context of the verse, because it would make the branches themselves the “fruit” of the vine, which makes no sense. The vine produces additional branches, whereas, the branches produce “fruit.” (Lenski 1961, 1030 ) In light of this, it is better to understand “fruit” as a reference to those character traits produced by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives – namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal 5:22-23). But that still leaves the question, “How is this fruit produced?”
Jesus answers that question in verse 4, when He commands the disciples to “Abide in me, and I in you…” The word “abide” means to “stay or remain in the same place over a period of time.” For us it means that we are to live in a deep, personal relationship of dependence with Jesus. Gerald Borchert observes that, “A branch is not a self-contained entity, and neither is the Christian disciple. As a branch separated from the supply of nourishment cannot produce fruit, neither can the Christian.” (Borchert 2002, 142) We are to draw our life and everything we need from our relationship with Christ.
Jesus then then goes on to show the absolute necessity of this relationship, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Jesus is actually building here on a theme He began back in John 14:10, where He stated that He abides in the Father and the Father in Him. Then later in that same chapter, He says that the Holy Spirit abides in the life of the believer. All three members of the Trinity are involved in the process of causing us to bear fruit in our everyday Christian lives.
As believers, we have no ability to bear the fruit of the Christian life on our own. We are absolutley dependent upon Jesus, living His life in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit. No matter how talented, gifted or skilled we believe ourselves to be, Jesus reminds us that bearing fruit is an impossbility apart from Him. The key then to living the Christian life is to lean further into our relationship with Jesus, relying more and more on Him for everything in our lives, and drawing ever more deeply on His resources.
The image of a vine and branches captures the Christian life perfectly. Just as the sap travels through the vine and into the branches to cause them to bear fruit, so to the members of the Trinity continue to work in our lives to cause us to bear fruit. Jesus told His disciples, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in Him.”(15:10) Here is where the practical nature of Jesus’ subordination to the Father comes to light.
Passages like John 8:29 and 12:49, clearly show that Jesus is always subordinate to the will of his Father. As we’ve already seen, this subordination within the Trinity is soley relational. In regard to His essential being and nature, Jesus is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But with regard to His function, Jesus always subordinates Himself to the Father. An easy way to understand and explain this is to simply say that Jesus always does the will of His Father. In doing so, He sets the example for us of how the Christian life is to be lived. Just as Jesus abided in the Father and carried out His will, so to must we abide in Christ and carry out His will throught the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The ministry of Jesus while He was here on earth sets the example for how the Christian life is to be lived. The answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is simply that He would do the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. For us this is a profoundly simple but astoundingly complex understanding how the members of the Trinity are work in our daily life. Like, Jesus our focus is to be constantly on the will of the Father. But at the same time, we must acknowledge we are helpless to carry out His will in our strength. Therefore, just like Jesus, was must rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us carry out the will of the Father, we experience the Trinity in our daily walk by living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian life then becomes an amazingly simple process by which we simply rely on each member of the Trinity to carry out their work in our lives. John 15 describes this process as simple “abiding” in the vine. Through this intimate relationship of dependence, the Godhead works in our lives to trim away the things that are displeasing to God and to bear additional fruit. The simplicity of this relationship is astounding, but its results are profound. Jesus does not call us to bear fruit on our own, but promises that if we simply rely upon and trust in Him, the members of the Trinity will work together in our lives to accomplish their purposes. The entire Christian life then becomes and experience of all three members of the Trinity. With that in