Unearned Advantage

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

I was praying about the concept of “privilege” this morning. As a white, middle-class, male in America I live with a high level of privilege that is hard for me to notice. Let’s call “privilege” an “unearned advantage.” Some advantages I have in life I have worked hard to attain while others were given to me at birth through no doing of my own. And if I have been born with an “unearned advantage” through no doing of my own, it means others have been born with an “unearned disadvantage” through no doing of their own.

Being born into a middle-class family wasn’t something I chose. I was given that gift at birth because of my parents and grandparents. The advantages they gathered in their life (both earned and unearned) were passed down to me. So being born into a middle-class family means I started life with a certain amount of privilege. Maybe it was less privilege than being born into a wealthy family, but it was still an unearned advantage.

I believe there are multiple forms of privilege and they are all on a continuum. Privilege is not an on/off switch. We all fall on the spectrum of privilege somewhere. And all privilege (whether it was earned or unearned) comes with responsibility.

Men have had a certain level of “unearned advantage” over women in our culture historically. White people have had an “unearned advantage” over other races in our culture. People not born into poverty have had an “unearned advantage” over those who were born into poverty. Able-bodied people have had an “unearned advantage” over those who are not able-bodied. And the list of possible unearned advantages goes on and on.

The conversation gets confusing when you start comparing who has more privilege, so it’s probably best not to go there. Does a poor Asian man have more privilege than a middle-class Indian woman? Which variable of privilege wins out? This is why it doesn’t seem helpful to have that conversation.

It’s better just to focus on whatever unearned advantages we may have personally and whether we are responsibility using that advantage. Are we aware of it? Are we abusing it? Are we using it selfishly? Are we being responsible with it? Are we using it to help others?

Yet, as I was praying this morning about privilege, the Lord reminded me of my greatest privilege. He reminded me that my greatest “unearned advantage” is my relationship with Him. No matter what is happening in my life or in the world, I get to wake up and spend time with the Creator of the Universe every morning. I get to speak to God and listen as He speaks to me. I get to experience His love. I get to receive His peace. I get to read His word. I have the security of knowing He is my protector and provider. This privilege is not only available to me, but to people all over the world–men and women of every race and socio-economic status. This unearned advantage is available to all!

To be the son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is an enormous privilege. And, like many other privileges, it was unearned. Jesus is the one who paid the price for me. I have the unearned advantage of having the Holy Spirit dwell inside me. Resurrection power dwells within me! God’s Spirit is united to mine! Is there any greater unearned advantage?

And, like other unearned advantages, it means someone else had to deal with an unearned disadvantage. Jesus, though completely free from sin, paid the ultimate price for me. My unearned advantage of the Spirit was provided by His unearned disadvantage. Yet, it wasn’t something forced upon Him. It was something He willingly surrendered to.

The other glaring difference here is that this unearned advantage, this privilege of having an intimate relationship with the Lord, is available for everyone. No one can change their race or the family into which they were born, but we can choose to receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior. We can choose to surrender our lives to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians, though, aren’t taking advantage of their greatest advantage. We have this incredible privilege of having an interactive, intimate relationship with the God of all Creation. We have this incredible unearned advantage of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the resurrection power of God flowing through us. We get to be confident that He hears our voice, and we get to hear His. But what are we doing with this unearned advantage? Are we aware of it? Are we using it for the sake of His Kingdom and for the sake of others?

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11

The Humanity of Jesus

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:53-54

Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane when guards came to arrest him. One of His disciples thought about putting up a fight against this wrongful arrest, but Jesus stopped him. And then Jesus said the comment above about angels. This comment is peculiar on so many levels.

Some people believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are no longer in operation today. They say these gifts were only for the early church and are no longer happening. One of their arguments is that the reason Jesus was able to do all of His miracles was because He was God in the flesh. Even though we are commanded to imitate His life, they say, we can’t expect to imitate this part of this life. He was operating as God, revealing His divinity with each miracle.

If that is true, then so many passages of scripture make no sense whatsoever. For instance, why would Jesus need to call on His Father to send Him twelve legions of angels? If He was operating out of His divinity, Jesus could just call on the angels Himself and they’d have to come. And why would He even need to call on angels at all if He was operating out of His divinity? He is infinitely more powerful than they are. But Jesus suggests here that not only is He not requesting angels to come to His rescue, but that even if He did request them, He’d have to make that request through the Father.

This is just one of the many instances where we see evidence that Jesus was not, in fact, operating out of His divinity while He walked the earth. Yes, He was God in the flesh, but He set aside His divinity in order to operate only out of His humanity while on the earth. [Also note that on two different occasions Jesus needed angels to attend to Him (Matthew 4:11 & Luke 22:43). If He was operating out of His divinity, would this have been necessary? It only makes sense if Jesus is operating only out of His humanity.]

Jesus Himself confirms this reality when speaking to His own disciples:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 

John 5:19

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He could do whatever He wanted by Himself. Instead, by operating only out of His humanity, Jesus stays completely dependent on the Father. He can do nothing by Himself. Nothing.

Jesus operated only out of His humanity throughout His formative years. Jesus submitted to the human reality of the need to grow. Luke confirmed this:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:52

Make no mistake, God does not need to grow in wisdom or in stature or in favor with God. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He wouldn’t either. But He chose to humble Himself fully and live a completely human life. This included the need to grow in various aspects of His life.

The apostle Paul tried to articulate this truth to the church in Philippi:

…Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus was God, but He never used His divinity to His own advantage. Instead, He operated only out of His humanity. He could have used His divinity to do all those healings, deliverances, and miracles, but He decided not to. Instead, He did all of those healings, deliverances, and miracles while operating out of His humanity. But how?

Luke gives us a couple clues.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 

Luke 4:1, 14

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, why would He need to be full of the Spirit and then to be “in the power of the Spirit?” He would already be both. Instead, we see Luke make a point to record that Jesus shifted into a fullness of the Spirit that led to Him operating in the power of the Spirit. Because Jesus was operating only out of His humanity, in order to do any miracles, He had to stay surrendered to the Father and allow the power of the Spirit to flow through Him.

In the very next chapter, Luke again reveals this truth about Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Luke 5:17

Why would Luke need to mention that the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick if Jesus was operating out of His own divinity. It’s a silly thing to say. But it makes complete sense if we understand that Jesus was operating only out of His humanity. He was completely dependent on following the direction of the Father and being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus chose to operate only out of His humanity, if He wanted to heal someone, He had to be dependent on the power of Spirit to be present.

The implications of this truth about Jesus are profound. It means that we no longer get to sit back and marvel at Jesus’s healings and miracles as spectators. We no longer get to excuse ourselves from the life of the miraculous with, “…yeah, but Jesus was God.” Yes, He is God. But Jesus was modeling for us what the fullness of humanity looks like. Jesus was showing us what is possible when a human is fully surrendered to the Father, fully empowered by the Spirit, and sin-free. He set the bar that we now pursue with our own lives.

The apostle Paul even makes the claim that the power that raised Jesus out of the grave is now inside of us as believers!

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms..

Ephesians 1:19-20

And Jesus Himself expected that we would use the power of the Spirit in us for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus expected that we would be surrendered to the Father, empowered by the Spirit, and freed from sin (because of His own atoning work on the cross). He layed out these expectations to His own disciples.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:12

If Jesus was doing His miracles by operating out of His divinity then this claim is ridiculous. We could never do what Jesus did because we are not God. But Jesus expects that not only will we do the miracles He did, but that we would do even greater things. This statement only makes sense if Jesus did all that He did by operating out of His humanity. It also means we now have the reward and responsibility of pursuing the same kind of life Jesus lived, miracles and all.