Day 1, Lecture 2 – Outline
Speaker: Dr. Charles Lee Irons
Welcome back. We’re now in lecture two: The doctrine of the Trinity in Scripture.
So, I would like to make a case, to make an argument for the Trinity. And I would do it in three steps: First, to prove the deity of the Son. Secondly, to prove the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit, and then Third, to prove that the three divine persons are not three gods but one God. And that has to do with the concept of the inseparable operation of the three persons.
But let’s first begin with the deity of the Son.
Now there are eight verses in the New Testament where Jesus is called “God.” Those are John 1:1, John 1:18, John 20:28, Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1, and 1 John 5:20. And I do think that those are very helpful, and I think that they do support the idea that the second person of the Trinity is divine. But recall [that] Arianism would not have a problem calling Jesus God. They just understand the word “God” in those verses in a different way. They don’t understand the word “God” there as fully divine, but rather some sort of a lesser deity. He’s the first creature that God made. And he’s a glorious creature. He’s greater than the angels. In fact, he’s the one that God used to create everything else, but he’s still a creature. But because he’s so glorious, and so full of honor, and divine qualities, and even receives divine worship—we can call him God in their view.
So I don’t want to rest everything just on those eight verses that refer to Jesus as God. I want to get at it another way, and that is by using the argument that was used in the Nicene Creed which is the “Sonship argument.”
Sonship means identity of essence. That is, a Son is someone who has the same essence as the Father. Think about it yourself. If you are a father and you have a son, then you look at your son, you don’t think, “That’s a different being than me. He’s not human. He’s an animal. He’s a dog or a cat.” No, you don’t think that. You think of your son as being of the same essence as yourself. Now, he’s not yourself because you and he are distinct. You’re [two] distinct persons, but you have the same essence of being human. And so since Sonship means identity of essence, we can say that to quote Irenaeus, “…The Father is God, and the Son is God. For whatever is begotten of God is God…” And so this is the argument: the Sonship argument.
And this is actually far more powerful than those eight verses that call Jesus God because the claim that Jesus is the Son of God, and understanding that claim in an ontological way—that is, that he is the same essence as God the Father—it is all throughout the New Testament. I mean that you just can’t escape it, right? I mean it’s just everywhere in the gospels and in the writings of the epistles and so on. And Paul’s claim that Jesus is the Son of God is just repeated, and reverberated over and over again. God the Father himself, remember the voice from heaven, publicly declares, “This is my beloved Son…” He said that twice: At his baptism and at the transfiguration. Jesus himself claimed that he was the Son of God, and his claim was understood. It got through. For example, John 5:18. This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him: Because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, and then this added phrase at the end that really seals the deal. He was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So they understood that this claim that God was his own Father was a claim of ontological deity, that he was equal with God.
Throughout the gospel of John, you see this, right? Jesus says, “…Before Abraham was I am and then they picked up stones to throw at him…” “He says I and the Father are one.” Again, they picked up stones to throw at him and then they said, “It’s not for a good work that we’re going to stone you but for blasphemy because you being a man make yourself God!” So that’s in John 10. And there are other places too in the Gospels where the Jews react, and charge him with blasphemy. In Matthew 9:3, in Matthew 26:63, and so on. So Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.
The Father himself declared him to be the Son of God. He was raised from the dead, which vindicated his claim that he was the Son of God. And Paul says in Romans 1:3-4, quoting an ancient Christological formula, that he was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, but he was declared to be the Son of God in power by the resurrection from the dead. So his resurrection was the seal upon his claim; the claim to be the Son of God was vindicated by his resurrection.
So I think that the “sonship argument” is really the best exegetical argument for the deity of Christ and then understanding what sonship means in the New Testament.
Now that’s different from our sonship. We also are the sons of God in a secondary sense, but we’re sons of God not by nature but by adoption. We’re adopted as sons of God by grace. We’re not sons of God by nature. We’re not eternally begotten of the father as Christ is.
Now related to this is the idea that the Son belongs in the Creator side of the Creator- creature distinction. Just think about this one. The number one quality that sets ontological deity apart from everything else is the quality of being a Creator of creation. Only the true God is the Creator of all things. In Jeremiah 10:11, it says that the false gods are those who did not make the heavens and the earth. That’s the key thing that sets apart the true God from the false gods, right? All the gods of the nations, the idols, the pagan deities, they did not make the heavens and the earth, right? Only Yahweh did. Yahweh is not like the worthless idols. Why? Precisely because he is the one who formed all things. Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19.
By definition, no creature can be the Creator. A creature cannot create. A creature is created. A creature is created out of nothing. There’s a time when the creature did not exist. But the New Testament makes clear that the Son of God, before he became incarnate, (we’re going back to that word Logos as referring to the pre-incarnate Logos, the second person of the Trinity), that he belongs in the Creator side of the Creator-creature distinction.
The New Testament makes this claim several times. John 1:3 says “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…”, and then John 1:10 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” So John 1:3, John 1:10, we also have 1 Corinthians 8:6, “Yet for us there is one God the Father from whom are all things, and for whom we exist and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things, and through whom we exist.” So that phrase right there in the middle “…through whom are all things. All things come into existence through Jesus Christ…” Colossians 1:16 is another one. Paul says, “for by him,” and he’s referring to verse 15 where he talked about Christ being “…the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation…” He says, “for by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.”
So that was Colossians 1:16. Let’s see if we keep counting. We’ve got John 1:3, John 1:10, 1st Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16. So that’s four.
The fifth one is in Hebrews 1:2. Remember that wonderful passage in Hebrews where it says that “…in the past, God spoke to the Fathers by the prophets in many ways, and in different times, but in these last days God the Father has spoken to us by his Son whom he apparent appointed the heir of all things and through whom also he created the world.”
So we have these five verses in the New Testament, in John, in Paul, and in Hebrews—all of which affirm that the pre-incarnate Son, the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, is the mediator of Creation. That is “…the one through whom God the Father created all things…” A key thing is that phrase “…all things” because in Greek, it’s the word “panta” or “ta panta,” and it means it’s a comprehensive term. That means all of created reality in distinction from God the Creator. For example, in Colossians 1:16, Paul defines that all things include “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” So that would include angelic beings, and that’s made clear by the next phrase, “…whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” Those are all different names, for different types of angels.
So the “all things” (“ta panta”), this is a comprehensive term that embraces all of created reality, in distinction from God. All things came into being through Christ all things were made through him (John 1:3). “…Jesus Christ through whom are all things…” (1 Corinthians 8:6), “…by him all things were created…” (Colossians 1:16), “…through whom God created the world…” (Hebrews 1:2). John 1:3 is even more emphatic. John 1:3 says, “…all things were made through him…” [and listen to this] “…without him was not anything made that was made.”
So there’s no exception: All created things, with no exception, received their existence and came into being through the Son, through the second person of the Trinity. There’s an excellent book called Putting Jesus in His Place by Bowman and Kamashevsky, and they comment on John 1:3 saying this, “The second clause in John 1:3…” (the one that says ‘…and without him was not anything made that was made) “…states explicitly and emphatically that there is no exception to the universal statement of the first clause (where it says ‘…all things were made through him,’). Not so much as one thing came into being except through Christ the Word. No more sweeping explicit statements can be imagined absolutely everything that was created that came into being did so in and through Christ. If every created thing owes its existence to the Son, then the Son himself cannot be a created being.”
See the argument?
So the sonship argument is primary, but then the secondary point, having established that the Son is the Son of God, you have these five verses in the New Testament that explicitly place the Son on the Creator side of the Creator-creature distinction. He is not a created being. And that right there is the death knell to Arianism, since the essence of Arianism was to teach that the Son was a created being. He may be the first created being, [God] made him the most glorious created being, so glorious and so exalted that you could even call him a God, in some way, but he’s not God in the sense of being the Creator—according to Arianism. But these five verses make it absolutely clear that the Son is not a creature, that he is in fact the Creator.
And so it explains why Jesus receives the worship that is due only to God. And there are a number of passages that talk about that. The disciples worshiped Jesus in the gospels several times. Daniel 7:14 is a prophecy that all of the kingdoms, all the peoples of the earth will worship him. The worship of Jesus is commanded by God himself in Philippians 2:10-11 and also in Hebrews 1:6. Jesus himself claims that in John 5:23, that “…all should honor the Father, all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father…” You have the doxologies in Hebrews 13:21, 1 Peter 4:11, and 2 Peter 3:18 that ascribe glory to the Son “…to whom be the glory forever…”
So you have this idea of worship being given to Christ, and that’s because he’s divine, because he’s on the Creator side of the Creator-creature distinction. He is worthy to receive the worship that is due only to God. I remember in Revelation 19 when an angel came to John in a vision to show him the final destiny of the end of the world, the destiny of the beast, and of the bride, and so on. And John instinctively, out of reverence for this glorious being, just fell down and started to worship him. And the angel said, “Don’t do that. I am of your fellow servants, the prophets. I’m not divine. I don’t deserve worship.” So it’s very clear in Scripture that we cannot worship a creature, even a glorious creature like an angel, who seems from our point of view, in comparison to us, as very exalted and almost divine in some way.
We cannot worship creatures. We can only worship the true and living God, and so that’s why Jesus is the object of worship in the New Testament even prophesied in Daniel 7:14, why the worship of Jesus is commanded by God himself in Philippians 2:10, and why Jesus himself calls for us to honor him even as we honor the Father.
This worship of Jesus makes it impossible for us to view Jesus as a mere creature. And I mentioned this last time that [in] the early church, one of the reasons why they so clearly reacted against Arianism and rejected it was because even though they didn’t have all the fine details worked out in their doctrine of the Trinity, they just knew instinctively that we worship Christ. We do that in worship every Sunday every Lord’s day. We gather together to worship Christ. We honor him as a divine Savior. We call upon his name. We baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We have fellowship with him in the Lord’s Supper. And if we view Christ that way in that exalted way, how can we say that he’s just a creature?
If we say that he’s just a creature, then we’re worshiping a creature. We can’t do that.
Athanasius has this wonderful quote where he says, (referring to that passage in Romans 1 where Paul says that the essence of the sin of the Gentiles is idolatry, “Worshiping the creature rather than the Creator”) and [Athanasius] says this, “The apostle Paul blames the Gentiles because they worship the creatures saying, ‘They served the creature more than God the Creator.’ But if these men…” (referring to the Arians) “… say that the Lord is a creature, and worship him as a creature, how do they differ from the Gentiles?”
I just love that quote. He just nails it, doesn’t he? They claim that he’s just a creature, but on the other hand they also claim that we should worship him. Well, then you’re saying that you’re an idolater. You’re admitting that you’re an idolater. So to worship Christ as divine, we must place him on the Creator side of the Creator-creature distinction (in our minds, at least) and honor him as such.
So that is the case for the deity of the Son. I mean there’s many more things we could say. But in a nutshell, it focuses on the Sonship of Christ, the fact that he’s the creator, and that he deserves worship that is due only to the Creator.
But now we need to turn to the second step of the argument, and that is the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit.
And as I mentioned before in the 4th century, it took time for the church to work through all of these points step by step. The first issue was the conflict with Arianism, and that led then to the Nicene Creed in 325. But then later on in that same century, as you get into the 360s and 370s, even among those that affirmed the deity of the Son, there were some that were not sure about the deity of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they were referred to as the “pneumatomachians.” That is, those who were fighting against the Holy Spirit.
And so it took the church another process, another step to sort of reflect upon Scripture and to clarify the deity of the Holy Spirit, and also the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit, since those “pneumatomachians” who fought against the Spirit weren’t denying the reality of the Holy Spirit. How could they, right? It’s in the baptismal formula, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” But they wanted to say that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person like the Father and the Son, but rather some sort of power or divine influence. And they weren’t sure that he was really a distinct person.
So let’s look at the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is named along with the Father and the Son in several Trinitarian passages in the New Testament. And this was the number one thing that the church fathers appealed to [in order] to demonstrate the deity and personhood of the Spirit. Matthew 28:19, which I’ve quoted already several times, but also 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, the passage about the different types of gifts. And it’s the interesting Trinitarian passage where Paul says, “there’s many gifts, but the same Lord, many gifts but the same Spirit,” and so on. There’s also the famous 2 Corinthians 13:14, the benediction passage, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” And then 1 Peter 1:2 is also a Trinitarian formula.
And so these Trinitarian passages are very helpful because if the Spirit is named along with the Father, and the Son, then it doesn’t make any sense to say: “Well, the Father and the Son are distinct persons and they’re divine, but this third entity here, the Spirit, is something separate like a power or a force or something like that or maybe a divine attribute.” No, the distinction and the unity of the three persons being listed like that is very powerful.
Basil of Caesarea was one of these church fathers in the later time like the 360s who was helping the church to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. And he wrote a treatise on the Holy Spirit, defending the deity of the Holy Spirit. And this is what he said, “They…” (that is, those that deny the deity and distinct personhood of the Spirit) “…say that it is not suitable to rank the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son because he is different in nature and inferior in dignity…” (but he appeals to the baptism passage in Matthew 28) “… When the Lord established the baptism of salvation, did he not clearly command his disciples to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? He did not disdain his fellowship with the Holy Spirit. But these men say we should not rank him with the Father and the Son. Are they not openly disregarding God’s commandment? Let our opponents be silent. As for us, we will follow the words of Scripture.”
I like that for two reasons. One is that argument that if the three are ranked together, then by what right do we take one of them away and say, “Well it’s just the Father and the Son, but not the Spirit”? But the other point I love is the way Basil is so insistent on following the Scripture. He’s not appealing to tradition. He’s not appealing to the Nicene Creed. He’s saying, “Look, this is what Scripture itself says. Let our opponents be silent. As for us, we will follow the words of Scripture.” Tradition is valuable. Tradition is important. We should respect it. But ultimately, our faith rests upon the words of Scripture.
Further demonstrating the deity of the Holy Spirit are several passages where God and the Spirit are interchangeable, such as Acts 5:3-4 and Acts 9. That’s the passage about Ananias and Sapphira, where it says that they “lied to God,” and then it says they “lied to the Holy Spirit.” There’s also Isaiah 6:9, which is quoted in Acts 28:25. In Isaiah 6:9, it’s God speaking, but in Acts 28:25, Paul says it’s the Spirit speaking. Jeremiah 31:31 quoted in Hebrews 10:15, same thing. There are also some passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:21, where you have this contrast between man and God/Spirit. We didn’t receive the word of God from man; we received it from God. And then a few verses later, we received it from the Spirit. There’s also Acts 10:38 and Ephesians 2:22, which have that same interchangeable God/Spirit language.
There’s also a number of passages where the Spirit has divine attributes. The Spirit is the Creator. For example, in Genesis 1:2, “…hovering over the waters…” Job 26:13, Job 33:4, Psalm 33:6, and Psalm 104:30. Those are all passages that affirm that the Spirit creates. The Spirit also gives life, which only God can do (Job 33:4, Romans 8:2, Romans 8:10, 1 Corinthians 15:45). The Spirit is omniscient (Isaiah 40:13-14, 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, and so on). The Spirit even knows the future (John 16:13, and 1 Peter 1:11), inspiring the prophets to look ahead to the future coming of Christ. The Spirit is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-8), “How can I flee from your Spirit?” The Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). And the Spirit is holy, right? He’s called the Holy Spirit. And if the Spirit is holy in and of himself in his own nature, [then] anything else that’s holy like us are only holy because the Spirit has sanctified us and made us holy (Romans 15:16), sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 1: 2, and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 all speak of sanctification as something the Spirit gives to us. That means that He is the sanctifier. But if He’s the sanctifier, then He is holy in his own nature and the cause of holiness in all creatures.
So these are some things then that help us to see that He is divine: the God/Spirit interchangeable language and also the Spirit having divine attributes.
But what about the issue of the Spirit being not a mere power but a divine person?
Well, several things support that. First of all, we have the fact that there’s a masculine pronoun “he”. In Greek, it’s the word “ekanos” that is used in Jesus’s Upper Room discourse in John 14-16. Remember in John, in the gospel of John, there’s this extended section where Jesus is with his disciples in the Upper Room, and he’s giving all kinds of teaching about how he’s about to go away. And he says, “I know that you’re sorrowful because you’re afraid about the fact that I’m going to the cross, and I’m going to leave you. But he says, “Don’t be afraid. I’m going to send the Spirit. I’m going to send the Comforter who’s going to come to you, and He is going to be with you, and He will teach you, and guide you into all truth,” and so on. Several times in that discourse in John 14:26, John 15:26, John 16:8 and also verses 13-14, Jesus uses this masculine pronoun “he” to refer to the Spirit or the Comforter. He doesn’t say “it”. He doesn’t say, I’m going to send this entity, or this power, or this influence that is going to help you. He refers to the Spirit as another person. In fact, he calls the Spirit, “another Comforter,” because He’s the first comforter who intercedes for us. But the Spirit is another Comforter who’s going to live within us, and take all the things of Christ, and apply them to us.
Even that title “Comforter” which in Greek is “parakletos” is helpful to see that the Spirit is not a power, but a person. He’s called the parakletos in John 14:16, and verse 26, John 15:26, and John 16:7. That word “parakletos” is hard to translate. Some translate it as “The Comforter.” Some translated as “The Helper.” It sort of has this idea of someone who comes alongside to help, and to assist, maybe even to intercede for you, and to encourage you. So it has a richness of meaning to it. And just calling the Spirit, the Comforter or the Helper in itself, is maybe too limiting. But this idea of the Spirit being the Comforter then, if you focus on that title of the Spirit, that in itself helps you to see that the Spirit is a person, not a power, not just a mere power, or a mere attribute of God. You know sometimes we think of the Spirit (it’s wrong) as just like this mist that sort of fills up the room or something. No, the Spirit is a divine person, a distinct person whose role and ministry is to take what is Christ’s and to apply it to us.
That’s really the heart of what Jesus says in the Upper Room discourse in John 16:14-15. This is what Jesus said referring to the Comforter: “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.”
And that is just so incredibly encouraging! That is the essence of the Spirit’s ministry.
The Spirit’s ministry is a Christ-focused ministry, his whole focus is Christ-centered. The Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself. The Spirit doesn’t say, “Here I am. I want you all to look at me, and glorify me.” Yes, we should worship the Spirit because He’s divine, just like we worship the Father and the Son, but that’s not the Spirit’s role. The Spirit’s role is not to draw attention to himself. The Spirit’s role is to draw all the attention to Christ.
J.I. Packer said that the Spirit has a “spotlight” ministry. A spotlight doesn’t draw attention to itself. A spotlight is down there in the ground, you can’t even see it. You could trip over it, but it’s casting this huge beam of light on something else to draw attention to. If you go to some government building or university, and you go there at night time, sometimes you’ll see that there are spotlights in the ground. And they’re focusing their light beams on the building to show the wonderful architecture to draw attention to. Nobody is going down to the bushes, and saying, “Wow, look at these lights! These are great! I wonder what voltage they use or what kind of light bulbs?” No, we don’t care about the lights. We care about the building, and all the light is shown on the building, so that we can look at it, and go, “Wow! Look at this amazing impressive building, the glory of it, the architecture, the design!” That’s what the Spirit does—to glorify Christ and only to glorify Christ so that all of our attention and our thoughts are preoccupied with him, but also to apply Christ to us, to take all that Christ has purchased for us, and to apply it to us.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Just think about that. Think about all that Christ has done for us in history. He accomplished redemption for us. He perfectly kept God’s law. He bore the wrath of God in our place. He went to the cross. He went to the depths of hell for us. He took the wrath of God in our place. He forgave all of our sins. He has done all that for us, this objective work of Christ and redemption accomplished. And the Spirit’s role then is to take all that, and to apply it to our hearts, and to make it real to us, and to assure us of it, to assure us that we are partakers of the redemption accomplished by Christ.
So the spirit cannot be a mere power or some kind of mist. The Spirit must be a divine person, a real person, the third person of the divine Trinity who takes the work of Christ, and applies it to us, and comforts us, and encourages us with it, and there’s so many other things the Spirit does. He teaches us all things. He guides us into all truth. He searches the deep things of God, and reveals them to us. He pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). He enables us to cry “Abba Father.” He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. He seals us for the day of redemption. And he can even be grieved when we sin.
And all of those things don’t make sense if we’re viewing the Spirit just as a force or a power. It only makes sense if he is a distinct person within the Godhead.
So, step one was to prove the deity of the Son. Step two is to prove the deity, and distinct personhood of the Spirit. Step three then is sort of the capstone where we come back full circle, and we see that the three persons are not so distinct that we end up with three gods or three parts of God. But rather, they are distinct persons within one God.
Remember going all the way back to Berkhof’s definition of the Trinity, that the divine essence of God is totally indivisible. It can’t be broken up into parts the way you think of like a pie or a pizza being broken up into different portions. The divine essence is indivisible, and each of the three persons is in full possession of the full divine essence. And so we come back to that oneness of God by focusing on the inseparable operation of the three persons. There are three persons in the Godhead, but not in such a way that God is divided into three parts. As the Shema says in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Now this doctrine of the inseparable operation applies to all the works of God that are directed towards creation. And the technical term that’s used in theology is ad extra. That is, they’re not the internal works of God, of the divine generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit. They’re ad extra works of God, that is, the works of God outward towards creation. Augustine defined the doctrine of the inseparable operation this way. He said, “Nothing is done by the Father which is not also done by the Son, and by the Holy Spirit, and nothing is done by the Holy Spirit which is not also done by the Father, and by the Son, and nothing is done by the Son which is not also done by the Father, and by the Holy Spirit.“
I mentioned that passage in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. This is Paul’s chapter on spiritual gifts, and I would just like to read that to you because you can hear this concept of inseparable operation as well as the three persons being referred to here 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” So you have the Spirit, the Lord, and God—that is, God the Father, the Lord is Christ. So there’s a variety of things happening in the world, just as the variety of things happening in the spiritual gifts in the church, but it’s the same Spirit, it’s the same Lord, it’s the same God the Father who is working in them all.
John 5:19 is another key passage. Although it doesn’t mention the Spirit, it does talk about the inseparable operation of the Father and the Son. Jesus says that “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. And we could just add, like Augustine does, “… and whatever the Son does, the Spirit does likewise, and so on.” In fact, it’s not mentioned explicitly there in John 5, but it is that concept of the Spirit doing the same work as the Son [that is] mentioned in the Upper room discourse where Jesus says that [the Spirit] is going to have a work in a ministry that is not on his own initiative. [It’s] just like Jesus said that the Son is not working on his own initiative or on his own accord, but whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. Jesus then turns it around in the Upper Room discourse, and says the same thing about the Spirit, that the Spirit does not act on his own accord, but only does what he sees the Son doing and whatever the Son does, the Spirit does likewise. Just as the Son accomplished redemption for the elect, so the Spirit applies redemption to the elect.
So this doctrine of inseparable operation is very important because it helps us to avoid thinking of the three persons as three distinct people the way we think of three people like, let’s say, three disciples Peter, James, and John. And there’s these three guys, and the unity that they have is not a unity of essence, but simply a unity of agreement. And so they have the same purpose and the same activity in the sense that they agree to work together in harmony.
That’s not the unity that we’re talking about here with the Trinity. The unity of the Trinity is much more profound than that. It’s a unity of essence that the one undivided, and indivisible divine essence is enjoyed by each of the three persons inseparably and without distinction for all eternity. And, so therefore, whatever any one person is ascribed or described as doing in the New Testament, we have to assume that the other two persons are also involved. If there were any external actions performed by only one of the three persons of the Godhead, without the perfect and inseparable cooperation of the other two persons, then what would that mean? Think about that. It would mean that the essence of God is now divided and the simplicity and the oneness of God would be overthrown.
So we must uphold the doctrine of the inseparable operation of the three persons. This is the foundational presupposition that holds together the three persons within the oneness of God, so that we worship one God in three persons. We don’t worship three gods. We worship one God in three persons.
I think this is sort of implied isn’t it by Paul’s benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God…” (again, God there is referring to the Father, the love of God the Father) “…and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” It’s one grace. It’s one love. It’s one fellowship of all three persons. And if you have fellowship with Christ, you’re having fellowship with God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. In fact, the reason why you’re able to have fellowship with Christ is because the Spirit is the one who has regenerated you, and brought you into union with Christ. And the reason why you have fellowship with God the Father and you experience his love is because of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who has revealed that love to you, and the Holy Spirit has applied it to you.
So it’s absolutely inseparable.
Now, it is true that sometimes in theology, we will make distinctions. For example, we’ll talk about the Covenant of Redemption, which is the eternal covenant before creation in the divine decree, when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are planning the work of redemption. And we’ll say things like the Father is the one that chose the elect, and then the Son is the one that agrees to become incarnate and to redeem the elect, and the Spirit is the one that agrees to apply the work of Christ to the elect. And so we can sometimes make those simple statements.
But they’re a little bit oversimplified, and we have to always keep in mind that there’s an asterisk there beside each point. That is, yes, it’s true that the Father is the one who we see the most as the focus in terms of the election. But that doesn’t mean the Son and the Spirit were not involved. And the same thing with the accomplishment of redemption. Yes, the focus is on Christ because he’s the one that became incarnate. But it was through the eternal Spirit, Hebrews tells us, that he offered up himself as the final sacrifice. And it was the Father who gave the Son to be the sacrifice, right? He gave him, he says in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” So, even the atonement is the work of the Father as well. It’s not just the work of the Son. It’s not as though the Son is trying to convince an angry God to be loving towards his people, because it was the Father himself who gave the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
So, even though sometimes theologically, we will speak in a brief way that will focus all the attention on one activity and attribute that to one person of the Trinity—we have to be careful to clarify that the other two persons are also participating in that activity. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t be God, right? Or the divine essence would be divided. If it’s just the Father doing it, and the Spirit over there on the side standing by and looking at it, then they’re not fully divine. They’re not one in terms of being all existing within the one divine essence.
I know it’s hard to understand. I know it’s not easy for our creaturely minds to grasp that kind of thing because that’s not the way we function as creatures. But we have to always make that effort to at least say, that though my creaturely mind cannot fully grasp how this works, I have to always recognize that my language is a simplification, and that there’s a deeper reality there that goes beyond what my simple creation-based language is able to communicate.
And it’s amazing too when you look at the New Testament, you see this. You see that there are indeed passages where you see the other two persons are being brought in throughout. I mean think about for example the baptism of Jesus. Right there, you have all three persons: God the Father is the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son…”, and then the Spirit is coming upon him like a dove, and so you see how all three are working together. They’re not completely separate the way three individual people would be in our created experience.
Alright, so that wraps up our second lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity in Scripture. Of course, there’s way more that we could say there, lots of other exegetical issues that we could get into. But I wanted to give you just a brief overview of how the Trinity is taught in Scripture, and then next time we will look at the Trinitarian shape of the Gospel.