Day 2, Lecture 1 – Outline
Speaker: Dr. Charles Lee Irons
Welcome back to the third lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity. The title of this lecture is the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel.
So we saw in Lecture One the doctrine of the Trinity in Church History. In Lecture Two, we looked at the Scriptural basis of the doctrine of the Trinity. And now I want to talk about the way in which the Trinity helps us to understand the Gospel, or even better, to understand how the Gospel itself has a Trinitarian structure and shape to it.
The Gospel is a Trinitarian Gospel.
It’s not to say that the Trinity is the Gospel because God would have been Triune even if he decided not to create, or even if he had created but decided not to have a plan of redemption after the fall. So the Trinity is something absolutely true of God from eternity to eternity apart from the Gospel.
Nevertheless, the Gospel does reveal the Trinity because the Gospel contains a Trinitarian structure.
Now before we get into that, we need to talk about something important, and this is going to be a little… (don’t think of this as just a side or an irrelevant footnote). We’re going to lead up to the Gospel and the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel. But before we get there, we need to talk about something very important, and that is the doctrine of the relations of origin that distinguish the three persons.
So in my previous lecture on the scriptural basis for the Trinity, I did the traditional thing. It’s called the “piecemeal argument” for the Trinity, where I showed that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, but there’s only one God. So therefore, one God in three persons, right? However, that is not all there is to the Trinity. There’s another very important element of the doctrine of the Trinity that I didn’t get into in detail. I did mention it though, and that is the relations of origin that distinguish the three persons. What are the relations of origin that distinguish the three persons?
And bear with me. We will get to the gospel in a minute, but first we kind of have to go back and talk a little bit more about the Trinity.
The relations of origin are set forth in all the traditional creeds. It’s in the Nicene Creed by implication. It’s in the Athanasian Creed. But I’m going to quote from the Westminster Confession which puts it this way: “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” That’s from Chapter Two, Paragraph Three. These are the three things that we need to think about when we look at the relations of origin. “The Father is of none, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” So we need to focus on those two terms there: “Begotten” and “proceeding.”
The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. But that means then that there is sort of a hierarchy [if you will] in the Trinity, and that may sound a little bit counterintuitive to say. I’m not referring to the discredited idea of the eternal subordination of the Son. That’s not what I’m referring to. But rather, there is a hierarchy or an order within the Trinity in which the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Spirit is third. It’s not a chronological order in time because obviously before creation, there is no time. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are eternal without beginning and without end. Nevertheless, we do see in Scripture that there is this principle that the Father is the origin of the other two persons.
The church fathers taught that the Father is the fountain or the originating principle of the other two persons. The word that Augustine for example used was “principium”. Principium has this idea of principle, but it’s more focusing on originating principle. That means that the Son and the Spirit both derive from the Father. Now it’s not a derivation that involves change, or creation or anything of that nature. It’s eternal and timeless without beginning or end. Nevertheless, the Son and the Spirit both derive from the Father, and the Father is the principium of the Trinity.
The Son then is eternally begotten of the Father. This is the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. We even see this in the Creed of Nicea. It says “…the Son of God begotten from the Father…” (only begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father. He’s begotten from the substance of the Father) “… God from God… ” (meaning, God the Son from God the Father) “… Light from Light…,” (paraphrasing from Hebrews 1 verse 3, that “…he is the radiance of the glory of God…”), then [the Creed] goes on to say, “…true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father…”
So this is not a derivation that involves a beginning in time. This is not the kind of derivation that we would call becoming a creature, being a creature, right? Yet it is a derivation. It’s an eternal derivation or eternal begetting. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, unlike creatures that are made out of nothing and therefore distinct from the divine nature. The eternally begotten Son does not possess a different nature or essence than the Father. He is begotten, not made.
Hope you can see we’re making some very important distinctions here. We’re talking about a derivation that has no beginning. We’re talking about a derivation that’s distinct from creation. It’s an eternal begetting. You know it’s hard for our finite creaturely minds to grasp it. Nevertheless, this is what the Scripture teaches.
The primary proof text for this doctrine of the eternal generation or beginning of the Son is the word “only begotten” in John 1:14 and John 1:18. Actually, John 1:18 says that he’s “…the only [begotten] God…” which is very interesting because it brings out both the identity of essence. He’s the same nature as God, and yet [there’s] the distinction of person. He’s the only begotten Son of God or only begotten God. The phrase “only begotten” is also used in John 3:16, John 3:18, and 1 John 4:9. And unfortunately, many of our modern English versions of the Bible mistranslate that as “only,” or “one and only,” and they leave out the word “begotten.” But the traditional translation, not only in the English tradition going back to the King James Bible, but even before to the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the New Testament is “only begotten.” And I believe “only begotten” is the correct translation, and we ought to maintain that translation because it helps us to keep our English Bible in sync with the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed clearly understands this word; it’s the Greek word “monogenes.” It clearly understands that word to mean “only begotten” because it says the Son of God begotten of the Father, only begotten.
There are also many other passages that we can look at to support this doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. This is a whole topic that we could get into in depth, and we don’t really have the time to do that, but some of the other key passages would be Psalm 27, “You are my Son today I have begotten you” which is quoted three times in the New Testament, and applied to Christ, doesn’t it? The “today” doesn’t refer to a day in history, like let’s say the virgin birth, or the resurrection of Christ. “Today” is the day of eternity. You are my Son today in eternity. I have begotten you in the eternal “today” which is the timeless today of eternity.
One of the church fathers named Cyril of Jerusalem commented on this in his catechetical lectures. He says “…whenever you hear of God begetting, sink not down in thought to bodily things, nor think of a corruptible generation, lest you be guilty of impiety. God is a Spirit. His generation is spiritual: for bodies beget bodies, and for the generation of bodies, time must intervene. But time intervenes not in the generation of the Son from the Father.” So he’s making some important qualifications there, even though we’re using the analogy of a human father begetting a human son, and that analogy has limitations. That doesn’t apply to the divine begetting, right? A human son is begotten in time, and there’s a time when the son does not exist. The father exists first, and then later on he gives birth to his son. That doesn’t apply in this divine begetting. In this divine begetting, there’s no time involved; there’s no before and after. There’s never a time when the Son did not exist, and only the Father existed. This is an eternal or timeless generation because as Cyril says “God is a Spirit and so his generation is spiritual and not bodily or corruptible.”
So I think it’s very helpful to see that the church fathers understood that when they were using this language they were using biblical language. “You are my Son, today I’ve begotten you.” But they understood that the language is analogical, and should not be taken to imply some kind of literal begetting, or bodily begetting, or temporal process that happens in time.
But in spite of all those differences between human begetting and divine beginning, what is the identity? What is the one thing that is similar between the two?
Well, it’s that the Son has the same nature as the Father. The Son who is begotten has the same nature as the Father who begets. Jesus himself even pretty much says that in John 5:26, he says, “…as the Father has life in himself so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…” That phrase “life in himself” is very important because what is life in himself? That is the kind of life that only God has. You can’t say that of any creature, you can’t say of your human son that he has life in himself. No creature has life in themselves. They only have derived life; life that is granted to them in time and in space and in a creaturely way because creatures are all distinct from the divine nature. But not so with the Son. The Son has life in himself just as the Father has life in himself.
Nevertheless, interestingly John 5:26 tells us that it is a granted life. As the Father has life in himself so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And what does it mean to grant life to something but to beget? Isn’t that what granting life means?
So it’s like a paradox, almost hard for our human minds to grasp this. But somehow, just as the Father has life in himself, (that is, uncreated life, divine life, eternal life, the life of the creator, not the life of a creature)… just as the Father has life in himself… (The term we use in theology for that is “aseity.” That is, he has life from himself)… so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. By derivation from the Father, [the Son] has received the same divine life and nature as the Father.
Francis Turretin in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology puts it this way, he says: “As all generation indicates a communication of essence on the part of the begetter to the begotten, by which the begotten becomes like the begetter and partakes of the same nature with him, so this wonderful generation…“ (referring to the eternal generation of the Son) “… is rightly expressed as a communication of essence from the Father, by which the Son possesses indivisibly the same essence with him and is made perfectly like him.”
Remember we talked about this before, when we were looking at the Nicene Creed, that the basis for the “homoousios” (the affirmation that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father)… the basis for that in the creed is the previous statement that he’s begotten. That the Son is eternally begotten of the Father is the basis for the theological conclusion. And this is where the church fathers went a little bit beyond Scripture, and used this word “homoousios.“ That’s not found in Scripture, but they’re simply drawing out more clearly and precisely the implications of Scripture. Scripture clearly teaches that the Son is eternally begotten, and so therefore they conclude from that. Because he’s eternally begotten, and because all generation indicates a communication of essence on the part of the begetter to the begotten, therefore, we conclude that the Son is homoousios (of the same nature) with the Father.
So we’re talking about these relations of origin. The Father is the “principium.” He’s the originating principle. He’s the fountain of the other two persons of the Godhead. The Son relates to the Father in that he is eternally begotten from the Father, and therefore possesses the same divine nature as the Father. Well then the Spirit fits into this, in that the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. And this is again just directly drawn from Scripture. John 15 :26, “…but when the Comforter comes whom I will send to you from the Father the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father he will bear witness about me”.
Now you might ask, “Well, it just says ‘proceeds from the Father.’ It doesn’t say from the Father and the Son. Where do you get that?”
Well, it’s implied in the previous sentence “…but when the Comforter comes whom I…” Who’s the “I” that’s speaking? Isn’t that the Son? “When the Comforter comes whom I (the Son) will send to you from the Father (the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father) he will bear witness about me.” And so there’s the Son’s role in that as well. [The Spirit] proceeds from the Father, but he’s also sent by the Son.
And then you might object and say, “Well but that sending is not referring to an eternal sending before creation. That’s referring to the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost after Jesus rises from the dead.”
Well, yes that’s true in the context. That is correct, but the economic Trinity—that is, the Trinity’s activities in the economy of redemption—is based upon and reflects the immanent Trinity. That is, the Trinity in and of itself prior to creation as the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit related to each other without even having anything to do with creation, or at least not even having creation in view. So the economic Trinity is based upon, and reflects the immanent Trinity. Therefore the fact that the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son… (and that’s clearly taught John 14:26, John 15:26, John 16:7, Galatians 4:6)… the fact that the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son in the economic [sense] tells us something about the Spirit’s relation of origin in the immanent. That is, before creation, before redemption, the Spirit ‘s procession in eternity is the ground of the Spirit’s being sent in history. And so if the Spirit is sent in history by the Father and the Son, then the Spirit must proceed in eternity from the Father and the Son.
So what that all tells us about this idea of the relations of origin is that the three persons of the Trinity are not interchangeable. I think sometimes we have this idea that we’re just talking about three divine persons. Maybe we could just imagine taking three coins and setting them on the table and then you can just move them around any way you want. You know one, two, three, three, two, one, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes we think of it that way, but that’s not correct. The three persons are not interchangeable. There’s an order. There’s a hierarchy in the Trinity. Not a hierarchy of subordination, but a hierarchy of relations of origin. And these three relations of origin are revealed in Scripture. The Father begets the Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And so these relations of origin give coherence to our doctrine of the Trinity. [It] gives structure to our doctrine of the Trinity.
Now, you can kind of see that this is what I’m going to be using to lead to the main point of this lecture, which is the Trinitarian structure of the Gospel, the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel. It’s based upon this concept of the relations of origin.
The relations of origin are the hinge from the Trinity to the Gospel. The immanent relations of origin, begetting and proceeding, are the foundation for the economic functions for the works of the three persons “ad extra.” Remember that term meaning “outside”, meaning how the Trinity relates to us, relates to creation, and relates and works in history.
The immanent relations of origin are the foundation for the economic functions of each of the three persons, and specifically the missions of the Son and the Spirit. The mission of the Son, that he was sent in history to become man and to accomplish redemption, and the mission of the Spirit who was sent at Pentecost to apply the work of Christ to the elect—those missions are founded upon, are fitting, are appropriate because of the immanent eternal relations of origin. Because the Son is the one who has begotten, it’s appropriate that he is the one who is sent by the Father to accomplish redemption. Because the Spirit is the one who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, it’s appropriate that the Spirit be the one who is sent in order to apply the work of Christ.
In theology, we talk about “processions” preceding and grounding missions. “Processions” is just a kind of a more abstract term to cover both the eternal begetting and the eternal proceeding. So the two processions, begetting and proceeding, precede and ground the missions. That is, the mission of the Son being sent to become born of a virgin, and to accomplish redemption, and the mission of the Spirit being sent to apply the work of Christ.
The two processions are the foundation of the two missions. The Father sent his eternally generated Son to accomplish redemption of those that the Father gave him. And we see this throughout the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John uses what’s called the sending formula 41 times. We can think of the obvious one, John 3:16, “…God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” but there are many other times where he uses the word “send.” And actually there are two different Greek words that are used there, “tempo” and “apostello”, and both are used for the sending of the Son.
It’s also used in Paul. Paul uses the sending formula twice, focusing on the Son’s accomplishment of redemption, his active and passive obedience under the law. The act of obedience of Christ is his positive obedience to the Father, in keeping the law (keeping the positive requirements of the law) in our place. And the passive obedience is his suffering the curse of the law in our place. And actually the two are very closely connected because the passive obedience in which he laid down his life is also an act of obedience because he actively obeyed the Father by going to the cross, and becoming obedient to the point of death. But there are these two verses where Paul uses the sending formula, Galatians 4:4, and Romans 8:3. Galatians 4:4, “…when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son born of woman born under the law…”
So you see how this is focusing on the missions. This is not referring to the eternal relations. It’s referring to the mission of Christ “when the fullness of time” had come after creation, after the fall, after all the promises, and the patriarchs, and the giving of the law, and the prophets, and all of that—when the fullness of time had come. Then God in the fullness of time “sent forth his Son born of woman born under the law” referring to the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Romans 8:3: “God has done with the law weakened by the flesh could not do by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh…” So there again you have that word “sending.”
So the two processions are the basis of the two missions. We’ve just looked at the first pair. The first one is the eternally generated Son sent on this mission of coming into the world in the fullness of time to fulfill the law for us.
But now let’s look at the other set as a pair of the procession of the Spirit and his mission. So the Father and the Son then sent the Spirit to apply the redemption accomplished by Christ to the elect so the first mission is for the accomplishment of redemption. The second mission (that is, the sending of the Spirit is for the application of redemption): the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to apply the redemption accomplished by Christ to the elect.
There are a number of passages where Jesus says basically this going back to the Upper Room discourse that we talked about before. So Jesus is right here on the eve of his crucifixion, and he’s looking to the next steps. He’s going to die. He’s going to be raised again. He’s going to go back to the Father, and then he’s going to send the Spirit, and so he tells the disciples what is going to happen in this second mission. He says the Helper or the Comforter, 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” (John 14:26). And then John 15:26… (notice the two “verse 26,” 14:26 and 15:26. You’ve got to keep those two together. Maybe that will help you to remember them because they’re very crucial verses on the role of the Spirit)… so John 15:26 says “…but when the Helper comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me…”
Do you see that? I mean we already looked at that verse, when I was using it to provide a proof text for the eternal procession of the Spirit. But now you see how this verse, John 15:26, contains both elements, both the eternal procession and the historical mission, both the immanent and the economic. And there the one is the ground of the other. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father…”—that’s the economic. “…The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father…”—that’s the immanent. “He will bear witness about me.” So you see how it’s fitting, it’s appropriate that the one who proceeds should also be the one who is sent in order to apply the work of Christ. And then again, in John 16 verses 13 to 14, “…when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will glorify me for he will take what is mine and declare it to you…”
I just think this is wonderful. I don’t even fully grasp it myself. It’s so mysterious but it is so profound and so wonderful, and so encouraging. Do we not see here the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel? The gospel is the work of the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit working together. Remember that whole idea of the inseparable operation of the three persons, and we see how they’re working together in order to accomplish this grand redemption.
There’s a wonderful statement in a book that I really like on the Apostles Creed by a theologian named Cornelius Venema. And when he’s talking about the work of the Holy Spirit, this is how he defines the work of the Spirit. He says, “The fundamental work of the Spirit is to minister to us all that we have in Christ.”
That’s exactly what Jesus is saying,”…when the Helper comes, he will bear witness about me, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, he will glorify me for he will take what is mine and declare it to you…” The fundamental work of the Spirit is to minister to us all that we have in Christ. And you could even put it more simply, the fundamental work of the Spirit is to minister Christ to us, to make Christ real to our hearts, and to our minds, and to our heart, and to our faith, and to apply Christ to us, and to bring us into union with him. That’s why the Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). That’s a very important title for the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. It’s not talking about the human spirit of Christ. It’s talking about the capital “S” Spirit. The “Spirit of Christ” because the Spirit comes to us from Christ to minister to us all that we have in Christ.
And later on in Romans 8, Paul fleshes this out in terms of the doctrine of adoption. He says, Romans 8:15-17, that “…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry Abba Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” Do you see how the Trinity is in that passage there? The Spirit, the Father, and Christ, it’s all there. Christ is the one who has accomplished the work, he’s fulfilled the law, satisfied the justice of God, and been raised up from the dead, and adopted us as sons. But it’s the Spirit who applies that to us, it’s by the Spirit that we cry out, “Abba Father,” that we through the Spirit are able to go through Christ to the Father and to call the Father our Father, to call him “Abba.”
So, you see then that instead of having three interchangeable persons… (remember the idea of just putting three coins on the table and moving them around) … instead of having three interchangeable persons, we have an ordered, structured Trinity. Again, though we want to recognize the inseparability of the operations, yet we can also see the distinct role that each one plays. There’s the architectural role of the Father as the planner and the initiator. There’s the meritorious role of the Son [who] is the one sent to accomplish redemption outside of us in history. And there’s the applicational role of the Spirit as the one who ministers to us and within us all that Christ has accomplished for us.
[There are] some other verses too that we can point out where you have all three persons of the Trinity mentioned, but it’s interesting that when the Spirit is mentioned, it seems to be focusing on the work within us in our hearts. So there’s two verses I want you to think about or two passages I want you to think about. The first is in Ephesians and the other is in Galatians. In Ephesians 3:16-17, Paul’s praying for the Ephesians. He’s praying to the Father that he may grant you to be “…strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” So you have the Father, you have the Spirit, you have Christ. But notice how the emphasis here is on “in your inner being, in your hearts.” In fact, it’s interesting how the basic ministry of the Spirit is that even though Christ is in heaven, by the ministry of the Spirit in us, we can say that Christ dwells in our hearts. [That’s] because the Spirit dwells in our hearts, and the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. And then to tie it all back to the Trinitarian structure, we experience that in a way that leads us back to the Father so that we can call him Father.
And then the other one is in Galatians 4:4-6. I already quoted part of that but we’ll keep reading: “When the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son born of woman born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons, and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, Abba Father”. Notice again that phrase “into our hearts” just like “in your hearts” in Ephesians, “Christ dwelling in your hearts” here you have the Spirit “…sent into our hearts”. Verse 6 has all three persons of the Godhead. “God the Father has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” So you have the Trinity. And you have us too, and so it’s as if we are being brought into the life of the Triune God.
It’s marvelous! It’s just, it’s almost unspeakable. We can’t even fully grasp it with our minds, but we can experience it in our hearts, and by faith.
So these roles of the three persons in the economy of salvation are fitting, and are based on their eternal processions. It’s fitting that the Father’s only begotten Son has the role of being the one who merits and accomplishes redemption. And it’s fitting that the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son has the role of taking what the Son has accomplished outside of us and applying it within us, and bringing us into the life of the Trinity—so that we can call God our Father through Christ his Son.
It’s just, it’s beautiful, and it’s moving, and I think that you know what I’m trying to get out here is this idea that [I think] our understanding of what the Gospel is has been somewhat impoverished, and we can enrich it and make it a full orb gospel when we see the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel. Then we can see how the Trinity not only impacts the Gospel but how the Trinity itself is revealed in the Gospel in some ways.
I would like to just conclude by drawing out some implications from all of this.
This idea of seeing how the Gospel has a Trinitarian shape and structure to it is not only helpful for our piety, and for our experience, and for our faith, but it’s also crucial in particular for understanding the Reformed gospel. Now, there’s only one gospel, but the Reformed gospel is the clearest and strongest understanding of the gospel, right? And we believe that the Reformed faith is the best presentation of the gospel. Well, I believe and I would argue that once we open our eyes up to this Trinitarian concept in the Trinitarian Shape of the Gospel, that is very helpful for defending some of the particular aspects that we as Reformed Christians hold dear.
So, I’m just going to make this brief but I have four implications of the Trinity-shaped Gospel for the Reformed understanding of the Gospel.
First of all, the ordered Trinity: the Father is the principium, the Son is begotten from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The ordered Trinity highlights the particularity of redemption. One of the important things about the Reformed gospel is that the redemption is particular. You know God did not send his Son in order to pay for the sins of all of the world. He came and was sent in order to accomplish the redemption of the elect based upon that eternal Covenant of Redemption in which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit decreed and planned the work of redemption and how it would be accomplished and applied.
So this ordered Trinity highlights the particularity of redemption. Think about John 6 verses 38 to 39 where Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me, and this is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day.” He didn’t come down from heaven to pay for the sins of the non-elect. He came down from heaven in order to do the will of the Father who sent him. And what was the will of the Father who sent him? That of all those that the Father gave him, (meaning the elect), he should lose none of them but would have them within his hand, and he would preserve them to the end, and raise them up on the last day.
Ah, I just love it! I love that particularity because it makes the gospel very definitive, and sure, and certain, because we know that Christ has accomplished our redemption. He didn’t just make salvation possible. He didn’t just purchase a bunch of medicine and put it in the medicine cabinet, and say now if you want to take it, you can, but if you don’t then it’s up to you. No, he actually saves us. He purchased our salvation. He purchased our faith. He purchased the application of redemption to us. So the ordered Trinity highlights the particularity of redemption.
Number two, the ordered Trinity highlights the priority of the forensic. What I mean by the “forensic?” Well, the forensic is the element of salvation that has to do with justification and receiving the righteousness of Christ being imputed to us that we are reckoned as righteous in God’s sight. The ordered Trinity highlights the priority of that. Why? Well, think of it this way. One way that we could put this… (if we want to use the Trinitarian structure of the gospel to understand the priority of the forensic) …we could say this, that “Christ earned the Spirit by his merit.” That’s an interesting thing to think about, or an interesting way of putting it. “Christ earned the Spirit by his merit.”
Obviously the Spirit existed before, but he earned the gift of the Spirit to be applied to the elect. He earned that gift by his merit. It was because of the meritorious obedience of Christ, and because he satisfied God’s justice in God’s law that he was raised from the dead and received the gift of the Spirit to give to his people. Acts 2:33, “…being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father, the promise of the holy Spirit he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…” This is Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, and what he’s saying to the people there is, “Look at what you’re experiencing here! You’re receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit that’s been poured out upon you. Where did that come from? The exalted Son. Because he has fulfilled the law, because he has passed the probationary test, he has now been exalted at the right hand of God. And having received his reward for his merit, which is the gift of the Spirit, he has now poured out that reward upon you, and you are experiencing it because of what Christ has done.” The exaltation of Christ is the basis of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.
And then Paul in Romans 8:10 puts the whole thing in a more theological way. He says the Spirit is life because of righteousness. “The Spirit is life,” meaning the Spirit is life-giving. The Spirit is the one who brings eternal life applying it to us. Why? Because of righteousness, because of imputed righteousness, because of the righteousness of Christ, because of the merit of Christ. The Spirit is life because of the merit of Christ. Christ earned the Spirit by his merit.
So we’re not denying that there is a transformative element to the Gospel. We’re not denying that in addition to justification, we are also regenerated and sanctified, and eventually glorified… that God is actually changing us, that the Spirit is working within us to make us to transform us into the image of Christ. And all whom God justifies he also sanctifies. But what we’re saying is that there’s a priority to the forensic. Justification is the engine that drives the train of sanctification and glorification. That the righteousness of Christ is prior, and then the giving of the Spirit who comes within us to sanctify us and transform us into the image of Christ is a gift that we receive because of the righteousness of Christ, because of the merit of Christ And all of that deep Reformed understanding of the priority of justification over sanctification is based upon the ordered Trinity. It’s based upon the fact that the Son is the one who’s begotten, and the Spirit is the one who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
So going through my four implications of the Trinity-shaped gospel for understanding the Reformed gospel: Number one, the order of Trinity highlights the particularity of redemption. Number two, the order Trinity highlights the priority of the forensic.
Number three, the ordered Trinity highlights the certainty of redemption. Remember the Golden Chain? Romans 8:30, “…those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified.” The certainty of redemption, there’s no one who’s been called who won’t also be justified, there’s no one who’s been justified he won’t also be sanctified and preserved, and ultimately glorified. All those whom the Father gave to the Son have been purchased by Christ, are within his grip, and he has given the Spirit (whom he has earned by his merit) to make sure that redemption is applied to them in time, and ultimately leading to the fulfillment of salvation at the glorification of our bodies in the new creation
And then fourth, the ordered Trinity highlights the ultimate aim of redemption. What is the ultimate aim of redemption? Of course, you’re going to say it’s the glory of God. Yes, I agree with that. But we can put it in a more nuanced way, in a Trinitarian way. It is the glory of God, but what is the glory of God? What does it mean for us to glorify God? What does it mean for God to be glorified in us, and in our salvation? Well, is it not communion with God? Isn’t that the ultimate aim of redemption: the eternal union and communion with the Triune God forever and ever?
Ephesians 2:18-22 puts it like this “…for through Christ we both have access in one Spirit to the Father…” And then he goes on to talk about this metaphor of the church being a temple, he says, “…in him that is in Christ you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” God’s ultimate aim is to bring a redeemed people into union with himself so that we might have communion with God, and that’s why Paul uses this metaphor of the temple. That’s God’s ultimate purpose, and all that he’s doing in this work of redemption is a temple building project. And we are that temple. We are the living stones, and we’re going to be a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
I mean that’s incomprehensible, that’s incredible, forever and ever!
We’re being built up into a dwelling place into a temple for God by the Spirit through Christ. So the Trinitarian nature of the gospel helps us to get a peek into what the ultimate aim of redemption is, which is union and communion with the Triune God for all eternity.
Well, I hope this has been encouraging for you, and there’s so much more we could say about every single one of these issues. Lots of exegetical issues. We could look at lots of historical issues. But I think I’ve given you a good overview, and a good perspective like from a 50,000 foot perspective. We kind of look down, and just sort of see the general outlines, and the mountain ranges, and the structures. And I hope that it’s been helpful for you to reaffirm your commitment to the doctrine of the Trinity, and to to see how the Trinity sheds light on our understanding of the Gospel.