Sunday, June 30, 2013

Grace and the Trinity

The current series on grace has three main posts still planned: this entry plus two others. There is also some additional material that may not fit cleanly into one of those posts and may be posted separately. The remaining posts are all interrelated; as this piece seems more of a foundation to the following two, it will be posted first. 

God in Three Persons, or Father, Son, and Spirit?

I'll start by briefly mentioning some thoughts I've written before -- some time ago -- about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It does actually matter whether we think of "God in three persons", or whether we think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible does not know the language of "three persons in one godhead"; it speaks about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When the Bible speaks of "God" it generally means the Father. Speaking of the Father, Jesus says that people call him God (John 8:54). The Father is the "first person" not by accident but because He alone is without origin, unbegotten, self-existing; in Him the Son and Spirit have their source. If the Father alone is self-existing, how and why do we see God as more than the Father alone?

The Word of God is sent out by grace

So what is the true nature of Christ? The Bible does not speak of the "second person of the Trinity"; it speaks of the Word of God becoming flesh and living among us. I take this to mean that the Word of God is the true nature of the divine in Christ. The earliest church does not proclaim the "second person"; it speaks of the Word of God who becomes flesh and dwells among us in Christ. If God did not care to establish a relationship with the world, then the Word of God would have stayed hidden within God; the Word would not have been sent into the world. If God desired that we should relate to him only as servants -- to do as we are told, and look no further than that -- then all his words to us would be commands. The Word of God is not all commands; that teaches us that God did not intend us to be only servants.

The Word of God was sent forth into the world through various messengers and different types of message, each with its own kind of grace (more on that in an upcoming post). First, the Scriptures tell that the Word of God was the means of creation -- in which grace was established as the foundation of God's relationship with the world. In time, God's word called forth a people to live under his blessing and protection, to work for his purposes in this world. Under that covenant, the law called for God's people to be known for their integrity and goodness. In other times through his word, God showed us the beauty of holiness, held out visions of paradise, and promised the coming Messiah in the kingdom of God. God's word reveals his decision to be our leader, our teacher, our protector, our guide through the wilderness, and our hope.

Moving forward, the Word of God became flesh and lived among as Jesus. Here we see the fulfillment of God's decision to join with us, to be "God with us". In Christ, in living with us, God establishes his love for us, and establishes our forgiveness. Where grace had always been our human hope, that hope was given solid ground in Christ: grace was set as a covenant. The covenant was no afterthought, and the incarnation was no afterthought. The act of love, the purpose of grace, is part of the essential nature of Christ, the living Word of God.

The Spirit of God is sent in grace

Then what is the true nature of the Spirit? Again, the Bible speaks of the Spirit of God in the same way that it speaks of the spirit of a man knowing his thoughts within him. I take this to mean that the Spirit of God is the true nature of the Holy Spirit. When we think rightly of the Holy Spirit, we remember that the Spirit is essentially, genuinely, the Spirit of God who knows God's thoughts within him.

The Spirit of God is poured out on the world and lives in us.* This living in us is an act of goodwill towards us -- that is to say, an act of grace. In it, God increases his fellowship with us, which is a remarkable gift. The ancient Temple at Jerusalem was inlaid with gold, with cedars of Lebanon, adorned with fine embroidery and images of heavenly beings -- it was a beautiful, pure, and holy place, and was blessed with the presence of God. Now we are called to be his living temple. (Are we supposed to build our hearts inlaid with love like gold, and righteousness like the cedars of Lebanon? Or as the Psalmist says, "Your Law to me is better than gold.") If God living in a city was a blessing and honor to the city, if God living in a nation was a blessing and honor to the nation, then consider God's presence living in us, and in all his people. If the Spirit of God is that inner part that knows God's thoughts within him, then how does that Spirit come to us? The Spirit of God only comes to us because God chooses to pour out his Spirit on his people. Grace is the essential answer of how the Spirit of God comes to be within us, rather than only within God.

What does that mean?

The very nature of the God -- Father, Son, and Spirit -- reaches into the world until it is accomplished that he lives in us, until we have hope in him, and we have fellowship with him and with each other. If "Trinity" is how our minds see and understand God, then our understanding of God is structured by his workings in the world to accomplish the beginnings of restoration here and now in our lives.

It may be that this is how and why, if the Father alone is self-existing, we see God as more than the Father alone. Trinity is inherently a matter of grace: the Word and the Spirit reach out into the world and communicate God's attributes and God's own spirit to us, by their constitution -- by God's decision from the foundation of the world to be the God who loves us, to be God with us.

And the footnote referenced above, which would have disrupted the flow of thought earlier

* The Holy Spirit lives particularly where the message of Christ -- the message of God's grace -- has been trusted, as Paul challenges his readers in Galatia to remember: "... before your eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Tell me just one thing: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:1-2)


Martin LaBar said...

I'm not sure how I missed this. Solid theology. Thanks.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF