Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Trinitarian by Osmosis

I tend not to get into the whole Trinity argument much.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in a triune God; one Divine Being manifest in three persons. But how that’s all worked out within the Godhead, like many theological issues, is simply too big for my head. When I see highly educated believers in the Lord Jesus going hammer-and-tongs at one another over the fine details of Trinitarian dogma, I’m often perplexed as to what the disagreement is actually about.

And I’m definitely reluctant to weigh in. I mean, what happens if I inadvertently use a theological term incorrectly and get read out of polite Christian society for heresy?

Nobody wants that.

The Language of Scripture

The safe course is always to stick very close to the language of scripture. We can always affirm what scripture indisputably affirms. Here’s one small thing that is definitely there.

In Romans 8, Paul uses the word “spirit” [pneuma] 26 different times. Only two of these unequivocally do not speak of the Holy Spirit (“our spirit” and the “spirit of slavery”). Now, Paul’s emphasis here is not explicitly Trinitarian at all. He starts by comparing walking according to the Spirit to living according to the flesh, moves through our adoption as sons of God, and ends with the intercessory work of the Spirit in the heart of the believer as he or she awaits future glory, the full realization of the adoption process.

Now, in the course of Paul’s argument he does not once bring up the triune nature of God; not even in passing. But some of the strongest affirmations of what the writers of holy writ believed are found in passages that don’t speak to the issue in question directly. The spiritual vocabulary a person uses when speaking about one subject often gives away their theological convictions in another area. Despite not being “about” the Trinity, this passage is full of the triune God acting in three distinct modes, yet with absolute unity of purpose.

The Same God

Because we are dealing with a single, extended argument, we can be confident that whether Paul is speaking of the “Spirit”, the “Spirit of God”, the “Spirit of Christ”, the “Spirit of life” or the “Spirit of adoption as sons”, the same experience of indwelling is in view.

We cannot help but notice the presence of the Trinity in the first three of these. And, yes, we can further affirm that even when Paul uses “Spirit” without modification, he is speaking of a third Divine Person, not just some kind of spiritual force emanating from the Godhead. We know this because he refers to the “mind of the Spirit”. Forces are not sentient. If they were, we would not call them forces.

Paul gives us no license here either to sever the persons of the Godhead from one another in our thinking, or to muddle them into a homogeneous unity in which there are no relevant distinctions to be made at all. We are preserved from both errors if we consider the entire passage.

The Trinity, Everywhere You Look

Again, verse 27 tells us that the Spirit “intercedes for the saints”, but that he does it “according to the will of God”, and for the purpose of conforming the believer “to the image of his Son.” It’s the Trinity again, though nobody would argue that’s Paul’s subject.

Yet again, it seems evident in this passage that to say, “Christ is in you” is to say the Spirit of God dwells in you, which is also to say that you have received, in some measure at least, the nature of God, being his child and heir. Thus, though God remains in heaven, Jesus Christ today is a glorified, divine human being seated at the Father’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit is currently present in the world, though not the same way the Lord Jesus was, there is nothing in the Christian’s daily experience that would permit him to say, “This is the Spirit working, and not the Son,” or “This is the Father working, but not the Spirit.” All are harmoniously at work together.

For a passage not entitled “About the Trinity”, Romans 8 is about as Trinitarian as it’s possible to get. That part at least is not too big for my head.

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