The Holy Spirit in the Trinity

How can God be one and three at the same time? It is my belief that the doctrine of the Trinity is necessitated by the assumptions and practices of the Christian faith, whether we know it or not. There is certain logic implied in Scriptures and in the practical life of faith.

Logic begins with a basic premise then proceeds to a conclusion. For example, if my premise is that God loves all human beings, and I am a human being, then it follows a logical necessity that God loves me. God gave us minds that think. Why would God not want us to use them in matters of faith?

The term logic turns a lot of Christians off, because they’ve heard the term used so often against the realities affirmed by faith. “That is not logical!” You may of heard someone say when talking about the reality of God. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead seems contrary to logic for many today, but Christians know it to be real, in part because the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in them.

We could argue that the purpose of theology is to discover the logic of biblical faith and to develop this logic faithfully. This doesn’t mean that something is to be rejected just because it doesn’t make sense to us according to our current understanding of science or some culturally acquired ideas. Certainly, God is not bound by such humanly acquired assumptions. But the Scriptures do assume certain fundamental principles to which the totality of scripture remains true.

I believe that a force of logic exists in the Bible concerning God as a trinity. It goes like this:

*ONLY GOD CAN SAVE

*The father saves; the son, Jesus Christ, saves; and the Holy Spirit saves.

*Conclusion: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God

The term Trinity is not what is important but rather what it points to. The fact of the Trinity usually seems apparent to anyone who has read the New Testament or gone to church for any length of time. After all, we cannot read the New Testament without coming across numerous references to the heavenly Father or to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, or to the Holy Spirit. We cannot pray, worship or witness without naming God in this way. We pray to the heavenly Father, through the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Or, we pray to the Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of the Father. Either way, prayer compels us to name God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The reason we are so compelled to name God in this way is because God has willed to be named this way. This naming is authentic because it is how God is self-revealed. It is faithful to who God is eternally. Acts 2:33 notes concerning Jesus after his ascension to heaven, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” After the resurrection, the Son ascended to the right hand of the heavenly Father in order to receive the Holy Spirit and to pour forth the Spirit on us.

In fact the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit personally interact in Scripture. Please read my last article “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit-The Trinity” in which these interactions are mentioned.

Quite frankly, Many rejoice at the idea that God is not a solitary ego ruling the universe from a far-away throne but is rather a rich communion of love among persons. Many are also enlightened by the idea that salvation is not just forgiveness or the relief of guilt but is also an entry into a loving communion between the heavenly Father and the Son that was sent to redeem us, enjoyed by the Holy Spirit.

In this article I wish to discuss how the Holy Spirit saves and it’s place in the Trinity Doctrine, since the Father and the Son is not generally in dispute.

“The Holy Spirit Saves,” affirming that the Spirit is divine as well. This statement may sound strange for it is not typical language found in the Bible. But it is accurate in substance nevertheless.

Salvation and the life of faith take on a richer texture and substance once they are viewed through the lens of the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the New Testament defines a Christian as someone who has become indwelled by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. Paul, for example, asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2). In other words, becoming a Christian in Paul’s mind consists of receiving God’s Holy Spirit within by faith in Christ rather than by human works. This divine presence in and among us represents the “down payment” of salvation, a salvation that will be fulfilled when the Spirit raises us from the dead with a body that is fully yielded to the Spirit and in the perfect image of Jesus (Ephesians 1:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5). This is salvation in the larger sense of the word and one way in which the Holy Spirit saves us.

Let us explore this a bit further: 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven. If indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

The earthly tent in which we groan from freedom is the fleshly body bound by sin and death. The heavenly dwelling for which we groan is the spiritual body that we will have at the resurrection (Romans 8:22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:42-45). In the above quoted text, Paul said that our earthly mortality will be swallowed up by life and said that this is the very purpose for which we were created. When we were created in Eden, we became living souls by the divine breath breathed within us (Genesis 2:7). After we fell into bondage to sin and death, this Spirit no longer indwelled us as a sanctifying force, though we continued to live and draw our breath from this divine presence (Acts 17:24-28). Bound to mortal existence subject to sin and death, we implicitly yearn for the indwelling of the Spirit to take us to the goal that God has intended for us from the beginning; not ideal natural existence, but even beyond to the Spiritual body fully directed by the life of the Spirit and shaped to reflect the glory of the risen Jesus. This is salvation in the ultimate sense of the word according to the New Testament.

We can understand---in the light of how Spirit-oriented salvation is----why the gift of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe on Jesus is called the “deposit” or down payment of salvation. Notice Ephesians 1:13-14: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession---to the praise of his glory.”

Paul was using a financial metaphor in the above text. Just as in a business transaction a person may receive a down payment with a guarantee of payment to be given in full, so also God gives us the Holy Spirit within when we believe on Jesus. This gift of the Spirit is the seal of our covenant with Christ and the down payment of a guaranteed future salvation (the resurrection). In this future salvation we will experience the fullness of life in the Spirit-life in Christ’s glorified image. In other words, the gift of the Holy Spirit within is the first stage of the future, full experience of the Spirit given to us in the spiritual body that we receive at the resurrection from the dead. For if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, this Spirit will raise us from the dead just as Christ himself was raised (Romans 8:11).

This powerful gift of new life in us leading to resurrection is powerfully foretold in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 37. The prophet Ezekiel was called of God to give hope to Israel during the nation’s lowest point of disobedience and depression. There seemed to be no hope left for the nation. God gave Ezekiel a vision involving a valley of dry bones….Ezekiel noted, “I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry (Ezekiel 37:2) Then God asked Ezekiel if these bones could live again. Which Ezekiel replied, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (37:3) Then God asked Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Ezekiel was to convey the following message from God: “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!…I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” (37:4-5). Then Ezekiel was to prophesy to the winds, which were a symbol of the breath or Spirit of God. This prophecy was more like a humble invocation, asking the Spirit to “Breath onto these slain, that they may live” (37:9). Then something amazing happened. The bones rose up as skeletons, took on flesh and blood, and became a mighty army for God (37:10). God added, “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them” (37:13). The Spirit redeemed the people, restored them, and promised them the future resurrection from the dead.

When God raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit (Romans1:4), God showed that he was not just being figurative in Ezekiel 37. God was promising that the life of the Spirit in them would not only bring restoration and redemption in the here and now but also eternal life and victory over the grave. God meant this quite literally!

Now we are beginning to see how the Holy Spirit also saves. The Spirit is the one who perfects or completes the salvation willed by the Father and inaugurated by the Son’s death and resurrection. The Spirit completes this salvation by bringing it to us and enabling us to participate in it. Without the Spirit, we would gaze on Jesus’ death and resurrection from a distance, but we would have no direct relationship to it. We would remain bound in our condition of sin and death, still yearning for freedom but having no connection to it.

The Spirit brings the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our lives and allows us to experience it and be a part of it. In fact, it was the Spirit that was the hidden potential of life at Jesus’ crucifixion (Hebrews 9:14), because it was the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4), in cooperation with the Father and with Jesus. It is then the Spirit that brings the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our lives when we believe in Jesus for salvation. So, it seems perfectly clear that the Spirit is just as much an agent of salvation as the Father and the Son.

The Spirit represents Christ’s presence among us as the one from whom we address Christ and the one by whom Christ addresses us. We don’t want to deceive ourselves in to thinking that we can embrace Christ or hear his words in our own strength.

The fact that the Spirit will not speak “on his own” but will only communicate what belongs to Christ (John 16:13-14) is strong proof that the Spirit is also distinct as a personal agent from the Son of God. The Spirit testifies of Christ, not speaking “on his own” but seeking only to bring him glory (John 15:26; 16-14), which would make no sense if the Spirit were indistinguishable from the Son. If they were indistinguishable, why is a word spoken against Jesus forgiven but not a word spoken against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32)?

That the Spirit is divine is taught in Scripture where Peter notes that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God (Act 5:3-4). Besides the Spirit does what only God can do: creates, creates anew, sanctifies, glorifies, raises people from the dead, reveals the deep things of God, and so on. If the Spirit does what only God can do as an agent of salvation, the Spirit is by nature divine.

In Matthew 28:18-20: “…Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Which brings us back to:

*ONLY GOD CAN SAVE

*The father saves; the son, Jesus Christ, saves; and the Holy Spirit saves.

*Conclusion: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God

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