Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

The focus of Christianity is the continual and eternal worship of the Triune God. Unfortunately, the importance of the Triune nature of God is often overlooked when dealing with theology such as sanctification. Over the next few posts will explore the importance of focusing on each member of the Godhead in relation to sanctification. Each member has an important role to play in the lives of believers as he moves them to a greater state of holiness and communion with himself. This Week we begin by looking at the Fahter’s Role in our sanctification.

The Architect

The Father has multiple roles in maturing a believer, one of the key roles he plays in our sanctification is as the architect.  A house cannot be made if there is not an architect working every angle and dimension; this is a job that begins before construction and continues to its completion much like how the Father lays out the plan and works it to completion. Bruce Ware pens this best in his work on the Trinity:

“The Father is the Grand Architect, the Wise Designer of all that has occurred in

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the

Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and

implements what he has chosen to do.” [1]

This understanding of God’s role is key to the rest of the work of the Godhead. The Father is the one who designed the plan for creation before the foundations of the world. In both Romans and Peter it is seen that the Apostles are connecting the work of sanctification to the Father’s work of electing his people and setting the path that they will walk, focusing on the Son and being moved by the Spirit. Ephesians 1 notes that God is at work among his people, for “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”[2]

The Law Giver

Another important function of the work of the Father is as the Law Giver. He gives the law to Moses in the Exodus narrative which sets the foundation for how believers are meant to live. There has been much debate as to whether or not this law is still applicable to Christians living today and to what extent. For this discussion, the use of the Law is seen as the means of obeying the calling of God to “be Holy as I am Holy”[3] This giving of the Law and commands for their fulfillment is an important part of the Father’s work in sanctification and as architect of the work. The Law lays out the way a believer is to live and worship before God.

John Frame in his work on the Christian life does an extensive study on the use of the Law to mold believers into faithful followers. Each law has many facets revealing an important character of God and his demand for holiness. The Father, in establishing the Law, displays the measure by which faithfulness will be judged in sanctification, not salvation. Frame shows his readers that God gave the Law so that believers may know how to live on earth (not to find salvation)[4]. Sanctification here is the working out of a believer’s salvation not an effort to achieve it. This is an important distinction in any discussion about the use of the Law in Christian life. The Law allows believers to measure their lives against the Holiness of God. The Father’s giving of the law was an act of grace allowing his children to know the way they are to live before him. The giving of the law would allow His people to stand out among all people revealing Himself to the nations through His people. [5]

With the giving of the Law, as a measure by which believers are to follow, comes the discipline for not seeking after it. This is an important role of the Father in molding his children, similar to the way earthly fathers teach their children by correcting their failings. Therefore discipline for failing is not done out of vengeance, but rather gentle correction teaching them how they are to live.[6] Biblically this is tied to Deuteronomy 6 and the second giving of the Law. After giving the law Moses states that” As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” It is the Father’s role in sanctification to discipline those he loves guiding through correction with divine love. The purpose is that by disciplining his children they may see their errors and return to the holiness for which they were called. Discipline helps us to grow in Christlikeness.  Therefore, every instance of life’s failings and suffering can and will be used by the Father to bring his children into a greater sense of Holiness, conforming them to his will and truths.[7]

Another means of sanctification is through suffering. This is different from discipline that is a result of moral failings. Suffering can be seen as natural occurrences such as, sickness, natural disasters, or loss. In Scripture this type of sanctification is seen in the life of Job most clearly. Job has not sinned, but rather is being tested leading to a greater understanding of the nature of God.[8]  In John Piper’s work on suffering he reveals that God uses suffering to deepen the faith of believers by eliminating self-reliance. He points to Paul’s struggle in 2 Corinthians with a thorn in the flesh. While Paul does plead for it to be removed from him, he also knows that it is being used by the Father to produce a greater faith.[9] It is evident that the Father will use suffering and pain apart from discipline as a means to create deeper faith and reliance on himself for all of life’s challenges.

The Sender

The final two key features of the Father’s work are as the sender of His Son and the Spirit to the world. He sends the Son and the Spirit as agents to complete the work that He set in motion. Each of these members will be discussed, but it is the Fathers sending that must be evaluated first. Both the Son and Spirit are sent to the world revealing the imminent nature of the Godhead in sanctification. This sending of the two is connected directly to God as architect. It is clear from scripture that God’s purpose from eternity was to bring the Son to Earth, for providing salvation, and then the Spirit to secure it for eternity. [10] This connection is seen throughout the gospel of John and exemplified in 12:49 where Jesus states “The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” It is the Father at work in Christ’s ministry on earth. The Father sent the Son for a specific time and function to bring about salvation and with salvation the need to become holy laid out in the process of sanctification. This means the very work of Christ in bringing about salvation and the sanctification of believer is directly connected to the sending of the Father.[11]

Similar to the sending of the Son the sending of the Spirit is equally important to the work of the Father’s plan for His people. The Spirit is sent by the Father to make the work of sanctification real in the lives of believers. The rejection of the Spirits work in Thessalonians is directly connected to the work of Father in sending Him to the people. Paul solidifies this notion in Titus 3:5—7 when he states that “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This reveals that it is the mission of the Father for the Spirit to work and bring about righteousness in his people[12]

In summation, the role of the Father in sanctification is as the architect of the whole doctrine. He is the one who elects believers for salvation and by proxy sanctification. The Father devised the system for sanctification by giving the Law to Moses and Israel in Exodus, then by sending his Son and His Spirit afterwards. The Father is also responsible for using the sufferings of this age, such as diseases and natural disaster to grow believers in faith. Finally, He disciplines His saints; pushing those who fall away to return to the family of God and to himself.

[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 51.

[2] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering. (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 76.

[3]Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278.

[4] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (New Jersey, P&R Publishing 2008), 912.

[5] Stanley Gundry, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 88.

[6], Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God (Downers Grove Intervarsity, 2007), 281.

[7] Gundry, 68

[8] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 393.

[9] John Piper and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Crossway. 2006), 92.

[10] Andreas Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus & The disciples according to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1998), 96.

[11] Wilson, 82

[12] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1995), 127

Tolkien & Owen On Communion With God

 If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.

This is the stuff of communion.

And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.

Communion With God 

Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”

Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.

The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”

Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.

All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.

Ever Three & Ever One: Why the Trinity Matters

For ages the doctrine of the Trinity has been upheld even though it’s been twisted around a thousand ways to Tuesday. Some people find the doctrine of the Trinity a hard pill to swallow, others think Christians believe in three gods, and still others believe we’re contradicting ourselves all over the place when we discuss these things. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is of such importance that if you deny it, you cannot in any real way call yourself a Christian.

Here’s what I want to do this week: Monday I gave you some definitions, and showed you where we get these definitions in Scripture.  Wednesday, I showed you common ways people distort this doctrine, and today I’ll show you why this matters.

4) Why Trinity Matters

a) No illustrations: because people throughout history have sought to explain the mysteries of the Trinity with images (like water, man with different roles, three-leaf clover) and failed to do justice to the Biblical doctrine – it is better for us to simply stick with the classic definition: God eternally exists as one in essence and three in Person: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Anything beyond this, is heresy.

b) God as a relatable being: because God has eternally existed in Trinity, He has always been a being in relationship to others, and within the Trinity there has always been a perfect relational harmony, thus, God stands out as a perfect society within Himself. Acts 17:25 uses this fact to state that God needs nothing, He is independent, because in Himself He is full. Therefore, when God made the world He didn’t do it out of some sense of lack or need. He needed nothing, yet made everything. Why? Jonathan Edwards once said, ‘God as a Fountain, cannot help but overflow.’

c) Trinity as ultimate relational model: the Bible mentions there is a unity within the Trinity, the word Trinity even means this (defined as Tri-unity). Because of this Scripture teaches us how to relate to one another as the Trinity relates to one another. Where do we see how to have unity in diversity? The opportunity to witness the clarity, complexity, duality, creativity, intensity, joviality, and veracity of unity existing alongside diversity is not found in a university nor found in human depravity; it is only found in the community of divinity we call the Holy Trinity.

d) Redemption is possible because of the Trinity: we see this in two ways: First, Exodus 33:20 and 1 Tim. 6:16 teach us that no man can see God and live but God the Son made the invisible God visible. Second, redemption itself is accomplished by the unified activity of the Holy Trinity. We saw this in Ephesians 1, see it again in Hebrews 9:14, ‘…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ All three accomplish salvation.

e) Sing! Because the Church throughout the ages has held the doctrine of the Trinity so close to the heart, many hymns and songs have been written about the Trinity. 3 of them hold a special place in my heart: two traditional songs are the Doxology and the Gloria Patri, and a new one called the Messenger Doxology by Matt Boswell.

Ever Three & Ever One: Historic and Modern Distortions

For ages the doctrine of the Trinity has been upheld even though it’s been twisted around a thousand ways to Tuesday. Some people find the doctrine of the Trinity a hard pill to swallow, others think Christians believe in three gods, and still others believe we’re contradicting ourselves all over the place when we discuss these things. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is of such importance that if you deny it, you cannot in any real way call yourself a Christian.

Here’s what I want to do this week: Monday I gave you some definitions, and showed you where we get these definitions in Scripture.  Today, I’ll show you common ways people distort this doctrine, and Friday I’ll show you why this matters.

3) Distortions

a) Modalism: teaches the one person appears to us in three different modes or forms. There are two ways people make this error. First they speak of water, saying ‘Water is like the Trinity because it can be ice, steam, or liquid and remain water.’ To which we say, ‘No, water is never all three forms at the same time, in the Trinity God is always and at all times each Person.’ This leads to the second error, ‘Ok, how about a man who is at the same time a father, a son, and a husband, one man, three roles. That is like the Trinity.’ Again, ‘No, father, son, and husband describe three functions or roles of one man. In the Trinity, God is three distinct Persons rather than one person in three distinct roles.’

b) Tritheism/Polytheism: denies there is one God and teaches instead that there are really three gods. The example people use of this is the three-leaf clover saying ‘See, this is like the Trinity, it’s one plant but has three clovers.’ To this we respond and say, ‘No, each leaf is only part of the clover and cannot be said to be the whole plant. In the Trinity each Person is fully God.’

c) Subordinationism: teaches the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to the Father in nature and being. They say ‘See, the Son and the Spirit obey the Father, thus the Father must be the greatest.’ We reply, ‘No, within the Trinity each Person is co-equal and co-eternal in power and glory. There is no subordination.’

d) Oneness Pentecostalism: this is a movement led by pastor T.D. Jakes, out of the Potter’s House church in Dallas, Texas. This movement teaches many heresies including a form of modalism where God at times manifests Himself as Father, at other times manifests Himself as Son, and at other times manifest Himself as Spirit, saying, ‘God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time.’ We want to respond saying, ‘God doesn’t manifest in different modes, He eternally exists as three Persons.’ Thus the 100,000 of people each year who attend his conferences, and the 30 books he publishes through Lifeway should be avoided and considered false teaching.  Why Lifeway would publish his books at all is a mystery to me.

e) Jehovah’s Witness: many people think the Jehovah’s Witness group is a genuine part of Christianity. But it is not, because like all other cults they distort the essential doctrines of Christianity. They do believe they are serving the true God because that’s what they are taught. But they deny that the Son of God is really God, deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and state that those who believe God is Trinity believe in a false teaching. In their words, on their website it states this, ‘The idea of one God consisting in three persons cannot be explained by human reason. It is confusing, contrary to normal reason, unlike anything in human experience.’

We respond, ‘Of course it’s contrary to human experience, because of sin the entire Bible and all it teaches goes against our nature. Just because we can’t explain something so as to leave all mystery behind doesn’t mean it’s false.’ As we said with T.D. Jakes, we say here – Jehovah’s Witness teaching should be avoided and considered false teaching.

Ever Three & Ever One: Trinity Defined and Proved From Scripture

For ages the doctrine of the Trinity has been upheld even though it’s been twisted around a thousand ways to Tuesday. Some people find the doctrine of the Trinity a hard pill to swallow, others think Christians believe in three gods, and still others believe we’re contradicting ourselves all over the place when we discuss these things. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is of such importance that if you deny it, you cannot in any real way call yourself a Christian.

Here’s what I want to do this week: first, I’ll give you some definitions, then I’ll show you where get these definitions in Scripture, then I’ll show you common ways people distort this doctrine, and last show you why this matters.

1) Definitions

Though the word ‘Trinity’ (coined by Tertullian in 3rd century) never appears in the Bible but the substance of it is all over it. Throughout the history of the Church, we’ve always taught four fundamental things about the Trinity. 1) God is One in essence, 2) God is three in Person, 3) each Person is co-equal in power and glory, and 4) each Person is fully and completely God, but not identical. Therefore the classic definition of the Trinity is this: God eternally exists as one in essence and three in Person: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the same in substance, equal in power and glory (see triangle image below)

Trinity2) Scriptural Proof

All of this is great, but is this the picture we get in the Bible? My answer is of course, a resounding yes! Let’s take our definition and split it up into pieces to see this:

a) ‘God eternally exists…’ – Few people would debate this. The common refrain found in Revelation 4:8 is enough to prove our point, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ So God exists, and His existence is an eternal existence. Psalm 90:2 states, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.’

b) ‘…as one in essence…’ – The hallmark text for the oneness of God is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, ‘Hear O’ Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ Historically and even today this verse is called the ‘Shema’ because ‘shema’ is the Hebrew word for ‘hear.’ Throughout the Old Testament God rejects the polytheism (a belief in many gods) of the nations surrounding Israel. In place of the rampant polytheistic world Israel lives in God demands an exclusive devotion to Himself, God demanded monotheism. Because of this, God should not only have first place in our hearts and affections, we’re commanded to put away any form of idolatry we have, recognizing that idolatry, at its root, is a worship of false god.

c) ‘…and three in Person: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ – Too often people think we lose monotheism as soon as we begin talking of the three Persons in the Trinity, this is not the case. From the opening verses in the Bible we see Trinity reflected in God. The Spirit of God was hovering over the deep in Genesis 1:2. When God makes man in Genesis 1:26 He states, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ Prideful Jacob was turned into humbled Israel after wrestling with God in human flesh in Genesis 32. Joshua bowed before the Commander of the Lord’s army in Joshua 5. After Isaiah saw the Lord high and exalted God commissioned Isaiah into service saying in Isaiah 6:8, ‘Who will go for us?’ As we cross over into the New Testament we see these things continue. As Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended on Him while the voice of the Father spoke audibly for all to hear in Matthew 3:16-17. John 1 says the Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us was in the beginning with God and was God. We’re given the Great Commission that as we go we’re to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe God’s commands, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28.

We could go on and on and on here, but one text rises to the surface. In Ephesians 1 we see how our whole redemption is accomplished by the Trinity. In 1:3-6 the Father is the Architect who plans, predestines, and sends. In 1:7-12 the Son obeys the Father, redeems His sheep, and with the Father sends the Holy Spirit. In 1:13-14 the Spirit seals us guaranteeing our future inheritance to come, sanctifies us by grace, proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and completes the work the Father and the Son began.

So we have the distinct work of each Person in the Godhead, now we can see clearly that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. One in essence yes, but three distinct Persons. From front to back, the Bible portrays redemption as a sovereign work of the Holy Trinity. This is why one cannot claim to be a Christian and deny the Trinity, because in denying the Trinity you’re denying the God of the Bible, who is the only God who saves. This is who He is. Theologian Herman Bavinck said, ‘In the doctrine of the Trinity beats the heart of the whole revelation of God for the redemption of humanity.’

d) ‘…the same in substance equal in power and glory.’ – This echoes back to what we’ve said before, that God, though three in Person, is one in essence. Each of the three Persons are not separate Gods, they’re one God, the same in substance, co-eternal, co-equal, co-essential in power and glory. The clearest place in the Bible we see this is not only what we’ve just seen in Ephesians 1 where we see the individual actions of each member of the Trinity working together to form the one grand act of redemption, but in 1 John 5 where John says there are three who testify and those three agree, or those three are one.

The Tri-une God

trinityThere are some individuals who scoff at the doctrine of the Trinity.  Most don’t do this and rightly accept it as orthodox Christian truth, but though I think most Church-goers rightly accept the Trinity they have no idea why/how this doctrine matters at all.  Here is one reason (of many).  Salvation is a Trinitarian action.  Ephesians 1:3-14 shows this.

1:3-6 shows the activity of the Father, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”  

See it?  It was the Father, not the Son or the Spirit, who planned, predestined, and elected us for salvation through Jesus before the foundation of the world.

1:7-12 shows the activity of the Son, In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.” 

See it?  It was the Son, not the Father or the Spirit, who redeemed us through His blood.  It is Christ’s lavish grace we rest and boast in because by His blood we now have the hope of the glory of God.

1:13-14 show the activity of the Spirit, In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.”

See it?  It was the Spirit, not the Father or the Son, that was sealed within us, who is our down payment, or inheritance of the future possession to come.

So you see, everything that happened to every Christian at salvation had everything to do with each member of the Trinity.  The Father plans, the Son redeems by His blood, and the Spirit applies redemption to us sealing us for the age to come.

This is why on my churches website, you’ll find the following statement:

We believe in one God, eternally existing in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who know, love, and glorify one another. This one true and living God is infinitely perfect both in his love and in his holiness. He is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible, and is therefore worthy to receive all glory and adoration. Immortal and eternal, he perfectly and exhaustively knows the end from the beginning, sustains and sovereignly rules over all things, and providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.