Key Thoughts from Part 1
A tentative definition for Union with Christ: “Believers joined together with Christ in such manner that they are, in some sense, made one with Him, remaining distinct persons, but no longer separated” – Scripture says, “Christ in us” and “us in Christ.”
There are two categories of sin issues. Eph. 1:4: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” We are neither holy nor blameless until God intervenes. (1.) Failing to be holy is an ontological problem (our being is fallen and degraded). (2.) Being not blameless is a legal issue arising because of we actually break God’s moral law (resulting in a death penalty).
God sovereignly deals with both issues. He planned salvation in eternity, but we exist “in time.” Implementation “in time” is through the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit. Salvation “in time” was made possible through the person and work of the incarnate Son. The incarnate Son’s salvation “work” produced benefits which are applied by the Holy Spirit to individual believers during their mortal life. Salvation is Trinitarian from beginning to end.
God the Holy Trinity (WC)
One God: There is one living and true God, a most pure Spirit, self-existing, self-sustaining, invisible, of one divine essence, immaterial, without body, parts, or passions, infinite and immutable (unchanging) in being and perfection. God is incomprehensible (cannot be fully known) but not unknowable (we know what is revealed in Scripture).
There are 3 subsistences (persons) within the one divine essence. The distinct Persons are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Persons are distinguished from one another, not by a difference in being, but by their relationships to one another and to creation.
The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. All 3 are equal in power, glory, and eternity. Unlike 3 human persons, the 3 divine persons do not exist along side one another. They exist in eternal mutual indwelling, such that the fullness of the divine essence is possessed by each person.
The Three Persons in the Godhead All Have the same Attributes: All 3 Persons have precisely the same attributes. Each Person is fully God. All we know about God is what He reveals to us (Dt. 29:29). Three Persons, one God is not a contradiction. The law of non-contradiction says, “A” cannot be both “A” (what it is”) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time in the same relationship. God is not three in the same way that He is one. He is one in essence but three in person. The 3 Persons are distinguished from One another by “properties” but not by having different attributes. More later.
Person implies having a center of self-awareness, an “I” to the “You” of other persons. Persons may be material or immaterial. Each Person of the Trinity is an immaterial, spiritual, thinking, willing, relational, active agent. For example see (Jn. 6:37,38;10:29;1;7:2,11-12).
The 3 Persons of the Trinity jointly participate in all work external to the Godhead, each in accordance with His distinct “properties” (Q.9 WLC).
Same Attributes, Different Properties, Mutually Indwelling: All Persons have the same attributes, but they each have “properties” that belong to that particular Person. For example, the Father eternally begets the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. Never the reverse. The 3 Persons are mutually indwelling. Where one is, all 3 are. Never just one.
External Works: External works include creation, sustaining creation, recreating fallen humans through redemption and sanctification. The Father is the fountain and well-spring of all things. He originates all external activity and, in some activities, takes the lead (Jn.6:44). In others the Son or Holy Spirit takes the lead.
The Son, as mediator, embodies each plan doing what is necessary to make the Father’s plan possible. The Holy Spirit applies His power and efficacy (i.e., ability to produce a desired result) to produce the result intended.
Summary: The Trinity is one God, 1 divine essence, 3 Persons. The Persons mutually indwell one another. They are seen to be distinct by their relationships – Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Background for Understanding the Incarnation
Definition of A Nature: As used in the doctrine of the incarnation, the words “nature” and “person” have precise meanings. A little background is useful before defining the two terms.
All things which exist have qualities, some essential, some nonessential. For example, a 2-inch diameter iron pipe 3-feet long, painted white has the essential qualities of the material iron plus length and hollowness. Specific dimensions, weight, and color are nonessentials. Change them and it remains an iron pipe.
The nature of an iron pipe is its essential qualities, things that can’t be changed without changing it from an iron pipe to something else. For example, if it was flattened, eliminating its hollowness, it would become an iron bar.
The definition of a “nature” is the complete set of essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is.
Nature of God: God is a living spirit. God’s nature must include at least all the essential qualities of spirit and life. The nature of the Trinity is the complete set of essential attributes and properties characterizing the divine essence and persons of the Godhead.
Human nature: Human nature is the complete set of essential human attributes. Human nature includes body, mind, will, and emotions. A human person has a human nature, but a human nature is not a person. The “nature vs. person” distinction is essential to understanding the incarnation.
Human Person: In the terms we are using, a human person is something more than a human nature. What is it that must be added to the human nature to form a human person? The answer is that a human person is a human nature plus an independent source of “I.”
The “I” is the owner, possessor, and master of the nature. The “I” is the subject that lives, thinks, wills, and acts though the nature.
The source of “I” can be thought of as something like a “mission control center.” A person’s “I” directs the use of the attributes of their human nature. A human person is thus a human nature plus the source of their “I.”
Persons of the Trinity: How does this concept of person apply to the Persons of the Trinity? God’s nature (essence) is pure spirit, no material component whatsoever. Within the undivided divine essence, there exist 3 individual subsistences (Persons), each a center of consciousness with a source of “I.”
The one undivided essence is shared by each Person of the Trinity. Each Person possesses all attributes of God. Each Person regards Himself as “I” and the other two as “You.” The Persons of the Trinity are distinguished from one another by a difference in “relationship,” not by a difference in being.
Incarnate Christ, One Person, 2 Natures – Divine and Human
Divine Son United with A Human Nature: In the incarnation the divine eternal Son united Himself with a human nature. The union of the divine Son with a human nature is a ground (essential foundation) for achieving Christ’s salvation work. No incarnation, no salvation, no Union with Christ.
The Person of the divine Son took to Himself a human nature (conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary), becoming the one person, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man.
The Son retained His divine nature and added to it a human nature including body. There is no mixing, confusion, or combining of His two natures. Each nature retains its own attributes. One Person, two complete natures. Christ has and will forever continue to have a human nature including a human body.
Eternity Intrudes In Time: The Son’s divine essence (and Person) were His from all eternity, eternally begotten by the Father. His human nature and body were acquired “in time,” derived from His mother Mary. It is a deep mystery how the eternal, omnipotent, infinite second Person of the Trinity could add to Himself a finite, limited human nature and become one person in a human body. But we know it is true.
Distinctions: Consider: The Trinity is one nature, 3 Persons. The incarnate Son is 1 Person, 2 natures. The Trinity is pure divine spirit. The incarnate Son is divine spirit plus a human nature, including a body. The “nature/person” distinction is vital for understanding the incarnation. The Son did not take to Himself a “human person” but “human nature.” He is and remains the Son, eternally begotten of the Father.
Incarnate Christ’s “I”: What is the source of “I” for Christ’s human nature? It is the same “I” that establishes His personhood as the second Person of the Trinity. Both natures of the incarnate Son are directed by the same divine “I.” It is amazing but true that Christ’s human nature never existed as a human person. He has no human “mission control center,” no human “I.” His human nature from conception was controlled by His divine personal “I.” His divine “I” controls both His divine and human natures.
Activities of The God-Man: Taking to Himself a human nature (complete except without sin) did not diminish His divine being. Anything done in either nature was done by the one person, Jesus Christ. With respect to His human nature, He ascended to heaven and is no longer present in the world (Jn. 1:28; 17:11; Acts 1:9-11). With respect to His omnipresent divine nature He continues to be everywhere present (Mt. 18:20; 28:20). The presence of the risen Christ in heaven is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit.
In His human nature Jesus was at times weak and tired (Mt. 4:2, 8:24; Mk. 15:21; Jn. 4:6), but in His divine nature He was omnipotent, never weak or tired. Because His human nature was exhausted, He slept in a boat. When wakened from his human nature sleep, He then by His omnipotent divine nature calmed wind and sea with a word (Mt. 8:26-27).
At all times in His incarnate state on earth, Jesus’ divine nature continued to uphold creation and to carry out the Father’s plan. But His human nature (including His human body) developed and grew in the normal way, growing in stature and wisdom.
Christ: Jesus, the man from Nazareth, was and is the Christ, the God-man. He was not potentially God but was and is truly and fully God. Jesus could learn things in His human nature, even though in His divine nature, He knew all things. When He took to Himself a human nature, it would be His forever more, but He never lost any divine attributes.
On earth He lived in a normal human body. Having both a human and divine nature, Christ has both a human and a divine will. How does that work? We don’t know. We do know Jesus’ divine will and nature have always been in one accord with Father and Spirit.
Christ’s divine “I” always controls His human nature, even now in His glorified state. John records Jesus’ willing control by the Father. Jn. 5:19, “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” Jn. 12:49-50, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” Reference on incarnate Christ: Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994 chapter 26.