Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bruce Ware on The Trinity


Not many people stay up late at night thinking about the doctrine of the trinity, but Bruce Ware
probably does. Not because he’s passionate about dry doctrine, but because he’s passionate about God.

To help us continue to explore the character of God we talked to our friend Bruce Ware about the Trinity, why it’s worth defending, and how it can affect our daily lives.

1. What is the Trinity? What are helpful passages in the Bible that help us come to this cherished doctrine?

The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God’s whole and undivided essence belongs equally, eternally, simultaneously, and fully to each of the three Persons of the Godhead, so that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each is fully God while each is his own personal expression, in role and activity, of the one eternal and undivided divine essence. So, there is one God—hence, there is one and only one divine essence that is possessed fully and simultaneously by each of the three Persons—but three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each is fully God, since each possesses the identically same divine nature, yet each Person is a distinct personal expression of that one and undivided divine essence.

Matthew 28:19 indicates the trinitarian nature of our faith. Jesus commands his disciples to be baptized in the “name” (note that it is singular “name” and not “names”) of the “Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” So, the one God—indicated by the fact he has one name—is the name of: Father, Son, and Spirit. The One God is three, and the Three Persons constitute the One God.

John 1:1 helps us here: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As this passage indicates, the doctrine of the Trinity has two main pillars that uphold it, the “Distinction” Pillar, and the “Identity” Pillar. The Word (the eternal Son who became incarnate in Jesus Christ—see John 1:14) is, first, distinct from the Father (“the Word was with God” – the distinction theme is highlighted). Yet the Word is, second, identical with the Father (“the Word was God” – the identity theme is highlighted). So, Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct in being separate Persons (i.e., different personal expressions of the one unified God), yet the Father, Son, and Spirit are identically the same God (i.e., they each possess fully and eternally the same divine essence).

Ephesians 1:1-14 also shows clearly the trinitarian structure of our faith. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each performs work that only God can do, yet there is one God whom we worship.

2. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity so essential for us to guard and protect?

First, the doctrine of the Trinity is important for us to understand and affirm simply because it reflects who God really is. If we are to know God rightly, and if we are to take his self-revelation (in Scripture) seriously, we must understand that the One God of the Bible is none other than the One God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Second, our salvation depends on the truth that God is one and Three. The One God saves us, but his salvation of sinners only happens through the specific work and roles of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit. Each has his role to play, and each role is essential in accomplishing and securing our salvation. The Father ordains our salvation, sends the Son to accomplish our redemption, and judges our sin in his Son. The Son must come to take on our human nature and offer himself a substitute sacrifice on the cross, in obedience to the Father, bearing both our sin and the Father’s just wrath against our sin. The Spirit must apply this work to our lives, opening our blind eyes and causing us to behold the beauty of Christ so as to embrace Christ’s saving work for us. Only because God is Trinune is salvation accomplished and made real for us. Third, our prayer and worship is deeply affected by the Trinity. Clearly the norm in Scripture is to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the power of the Spirit (cf., Eph 2:18). Likewise, our worship is focused on the Son, as empowered by the Spirit, to the ultimate glory of the Father (cf. John 16:14; Phil 2:9-11).

3. ?How does the doctrine of the trinity apply to our daily lives? In other words how does this doctrine (which at times to some seems a little abstract) connect with day to day living?

Here is a general principle that comes from the doctrine of the Trinity: The eternal relationality of the Father, Son, and Spirit calls for, and calls forth, a created community of persons—not isolated individuals who exist in close proximity, but interconnected and interdependent relational persons in community. In other words, the very notion of God creating human beings who are equal in essence (men and women are both fully image of God) but who are nonetheless distinct in their unique personhood, is rooted in the very trinitarian “community” of Persons.

Add to this the following: The relationships in the Trinity exhibit so beautifully a unity that is not sameness, and a diversity that is not discord. So, the kind of community that is the Trinity, and hence the kind of community God wants for us, is one that values both a unity in purpose and character and direction, but also a joyous distinctiveness in personal expression.

Finally, the most marked characteristic of the trinitarian relationships is the presence of an eternal and inherent relationship of authority and submission. The Son always submits to, obeys, and carries out, the will of the Father, and when the Spirit comes, as Jesus says, He seeks always to glorify the Son. Authority and submission, therefore, are good because they are expressive of God! That is, it is God-like to express rightful, upbuilding authority; and it is God-like to express humble, assisting submission. Embrace rightful authority! Embrace rightful submission! Seeing this helps us understand so much better why God set up the authority and submission relationships he has, in marriage, in the home, in the church, and in society. The Persons of the Godhead delight in their eternal authority and submission roles, and we, too, ought to grow in embracing, not resisting, this same God-given structure.

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