The Christian Theology of God

Contents

Who and What

  1. The Definition of God
  2. Come Let Us Reason Together
  3. The Existence of God
  4. The Nature of God

Unity and Trinity

  1. Trinity
  2. Nature and Person
  3. Infinity and Eternity
  4. Trinitarian Heresies

Son & Spirit

  1. The Incarnation
  2. Union of God and Man
  3. Glorified State
  4. Christological Heresies
  5. The Holy Spirit

Introduction

This article constitutes an overview of the basic Christian theology of God. It is not meant to be an exhaustive theological treatment, either in topics or in the depth of each topic, but rather an introduction to these doctrines. As an overview survey it focuses on what the orthodox view is, much more so than how it was arrived at, therefore it does not attempt a detailed justification of the various doctrines involved. All references to “scripture” refer to the Christian Bible.

Who and What

The Definition of God

God’s Hebrew name, Jehovah or Yahweh, is literally translated “I Am” and it connotes the singular “self-existent one”, or the “one who causes to be” (Exodus 6:2ff; 3:13-16).

For framing this discussion, we define the term “God” to refer to the Judeo-Christian God as revealed in the scripture. Specifically, God is the singular, eternal, divine and ultimate uncaused cause, the infinite being by whom all that exists was made to exist.

In establishing this definition, we answer the question, “who created God?” as being a fundamental category error of logic. That is, the question presumes God is created, whereas the Christian God is an eternal, uncreated being; indeed, God is the only such being.

Come Let Us Reason Together

What is truth?

Truth is that which aligns with reality.

What is real?

All knowledge is predicated on fundamental axioms. At the very base are the assumptions:

  • I am real.
  • What I perceive is real.
  • My perceptions are reliable.

These fundamental axioms cannot be measured or proven, yet we live our lives as if they were true, because they work – they have real predictive power which is effective in making sensible choices.

Exploring the thought-puzzle, “I am not real”, may be entertaining, but it’s of no practical value in learning or life.

The modern understanding of knowledge has been reduced to empirical materialism. That is, knowledge is limited to what we can measure in the material universe, but I contend that is a flawed way of thinking.

What is a worldview?

A worldview is the filter through which we interpret all evidence. It answers the important questions of life:

  • Ultimate reality - What kind of God, if any exists?
  • transcendent reality - Is there anything beyond this cosmos?
  • Knowledge - What can be known and how can I know it?
  • Origin - Where did I come from?
  • Identity - Who am I?
  • Morality - How should I live?
  • Values - What should I consider of worth?
  • Destiny - What happens when I die?

The Christian worldview adds additional axioms:

  • God is real.
  • God has revealed himself to humanity.

Revelation takes the following forms:

  • Propositional – Scripture.
  • Personal – Experience (including this creation and history).
  • Innate – Inner witness (law is written on their hearts).

Methods of Reasoning

There are three kinds of logical reasoning (credit Wikipedia and Ken Samples):

  • Deductive reasoning is a form of reasoning in which a conclusion follows necessarily from the stated premises. The reasoning is valid if there is no way in which the premises could be true and the conclusion be false.

    Deduction is reasoning from declaratively true premises to demonstrably true conclusions.

  • Inductive reasoning is a form of inference based on previous observation, producing propositions about unobserved objects or types, either specifically or generally. Inductive reasoning contrasts strongly with deductive reasoning in that, even in the strongest cases of inductive reasoning, the truth of the premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion.

    Induction is analogical. One reasons from something known to draw conclusions about something unknown where the known demonstrably has some attributes in common with the unknown. That is, if B is like A as regards attribute X, then B may also be like A in (currently unknown with respect to B) attribute Y.

    Induction is reasoning from the observed to conclusions about the unobserved. It is how we learn.

  • Abductive reasoning, or argument to the best explanation, is a form of inductive reasoning which favors one conclusion above others. The conclusion in an abductive argument does not follow with certainty from its premises and concerns something unobserved. What distinguishes abduction from the other forms of reasoning is the attempt to favor one conclusion above others by attempting to falsify alternative explanations or by demonstrating the likelihood of the favored conclusion given a set of more or less disputable assumptions.

    Abduction takes induction one step further in reasoning from the observed to conclusions about the unobserved and then attempting to infer which of the possible conclusions best fits the evidence. It is an inference to the best explanation. It is how we form and evaluate worldviews.

The inductive forms of reasoning are especially interesting because they are the principle ways in which human beings learn and form a knowledge base. We tend to assume and expect that the future behavior of something will be consistent with our past experiences - the methodological principle of uniformity. The greater and broader our experiences the more likely we are to be correct about something as yet unknown. However induction is an imprecise means of forming knowledge and as more data is accumulated the conclusions may need to be adjusted.

In particular, inductive (including abductive and analogical) reasoning usually form the basis of what we call intuition.

The Existence of God

Belief in God as a real transcendent being is intuitive to human beings and the existence of God is assumed by scripture. The existence of God is corroborated, although it cannot be proven, by philosophical arguments.

The cosmological argument (or, argument from causation):(1)

  1. Everything begun must have an adequate cause;
  2. The universe was begun;
  3. Therefore, the universe must have an adequate cause outside of itself.

This is a deductive argument; if the premises are true, the conclusion must follow.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument stipulates an infinite regression unless there is some ultimate uncaused cause; we call this cause God.

Atheists call this cause various impersonal nouns like “The Multiverse” or “The Laws of Physics” or “The Quantum Vacuum”.

The argument from design (or, teleological argument):(2)

  1. Order and useful arrangement in a system imply intelligence and purpose in the cause;
  2. The universe is characterized by order and useful arrangement;
  3. Therefore, the universe has an intelligent and purposeful cause.

This is an inductive argument; if the premises are true the conclusion is probably true.

The argument from intuition (or, ontological argument):(3)

  1. We have an idea of God;
  2. This idea of God is infinitely greater than man himself;
  3. Therefore; it cannot have its origin in man.

The biblical counterpart to this argument is that “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom. 2:15).

This is an abductive argument; the best explanation of the universal belief some kind of God strongly suggests that least one god is an actual reality.

The argument from morality:(4)

  • Every person has an innate sense of a standard of right and wrong, together with an undeniable feeling of responsibility to do what is right and a sense of self-condemnation when he or she does what is wrong. By implication, this sense has an extrinsic source.

Note that the specifics of the moral code are not specified, only that every human being senses that there is a moral imperative to be followed.

This is an abductive argument; the best explanation of our universal idea of some moral code is that an objective moral code exists.

The argument from congruity:(5)

  • The belief in the existence of God best explains the facts of our moral, mental and religious nature, as well as the facts of the material universe. The best explanation of this is that God exists.

This, again, is an abductive argument.

The Nature of God

In theology the terms “nature”, “essence”, and “substance” are synonymous. Nature may be defined as that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial.(6)

The biblical God is fundamentally a spiritual, self-existent, infinite, eternal, living unity of three persons. While God is substantial, he is immaterial and incorporeal. That is, God is spirit, has substance, but not material substance (which he could not have as material is created).

God is, therefore, naturally invisible, having no material substance which might reflect light. However, nothing precludes God manifesting himself in a tangible, visible manner when he so chooses.

It is God’s nature which gives rise to his attributes. For example, scripture tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is truth (John 14:1). Not merely that God is loving or truthful, but rather, due to the perfection of God’s nature, he is the perfect expression of these virtues – all that is loving or truthful reflects the glory of God.

Holiness

Holiness is possibly the most difficult word in all of scripture to define.

As the ultimate, supreme being, the uncaused cause, God is absolutely complete, exalted above and separate from all that he has created; and since he has created everything and everyone except himself, he is above all.

Holiness means wholeness. God lacks nothing. To say that “God is holy” is refer to the wholeness, fullness, beauty, and abundant life that exists within the Godhead. He is unbroken, undamaged, unfallen, completely complete and entire within Himself. He is the indivisible One, wholly self-sufficient, and the picture of perfection.

Holiness is not one aspect of God’s character; it is the whole package in glorious unity. This is how Spurgeon describes it in his discourse on Psalm 99:5:

Holiness is the harmony of all the virtues. The Lord has not one glorious attribute alone, or in excess, but all glories are in him as a whole; this is the crown of his honor and the honor of his crown. His power is not his choicest jewel, nor his sovereignty, but his holiness. In this all comprehensive moral excellence he would have his creatures take delight, and when they do so their delight is evidence that their hearts have been renewed, and they themselves have been made partakers of his holiness.

Charles Spurgeon

Primary Attributes

Historic, orthodox Christianity recognizes four primary attributes of God: omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience and immutability.

Omnipotence

All + Potence, meaning having the power to produce an effect; thus all-powerful.

God possesses the power to produce any effect on any being or thing which he desires in his will. However, as with any other being, his will is limited by his nature and God can will only that which is in harmony with his nature. There are things which God will not do, and therefore cannot do, because they are contrary to his nature; for example, he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13), lie (Titus 1:2), tempt or be tempted to sin (Jam. 1:3).

The possession of omnipotence does not demand that God exercise his power in all circumstances, much less exercise all of his power. God can do anything he wills, but he does not necessarily will to do anything. Omnipotence includes the power of self-limitation, and God has limited himself to some extent, for some duration in order to grant free-will to his rational creatures (angels and mankind). Why he has so permitted is a different question entirely.

There are things God cannot do because they are nonsensical. For example, God cannot act contrary to his nature; this is not a limitation of his power but a simple fact of his being. It is a contradiction to postulate an infinite being acting contrary to his nature; he has no such limitation that would make it possible to do so.

Not even God can make a black white or a square triangle, not because his power is somehow limited, but because they are contradictions in terms.

A common thought-puzzle raised in objection to the omnipotence of God is the question, can God create a weight he cannot lift? However, this question actually postulates a logical nonsense because the largest possible object fills the entirety of the material dimensions in which it exists and thus there is no spatial dimension no already filled in which to move it.

Omnipresence

All + Presence, meaning being, existing, or occurring at this time and place; thus all-present, or present everywhere and every time at once.

God is present in this creation, but his is not bound to it; should this creation cease to exist, as it will one day, God’s omnipresence with respect to this creation will cease, but he will not. God is both immanent in this creation, that is, indwelling, in this created realm and transcendent of it.

Time is an often overlooked aspect of omnipresence. According to William Shedd and Henry Thiessen:

Time is, as commonly understood, duration measured by succession, but God is free from all succession of time. God, writes [William] Shedd, “has a simultaneous possession of his total duration…. The whole of the Divine knowledge and experience is ever before the Divine being, so that there are not parts succeeding parts.”(7) Eternity for God is one now, one eternal present. […] But one must not suppose that time has no objective reality for God, but rather that he sees the past and the future as vividly as he sees the present. A person may view a procession from the top of a high tower, where he can see the whole procession at one glance, or he may view it from the street corner, where only one part can be seen at a time. God sees the whole as one unit, although he is aware of the sequence in the procession.

William Shedd and Henry Thiessen (8)

This aspect of God is a comfort to believers and a source of terror to the sinner. Both for the same reason – there is nowhere and no time one can go to escape God.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 8:38-39]

Omniscience

All + Science, meaning knowledge and understanding; thus all-knowing, having perfect, complete and unlimited knowledge and understanding.

God is infinite in knowledge. He knows himself and all other things perfectly from all eternity, whether they be actual or merely possible, whether they be past, present, or future. He knows things immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly.(9)

This attribute is closely tied to God’s omnipresence in time. God knows all events because he can see the entire parade in both space and time.

God knows himself perfectly. In contrast, no created being knows themself perfectly. The Father, Son and Spirit know each other perfectly, and they alone do so.

25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Mat. 11:25-27

And, too, Paul wrote, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:11).

God knows all things both actual and possible. Omniscience should not, however, be confused with causation – foreknowledge and foreordination are not the same thing.(10) Free actions do not take place because they are foreseen, but they are foreseen because they will take place. In similar fashion, just because something morally evil is has been predicted does not remove human responsibility from the perpetrator.

God knows all things in all times; from our point of view God’s knowledge of the future is foreknowledge, but from God’s it is knowledge in his present, eternal timelessness. This is what reconciles our free-will with God’s foreknowledge and predestination; that God’s knows from eternity our choice does not make the choice any less ours.

Wisdom is the intelligence of God displayed in choosing both the best final outcome and the best means of achieving that outcome. In this creation, the ultimate end is the translation of the saints, perfected in glory, into the next creation where we will be free of all suffering and evil – thus God could pronounce this creation, which from it’s inception incorporates death and decay, as very, very good. The end is the glory of God and all creation exists to glorify and exalt him – all other works are secondary to this.

Immutability

“God is immutable in his essence, attributes, consciousness and will. All change must be to the better or worse, but God cannot change to the better, since he is absolutely perfect; neither can he change to the worse, for the same reason. […] He can never be wiser, more holy, more just, more merciful, more truthful, nor less so. Nor do his plans and purposes change.”(11)

God’s immutability is due also to his necessary being and self-existence. That which exists uncaused, by the necessity of its nature, must exist as it does.(12)

Immutability is not the same as immobility. God is immanent in his creation and actively dealing and interacting with mankind, entering into relationships therewith. It becomes necessary for God to change in his dealings with changing people in order to himself remain immutable in his own character and purposes. In this way God presents options, possibilities and opportunities to people, even though in his foreknowledge he may already know they will thwart them, solely in order to interact with perfect integrity; in interacting with changing creatures this kind of “going through the motions” presents a necessary expedience. God has dealt with mankind differently in our temporal experience before the incarnation and presentation of salvation than he does afterward (confer Pro. 11:20 vs. 1 Pet. 3:12). The God who cannot “change his mind” (Num. 23:19), “repents” (that is, his dealings with mankind change) when man changes from good to evil or from evil to good (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32; Jer. 18:7-11; Jonah 3:10).

God’s immutability is manifest in his always acting in perfect accordance with his character, adapting his actions to the changing character and actions of his creatures. That is his treatment at any given point in time is perfectly consistent with any other point in time, given the totality of the variations which have occurred in us, his creatures. His promises and threats are conditional upon some prevailing state of his creatures; if the creatures change, then his response will change accordingly.

Moral Attributes

The moral attributes of God are various aspects of his holiness.

Note that the attributes of God are so inextricably intertwined that it is difficult to separate them for the purposes of defining them. Stemming from his holiness, God’s attributes are interdependent and exist in balance within the whole of his being.

Goodness & Love

The goodness of God is so intrinsic to his nature that it is difficult to separate it conceptually from his attribute of love. It is manifest in his love, affection, benevolence, mercy and grace. It is the rational, volitional treatment of his creatures in a manner that is consistently, perfectly and unequivocally for their eternal benefit.

Love flows from the character and nature of God and is its expression as seen in his benevolent treatment of others. God is absolutely loving in his every thought and deed. Love is treating others with grace, forbearance, mercy and patience. It was love that sent the Son to the cross, and it is love that withholds the righteous anger of God against sin.

The goodness and love of God are balanced in tension with his righteousness and justice; but his goodness love only delays righteousness and justice, it cannot forestall them indefinitely. Eventually we all must pay the piper.

Righteousness & Justice

Righteousness flows from the character and nature of God and is its expression as seen in his right treatment of others. God is absolutely right in his every thought and deed. Righteousness is treating others how they deserve to be treated, according to their merits.

God cannot make a law, establish a penalty and then fail to follow through with the penalty when the law is broken. When the law is broken, the penalty must be paid by the violator, either personally or vicariously. Justice demands punishment, but may also accept the vicarious sacrifice of another. In human terms, when the law is broken and a fine is levied, the fine must be paid, though it may be paid by another on behalf of the offender.

The purpose of punishment is not primarily as a deterrent or for reformation of the offender, though it may have that effect. Rather it is to meet the demands of justice. While God is patient with his creatures, not willing that any should perish, the day of judgement is a sure thing:

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

2 Pet. 3:9-10

Truth & Faithfulness

The entirety of God’s knowledge and of his revelation to his creatures conforms absolutely and perfectly to reality. Therefore, the truth of God is the foundation of all knowledge and wisdom. All truth is God’s truth; all knowledge that conforms to how things really are is God’s truth.

The natural laws demand a law-giver. The regularity and reliability of the natural laws of creation testify to the perfect nature of the one who created it all. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Roman church:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Rom. 1:19-20

God’s revelation of himself in the created order, in our conscience, and in scripture are true and trustworthy. While some things may be difficult to understand, there is ultimately nothing in what God has revealed, neither in scripture, nor in creation, that is misleading or deceptive. Were this to be the case, were revelation to be deceptive, God would be shown to be a liar; and such is not possible.

Because God is Truth, he is also faithful. Though, as discussed earlier, this is not impeached if God changes his response to his creatures when they themselves change; when the conditions upon which the promise or threat was based change.

Unity and Trinity

Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is the key distinctive for historic, orthodox Christianity.

In the old testament, God (the Father) is revealed primarily as a unity; the Godhead as a singular being. But in the new testament, with the advent of the incarnation, God reveals himself as a tri-unity; that is, trinity. However, even in the Old Testament the indications are there (see the related reading below).

The Greek form of the word trinity, trias, seems to have been first used by Theophilus of Antioch (d. A.D. 181), and its Latin form, trinitas, by Tertullian (d. ca. A.D. 220).(13)

The doctrine of the Trinity is not a truth evident from natural theology, that is, it is not revealed within creation; it is a truth of special revelation. Because it is not revealed in nature, there exist no good analogies to the Trinity from nature; this is important because it means that any and all analogies from nature are inherently deficient. Therefore, if one’s understanding of the Trinity is grounded in an analogy, it is likely to be in some way deficient.

There can be only one infinite and perfect being. To postulate two or more infinite beings is illogical and inconceivable. But God is not merely one; he is a unity, not a unit and God’s unity is not at odds with his trinity. The unity of God allows for the existence of personal distinctions in the divine nature.

Nature and Person

For many, the doctrine of the Trinity is confusing and seems contradictory because in commonplace expression it has been misstated. It therefore seems to be a contradiction in mathematics, the objection being that “three cannot be one” because it violates sound logical reasoning. The problem, it seems to many, is that the claim that “one equals three” is simply absurd.

This difficulty occurs because of a failure to stipulate that the way in which God is one is not the same as the way in which he is three; the misstatement is something along the lines of, “God is three persons, but at the same time God is one person”. However, the proper statement of the doctrine is that God is three distinct persons who share a single nature. Moreover, it is vital that we attach the proper meaning to the word “person” and the word “nature”.

The short statement of the doctrine is, as we have heard it all our lives, that there are three persons in one nature. But if we attach no meaning to the word person, and no meaning to the word nature, then both the nouns have dropped out of our definition, and we are left of with the numbers three and one, and get by as best we can with these.

The doctrine may be set out in four statements:

  • In the one divine nature, there are three persons - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father: no one of the persons is the either of the others.
  • The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.
  • There are not three Gods, but one God.

We are not saying three persons in one person, or three natures in one nature; we are saying three persons in one nature. There is not even the appearance of an arithmetical problem. It is for us to see what person is and what nature is, and the to consider what meaning there can be in a nature totally possessed by three distinct persons.

Frank Sheed(14)

Once again, in theology the terms “nature”, “essence”, and “substance” are synonymous and refer to that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial. Unfortunately, in popular use the words have been diluted to something less than the total reality of a living thing; for example we say, “well, that’s essentially correct” and we often mean it’s partially or mostly correct; but the phrase properly means that it’s correct in every way that matters.

Nature answers the question of what we are, whereas person answers the question of who we are. Every being has a nature, though not every being is a person; only rational beings are persons. Nature speaks to capabilities, limitations and will, where person speaks to self, emotions, intellect and passions.

This is a subject of much pondering and reflection; as previously mentioned, only God knows himself perfectly and we cannot be certain where, and even if, the division between what we are and who we are is made. But we can intuit a conceptual difference. We look inward and we identify a thing which we call “I” and see that it is distinct from that part of us we call “what”. Even so, we are an integral creation; an amalgam of body and soul (or body, soul and spirit, depending on your interpretation of scripture) which, properly, wholly constitutes a human being.

Infinity and Eternity

In suitably contemplating ourselves, in seeing our “who” and our “what”, and in seeing that in some measure our “what” is common to all humanity, we may begin to get a glimpse of what it might mean for a single nature to be shared by three distinct persons. In similar manner, we may begin to dimly comprehend what it might mean for one of those three persons to have two natures, as we shall discuss further, below, with respect to the incarnation. But in truth, it baffles the intellect, and in this life we shall only grasp it tenuously, incompletely. It will remain a mystery.

But of an infinite nature, we have no experience at all. If God tells us that His own infinite nature is totally possessed by three persons, we can have no grounds for doubting the statement, although we may find it almost immeasurably difficult to make any meaning of it. There is no difficulty in accepting it as true, given our own inexperience of what it is to have an infinite nature and God’s statement on the subject; there is no difficulty, I say, in accepting it as true; the difficulty lies in seeing what it means.

Frank Sheed(15) (emphasis mine)

The doctrine of the Trinity solves a problem that purely unitarian conceptions of God cannot – how can an infinite and eternal being experience love and personal relationship from eternity?

The only adequate object of infinite love is an infinite being, God himself. Certainly there is a real truth in the concept of God’s loving himself infinitely, but it is not a truth we can make much of […] we know that it is not an infinite egoism, but we cannot be rid of that feeling about it. But with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, that feeling vanishes: there is an otherness within the Godhead. Infinite love among three who are infinite with one same infinity means infinite love infinitely received, infinitely returned.

Frank Sheed(16)

Trinitarian Heresies

A heresy concerning the nature of God will deny one of the following propositions:

  1. There is one God.
  2. God is three persons.
  3. Each person is fully God.

Because the Trinity is a revealed truth and not a natural truth, ball natural analogies for the Trinity (that I am aware of) lead to a heretical understanding of the Trinity, typically a modal or partial one. The analogy of a triangle suggests singular reality with three apparent aspects; of water as ice, liquid and vapor fails because water can only be in one state at a time; of a man who is father, son and a husband fails because it suggests a singular individual acting in different roles; of an egg with three parts shell, yolk and albumen fails because it suggests separate parts with no one the whole. Likewise the analogy of the three-leaf clover leads to either partialism or tritheism. Typically an analogy touches on some aspects of God, but not on all of them. It’s not so much that an analogy cannot be used, but that it’s failings should be clearly articulated at the same time.

The three persons of the Trinity are consubstantial; that is, of a single substance. But they are three distinct persons. Heresies arise from failing to fully accept one or the other point. These heretical ideas arose from very early on in church history and one of the primary reasons for the church council in Nicaea was to combat anti-trinitarian heresies, particularly those which denied the divinity of Christ, and to obtain consensus on the nature and person of Christ. Note that heresies concerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit had not yet arisen, and this council, therefore, did not address that issue. That was left to the Council of Constantinople, some 55 years later in A.D. 381.

It’s worth noting that these views did not start out as heresies, per se; rather they were ways that different people tried to understand scripture which ultimately failed to withstand scrutiny and were subsequently deemed heretical by various church councils.

Modern non-trinitarian sects include Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dawn Bible Students, Friends General Conference, Iglesia ni Cristo, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Living Church of God, Oneness Pentecostals, United Apostolic churches, Members Church of God International, Unitarian Universalist Christians, The Way International, The Church of God, International and the United Church of God.

Also, all branches of Judaism are non-trinitarian, and consider the God of the Hebrew Scriptures to be one singular person, with no divisions within. Islam considers Jesus to be a prophet but not divine and rejects the Christian Trinitarian God.

Adoptionism: This is the belief that Jesus is not God, but was born human and subsequently adopted as God’s son at either his baptism, resurrection or ascension. It was rejected by the Synod of Antioch and the First Council of Nicaea in 325. This is also known as Dynamic Monarchianism and Ebionitism.

Arianism: This theological teaching, attributed to Arius of Alexandria (circa A.D. 250-336) asserts that Jesus was a subordinate entity to the Father. It denies the co-equality of the persons of the Godhead and was deemed heretical by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. It further makes Christ a creature, created by God and not eternal; in this it is like the current-day Morman, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarian and Oneness Pentecostal sects.

Binitarianism: Teaches that the Father and Son are co-equal and co-eternal, but denies the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Instead the Holy Spirit is thought to be the power, mind or character of God.

Macedonianism: Teaches that the Holy Spirit is a created being and denies his divinity.

Modalism: Denies the distinction of the persons in God, teaching that God is a single person, revealed at different points in our history in three different modes, aspects or roles. This is a subtle, but vastly important distinction, made more difficult to recognize because many of the analogies we use to explain the Trinity are essentially modal in nature. This doctrine is also known as Sabellianism, Noetianism, Modal Monarchianism and Unitariansim.

Patripassianism: From the Latin patri-, “father”, and passio, “suffering”, this is the view that God the Father was incarnate and suffered on the cross. It is a very specific form of Modalism.

Partialism: Meaning to divide into parts this is the idea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate components of God; that is, three entities each partly God, no one of them alone fully God, who only together form God. This is very closely related to tritheism.

Tritheism: Denies the unity of God and thus makes three distinct Gods. It recognizes only a unity of purpose and endeavor.

Son & Spirit

The Incarnation

The orthodox view of the nature of the Incarnation, that is Jesus’ nature during his early ministry, was codified at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and affirmed in the Chalcedon Creed. It is that Jesus has two natures, divine and human; Jesus is, simultaneously fully God and fully human.

There is one Jesus Christ, but he has two natures, the human and the divine. He is truly God and truly man, composed of body and rational soul. He is consubstantial with God in his divinity, and consubstantial with man in his humanity, except for sin. In his deity he was begotten of the Father before time, and in his humanity he was born of the virgin Mary. The distinction between the natures is not diminished by their union, but the specific character of each nature is preserved and they are united in one person. Jesus is not split or divided into two persons; he is one person, the Son of God.

Henry Thiessen (17)

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that it was through Christ that all created things were created.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:1-3

Now, it is true that Paul refers to Christ as, “the firstborn of all creation” however, he goes on immediately to clarify:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Col. 1:15-17

Given the context, we understand that by Christ all things were created, through him and for him; that he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Therefore he himself cannot be created, or it could not be true that by him all things were created. Rather, “first-born of all” is a messianic title indicating that Christ is the divinely appointed “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). It expresses a titular and kingly relationship to this created realm, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27).

As well, consider the council among the Godhead when man was created, “Then God said, ”Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gen. 1:26)

Pre-incarnate State

For his own reasons and according to his own wisdom God has obscured the fact of the Trinity until after the incarnation of Christ. The Son appears often in the Old Testament, though never referred to as Christ. Instead the titles “Son”, “The LORD” (Jehovah or Yahweh) and “angel of the LORD” (Jehovah or Yahweh) are used. It is worth noting that the literal definition of the word translated as “angel” is simply “messenger”; while the English word angel has a narrowed definition, nothing at all precludes its use in OT scripture for Christ in a pre-incarnate appearance (for which the term Christophany has become popular since 1978 from the work of James Borland, and which I will use for lack of a better succinct term). Because of this blurring, it is sometimes difficult to discern a Christophany from a mere angelic appearance, and some such interpretations are contested among scholars. However, many instances find wide agreement as being pre-incarnate appearances of Christ and not an angelic being.

Especially intriguing is the account in Genesis 18, where “the LORD appeared to [Abraham] … He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.” This could be a hint at the Trinity, or it might be Christ with two angels. But it is unambiguously an Christophany. Other broadly accepted Christophanies are: to Abraham at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; to Hagar, Abraham’s wife/servant; to Abraham, staying his hand from sacrificing Isaac; to Moses as a flame in the bush; to Elijah when he was refreshed under the juniper tree.

With that said, another possible interpretation of these accounts is that when an angel of the LORD appears they speak with the vested authority of God as his emissary, and that it is as if the LORD himself is speaking; hence the disagreement among scholars.

Incarnate State

Clearly the apostle John felt passionately about Jesus being fully and really incarnate in the flesh; and by him the Holy Spirit has communicated this truth to us.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:14-18

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.

2 John 1:7

Scripture tells us that Christ “emptied himself”, that he did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6-7). In this he countered the failure of Adam and Eve who did indeed “grasp” after equality with God, and so brought about the fall of the human race. This attitude of humility displays that becoming man was no personal threat to Christ. Exactly what it means that Christ emptied himself is contested; and it’s certainly very difficult to understand.

The orthodox view is specifically that Christ volitionally restricted his divine attributes while on earth, choosing instead to operate only from his human nature, in willing submission to the mission the Father had given him, exercising his divine nature only when the Father willed it. His glory was veiled, but not removed.

Importantly and very clear from scripture is that in the incarnation Jesus willingly took on unglorified, mortal, frail flesh – subject, as any other man, to weakness, weariness, pain, temporality, temptation and limitation. He voluntarily chose to function as a human being, never using his divinity of his own prerogative to make his experience on earth easier. In his life, he grew in wisdom and knowledge just as any other man (Luke 2:52), though his wisdom and knowledge was amazing (Luke 2:47).

A mistaken view is that Jesus entirely emptied himself of those primary attributes of deity, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, retaining the moral attributes of holiness, righteousness and goodness. This view holds that when Christ did display supernatural power in his incarnate form, it was through the Holy Spirit; that the incarnate Christ himself had great, but not complete power and knowledge. This has severe difficulties: (a) how can a being split or fracture its nature, and similarly (b) how could Jesus cease to have these essential attributes of God and still be God.

Conversely, in the orthodox definition Jesus, for his earthly ministry, willingly and entirely chose to operate solely from his human nature. Wholly divine, wholly human, yet functioning as if human. The outward appearance would be the same, but this avoids the difficulties of the latter view. It is more difficult to say whether he exercised his divine attributes directly, or via the Holy Spirit, and logical arguments from scripture exist for both.

The view that God was fully man and fully divine, possessing two natures, but that he gave up the independent exercise of the some of the attributes of his divine nature, “is evident from the fact that Jesus speaks of the things that the Father had shown him (John 5:20; John 8:28), taught him (John 8:28), and given him to do (John 5:20) as well as from the fact that the Father had given him certain authority (John 10:18), that the Father had ‘anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:38), and he, at least at times, cast out demons by the Holy Spirit (Mat. 12:28), that by the Holy Spirit gave commandments to the apostles (Acts 1:2), and that he offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14).” (18)

What should settle things for those still wondering is Paul’s statement that “9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9 emphasis mine). Or, as Jesus rather nicely put it, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Union of God and Man

Christ is a single person, possessing of two natures, at times displaying the attributes of one, and at other times the attributes of the other. “Christ can not be properly described as deity possessing humanity, nor humanity possessing deity. In the former case, humanity would not have its proper place, nor would deity in the latter. The second person of the Trinity assumed humanity with all its attributes. It follows that Christ’s personality resides in his divine nature, because the Son did not unite with a human person, but with a human nature.”(19) So complete was the union of two natures that, “Christ at the same moment has seemingly contradictory qualities. He can be weak and omnipotent, increasing in knowledge and omniscient, finite and infinite,”(20) and too, he can be present in a particular time and place and omnipresent.

Jesus is a single person and evinces no qualities of a split personality. He spoke of himself as a single person and others spoke of him in the same way. There is no evidence in all of the canonical writings of the scripture that Jesus in any way manifest multiple personalities. Jesus’ divine nature was always as it has been from eternity, but his human nature grew and developed over time, from infancy. The same is true of his will; though in his humanity he desired to avoid the cross (Mat. 26:39) and surely desired to avoid being made sin (2 Cor. 5:21), he desired always to do the Father’s will and this he fully accomplished – “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19).

The union between the two natures of Christ is not:

  • Like a marriage relationship; for there two distinct persons remain.
  • Like the unity of believers with Christ; again the individual persons remain.
  • Like the way Christ dwells in believers; that would make Christ a man filled with God and not himself God.
  • Dual personalities or any other kind of splintering of the psyche.
  • A merging of the two natures to form a third; for then Christ would not have been true man.
  • A gradual assumption of the divine nature over time; for then Christ would not have been intrinsically God.

So what is the exact nature of Christ (always remembering that when we speak of Christ’s nature we always mean the two natures in union)? This is a mystery and no exact answer is possible, though scripture gives some indications. In summary, the union:

  1. Is personal. Because Christ did not unite with a human person but with a human nature the person of Jesus is wholly divine, yet the union of the natures is the possession of one person.

  2. Includes the divine and human attributes. As a union of two natures (though not a merging as said previously), Jesus exhibits both divine and human qualities at the same time.

  3. Is not theanthropic. One must speak of the separate, yet united, divine and human natures. It is correct to refer to Jesus as the God-man, but not to conflate his two natures into one; the person of Christ is theanthropic, that is singularly possessing both a divine and a human nature, but his natures are separate.

  4. Is not fallen. Though having human qualities, it is not tainted by sin. In this sense, Jesus prefigures mankind as we will be in eternity, after sin has been vanquished.

Glorified State

Pivotal to historic Christian doctrine is that Jesus’ resurrection was actual and bodily. Like the Trinity, heretical sects often deny one of these essential aspects.

Jesus did, in fact, die. He did not merely swoon to be subsequently revived. That he actually died is testified to by John, his disciple, who was with him until the very end (John 19:28-30), by the centurion and soldiers at his crucifixion (Mark 15:45; John 19:33) and by the women who came to the tomb expecting to anoint a dead body.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:28-30

Physiologically, blood and water flowed from Jesus side when he was pierced by the soldier, indicating that Jesus’ pericardial cavity and heart were pierced; this was done to assure death because the soldier had determined that Jesus had already died (John 19:31 ff.).

Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead bodily. Jesus himself declared that he had flesh and bones after his resurrection:

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

Luke 24:36-43

The women who met Jesus on the morning of the resurrection touched him (Mat. 28:9); the tomb was empty (Mark 16:6); Jesus was recognized by his friends and carried the marks of his crucifixion and they (Thomas) touched him and his wounds (John 20:25-28).

Jesus resurrection was unique. Certainly others in scripture were raised from the dead – the Shunammite’s son, Jarius’ daughter and Lazarus, to cite a few – but they were raised to the same mortal existence we all share only to die again when their days were up. Jesus’ resurrection is altogether different; though assuredly a real body, with flesh and bones, as we’ve just read, it was a glorified body. Jesus passed through locked doors (John 20:19), though his disciples recognized him sometimes, at other times they did not immediately do so – Mary at the tomb (John 20:14) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 ff.).

And if there is any doubt remaining, Paul elaborates on the resurrection body in great detail in the first letter to the Corinthian church:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Cor. 15:12-44

Christological Heresies

A heresy concerning the nature of Christ will deny one of the following propositions:

  1. Jesus was fully divine.
  2. Jesus was fully human.
  3. Jesus had a real body.
  4. Jesus really died.
  5. Jesus was raised bodily.

2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:2-3

These are some heresies regarding the nature of the Son in his incarnation which are not already covered in the section on the Trinity.

Docetism: Derived from the Greek word dókesis, “apparition, phantom”, this heretical view supposes that Christ’s human existence was a mere semblance without any true reality. It was unequivocally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Docetism is broadly defined as any teaching that claims that Jesus’ body was either absent or illusory. It was condemned again in a Synod at Alexandria, under Athanasius of Alexandria in 362 and declared a heresy at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. This heresy is also known as Marcionism, Apollinarism or Eutychiansim.

Gnosticism: This is something of an umbrella term for a variety of belief systems, whose general unifying tenant is that human beings are spiritual beings trapped in a material creation. It’s a recurrent and pernicious error in thinking because it seems intuitively like it should be correct. Any time the theme of “spiritual is good, material is bad” is seen this is gnosticism rearing it’s ugly head. Another marker of this system of thought is an inherently dualistic quality which pits the material against the spiritual. As a result of this view of material things, the Gnostics opposed any idea that Christ could have been truly incarnate in the material realm, and instead insisted he must have been a phantasm or some other incorporeal being (which is the docetic heresy). Note that these ideas should not be conflated with Paul’s teaching on walking according to the flesh or spirit (Rom. 8:4 ff.), where flesh refers to the sin-nature; Gnosticism corrupts this idea into referring to the entire physical creation. Human beings were created by God as an amalgamation of body and spirit, in God’s image, and God called mankind and the rest of creation good and very good.

Monophysitism: This is the belief that after the union of the divine and the human in the historical Incarnation, Jesus had only a single nature which was either divine or a synthesis of divine and human. It was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon.

Monothelitism: This is the belief that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to the orthodox interpretation of scripture, which is that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures. This idea was condemned at the 3rd Council of Constantinople.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is probably the most frequently misrepresented person of the Godhead, often quite unwittingly referred to by Christians using the impersonal pronoun “it” instead of using the correct personal pronoun “he”. Perhaps this is because the titles “Father” and “Son” are inherently relational in our experience while decades of pop-culture has rendered the term “spirit” an adjective referring to a thing rather than a noun for a personal being. However, our God is a trinity of persons, as we have seen, and the Holy Spirit is a person, not merely a “force” or attribute of God; Jesus describes him so, the apostles described him so and the ecumenical councils have upheld the doctrine of the Trinity unwaveringly. I would go so far as to say that to diminish the Holy Spirit to a mere “it” is bordering on slanderous.

The Old Testament scripture uses the words “spirit”, “breath” and “wind” interchangeably to refer to the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word is “ruach”, and in typical Hebrew fashion it gives voice to the action of breathing out forcibly(21). Note that the word does not always mean the Holy Spirit, and as always must be interpreted in context.

The New Testament scripture uses the word “pneuma”, again literally meaning “wind”, “breath” or “spirit”(22). As with the Hebrew, the word does not uniquely apply to the Holy Spirit.

Relationship to Creation

The Holy Spirit is actively and providentially involved in creation.

Genesis 1:2 explicitly specifies that the Holy Spirit was present at creation, “hovering over the face of the waters” and actively involved in the creation of this cosmos. (Psalm 33:6) declares that the Son and the Holy Spirit were both directly engaged in the creation, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath [spirit] of his mouth all their host.” and again in Psalm 104:30, the “creation Psalm”, the Spirit is involved in the creation and sustaining of this world’s realm, “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”. The same word is used in Isaiah 40:7, intimating the Holy Spirit’s control over creation, where we read that, “The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath [spirit] of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.”

Relationship to the World

The Holy Spirit is actively and providentially involved in world affairs.

Where the person and work of the Father is emphasized in the pre-incarnation time, and the work of the Son was completed at the cross, the person and work of the Spirit rises to preeminence in the church era (always remembering that it is the one God at work across all time).

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

John 16:7-11

More generally, “he actively works through individuals to accomplish his purposes, he convicts the world of sin and the need of salvation, and he restrains and controls the direction of evil.”(23)

David directly recognizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51:11, when he cries, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

The book of Judges is replete with examples of the Holy Spirit coming upon pre-incarnation believers to effect mighty works through them.

Scripture also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work on the unbeliever’s heart to cause him to turn to God in repentance. This active work is variously referred to as his “witness”, his “enlightening”, his “drawing” and his “convicting”. Immediately before the worldwide flood of Noah, God declares, “My Spirit shall not abide in [or, contend with] man forever” (Gen 6:3).

The Spirit also restrains evil. It is common knowledge that conscience, daylight and government among other things serve as restraints for evil. the presence of godly people also confines and represses evil. The restrainer of 2 Thess. 2:6-8 seems to have reference to the Holy Spirit. During the great tribulation, the Spirit’s ministry of restraining evil and hindering the revelation of the man of lawlessness will be withdrawn. Evil will be allowed to run rampant.(24)

Relationship to the Scripture

The Holy Spirit is actively and providentially involved in formation and interpretation of scripture.

The Holy Spirit is the author of scripture. The very word, “inspiration” means to breath, and in the context of “inspired” scripture it means God-breathed, clearly connoting the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit both discloses knowledge to believers and teaches us what to say. In Peter’s inspired words:

19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Pet. 1:19-21

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would not only teach the apostles what to say, which things are recorded in their letters, but he would enable them to remember all Jesus taught, the reason for rich detail recorded in the Gospels. It was the Holy Spirit who revealed to the human authors of scripture things otherwise unknowable to them.

11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Luke 12:12

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:25-26

In the same vein Paul writes, that we have received “12 … the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Cor. 2:12b-13

The same Spirit who wrote scripture, interprets it.

Abraham Kuyper put it this way:

The same Holy Spirit who performed his work in the conception of our Lord, who attended the unfolding of his human nature, who brought into activity every gift and power in him, who consecrated him to his office as the Messiah, who qualified him for every conflict and temptation, who enabled him to case out devils, and who supported him in his humiliation, passion and bitter death, was the same Spirit who performed his work in his resurrection, so that Jesus was justified in the Spirit (1 Tim. iii 16), and who dwells now in the glorified human nature of the Redeemer in the heavenly Jerusalem.(25)

Abraham Kuyper

Relationship to the Church

The Holy Spirit is actively and providentially involved in the church.

In the instant of salvation:

  1. He regenerates. Because he is “the Lord, the giver of life” (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed), it is by the Holy Spirit that a person is “born again” (John 3:3-8)

  2. He indwells.9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Rom 8:9).

  3. He baptizes.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13)

  4. He seals.13 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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14)

In sanctification, ongoing throughout the believer’s life:

  1. He fills.18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). This is not a one-time thing, but something which recurs; one might liken it to filling your car with fuel (except the Spirit is a 100% renewable resource). Even Jesus and his disciples had to take time out to recharge, “30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mar 6:30-31) Many times in the NT we see existing believers “filled with the Holy Spirit” in a special moment or for a specific act.

  2. He guides.16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. … 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:16;18;25)

  3. He empowers. The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to do the things he has commanded of them, whether in the Old Testament or the new. It is by the Holy Spirit that we put off the old ways of the sinful nature and are able to instead live according to the new way of life, “13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” In the same way, it is the Holy Spirit who imparts gifts, of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues, etc. (1 Cor. 12:4-11)

  4. He teaches. In speaking of the Holy Spirit, John said, “27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27).

Related Reading

Biblical Basis for the Trinity
Christian Creeds
Christian Heresies (Wikipedia)

Mere Christianity; C.S. Lewis.
Theology and Sanity; Frank Sheed.
St Athanasius on the Trinity.

Footnotes

  1. Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 27.
  2. Ibid., p. 28.
  3. Ibid., p. 29.
  4. Ibid., p. 30.
  5. Ibid., p. 31.
  6. Ibid., p. 75.
  7. Shedd, William G. T. Dogmatic Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), vol I, p. 343.
  8. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 79.
  9. Ibid. p. 79.
  10. Ibid. p. 81.
  11. Ibid. p. 83.
  12. Ibid. p. 83.
  13. Ibid. p. 90.
  14. Sheed, Frank, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press, Second Ed., 1978), p. 90 ff.
  15. Ibid. p. 95.
  16. Ibid. p. 122.
  17. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 208.
  18. Ibid. p 217.
  19. Ibid. p 223.
  20. Walvoord, John F, Jesus Christ our Lord (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 116.
  21. Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, nbr. 7307.
  22. Strong’s Greek Concordance, nbr. 4151.
  23. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 252.
  24. Ibid, p. 253.
  25. Kuyper, Abraham, The Work of the Holy Spirit. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 110.

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