Holy Spirit

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of questions about Scripture and issues of faith. One of the deepest questions I’ve experienced concerns the nature of God—specifically God as Trinity. I think one of the reasons for these questions is that the doctrine of the Trinity is both fascinating and mysterious.

Illustrations have been applied to assist us in explaining the Trinity: the egg (shell, yoke, white) or water (ice, liquid, steam) or a person (husband, dad, employee). These illustrations lack because they fail to justly explain the nature of God. They fall incredibly short because when we talk about the Trinity because we are talking about the nature of God himself: One God in three Persons.

The Bible affirms several truths about God’s nature as revealed in the Trinity.

First, God is One. Christianity is monotheistic. There is only one God.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Deuteronomy 6:4

Second, God the Father is God. Jesus teaches us to pray to God the Father as holy and Sovereign.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Matthew 6:9

Third, God the Son is God. When Thomas saw the risen Jesus, he called Jesus Lord and worshipped him. Only God can be worshiped. Jesus himself affirmed that only God can be worshiped.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:28

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4:10

Fourth, God the Holy Spirit is God. When Annanias and Sapphira lied about how much they sold their property for, Peter said they lied to God.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4

Fifth, God is One, yet in three persons. God is Trinity as the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. At Jesus’ baptism, each person of the Trinity acted in the event uniquely (Matthew 3:13-17). This is an important distinction that reflects the Trinity.

In Jesus’ own baptism, there are not simply three names but three actors—the Father who speaks (“This is my beloved Son”), the “beloved Son” who is baptized, and the dove who hovers above Jesus, suggesting reference to the Sprit hovering over the waters in creation and concurring with the benediction on all that God has made.

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 275.

Trinitarian heresies of a variety of sorts have risen throughout church history. Arianism taught that Jesus was not God. Modalism taught that God revealed himself in different modes at different times. For example, God revealed himself in the Old Testament as Father, in the Gospels as Jesus, and now to the church as the Holy Spirit. These heresies, along with others, misconstrue the truths of the Trinity affirmed in the Bible in order to try to make sense of the Trinity. But instead of trying to wrap our finite minds around the mystery of the Trinity, we need to believe what the Bible affirms and accept that the mystery of Trinity means God is greater than we can understand.

With Augustine, we must say, “I believe in order that I may understand.” 

The Trinity is a staggeringly practical and important doctrine. Even as it may be difficult to fully understand, we can clearly understand the implications of the doctrine for our Christian experience.

Without the Trinity our salvation according to Scripture would not be possible. Take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14 and note how each person of the Trinity participates in our salvation. The Father planned our salvation, the Son accomplished our salvation, and the Spirit convicts us to salvation (John 16:8-12) and assures us of salvation.

Without the Trinity our prayers would be meaningless. We pray to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. We don’t talk to the Father on the evidence of our own goodness, but we talk to the Father based on the righteousness given to us by Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit that both prays for us (Romans 8:26) and empowers our prayers.

Without the Trinity, we would not have a God who is love. When John affirmed that “God is love” (1 John 4:7), he used the Greek word agape for love. Agape is love that is other-oriented, relational, selfless. But God has always been, and there was a time when only God existed. So how could God be love? He could only be love in the definition of 1 John 4:7 if God is Trinity, existing eternally in the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Tim Keller explains this concept beautifully.

If God is unipersonal, then until God created other persons there was no love, since love is something that one person has for another. This means that God was power, sovereignty, greatness from all eternity, but not love. Love then is not the essence of God, nor is it at the heart of the universe. Power is primary.

Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 225.

Be thankful that the God whose greatness and nature in Trinity is greater than our understanding, yet gracious enough to condescend to be our Savior and Friend.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

One Seraph to another in Isaiah 6:8

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

The four living creatures in Revelation 4:8

The thrice holy declaration of God’s otherness from these two passages of Scripture remind us that God is set apart in a way unique only to him. There is no one like him. The thrice holy declaration is also unique to God’s attributes. No other attribute (love, power, glory, justice, etc.) is designated in Scripture by stating it three times. God’s holiness is gloriously, eternally unique.

God’s holiness is moral purity, but it is more than moral purity. Jerry Bridges in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes God’s holiness as transcendent majesty (67).

In this sense, God is so much more than we are and he is truly OTHER. God is full of holy majesty and glory in a way that we cannot fully comprehend.

Yet the wonder of our salvation is that God in his holiness reached down to man in his sinfulness. Through Christ, who is God and is the fullness of God enfleshed with holiness and love, God entered into his creation. Christ experienced God’s holy wrath and displayed God’s glorious love on the cross. Jesus is the very image of God’s holiness and love.

In a most glorious realization, God redeems us in order to make us holy. This is the part of salvation called sanctification.

Let’s take a moment to review salvation in three basic parts. (There are more aspects to salvation than these three. See the previous word of the week posts. But these three parts provide a helpful framework).

  • Salvation as justification: God declares us righteous. This is salvation in the past tense. God declared us righteous by the gracious work of Christ on the cross and through our faith in him.
  • Salvation as sanctification: God makes us holy. This is salvation in the present tense. God does save us from our sin, but being made holy is a process of God removing sin from our lives and making us into Christlikeness (Romans 8:29).
  • Salvation as glorification: God glorifies us. This is salvation in the future tense. God will give us glorified bodies and allow us to experience life as he originally intended.

We explored justification in a previous post. We will explore glorification in a future post. In this post, we are going explore salvation as sanctification.

Sanctification is an aspect of salvation that can be controversial.

Does sanctification mean that God does all the work, and we can behave any way we choose? This would be antinomianism (or anti-law).

Does sanctification mean that we can become sinlessly perfect this side of heaven? This would be perfectionism.

Let’s try to answer these questions by offering just a few observations on the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification has at least two aspects. First, positional sanctification is the concept that God makes us holy through the work of Christ. In essence, we are sanctified through the work of Christ (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11). Nothing sinful will enter into God’s presence in heaven. So the work of Christ in justifying us and sanctifying us will completely cleanse our sin away.

Second, practical sanctification is how we partner with God to be holy in our character and conduct. Practical sanctification recognizes the reality that we still live in a sinful human body in a sinful world with an enemy who tempts us to sin. While we are sanctified positionally, we must partner with God to be set apart or holy in our behavior.

To answer question #1 above, sanctification does not imply that it is ok to live in sin after conversion (Romans 6:1-2). To answer question #2 move, sanctification does imply we will be perfectly holy, but not until heaven. We cannot be sinlessly perfect this side of eternity though holiness is to be our aim.

For the rest of this post, we are going to explore some practical ways that we can partner with God to be holy.

It is important to note that God expects holiness of his people.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

God to the people of Israel, Leviticus 19:2

Peter quotes this passage in the New Testament and adds additional explanations in 1 Peter 1:14-16.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.

God’s holiness is the primary reason that he expects us to be holy and set apart. God has given us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and strengthen us to experience sanctification (Ephesians 5:18).

We participate in our sanctification when we do the following things:

  • Confess and repent of our sins. We cannot expect to be holy in our conduct if we tolerate sin in our lives. When Peter reflects on the command to be holy, he reminds his readers to reject their former passions. Regular confession and repentance are means of pursuing holiness in our daily lives.
  • Reject and remove temptations. God commands us to resist the devil (James 4:7) and flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:2). We cannot expect to be holy if we are inviting sin into our lives. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to do whatever it takes to remove sin from us (Matthew 5:29-30). If you have a struggle with a particular sin, you must remove that temptation from your life. Here are two examples. If you struggle with drunkenness, you cannot sit in the parking lot of the ABC store. You must avoid (flee) temptation. If you struggle with pornography or lust, you cannot be awake at 1 am with your smart phone in hand. You must avoid (flee) temptation. To reject and remove temptations may mean that you act drastically (cut out TV or internet, not go to restaurants that serve alcohol, stop surfing FaceBook, etc.). But remember we are not called to be like everyone else. We are called to be holy.
  • Replace temptations with virtues and pursue righteousness. Being holy is not just about the negative (rejecting sin). It is about being set apart. In the Old Testament, priests were set apart as holy by their cleansing rituals, dress, and conduct. While we don’t have to emulate their rituals, the imagery is instructive. Replacing a temptation like wasted time on a smart phone with reading the Bible or a good book is conduct conducive of holiness. Likewise, we should pursue righteous behaviors (faith, love, peace, purity 2 Timothy 2:2). Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, sharing the gospel, serving others, and meditating and memorizing the Bible are spiritually formative and helpful in pursuing holiness.

Here are some practical action items as you finish reading this post:

  • Thank God that he has set you apart to be holy through Christ.
  • Take a moment to confess and repent of your sins today asking God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
  • Remove a temptation from your life today.
  • Practice a spiritual discipline today (read, pray, study, memorize, share, serve).

When we pursue sanctification, we embrace the salvation that God has graciously given us.