Thursday: The Trinity and Salvation
avatar

The Gospel of John gives direct and conscious attention to the unique nature of God. John seems to be fully aware of the oneness, yet “threeness,” of God. 1

Read Christ’s words in John 14–16 and count the number of references to the three Persons of God. How do these passages help us understand the reality of this important truth? 

This passage in the Gospel of John is the most extensive concentration of references to the coequal, three-Person God. Here the inter-dynamics among the Trinity come through repeatedly. The doctrine of the Trinity, far from being a piece of abstract speculation, is the inevitable conclusion that comes from a systematic survey of Scripture.

Of special importance in this context is the deity of Christ. If Christ were not fully God, then all we have is the Lord shifting the punishment for our sins from one party to another, as opposed to taking them upon Himself. The whole point of the gospel is that it was God Himself on the cross bearing the sins of the world. Anything short of this would denude the atonement of everything that made it so powerful and effective.

Think about it: if Jesus were merely a created being, and not fully God, how could He—as a creature—bear the full wrath of God against sin? What created being, no matter how exalted, could save humanity from the violation of God’s holy law?

Were Jesus not divine, then God’s law would not be as sacred as God Himself, because the violation of it would be something that a created being could atone for. The law only would be as sacred as that created being, and not as sacred as the Creator. Sin itself would not be so bad if all it took were the death of a creature and not the Creator to atone for it. The fact that it took God Himself, in the Person of Christ, to remedy sin presents powerful evidence of just how serious sin is.

Also, our assurance of salvation through what Christ has done for us—and not through our own works—comes from the fact that God Himself paid the penalty for our sins. What could we do to add to that? Were Christ created, maybe we could add something. But with God, the Creator, sacrificing Himself for our sins . . . it’s all but blasphemous to believe anything we do could supplement that sacrifice. Thus, were Christ not divine, the atonement would be fatally compromised.

Think for a moment: the Creator of the universe died in your stead, in your place, so you could have the promise of eternal life in Him. How can you learn to draw hope and assurance from this amazing truth? In light of this reality, what else really matters?

Share Button

Comments

Thursday: The Trinity and Salvation — 11 Comments

  1. One of our adventist pioneers, J.H. Waggoner, wrote a book called "The Atonement". One section of this book states that the doctrine of the trinity is subversive of the atonement. Has anyone read this and have any thoughts?

    Like(0)
  2. Hi Del,
    If you look, it will be easy to find more anti-Trinitarian statements by our early pioneers. That's because many of them came from congregations with an Arian concept of God. This meant that they thought of God the Father being the only truly eternal God, with Christ "begotten" of the Father some time before time and the world began, with Christ being subservient to the Father. Not sure right now just how they regarded the Holy Spirit. Perhaps others can fill in.

    It took quite a while for our pioneers to work through their differences of understanding by studying the Bible together. The nature of God was not initially high on their priority list, and it took till the late 1800's before they mostly came together on the nature of Christ being co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. Ellen White's writings must have helped a lot to bring them together.

    It is noteworthy that not a single anti-Trinitarian statement can be attributed to Ellen White, though she never used the word "Trinity." Her preferred term was "Godhead," and it might have been wiser to use the same term in our statement of Fundamental Beliefs on the Godhead. That said, the word "Trinity" is very fitting, meaning a unity of three (tri-) persons -- a Tri-Unity, or Trinity.

    If we go back to examine the writings of Ellen White, all her statements about Christ are in full harmony with our current understanding of His full divinity, co-eternity and equality with the Father. And she writes similar things about the Holy Spirit. A comment doesn't provide room for all the evidence, but you can do the research for yourself at https://egwwritings.org/. Search for:
    "Holy Spirit" Godhead
    Leave the quotes around "Holy Spirit" and just add the word "Godhead" in the search box. You'll find some very helpful quotations.

    Like(0)
    • Hello Inge, hope all is well. I'm aware of the many anti-trinitarian statements by our pioneers, but I'm reluctant to classify them as being Arians or even Semi-Arians, as they are often labeled. From my research, Arius believed that Jesus was somehow inferior to the Father, but our pioneers never believed that. They did believe that Jesus was begotten of the Father and therefore is of the same nature as His Father, which makes Him equal to God. (as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6). Also, Jesus Himself pointed to His Father as being the only true God (John 17:3). The pioneers believed that the holy spirit is the spirit of Jesus and His Father, as they share the same spirit, which is a truly holy spirit (Ephesians 4:4, Romans 8:9).

      I have also found that Ellen White's writings do not seem to teach the trinity at all, but rather she consistently referred to Jesus as being the only begotten Son of God. Here is an example of a very anti-trinitarian statement from her writings: “The Eternal Father, the unchangeable one, gave his only begotten Son, tore from his bosom Him who was made in the express image of his person, and sent him down to earth to reveal how greatly he loved mankind." (Ellen G. White, Review &
      Herald 9th July 1895 ‘The Duty of the Minister and the People’). This statement speaks volumes.

      One very important question that I have had for a long time with regards to the atonement is this: if the trinity teaches that all three members are absolutely immortal and the trinity cannot be sundered (otherwise there would be no trinity and therefore no God), then what really happened at Calvary?

      Like(0)
  3. @Del
    I've heard of that book: how did you find it? What I've found out about it is what comes from the orthodox trinitarian position that divine nature cannot die so in Christ's death only human nature died: to secure a "dignified" sacrifice of the atonement, in Christ, God must somehow suffer, is what that book says - suffer in death.

    Therefore, the hidden question in this trinity debate in our midst is: Who or what died on the cross? J H Waggoner's book says, in the previous chapter, that the Son of God personally died. (If you google the author and the title of the book you should be able to access a free, google books copy.) That seems to be the start of the solution to securing the dignity of the divine atonement...: if divinity cannot die - Ellen White said so, too, is her statement that the Author of life suffered on the cross in line with J H Waggoner's point?

    Like(0)
    • Hi Colin. Waggoner's book is also on the Ellen White estate website. To understand the incarnation of Jesus is impossible for us, but the Bible helps us along. Jesus was divine as well as human. He didn't stop being God's Son when He came to our world. So His divine nature blended with human nature, but nature itself is not a person. So when Jesus died He truly did die. He didn't just die on His human side as would have to be the logical conclusion from the trinity teaching. If only humanity died then all we had was a human sacrifice and we know that wouldn't do. So my belief is that the Son of God did die on Calvary. A divine person passed into the unconscious sleep of death. And if Jesus was almighty God Himself, I don't see how this would have been possible. Trinitarians are somehow blinded to this fact. The way in which the Father suffered with His Son is seen from Gethsemane to Calvary. That awful separation between Father and Son due to our sins caused the death of Jesus and also the suffering of a loving Father. There is a statement from Ellen White in Patriarchs and Prophets which says that even the King of the universe found it a struggle to give up His only begotten Son. But let's thank Him that He did for our sakes.

      I was perplexed at first by Ellen White's statements about divinity not dying but then I understood. She wasn't saying that a divine person didn't die on Calvary but rather than divinity in itself cannot cease to exist. Jesus' spirit was kept by His Father until His resurrection and Jesus' spirit/His very nature is divine and that could not die as it belongs exclusively to the Father, who cannot die under any circumstances. Jesus, being God's only-begotten Son, inherited His Father's divine nature. Jesus died, but divinity in itself can never die. I hope I explained this adequately. I have more reading to do and will have a clearer picture soon.

      Thanks Colin. God bless

      Like(0)
  4. I once listened to a preacher who attributed the teachings of trinity to a pre- Christ (Greek mythology), and that trinity was coined out of such myths. He also said a god with same characteristics as Christ existed before Christ himself. He showed an image of a god carring a sheep just as we attribute Christ being the good Shepard. Do anyone has further information on this, and how true is this teaching?

    Like(0)
    • Not heard of that one, David, but it's wise to remember the Biblical teaching of Christ, Son of the living God, while discarding all the false Christs.

      In hinduism, eg. Hare Krishna, there is also a false Christ: invented in the first century AD I understand to counter the evangelism of the Apostle Thomas in India - yes, he travelled a bit! Thomas also reached China, for Europeans 'a few' centuries later discovered "primitive" Christianity already there - primitive compared to Roman Catholic!

      Like(0)
  5. My biggest problem is that the study does not explain the verses in the bible which limits the Godhead to be two (God the Father and God the son) with the Holy spirit as the power of God. Assuming I am teaching the trinity doctrine and I am queried with the following, how do I answer?

    1. The various pronouns such as ‘us’ used in Genesis 1:26 which are used to represent God speaks of more than one person. Are we saying that because we have God the Father and God the Son, it should be easier to add the Holy Spirit to make it three?
    2. What about John 1:1. Can somebody explain this to me as it talks about the beginning with 2 entities both of them are God. Does this backs up what is written in Genesis 1:1 where the original Hebrew word for God is Elohim (plural) and throughout the account of creation.
    3. Another explanation in the studies for the trinity is that the Holy Spirit is a person. In the following verses, it is referred to as it; John 1:32; Romans 8:16, 26; 1 Peter 1:11; Can somebody explain why?
    4. What I also studied some time ago was that in the 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of John (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:7-8, 13), the holy spirit is personified as one who brings help, therefore the English pronouns he and him are used in connection with the word Comforter. Grammatically all pronouns in Greek must agree in gender with the nouns to which they refer. The Greek word parakletos (comforter in English) is masculine in gender, hence the translators use of the personal pronouns he and him for the Greek masculine pronouns. Can anybody add to this please?
    5. My last point is that, in Greek as in English, the word spirit is neither masculine nor feminine in gender. Pneuma is the Greek word meaning spirit. It is always grammatically neuter and properly represented by the English pronoun “it” as in John 1:32 and Romans 8:16. Any comments please?

    Like(0)
    • William, here are some of my thoughts on your questions. First of all we are dealing with something that is unexplainable. One of the people associated with this website mentioned a quotation from John Wesley, “Give me a worm that can explain a man, and I will give you a man that can explain God.” So when we are trying to define God we are on holy ground and better remove our shoes and humble ourselves. God is beyond explanation and understanding.

      That being said, you seem to be having a lot of trouble with personal pronouns. To some extent the writers of the Bible probably had trouble with them too. Speaking of the Holy Spirit how do you address a being that has no form and can’t be seen except symbolically. Besides God may not have gender. In my rather humble opinion the problem of the pronouns depends more on grammar than anything else which is a point that you seem to have made a couple of times.

      You refer to the Greek word pneuma which in its basic form simply means a movement of air. Its use in scripture covers a wide variety of usage. It is applied to angels (Heb 1:7), to apparitions (Lk 24:37), to wind (Jn 3:8) and to both our spirit and to God’s spirit. In all these cases the gender is neuter which makes the term very generic. I believe the writers of the Bible used the term because it was the best one they could find to use for the Holy Spirit.

      From the comments that I have seen as a moderator I believe we are getting very agitated over details about a being that for the most part has chosen to only give us glimpses of himself. Scripture says that man was made in His image but I suspect that that is talking mostly about character not the physical since He is everywhere present and is large enough that scripture says, “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

      `Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me?’ says the LORD, ‘Or what is the place of My rest?’” (Act 7:48-49 NKJV)

      To me the important thing above all else is that God, the one who created me, also died for me on the cross so that I could be in Heaven with Him. All other considerations in my estimation are relatively meaningless.

      Like(0)
  6. In all my study of scripture so far, I have not encountered a clear passage that teaches that the Holy Spirit is worshiped or prayed to, even though 'He' or 'It' is part of the Godhead. I would appreciate others' comments or scriptural view on this. Thanks.

    Like(0)
    • @ Annah:
      Perhaps the best explanation can be found in John 16:14,15 where Christ makes clear that the Holy Spirit's role is to glorify Christ. That is why the focus of some church groups on the Holy Spirit, instead of Christ, is mistaken.

      You will recall that Christ glorified the Father and did not direct attention to Himself, even though He accepted worship in several instances.

      Like(0)

What do you think? If you like a comment, just [Like] it or post a thoughtful reply. Please provide a working email address and your real first AND last name to have your comment published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.