The doctrine of the Trinity, a view of the Godhead most of Christendom accepts as orthodoxy, suggests that God exists as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The persons are one in essence; yet, they are not three separate Gods. When asked how this could be, the typical response is “God is three in one,” which adherents believe points to a co-equal, co-eternal and co-existent triunity. This simply means you can’t have one without the other, they can’t be one without the others, and you might as well get used to it because they aren’t going anywhere.
Now, I acknowledge that what is written above is, at least, a brief introduction to a multifaceted and nuanced doctrinal position. There is much more to be written about the doctrine of the Trinity. However, for the purposes of this post, I think I have provided a sufficient definition of the Trinity.
Without intending to generate some great controversy or make provisions for endless debate, I have a question I believe all lovers of God and seekers of truth must wrestle with. Again, I’m not posing this question to start a war in the comments section; this is a sincere attempt at asking a question that will, hopefully, provoke thought and reflection.
The aspect of the Godhead I want to put at the center of this question is the ontological union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible emphatically declares that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Some take this to mean the Father, in particular, is spirit. In other words, distinctly, ontologically, the Father is a spirit. You’re now thinking and possibly saying, “duh, tell me something I didn’t already know.” But this is precisely where things get interesting because the Holy Spirit is by definition also spirit. Furthermore, in Romans 8:9, Paul wrote, “God lives in you”, a fact no true Christian would dispute; however, he goes on to write, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Did you catch that? What is the Spirit of Christ? I thought believers received the Holy Spirit; what was Paul getting at? We have finally arrived at the question: are the terms “Spirit of Christ” and “Holy Spirit” synonymous?
Before you deride me and make light of this question, take a moment to let it sink in and challenge your thinking. Again, for the third time, I’m not offering this question to incite riotous debate; this is a sincere question. This is also a question that deserves fair and thorough treatment. And If you’ll give me a few more minutes of your time, I’ll do my best to provide a biblical response.
The Word of God
I am an advocate for allowing the word of God to speak without human intervention. God did not consult anyone when He created the firmament above. God had no need for human faculty when He caused light to shine forth by uttering the words “let there be”. That doesn’t, however, negate the necessity of good Bible exposition; rather, it solidifies the need for it: we are seeking to understand what God is saying, not what we think or hope He’s saying. This is where systems fall short. One has a thought, a good thought, and like a child eager to finish a jigsaw puzzle, they insert the thought into every available space without regard for the integrity of the big picture. The word of God is, in a sense, too finite for such a practice. If we are careful to approach the text properly and purposefully, we will be astounded by what we find concerning the Holy Spirit.
In the Upper Room Discourse Jesus explains His union with the Father. In John 14:6, He describes Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” He then makes a statement that, if we’re not careful, we’ll misapply: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (John 14:7). Some would have us believe that what Jesus had in mind was a reference to some sort of God-likeness alone: since He was the Son, they say, He exemplified certain attributes of His Father which were evident in His speech and conduct. However, a closer look at the text reveals His true intentions.
Philip couldn’t understand Jesus’ statement in John 14:7, so he asked for clarification: “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us” (John 14:8). Jesus’ response should shake all of us to the core. He said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9). The truth Jesus is attempting to convey couldn’t be clearer. He identified Himself as the Father incarnate. Did you catch that? He did not say “he that sees me sees the second person of the Trinity”; no, He was identifying Himself as the Father in flesh, the “image of the invisible God,” the “express image of his person” (Col. 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).
That may sound strange, but once we lay out the puzzle pieces correctly, the big picture begins to unfold before our eyes. Jesus did not say He was the Father before becoming the Son. God doesn’t switch masks like an actor on a stage. Rather, Jesus was saying that one could look at Him and see the Father because He was the very imprint of the Father. In human terms, if I press my face into wax and tell someone to take the impression and show someone else, the person who sees it can say they have seen me. No, they haven’t seen my face in its fullness, with all its unique features and distinctive qualities, but they have, nonetheless, seen me. This is precisely what I think Jesus was spelling out in John 14:9, and it is far from a Trinity of persons.
Jesus is undoubtedly the Word (logos) of John 1. Before the creation of the world the Word “was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was certainly with God, but does this mean the Word was a person of God? I think Scripture provides a better explanation.
In John 1:14, the Word “was made flesh, and dwelt among us”. Anyone who spends time reading theological literature has read this text countless times. My fear is that too many read it without asking questions. The most obvious question raised is, whose Word is this text referring to? We are very comfortable with the Word becoming flesh; we understand what that means. But what makes the Word the Word? A word is used to express a thought. You are reading my words right now, and thereby trying to understand my thoughts. So, why is Jesus called the Word? It’s simple, really. He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Long before creation, God knew He would become an authentic human and offer Himself to redeem us. He created everything with this plan in mind. The Word, then, is the expression of the Father’s plan, the Lamb who would be slain becoming the Lamb who was slain.
A proper understanding of the Word must be laid out before one can fully understand who the Holy Spirit is. This is especially true because some of the best doctrine concerning the Spirit comes from the upper room discourse that we’ve been investigating. In this discourse Jesus put to rest any notion that He wasn’t God’s spoken Word by saying, “the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:24). If Jesus is the divine second person of the Trinity, in what meaningful sense can one say that His words are actually the Father’s? It’s illogical and dishonest to do so.
The point is, Jesus is the Father incarnate. This is precisely what the writer of Hebrews was aiming at: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Who made the world? Was in not the Father who said, “let there be” and things came into existence by and through His word? It was the Father indeed. Therefore, we can conclude that the Word of God is Jesus Christ, the logos, the plan and forethought of God revealed in a manger.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is not a person of God. Those statements may be difficult for some to swallow and harder to digest, but the Bible can help. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains what I’m pointing at. He wrote, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4). According to Paul, there is only one Spirit. He also says there is only One God who is Father of all. If there is only one Spirit and One God, these are obviously one and the same. Therefore, the One God and Father of all, who is Spirit (John 4:24), must be the Holy Spirit. If not, there are two Spirits and more than One God. The Bible rejects that notion.
This isn’t difficult to grasp, but we must lay a few more pieces out. There is One God (Deut. 6:4). He is Holy (Leviticus 20:7). He is Spirit (John 4:24). Therefore, He is the Holy Spirit. The term “Holy Spirit” simply describes God in spiritual action. Genesis is a good example of this: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2). God created heaven and earth and His Spirit moved. Again, God in action. Likewise, the term “Father” refers to the relational and creational aspects of God. The Prophet Malachi wrote, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10). Father also refers to the relationship God had with Jesus. The Holy Spirit miraculously caused Mary’s conception and the Holy child born was called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Therefore, God is literally the Father of Jesus Christ.
The terms “Father” and “Holy Spirit” don’t represent two distinct persons; the terms identify two manifestations of the One God. When God moves, one would say, “the Spirit of God is moving.” When we refer to God as Father, we should have creation, the birth of Jesus, and our own adoption as sons of God in mind.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus
Now we’re ready to answer the question. The pieces are all in place and the big picture is laid out before us. As Jesus sat in the upper room with His disciples, He made a startling claim. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:15-16). Stripped of its context, these two verses do appear to be promoting a Trinity. Jesus is praying, the Father is sending, the Comforter (Holy Spirit) is coming.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there: “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17). Jesus tells his disciples that the Comforter was coming, and they know Him because he dwells with them. Then He lifts the veil and says, “ I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). You see, Jesus was the one going away, and in some sense, He was also coming back as a comforter to ensure that the disciples weren’t comfortless.
How can we make sense of this? Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Son of God, in whom dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), is the Father incarnate (in flesh). Therefore, the One Spirit which dwelt in Him is the same Spirit that would eventually come to dwell in the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). The infilling of the Holy Ghost is the infilling of the Spirit of Christ because they are one and the same. Remember, there is only One Spirit (Ephesians 4). This is our answer! Jesus has come to dwell in His people. What a glorious victory! Paul wrote, “if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). I’m sure the disciples were upset to hear that Jesus was going away, but that all changed once they realized that through the Spirit’s abiding presence, they had Jesus with them forever. The comforter came to His own, and He will come to all who put their faith and trust in Him.
There is much more information I would like to share, but I think we’ve covered enough in this post to answer the question. I hope this post helped you. Please let me know if it did. You can do that by clicking on the contact us link at the top of this page. Stay tuned for more!