Summary: The persons of the Trinity working for our salvation.
On Saturday May 15, 2010, Jessica Watson arrived in Sydney after sailing around the world. It was a wonderfully inspiring effort. I once got sea sick sitting on a surf ski waiting for waves off Warriewood Beach. So you can imagine how I feel even thinking about sailing through huge seas on a yacht that fits into your bathtub.
Although Jessica was alone on the yacht, it wasn’t really a solo effort. She had radio contact with friends, she received emails and accurate weather reports using all the sophisticated technology. Her success came about by a number of people working together in harmony. And today I’d like us to see that our salvation was accomplished by the persons within the Trinity working together in perfect harmony.
If I were to ask five of you to describe your faith in the Lord Jesus, I suspect I’d get five differently worded answers with hopefully something in common. I’d hear words like ‘faith’ and ‘sin’ and ‘grace’ and ‘repentance’ and ‘thankfulness’. These words are basic to our understanding of the Christian life. Some more theologically minded people might use words such as ‘justification by faith’, ‘in Christ’, ‘propitiation’ and ‘sanctification’. All these words describe who we once were and who we now are as a saved people.
Whatever the language you choose to use, salvation ultimately consists of union with Christ. The gospel is the good news of how we came into union with Christ and how we remain in union with Christ. For example, Paul says in Eph 2:6, ‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’.
Once we were apart from God, stranded in sin and unable to free our ourselves from the gods of this age. But then God did something quite remarkable: he gave us faith in Christ, he freed us from condemnation and we became alive in Christ. So now we are no longer joined to the ruler of this world; now we are joined to Christ. We have a spiritual connection with Christ and our home is in heaven with him. And so this world is a dressing room, a waiting room for that time when we shall leave this earth and be fully united to our eternal King.
I hope this excites you (said in an exciting way). This world is so in our face and has such a strong pull, that we can lose sight of eternal perspectives. The Westminster Larger Catechism describes salvation as ‘union and communion with Christ in grace and glory’. It’s a great description of who we are in Christ. Our union with Christ comes through faith in him. This union is spiritual and mystical, real and inseparable. We have the privilege of enjoying God forever.
Salvation is union with Christ. Union with Christ is how we enjoy redemption, and redemption is the only source of our knowledge of God. Little wonder that union with Christ lies at the heart of John Calvin’s explanation of the gospel. Reformers, such as Calvin, understood that salvation is union with Christ. Usually we move forward from this gospel truth and explore how this ought to effect our behaviour. It’s very important that the gospel shapes our thought life and our action life. But let’s move the other direction for a minute, not towards ourselves but further back into the throne room of God. And we shall do this by asking three questions.
Here’s the first question: why did it have to be the second person of the Trinity who became flesh and dwelt amongst us? Why was it that the eternal Son became man? Why not the Father on the cross, or the Spirit in the baptismal waters? Why not the Son remaining in heaven? Why did it have to be the Son who became flesh?
There’s a smart answer to this question. It had to be the eternal Son who became flesh because that’s the way it happened. That’s the way God caused it to be. And this is exactly what one theologian, T.F. Torrence says. He points out that there is a quality about the second person of the Trinity that means only he could be made flesh and dwell amongst us. The Father couldn’t become incarnate, the Spirit couldn’t become incarnate, only the Son could become incarnate. Only the second person of the Trinity could be the head of a new humanity.
This suggests an element of difference between the persons in the Trinity. If only the eternal Son was qualified to become flesh, then in some way he is different to the other two persons. Theologians recognise this and say that that the persons of the Trinity are ‘irreducibly different’ from one another.
The Father has qualities that do not belong to the Son and the Spirit. The Son has qualities that neither the Father or the Spirit possess. And the Spirit has qualities that belong to him alone. Yet each person shares the divine essence and each person is fully God. So here is a conundrum for us: in any one person of the Trinity, there dwells the other two persons. Yet each person of the Trinity is irreducibly different from the other.