The Inseparable Operations of the Trinity in John’s Gospel

james-coleman-741674-unsplash.jpgFew books in the Bible give us more “raw material” about the Trinity than John’s Gospel. While the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, testimony to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is. And in the Fourth Gospel, the works of the Trinity are displayed in their greatest fullness.

Helping us to see the inseparable operations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the ESV Study Bible nicely charts most of the instances of God’s Work. In what follows, notice how every work of God is “shared” by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To say it more carefully, whenever God acts he acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Whether it is in creation, salvation, or revelation, each person of the Trinity acts in a way appropriate to their personhood. Yet, such personal properties are never divided from the other members of the Trinity. We can speak variously about the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we can never speak of them independent from one another, or as if the Father does one thing, the Son another, the Spirit a third.

While personal properties apply in all of God’s actions—e.g., the Father creates as the Father, the Son creates as the Son, and Spirit creates as the Spirit—the triune God always works as one God. This reality helps us to know God in his triune glory and to appreciate how each member works in union with one another. Even more, as we see in John’s Gospel, when the Father sends the Son and Spirit and the Father and Son send the Spirit, we begin to learn who God is through what God has done in redemptive history.

Expanding this vision of God’s triune work in redemption, the ESV Study Bible’s chart will assist greatly.
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“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

Talking Like Jesus: Six Ways to Hold Out Truth in a Hostile World

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200In our day public speech about Jesus is becoming more and more costly. For instance, the state of Georgia has requested the sermons of Dr. Eric Walsh, a lay pastor and public health expert, who was fired from the Department of Public Health over (it seems) his religious beliefs. What is going on?

On the one hand, we are watching a sea change in our country. The religious liberty conferred on us by our founding fathers and established in the Bill of Rights is being taken away.  On the other hand, we are witnessing in our country what Jesus said would happen to his followers: we are hated by the world, because the world hates him.

In other words, American Christians are experiencing, for the first time in generations, what other disciples have experienced for centuries—verbal and even violent opposition to the truth of God’s Word. Such enemy fire makes speaking up for Christ difficult, if not dangerous. Yet, such resistance may also be the very means by which Christians can show what it means to follow Christ—bearing witness to Christ through our own afflictions. But to bear faithful witness, we need our minds to be renewed by God’s Word.

Learning from Jesus

The Gospel of John shows Jesus in constant conversation with the Pharisees whose anger towards him ultimately nailed him to a cross. As John records, they questioned him, debated him, and sought to arrest him long before they succeeded in ending his earthly ministry. Still, as the beloved disciple records, Jesus constantly responded with wisdom, grace, and truth. While John’s goal in presenting these dialogues is to testify that Jesus is the Christ whom we should trust and obey (John 20:31), his recordings also show us how Jesus spoke to those who accused and opposed us. If we are going to continue to bear witness for Christ amidst enemy fire, we must learn what such speech looks like.

If silence is not an option for a follower of Christ, and it is not (see Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 1:8), how can we learn to wear our cross and speak on his behalf with boldness and wisdom? If the gospel is our message, what is the manner in which we proclaim it? How does Scripture teach us and Jesus model for us such engagement with the world?

Those are questions we should be asking, and one place we find an answer is in John 7. Continue reading

Spirit-Filled Worship is Christ-Centered Worship

spirit2How do you know if your church is Spirit-filled?

One answer, the charismatic one, is to equate passion with presence. The presence of the Spirit is displayed in a congregation’s passionate expression and rockin’ music—to use technical language. As an example, the other night I spoke to a local minister who raved about a church that was “simply on fire.” How so? According to him, God’s work was evident because of their large attendance, loud singing, and expressive worship. For his sake and theirs, I hope he is right. But if numbers and noise are all it takes to qualify as “Spirit-filled,” the prophets of Baal would be headlining Christian conferences (see 1 Kings 18).

Another answer moves in the opposite direction. Since the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth (not falsehood), order (not confusion), and holiness (not irreverence), a Spirit-filled church is properly organized, doctrinally-sound, and dedicated the service of the Lord. Certainly, holiness does mark the presence of the Spirit. Truth and testimony will be present in a Spirit-filled church, but we can all imagine (and many of us have experienced) churches where truth is present, but love and zeal are not.

Our charismatic friends rightly react against this kind of “spiritual lethargy.” Still, activity in the church is no more a proof of life than putting a corpse in an elevator. Neither vigorous activity, musical expression, or doctrinal precision guarantee a real sense of the Spirit.

So what does?

Three Marks of Christ’s Real, Spiritual Presence

In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple three times indicates the kind of work the Holy Spirit will do when Jesus sends him from the Father. From John 14:26; 15:26; and 16:13 we get a real sense of what Spirit-filled looks like. Continue reading

1 John 1:1-4: We See Because He First Showed Himself

In John’s first letter, he introduces his audience to the Christ who he and the disciples had heard, seen, and touched. While it is apparent John’s tactile verbs—‘we have heard’ and ‘we have seen’—are meant to stress the flesh and blood reality of Jesus Christ, a closer look at the structure of 1 John 1:1-4, shows John stressing the antecedent work of God to manifest himself in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

You can see this is in the complex chiasmus which organizes 1 John 1:1-4. Continue reading

The Word of God: Written, Eternal, and Incarnate

Three times in the first verse of John’s gospel, the beloved disciple speaks of the Word, “the Logos.”  It is quickly seen that this name or title describes Jesus.  John 1:14 unmistakably unites the eternal Word with the babe born in the manger.  But why does John use this term?  What does Logos or the “Word” mean?  Today, we will examine this term in brief to help us better understand the son born of Mary, who was eternally the Son of God.

The Word (Logos)

John uses a word that would have been familiar to his hearers.  Interpreters of John have pointed to all kinds of influences: Greek philosophy (Stoicism), Jewish theology (Philo), or mystery religions (Gnosticism).  However, it is speculative that he depended upon any of these other views.  While the idea of the Logos was “trending” in John’s day, it is unlikely that the apostles derived such terms from extra-biblical sources.

Jesus followers were men of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were taught by Jesus how to read the Old Testament (Luke 24), and who were moved by the Spirit (John 14:26).  They were not students of culture, they were not writing for peer-reviewed journals, nor were they attempting anything novel.  They were simply writing for the edification of the saints and proclamation of the gospel.  Thus, the content of their words was the person and work of Christ and its earlier explanation in what we call he Old Testament.  So we should ask, what does the Old Testament say about “the Logos”?

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the word is a central feature because God does everything by his word.  John Frame, says: “God’s word . . . is involved in everything he does—in his decrees, creation, providence, redemption, and judgment, not only in revelation narrowly defined.  He performs all his acts by his speech” (The Doctrine of God, 472-74).

The quickest glance at just a few verses show this is true.  Some of things that the Word does include the following:

God spoke the world into existenceBy the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Ps 33:6)

God’s word effected salvation.  He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction (Ps 107:20)

God’s word governs and energizes all of creation.  He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.  He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel (Ps 147:18-20).

All together, “the word of God enlivens and kills; it sustains the world humans live in; it never fails in its purpose” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 256).  Thus, two things emerge in Old Testament that inform John’s theology. 

First, the Word is presented as divine. In the Old Testament, we that the word does a number of divine things—it creates, it kills, and it saves.  More than that, it is given divine attributes: eternal (Ps 119:89, 160), perfect (Ps 19:7-11), omnipotent (Gen 18:14; Isa 55:11), life-giving.  Nearly 300 times it is called God’s word. In many ways it is one with God.

Second, the Word is distinct from God.  In the Old Testament, the Word does not fully describe all that God is.  Rather, it is an instrument by which God works (cf. Prov 8:22ff). It is used by God, and sent out by God, and thus is not one and the same with God.  Even as there is unity between God and his word, there is difference.

But this should not come as a surprise.  God’s inscripturated Word is unified.  The Old anticipates the New, and the New depends (i.e. quotes, alludes, echoes, and builds) upon the Old.  Thus, John’s trinitarian theology of the Word in John 1:1 is not a new invention that comes from outside the Scriptures, but comes from the very Scriptures that the eternal Word inspired as he sent the Spirit to the prophets who wrote of his coming.

In the end, John 1:1 is one more evidence of how God’s progressive revelation prepares the way for Jesus Christ.  And how the eternal Word is the incarnate Word is the written Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss