A Concise, Coherent, and Orthodox Explanation of the Trinity

All beings have a spirit. Some beings are spirit; some beings are corporeal. All beings but one are created.

Human beings are corporeal, and naturally inhabit the physical realm. The beings described in scripture as personed but incorporeal are called elohim, and naturally inhabit the spiritual realm.

God is an elohim; or God is spirit. God is the Elohim; He alone natively holds all authority.

Uniquely among all beings, God is a single being of three persons. All other single beings are a single person. Single person/single beings are called individuals, because they are an indivisible, singular person. God is not an individual, but a triune being.

Similarly, God is the only uncreated being, and is uniquely infinite rather than finite.

The second person of the singular, triune being, God, inhabited a corporeal form at a specific point in history, and is now, again uniquely, both fully God and fully human. We call that person of the God-being, Jesus. He remains one being with the Father and the Spirit.

We capture all of this meaning (and more) when making the concise statement, “God is holy.” In other words, God is wholly other, completely righteous, entirely separate, and uniquely unique.

So now you know; God is Trinity: the only entirely righteous, uncreated, eternally existent, tri-personed, singular Being.

For a defense of this explanation see: the Bible.

For additional amplification see:

Baptism and the New Covenant in Brief

The New Covenant is the mechanism of delivery for the Gospel, which God preached beforehand to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b; Gal 3:8).

Salvation is accorded to New Covenant participants who believe (Gen 15:6), and those individuals are described as the “sons of Abraham,” and comprise the many nations to whom Abraham is father.

The common features of God’s covenant/words/promise(s) to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 are that God will bless, God will multiply, and God will give the land, also that this will all be done through Abraham and his offspring.

Circumcision is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and was the sign feature of Abraham and his descendants “keeping” their obligation in this covenant relationship. “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17:10). The problem, of course, is that Abraham’s descendants don’t keep their side of the bargain; they neither walk blamelessly before God nor circumcise every male on the eighth day.

So long as this covenant depends on the actions of the human participants it is the Old Covenant (“All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Ex. 24:3 “All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear/obey” Ex. 24:7 “circumcise your hearts” Dt 10:16) The key, however, is that God is going to keep the covenant, as is foretold in Deuteronomy, where before the book ends God has promised, “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Dt. 30:6).

As Jeremiah makes clear, the promise of the New Covenant is that God is going to circumcise their hearts, aka, “write [the law] on their hearts… for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). These are obvious descriptions of the details of the Gospel promise(s).

So, while circumcision is the sign of the Old Covenant (“which you shall keep”), baptism becomes the sign of the circumcision of the heart. That sign—as is fitting of a superior covenant (Heb. 7:19, 22)—is applied not just to the men, but to every participant in the family of those descended from Abraham by faith.

In the same way as circumcision was given to all who were a part of the Old Covenant family, but it did not impart salvation, so the New Covenant sign is applied to all born into the New Covenant family, though the sign does not impart salvation.

How, someone might ask, do we know that baptism is the sign of the New Covenant?

First, because it is a sign of a spiritual act: the circumcision of the heart, rather than a physical act executed upon the old man. Second, because Paul states that we have been “buried with [Christ] by baptism into death so that we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4). Third, because Peter writes that “baptism… now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Finally, because Paul tells us that “the circumcision of Jesus Christ is having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith,” which takes us right back to Abraham, who was credited righteousness because of faith, and whose descendants are those who believe—those “of faith.”

The inescapable conclusion is that baptism is the sign of New Covenant identification, which like the Old Covenant sign, is given both to new converts and the offspring of covenant participants. Like the Old Covenant sign, the New Covenant sign does not itself save but signifies the saving work of God through Christ.

Consternation

How can one man make you stand up and cheer one minute and send a wave of discouragement over you the next? And a godly man at that?! (I know, I know…it’s the reality of human nature.)

First the cheering:

In order to understand Paul properly we must grasp how his perspective both continues and modifies the religious tradition in which he was reared, especially his understanding of his Old Testament roots.

First, we must recognize his own sense of continuity with his heritage. Paul sees himself and his churches as being in a direct line with the people of God in the Old Testament; and despite his deep convictions about the radical implications of the coming of Christ and the Spirit, he regularly reaffirms that continuity. He includes a primarily Gentile church in the events of the exodus: “all our forefathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). … Paul never speaks of a “new Israel” or “new people of God”; his language is now composed of Jew and Gentile alike as the one people of God.

Now the weeping:

But just as clearly, there is significant discontinuity. The people of God have now been newly formed. Christ is the “goal of the law” (Rom 10:4), and the Spirit is “the promised Holy Spirit” (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13). Christ’s death and resurrection have brought an end to Torah observance (living on the basis of the Old Testament law, (Rom 7:4-6; 8:2-3); being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18); indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).

Argh!!! Gordon Fee is one of the most excellent exegetes of the 20th century (he lived mostly in the 20th century and it’s too soon to tell what impact he will have on the 21st century), and yet here is a grievous misunderstanding, in the midst of a book titled Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God that is jam-packed with excellent material on the Holy Spirit! It makes me want to scream. His reputation and excellence give added weight to his words; do I dare give this book to eager learners?

I sure wish I could call up Dwight Pryor and chat about this one.

But, here we are, so let’s deal with the section I referred to as “the weeping.”

The people of God have now been newly formed.” Well, yes and no.

Yes, they are now re-invigorated with a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit specifically for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations (Acts 2) and given an awareness that God specifically intends for the Jewish nation to be the agent for the spreading of His message to the nations. This had been prophesied all along, but it was a new awareness for the Chosen People. They’ve been newly formed in that they now believe in Jesus Christ as their long-awaited Messiah, and they’ve been re-invigorated with a new and fuller understanding of the tools God had given them all along for the purpose of transformation into His image. Those who felt they could earn their way into God’s graces, have been disabused of that notion, and their entire heritage has been re-cast in the light of Messiah’s identity and teaching.

No, the same people have always been the people of God, and “those of faith,” to use Paul’s language in Galatians 3:7 have participated in the New Covenant all along, whether they were aware of that fact or not. They’re not so much “newly formed” as newly added to, and newly invigorated with a renewed or new understanding. And, they are being taught about the reality that they are new creatures in Messiah–the old has gone and the new has come. But this is not a new reality, just a new understanding, and there is much evidence that it’s not even entirely new understanding. Certainly new to the majority of the Gentiles, to whom Paul is writing, but not new to all the Jews.

Christ is the “goal of the law (Rom 10:4).” For sure, and assuredly Fee gets it right when he renders telos as “goal” rather than “end.” Certainly also, “the Spirit is ‘the promised Holy Spirit’ (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13),” and yet the Spirit is not new either. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit,” as were all the prophets, Moses, David, etc. Assuredly there were Jews not filled with the Holy Spirit, but in whose name do you think R. Hanina ben Dosa performed miracles? It seems that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with a fresh infusion, with an anointing for a task of newly epic proportions–take the Gospel to the nations, rather than let the nations come to you–but it was not as if He had not already been indwelling “those of faith” for centuries already.

being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18)” What? No! Being led by the Spirit is synonymous with observing God’s law…after all, who was it that was to write the law on our hearts? “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) It was the Spirit, aka, the “finger of God” that wrote God’s law on the stone tablets, and it is He who also writes God’s law on our hearts.

indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).” Well, yes, of course, for now that we are in Christ and His law is being written in us, as we walk by the Spirit, He guides us in the Way (Ps. 25:8-9,12; Ps 119:1, 30-33)

______________________________

1 Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996. pp 3-4.

Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, — Closer and closer let us cleave To his beloved Embrace; Expect his fullness to receive, And grace to answer grace.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” – J.I. Packer

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

Citizenship in the Commonwealth

A homily upon the occasion of the baptism of my first god-daughter.

Delivered August 11, 2012.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you hear in the Gospel of Mark the words of our Savior Christ commanding the children to be brought to him. You see how he took them in his arms, and blessed them. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not doubt, therefore, but earnestly believe, that he loves this child, that he approves our bringing her to holy Baptism, that he is ready to receive her with the arms of his mercy, and to grant her membership in a covenant family.

But how further shall we understand this? How shall I explain the role that baptism plays in our salvation, which indeed is more than just a single moment and more than just the assurance of our eternal destiny, though indeed it gloriously includes the prospect of Eternity in concert and in community with our beloved Lord.

Baptism is more than just a symbol, yet it is not a condition of salvation; rather it is a seal and a sign of salvation, a helpful part of God’s ideal plan. Indeed, St. Peter reminds us: “Baptism…now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21). When the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they were saved by that act, though it wasn’t the power of the act that saved them, but the power of God that saved them. Nevertheless, had they failed to walk across the dry ground, they would not have been saved from Pharaoh. How can we explain this mystery?

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh–called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” done by hand in the flesh. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:11-12, 19 (HCSB)

If an immigrant moves to the USA they must go through the conscious decision of becoming a citizen. Once they have made that decision, however, their children are born as citizens of the USA without any decision on the part of the infant. Infant baptism—as circumcision before it—is like the giving of a birth certificate to an infant. As an adult, the born-citizen will have the option of choosing to become the citizen of another “commonwealth,” but it is most common and it is to be hoped that most babies will grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Way and subsequently “confirm” their individual, conscious decision to remain a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.

Colossians 2:11-13 (HCSB)

You heard in the Epistle a description of the life of those redeemed. It is only by the grace of God, which enables and suffuses instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) that we may live thusly. Hear now the words of the Anglican fathers who summarized the teachings of Scripture as it regards the manner of salvation, the method of sanctification, and the use and purpose of baptism.

XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

XXVII. Of Baptism. Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Brothers and Sisters in Messiah, the Sacrament of Baptism is offered in the Church because our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born anew of water and the Holy Spirit. This new birth is necessary because all human beings have both an inclination towards evil and are also sinners. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy he will grant new birth to Elizabeth that she may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you who mercifully saved Noah and his family in the Ark when the great flood came, who safely led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, symbolizing thereby your holy Baptism, and who, by the Baptism in the river Jordan of your dearly loved Son, Jesus Christ, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We pray you, in your infinite mercy, to look on this child, wash and sanctify her by the Holy Spirit, in order that, being delivered from your wrath, she may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church. Make her, we pray, to be steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, so that passing through the stormy waters of this troubled world, she may finally come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Since we are now persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards Elizabeth, declared by his Son Jesus Christ, let us faithfully and devoutly give thanks to him and say together:

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for having called us to the knowledge of your grace and to faith in you. Increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give your Holy Spirit to Elizabeth , that she may in the wonder of your plan for her be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Inescapable Logic

When you assume there is such a thing as evil,
you must assume there is such a thing as good.
When you assume there is such a thing as good,
you must assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.
When you assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
you must posit a moral law Giver.

If there is no moral law Giver, there is no moral law.
If there is no moral law, there is no good.
If there is no good, there is no evil.

If sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4),
and all have sinned (Rom 3:23),
and if the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23),
then I need a Savior.

If I still need a Savior there must,
still be an eternal, moral law, or…
I no longer need a Savior.

Four Foundational Principles on the Law of God

Here are four foundational biblical principles that will help you develop Jesus’ positive attitude toward the Law of God and revitalize your engagement with the Scriptures.

  1. The Torah of God is a loving Father’s teaching. The Hebrew word torah fundamentally connotes guidance and instruction—that which aims you so that you hit the mark. And the mark for the Torah always is life (Deuteronomy 4:1,6-9; Habakkuk 2:4b; Romans 1:16-17; Eph 2:2-3,8-10; 2 Peter 3:11-13). Much more than “the Law.” It is God’s will, wisdom and direction conveyed in love to His covenant children for their on-going fellowship with the Holy One of Israel.
  2. The Torah is a treasure. Only in light of the above can we appreciate the Psalmist’s attitude: “O how I love your Torah!” Psalm 119 consists of 8 verses for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and every one of the 172 verses extols an aspect of the multi-faceted Torah.
  3. The Torah is a gift of the Spirit. The Torah was written by the “finger of God” (Exodus 31:18); Deuteronomy 9:10). This Hebrew idiom is found in Luke 11:20 and explained in the parallel passage of Matthew 12:28. It means “the Spirit of God.” Truly the Torah—the foundational “Scripture” to which the Apostle Paul alludes in 2 Timothy 3:16—is “inspired”. Said another way, it is “in-Spirited.”
  4. The Torah is guidance for a redeemed people. The Law was given to Israel after they had been saved out of Egypt, not as the basis or means of their salvation. It was meant to guide the covenant people in paths of righteousness that would bring them to their appointed place of promise and productivity. It is good to remember in this regard that these things “were written for our instruction” as well (1 Corinthians 10:11).*

*Copied and slightly edited from Dwight Pryor’s Foreword to Keren Hannah Pryor’s book A Taste of Torah.