Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 19, 2009

Paul’s Slick Trinitarian Theology

I’ve been reading through Romans over and over again the past week or so. It’s something I haven’t done for awhile. The Lord is being faithful to bring glory to himself by continuing to keep me in amazement of his great gospel as I follow Paul’s argument from its beginning in chapter 1 all the way to his greetings and farewell in chapter 16.

As I was reading Romans 8 the other morning, I was already aware of Paul’s Trinitarian theology in this passage, but I was struck by how easily he unfolded his soteriology within the framework of the Trinity. It comes across as second nature to him. That’s why I titled this post the way I did. You have to read with a careful eye or you’ll miss how smoothly he moves from one person of the Godhead to another while maintaining their oneness. Because of the passage’s flow, it is easy for us to digest its salvific content and not pick up on the blatant Trinitarian theology contained therein. Let me show you what I mean.

The passage I’m talking about is Romans 8:9-11. It’s a short passage, but the theological territory Paul crosses in just a matter of three verses is phenomenal.

8:9) Paul begins with the Holy Spirit by himself. He says that we are of the Spirit, not the flesh. He then qualifies this statement with a conditional clause by stating that we are only of the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells within us. Notice already the shift he has made. He opens with “the Spirit” but then equivocates that phrase with “the Spirit of God”. With his second reference to the Holy Spirit, he already succeeds in showing the distinctness of the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, but then communicates his oneness with God the Father. Now for another head turner. In the next sentence he continues to explain what he means in the previous proposition. He writes, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” But wait a minute. I thought a person had to have the Spirit of God? Well, that is absolutely true. In this one sentence, Paul affirms the deity and unity of and with each person of the Trinity. This sets us up for the verse 10. Let me be clear though at this point. When Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” and “the Spirit of God” he is still speaking of the person of the Holy Spirit.

8:10) When I read over this next thought, I can’t help but chuckle because of how incredible it is to watch Paul move back and forth like this as he unfolds this discussion. He starts the next sentence by saying, “But if Christ is in you, . . .” Look back at 8:9. Do you see how he’s made the connection? In 8:9, the Spirit, who is the Spirit of God, must indwell the believer; but now in 8:10, he asserts that it is Christ who must live within the redeemed man. Here he has once again demonstrated the unity in the Godhead by showing that the one who is in the Spirit must have the Spirit of God, and therefore, Christ lives in him. This is possible because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. But beyond that, what it means for Christ to indwell you is that God lives within you. This is so because the Son is one with the Father as is the Spirit. God lives inside of believers because the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, is God. Wow.

Now watch Paul demonstrate the unity and diversity between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In his following comment, he teaches that if Christ indwells us, “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” If the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ were not one, then the second half of Paul’s statement would read, “. . . , Christ is life because of righteousness.” However, Paul teaches that when the Spirit indwells the Christian, it can be said that Christ lives in him. His linkage between these two persons of the Trinity is even more interesting given the fact that he begins with “Christ” but then moves to “the Spirit,” but assigns to the Spirit the work of imputing righteousness to the believer that is a result of the atoning work of Jesus in his earthly ministry.

8:11) In verse 11, Paul takes us back to his thoughts in 8:9. Now it is “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” who must indwell believers. The antecedent of the pronoun “him” can’t be “Christ” in 8:10 because Jesus is the one being raised, not doing the raising. Thus, “the Spirit of him” in this verse refers to “the Spirit of God”. But then he goes on to say that it is “the Spirit of him” who gives life to our mortal bodies which is the same task assigned to the person of the Holy Spirit in 8:10. The final reference occurs at the end of 8:11 when Paul writes, “. . . through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  Once again, Paul demonstrates the unity between God the Father and God the Spirit in the Trinity’s life-giving, indwelling work.

At multiple points in only a matter of three verses, Paul clearly exposes the oneness of the Godhead, but also the distinctness of each person in terms of personality and function. But what is breathtaking about this passage is the relative ease at which it appears that he is able to discourse about one of the most difficult of Christian doctrines, while in actuality, his main subject is something else. In essence, Paul is giving us his Pneumatology and its relationship to the Father and the Son. Although he says it different ways in this text, he remains consistent in his teaching that it is the Holy Spirit who has been sent to indwell believers. I hope I have succeeded at communicating to you the way Paul’s Trinitarian exposition comes across to me in this passage. I pray that this glorious doctrine would become second nature to us all as we seek to speak about and worship our Triune God rightly.

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Responses

  1. I read with interest your heading, and with hopeful anticipation began reading, only to be sadly disappointed, that once again I have run headfirst into another trinitarian taught protege, attempting to fit his man made theology where it cannot possibly fit.
    Why do I make such a blatant and harsh statement?
    Because until you are prepared to put your “belief system” to the test, you will only consider ratifying what you are taught as you have done in this forum.
    Sorry if I have offended you but well, that is truth.

  2. I’m glad that you were let down by my post, but at the same time, it also saddens me. If you deny the Trinity, then you have denied the God of the Bible. I find it interesting that you have called the doctrine of the Trinity “man-made”. This doctrine of all Christian doctrines cannot in any way be the product of man.

    I think that your closing comments were a little uninformed. It is ironic that you are actually the one who has not stuck around to have his “belief system” put to the test. Instead, you just drop your rash comments off on my blog both misjudging me, my post, and the Lord God, but then try and make me look like close-minded one.

    I would be more than willing to discuss the Trinity with you. We can talk more about it here on the comments or you can contact me through my email found at the “Contact Billy” tab above. I would like to hear your thoughts. I’m not looking for a debate, but an honest discussion in search of real answers.

  3. I have a question …

    Maybe you remember a song (chorus, actually) we used to sing some years ago: Father I adore Thee; Lay my life before Thee; How I love Thee. Then the words would be repeated inserting ‘Jesus’ and ‘Spirit,’ and then a fourth verse inserted ‘Three in One.’

    This song implies worship to the Holy Spirit.

    Here’s my question: Where in Scripture are we instructed to worship the Holy Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity?

  4. First, I would say that yes, Scripture does instruct us to worship the Holy Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity because it reveals him to be God. Because the Holy Spirit is shown to be God and one with both the Father and the Son all throughout the Bible, then he is to be worshipped and glorified.

    I think 2 Corinthians 3:7-10 may be helpful for a more specific instance where the Holy Spirit is worthy of glory.

    Traditionally, we have not emphasized on worshipping the Holy Spirit in song through direct address which I believe mainly has to do with the nature of the gospel and the revealed work of the Holy Spirit as taught in the Bible. He has been sent to bear witness to Christ and to conform believers into the image of the Son of God. I always say that if you come to a place where there is an over emphasis on the worship of the Spirit then that is most likely not the work of the Holy Spirit himself. For he is always at work in this world and in the hearts of Christians testifying to the glory of Christ. A place where the Holy Spirit is at work will be a place where Christ is lifted up and proclaimed and is the center of worship.

  5. Thanks for your clarification. I agree totally that it is the Holy Spirit’s function to “teach us all things and to remind us of everything Jesus has said.” -John 14:26

    I have another question. Are you familiar with what Jesus called the Baptism with the Holy Spirit?

  6. Thanks for very enjoyable and sound Bible study in Romans 8. The doctrine of the Trinity is a joy to study and you brought out the life that was in the text.

  7. wellwateredgarden,

    Yes I am familiar with it, and I affirm it, but not as the pentecostal churches normally do. I believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is terminology for conversion or regeneration, not a later “baptism of the Holy Spirit” post conversion where you are filled with the Spirit and his gifts.

    I’m not sure what is behind your question or what your position is on the matter, so I’ll wait before I say more.

  8. Jesus made a clear distinction between John’s water baptism and “the promise of the Father,” what He called the baptism of Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts 1:4-5.

    I believe Jesus is not talking about the apostles’ conversion here but a further ‘baptism’ in order to empower them to evangelize their nation.

    Also see Acts 8:1-8 for a clear example of how this played out for them.

    This is a big subject and perhaps this is not the time or place to discuss this further.

    Grace and peace.

    • I don’t mind talking about it here at all. But if you would prefer it not to be public, you can always contact me through email at the tab above “Contact Billy”.

      I agree that there is a distinction between John’s water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As a Baptist, I do not attribute any salvific qualities to water baptism. It is not a means of grace in any way. So this distinction doesn’t really affect our discussion at all on the matter. Let me put my case out there in a nutshell:

      In 1 Cor 12:13, Paul says that we have been baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit. Through careful exegetical analysis, identifying this activity in 1 Cor 12 can be nothing other than the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion.

      I agree that in Acts 1:4-5 Jesus is speaking of a different occurrence. This baptism in the Holy Spirit is foretelling what was to happen specifically at Pentecost. The disciples/apostles were at a transitory time in God’s plan of redemption. I believe that the disciples were saved before Pentecost, however, the Holy Spirit was not at work on the earth and in the lives of God’s people in the period of the old covenant as he was intended to serve in the new covenant. So yes, the Spirit came in a fuller manner at Pentecost empowering the disciples/apostles to be ministers of Christ. This event, however, is not to be understood as a new pattern. The baptism in/with the Holy Spirit that occurred at Pentecost was a singular event, marking the end of the old covenant and the ushering in of the new.

      In the context of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 12:13, we must understand that in exclusion to Pentecost, all “baptism” in/with/by the Holy Spirit refers to the moment when the Spirit applies his life-giving work to those who were dead in their trespasses and sins, crucifying them with Christ and raising them to newness of life.


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