In our current series we’ve been going through an old list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism published in 1648. Over the last two weeks we’ve seen that there is only one God, yet there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This week I want to look at how the trinity members are distinguished from each other.
One of the main differences between the members of the trinity is the way they act in relationship to each other and also the world. This is because they don’t act the same way toward each other and to the world. Thus we sometimes speak of an economic trinity, meaning how the activities of the trinity are ordered.
The economic trinity is seen clearly in the redemption of humans from sin. The Father is the one who planned redemption and sent the Son into the world to die: ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons’ (Galatians 4:4-5). The Son did not initiate his coming into the world, and the Holy Spirit did not send the Son. It was God the Father who sent the Son.
So what distinguishes the Son from the other members of the trinity? The Son obeys the Father and accomplishes redemption for us: ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). You could never say that the Father or the Holy Spirit died for sins. It was the Son.
So what distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the other members of the Trinity? The Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to apply redemption to us. John’s gospel says that the Father sends the Spirit ‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…’ (John 14:26). But then Jesus also says he will send the Spirit: ‘When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father…’ (John 15:26).
Thus we see subordination in the trinity, despite the fact that they are all God. The Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Father and Son.
Do you recognise the differences in the members of the trinity or do you worship a different god?