Salvation—Trinitarian through and through (Matthew Barrett)
One of the beauties of theology is seeing how different doctrines of the faith are interconnected to one another. The theologian who tries to address one particular doctrine, only to put it aside so that he can move on to the next, has seriously misunderstood the fabric of theology.
Theology is like a spider’s web, where each string in the web is somehow connected to the others. If you break just one string, the consequences could be disastrous for the entire web. Similarly, when one theologizes, he must remember that each doctrine corresponds to the whole corpus of his theological system.
Consider how the doctrine of the Trinity relates to the doctrine of salvation. In Scripture, salvation is explicitly and unashamedly Trinitarian in nature. For example, in John 3 Jesus says that God so loved the world that he sent his Son so that the world “might be saved through him” (3:17). And lest we think the Spirit is left out of this salvific mission, just verses earlier Jesus says to Nicodemus that it is the Spirit who, like the wind, blows wherever he pleases to bring about the new birth (3:5-8).
Or consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians. God the Father chose his elect before the foundation of the world, and he predestined his elect in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Believers, therefore, have “redemption through his blood” (1:7). And then, at the proper time, those predestined by the Father (1:5, 11), redeemed by the blood of his Son (1:7), are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” when they hear the “word of truth,” the gospel of salvation, and believe in Christ (1:13).
The early church fathers knew this truth well. As Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers argued against the Arians of their day, if we deny the deity of the Son, as one who is fully divine, equal in deity to the Father, sharing fully in that one divine essence, then we are left with a Son who cannot save us.
We cannot miss the connection, in other words, between Christ’s deity and identity as the eternal Son, the second member of the Trinity, and the redemption he accomplishes, as the Nicene Creed states, “for our salvation.”
What does this mean for how we think about salvation? In short, our soteriology must be Trinitarian through and through. Should we compromise the Trinity, our soteriology will look terribly dysfunctional, and vice versa.
So remember, when theologizing, always ask the question: How do my beliefs about this doctrine impact other aspects of my Christian faith?
Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is the author of numerous book reviews and articles in academic and popular journals and magazines. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration, Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life), God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture. Currently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at matthewmbarrett.com.
Read other columns and articles in the new issue of Credo Magazine:
The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a triune God makes all the difference
One of the dangers every church faces is slipping, slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly, into a routine where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and the Lord’s Supper is consumed, but all is done without a deep sense and awareness of the Trinity. In other words, if we are not careful our churches, in practice, can look remarkably Unitarian. And such a danger is not limited to the pews of the church. As we leave on Sunday morning and go back into the world, does the gospel we share with our coworker look decisively and explicitly Trinitarian in nature? Or when we pray in the privacy of our own home, do the three persons of the Trinity make any difference in how we petition God?
In this issue of Credo Magazine, we have brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in order to bring our minds back to the beauty, glory, and majesty of our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we do not merely want to see him as triune, but recognize why and how the Trinity makes all the difference in the Christian life. Therefore, in this issue Fred Sanders, Robert Letham, Michael Reeves, Scott Swain, Tim Challies, Stephen Holmes, and many others come together in order to help us think deeper thoughts about how God is one essence and three persons, and what impact the Trinity has on who we are and what we do as believers.