THE INTERTRINITARIAN LOVE OF GOD COMMUNICATED TO THE ELECT THROUGH UNION WITH THE GOD-MAN IN HIS OVERCOMING THE FALL
Doctrine of Salvation
May 2, 2013
Why did man fall? For the reformed, it is because God in some sense planned for man to fall. For others, it is because God foresaw what Adam and Eve would choose, and He decided to let them choose rebellion. In either case, the greatest theological problem remains the goodness of God in light of the existence of sin. How can they co-exist? Free will does not satisfy as an answer because God knew beforehand that man would choose to rebel and could have chosen not to create man. In so doing He would not have violated man’s free will because there would have been no men. The implication is that if God went through with creating man knowing he would rebel against Him, God either had a good purpose for doing so, or He was somehow constrained to create man and thus is not ultimately sovereign. Thankfully, there is a purpose worthy enough to include the foreseen and pre-planned fall of man into sin and despair. It is the God-Man, Jesus Christ. God-man is a term intentionally used to emphasize both the full humanity and full deity of Jesus so as to see how His glory shines in each through the incarnation. Scripture testifies that God’s worthy plan and purpose for the creation and subsequent fall of man is the glorification of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
What could motivate God, who is perfect in Himself, to create? The answer must ultimately lie in Himself because He is all there was in the beginning. He was not deficient, or lonely, or bored (Acts 17:25). There is a love that exists within the Godhead, an eternal relationship within God Himself where perfect communion occurs. The creation was intended to display this love to a people who were not God, to be brought into this love by grace, to see the expression of God’s glory in its fullness. This seemed good to the Godhead from eternity past because, as Jonathan Edwards has argued, if God loves who He is, He must also love who He is in action, in expression. Not only do His creatures experience His diverse glory in varying ways, but He Himself as a man tasted His own judgment and, because man receives by grace all the good that God gives, Christ also received God’s grace as a man.
The incarnation then was an act of love within the Godhead, executed in time, that allowed God Himself as the man Christ Jesus to experience Himself as a creature and to express Himself to a people, some fit for everlasting destruction, others fit for His grace and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23). This love within the Godhead manifested itself within redemptive history, and the love spills over to the bride of Christ. All of history is an expression of the love and eternal satisfaction that has eternally existed within the Godhead. Each glorifies the other in redemptive history, as the Father predestines, plans, and sends His Son, the Son goes forth imaging the Father, overcoming sin, and redeeming His people through the power of the Holy Spirit, who executes the plan of God in creation, strengthens the Son, and indwells the bride of Christ. We see a bit of the satisfaction and intimacy between the Father, Spirit, and Son in Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17, and we discover that God created and sent Christ in order to bestow upon His own people and Christ as a man the very love and glory that has eternally existed within the Godhead alone, a love which penetrates into man and is experienced by man (including the God-Man) through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5):
Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You…. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was…. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.
This is a beautiful plan. God is going to bestow upon His people the very same love that has been bestowed upon Christ the Son from before the foundation of the world. This love is of such quality that it is costly. Jesus had to become a man to show God to man and to bring man into the loving fellowship of the trinity through the Holy Spirit. This is not theosis. The bride of Christ does not become God, but they receive all the privileges and blessings as if they were God through spiritual adoption. The bride becomes children of God. Adopted not to be demi-gods, but children of God with the image of Him restored in them in such a way greater than Adam and Eve experienced. This experience is adoption. The essence of adoption is joining a family that one is not by birth or by right a part of. The only way God could manifest His love to His creatures that He has for Himself within the Godhead would be to adopt His creatures, a people for Himself, through His natural Son. In so doing God creates a family of children for Himself and displays His glory to them. The only way the bride could be adopted is through a marriage with the Lamb. This marriage would require a union between man and God. Christ the God-Man is that union, and all who are in union with Christ are also in union with God. This is what Jesus is getting at in John 17. The cross makes possible the mystical union between God and men, a union which brings all the privileges of being Christ Himself. Christ won these privileges for His bride as a man, and in so doing also won privileges and glory as a man for Himself and His people. Thus, we see the wisdom and glory of God’s plan in the Fall- He was demonstrating His own glory in action, and enters into His own glory and story through Christ, winning in His humanity experiential glory for Himself and a people for Himself.
The question remains- why did Christ have to win these privileges for Himself and His people through sin and suffering? Could He not have won these privileges some other way? Could man not have kept God’s command, abstaining from the fruit, and then Christ become a man and enter into union with them? The answer is apparent. The union would not be the same, if any union could occur at all. The blood of the New Covenant, Christ’s, is the bonding agent between Him and His bride. Without the shedding of blood on behalf of His bride there is no bond, no covenant, no union, no expression of His love, and therefore no experience of His love, which is the same love that has eternally existed in the Godhead. The covenant of works would unite man on terms of his righteousness, his own love, not Christ’s. Thus it would not seem possible for a union of man to the God-Man, but only of man to Christ in His humanity. This is because it is the Holy Spirit by which Christ resisted sin as a man, submitted to the will of His Father, and loved His Father, Himself, and His people in His life and on the cross. The Spirit could indwell Him because He was without sin, and because He was God. For fallen man to come into union with the God-Man, they need this Holy Spirit, because it is the penetrating Spirit of Christ’s love, which is the love of the divine, rooted in eternity past and enjoyed within the Godhead. This Spirit is Christ’s Spirit, and its relation to adoption is seen plainly in Romans 8:14-17:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
We see, then, that receiving Christ’s Spirit was necessary to become children of God, and that the suffering of Christ and the suffering of the saints is necessary for the saints to taste the love which God the Father and God the Son have shared forever. The suffering itself embodies the love, and the depth of God’s love for Himself, within Himself, and for His people united to Himself is that He is willing to suffer for Himself. Though it is impossible for God to die (in His deity), the sense is that each member within the trinity so loves one another that they would die for each other, and this is indicated by Christ dying as a man not only for man, but for God the Father. The wonder of it all is that while at the very same time Christ is coming to save His people and the cosmos by overcoming sin and death, He also comes to prove and express His love to the Father, and His Father is expressing His love to His Son. Christ gains glory as a man through suffering, but the suffering in His humanity gives flesh and bones, a theatre film for the eternal love within the Godhead!
So then, the Spirit of adoption is enriching experientially because of all that the God-Man did, acting as His people’s elder brother. While He was saving man as a man, He was also for the first time expressing God in human form in His fullness (Col. 2:12). Without a fall, man could not image the fullness of God for the same reason that God, being perfect, could never experientially dispense His wrath before creation and the fall of Satan. There was nothing worthy of God’s wrath! Man could not image God’s grace then either, or His mercy, because nothing existed for grace or mercy before the Fall (Satan was not an object intended for grace or mercy). This Spirit of suffering, which is the Spirit of adoption, could not be given unless Christ Himself lived in the Spirit as a man in a fallen world. Thus it was necessary for Christ to take on human flesh, to become the God-man, and to live righteously in the Spirit so that His Spirit could be given and indwell His bride whom He purchased with His blood through the atonement. The atonement covered His bride’s sins and expressed the intertrinitarian love of God, and at conversion Christ’s righteousness, including the righteousness of His loving suffering, is imputed to His bride. In this way God sees Christ’s bride as His child, righteous and spotless like His Son Jesus who demonstrated the eternal love which He, the Father, and Spirit had planned to express through the cross from eternity past. The Spirit of adoption realizes this and communicates all this to the bride through the formation of the spiritual union with Christ. Because the Godhead is perichoretic, because they all have the same essence, same spirit, to have the Holy Spirit is to have not only one member of the trinity, but to have all three. The bond of love is cemented.
One may wonder in what sense Christ’s Holy Spirit could have entered man if man did not fall. It may be possible, but the purpose and scope would necessarily be different (in the experiential realm of suffering). The Holy Spirit enters to sanctify fallen man, but unfallen man would not need to be sanctified or made holy. Man would presumably not need to live by the Holy Spirit but could live by their own holy spirit, a spirit ignorant and devoid of the eternal love shared between each member of the Godhead. Man would not be adopted into the family of God in the same sense because Christ would not have died for His bride, paid for her sins, and given her His righteousness and obedience of suffering and dying. Again, Christ’s righteousness is the righteousness of the God-Man, containing the privileged eternal love between God the Father and God the Son.
To be the bride of Christ and an adopted child of God, one needs life in Christ, not a life of their own righteousness. We need participation in the life of Christ, which comes to its consummation in glorification. To be glorified with Christ, we must be raised with Christ. Colossians 3:1-4 makes this clear:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
We must be wedded to the God-man through His Spirit and the imputation of His righteousness. This is why the fall was planned and sin exists. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the gift of His Spirit indwelling man go beyond God dwelling with man in the Garden of Eden, but now to the place of God dwelling in man and man in God. This dwelling is not one of man becoming the same substance of God, but becoming conformed to the image of God through Christ the suffering servant. It’s a union of holiness, of character, of reception and giving of love, not of essence. But most specifically, it is to be like the Father in relation to Him, as His Son. If man had his own righteousness, He would be like God as a creature, indeed a creature made in the image of God, but in Christ, man has Christ’s righteousness as if man himself were a natural born son. That is a far richer righteousness than man’s own, because Christ’s righteousness as the God-Man, as made clear by passages like John 17, communicates more than the righteousness of a man not in union with God the Son, namely the eternal bond of love that God the Son and God the Father reciprocate to one another. Colossians 3 speaks of a bond of perfection, love, which is the character of the new man made in the image of Christ the Lord, the heavenly man, surpassing the image of Adam, the earthly man of dust(1 Cor. 15:46-49):
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
In Adam was the seed form of man, which dies and blooms into the image of Christ the God-Man. The image of Christ the God-Man loves through dying, forgives through suffering and death. Resurrection will fit us for our spiritual bodies, made after the likeness of Christ the God-Man who is the full bloom, but we already have the Spirit of adoption and are seated in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:5-7). The fall then was the necessary death of the first man that there may be the blooming of the second man, Jesus Christ. Further, the giving of God’s own Son for His people was the act by which God gave His Son (as a man) glory and dominion over the world and everything in it as a concrete demonstration of His love for His Son, and the Son as the God-man perfectly embodies and images the glory of God (which is who He is in His being) in resisting and defeating sin and death, giving rise to the expression of His justice, wrath, grace, mercy, and love. The fall is necessary and as seen in this light is not an aberration of God’s goodness and glory, but a manifestation of it since the fall itself and all that follows from it glorifies Himself in His totality, chiefly through the God-Man Jesus Christ.
 John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory (paperback Edition): Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (with the Complete Text of the End for Which God Created the World) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 147-148
 Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: in Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004), 365-367
 Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 5
 Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: in Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004), 366-367