Thursday DIVE – 28September2023

WELCOME and THANKS for joining us.


A.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at an essay, CLARIFYING OUR THEOLOLOGICAL VISION … by Dr. Gary Deddo.

B.  Last week, we branched off to look at “When is a Sin NOT necessarily a Sin?”.

C.  Tonight, we go back to the essay.

D.  The essay is in five parts …

  • Part 1: Clarifying Two Key Terms: “All Are Included” and “Union With Christ”
  • Part 2: Union With Christ, Christ’s Vicarious Humanity and the Holy Spirit’s Ministry
  • Part 3: The Holy Spirit’s Ministry, the Christian Life, Believers and Non-Believers
  • Part 4: Addressing the Christian Life
  • Part 5: Foundational Insights and Conclusion

E.  Tonight we contine in Part 2 — looking at Three Unions and Three Moments of Salvation.


Three unions

In part 1 of this series, we mentioned two unions addressed in the New Testament: the  hypostatic  union  (that unites divinity and humanity in the one person of Jesus) and the  spiritual  union  (the believer’s union with Christ by the ministry of the Holy Spirit).  We can now mention a third union that also is of great theological importance — theologians call it the ontological union  (with “ontological” meaning “pertaining to being”).  This is the union between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit by which the three Persons of the Trinity are eternally one in being (substance or essence).  

This ontological union of the divine Persons does not mean that there are no distinctions between them within the one being of God.  The one God is not an undifferentiated ontological monad or lump.  The ontological union is a unity of distinguishable divine Persons with distinct names and relationships with each other.

  • As stated in the Athanasian Creed, God is unity in trinity and trinity in unity.
  • C.S. Lewis put it this way: God is tri-personal.
  • We could also say that the unity of God is a triunity.

This ontological union (explored in the excursus below) applies only to the Trinity.  It is only in God’s being that there can be three distinct, divine Persons so related that they are one in being.  This sort of unity of being is not found in the other two unions, which both involve human nature.

  • In the hypostatic union, the human and divine natures are united in the one Person of Jesus, but those natures are not one in being, they remain distinct in their respective natures.
  • In the spiritual union, human believers are united to Jesus, but the two are not one in being. We humans remain distinct persons.

The ontological union is thus absolutely unique as noted in the excursus below.


Excursus on the ontological union

Starting with the eternal Trinity, which Jesus tells us about, we recognize a kind of dynamic permanence, stability and faithfulness in our Triune God for all time.  There never was a time within the eternal triune life of God when the Father did not love the Son, the Son did not love the Father and the Spirit did not love or indwell the love of the Father and the Son.  Jesus says the same in noting that the Father and the Son know and glorify each other, which we can assume (based on other things revealed) involves the Holy Spirit.  These are permanent relationships occurring within the one, Triune God.  We can also say that the divine Persons share in one Triune mind and will.  There never was a time when they were separated in mind or will, or a time before they came to agree, cooperate and become united in will or mind.

These dynamic relationships constitute God’s eternal character, nature and being.  God was Triune before there was anything existing other than God and would be Triune even if creation never existed.  God alone is uncreated and has existence in himself.  God is not dependent upon anything else to exist and to be fully and completely the God that he is — the “I Am” revealed to Moses.

The triune God is loving in his being as a fellowship and communion that is eternal and internal to God.  How that is so is something to ponder — a mystery we cannot ever get to the bottom of because God is the incomparable one — one of a kind.  This being the case, we can only know God by his self-revelation and not by comparison with other created things (which would lead to idolatry and mythology).  That means that when God acts towards that which is not God, namely everything else that exists, we cannot think of that relationship in the same way we think of the triune being and relationships within God.  When God acts towards creation to create it or to save it, that act occurs by the gracious will of God — it happens by his choice, his election, in the freedom of his love.

Nothing God does external to his being is necessary to God’s being.  Creation and redemption are the free and gracious acts of God towards that which is not God, but which are the products of God’s free willing and acting or making.  God acts towards creation not “by nature” but “by grace.”  All such relationships are external to God (ad extra as theologians say). They are not eternal, not automatic, fixed, necessary or permanent.

Some of the things God creates including impersonal things like rocks, are more fixed or static and law- or principle-like than are other things, such as human persons who are created in God’s image.  But none of these things are identical, and none exist on their own.  Human persons are not emanations from (extensions of) or parts of God.  Persons are works of God’s grace, by creation and redemption, created as moral and spiritual persons for personal relations in fellowship and communion with God.  As humans, we exist contingently and dynamically in personal relationship with GodWe are entirely dependent upon God for our ongoing existence, though God is not dependent upon us (or any other part of his creation) for his ongoing existence.

As human beings in relationship with God, we have the capacity to live in personal, moral, spiritual relationships with others, God includedIn those relationships we can reflect something of God’s internal and eternal relationships — we can love.  And so Jesus lays it out simply, maintaining the difference and similarity of relationships.  His use of the word “as” indicates a certain comparison, but not an identity when he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”  This indicates the Triune relationship (the ontological union) and the hypostatic union and saving work of Christ.  He then goes on to say, “As I have loved you, you ought to love one another.”  This command speaks of our human relations being like or similar to Jesus’ relationship with us.

The apostle John, speaking of our relationship to God, says this: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  He also says, “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).  Note here that there is a difference of love, indicated by the order and priority of God’s love over ours.  John is referencing the great asymmetry between God’s love and our love, but in this asymmetry there is not a separation, a disconnection.  Our love is dependent upon God’s love; our love has its source in God, who is love, and not in ourselves.  We then say that our love is contingent upon God’s love, but his love is not contingent upon ours.

If we make the error of thinking that we are somehow fused or one in being with God (even if that fusion were accomplished through some kind of fusion with Jesus), we would be wrongly concluding that our relationship to God is identical to Jesus’ internal and eternal relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit, rather than distinct and comparable.  We would be wrongly imagining that our human persons are so fused with God or with Jesus that we would be essentially indistinguishable as human persons from the Triune Divine Persons — we would thus be a sort of fourth member of the Trinity.

Though failing to distinguish between the three unions and mistaking fusion for union may seem like only small technical errors, the reality is that they make total nonsense of the entire story of God’s salvation by grace, including the real relationship between God and human beings.  And so we must carefully avoid making these errors.


Three Moments of Salvation

Understanding the three unions, and thus grasping that our relationship with God (the Source of our salvation) is in the Trinity, we can now fill out the story of God’s saving grace noting that the Bible speaks of the activity of all three Persons of the Trinity united to work out our salvation.  This is also indicated by the fact that the New Testament says we have “been saved,” are “being saved,” and will “be saved.”  These past, present-continuing, and future tenses speak of one work with three moments (see the note below) — three aspects of the one saving event.

Note: As in physics, a moment is not an interval of time, but is timeless.  It is a moment in time, but has no duration itself.  So by analogy, God works timelessly within our time.  The one work of the Trinity seems to involve a time sequence for us who live in time, but the three moments of God’s work are not strictly separate or divided, rather they are united in the one saving activity of God.  One day, even our view of time will be transformed when we participate fully in time’s perfection, when we have our being in the new heavens and earth and in a new and renewed time and space, in what we now call eternity.

These three distinct (though not separate) moments loosely correspond with the three distinct (though not separate) ministries of the Persons of the Trinity.  In Scripture we find that one of the divine Persons is primarily, although not exclusively, associated with a particular moment.  We might say that one Person takes the lead or makes a unique contribution to the one saving action towards his time- and space-bound creation and creatures.  These distinct actions of the Persons then contribute to the three distinct moments in God’s united, saving work.  But we must remember that all the Triune persons act indivisibly, in unity, as they each share distinctively in one Triune divine mind and will.

Note also that these three moments are not exhaustive descriptions of all that the whole God or the Persons do towards creation.  They indicate distinct moments of ministry involving the central work of God’s saving activity.

  • The first moment involves the ontological union of the Trinity in relation to salvation.
  • The second, which pertains to the hypostatic union, involves the Incarnate Son’s relationship to our salvation.
  • The third moment, which pertains to the spiritual union, involves the Spirit’s relationship to us in our salvation.

These three moments can be summarized as follows:

  1. The moment of the Father’s decision — the decision to save, made “before the foundation of the world,” anticipating the involvement of the Son and the Holy Spirit by their being sent by the Father.
  2. The moment of the Son’s work — his saving work, accomplished through his incarnate life, including his earthly ministry, suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit.
  3. The moment of the Holy Spirit’s work — a work involving bringing about, freeing, empowering and guiding the ever-growing participation of believers (via their personal response, receptivity, decision) to Christ’s work.  This work of the Holy Spirit began with the formation of the church after Christ’s earthly work was finished, though it will be complete only with our glorification on the other side of our death.

It’s important to avoid reducing salvation to one of these three moments.   Modern western churches tend to do that, almost to the exclusion of the other two.  However, some make the opposite mistake of fusing (confusing or conflating) the three moments.  We must be careful to uphold the truth that the one, indivisible work of God involves three distinguishable moments in God’s relationship to us in time and space, flesh and bloodWe must be careful to uphold both their connection (unity) and their distinction (without any idea of separation).




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