One with Distinctions

oneWe believe God is one. One as in “the Father-Son-and-Spirit.” Not meaning three gods working together; or one God with three faces. He is, instead, one who exists in his subsistent relations: in an eternal and immaterial communion of relational distinctions (or “Persons”). The Father is always the Father because of the Son; and the Son is always the Son because of the Father; and the Spirit is God’s bonding communicator. That, in turn, defines who he is to us and who we are meant to be with him and with each other.

This truism will stretch us but, as followers of Christ, we must receive it. And as we explore it we have at least two rails to run on. First we take up the Genesis disclosure that in marriage, by God’s Spirit, two become one—making a single male-and-female human. And, second, we embrace the New Testament disclosure that all who share Christ’s Spirit are one in Christ.

The common point is that the Spirit shares and sustains God’s eternal, invisible, and immaterial relationship and, by the Father’s love, extends that relationship to us and, potentially, through us.

In other words God’s being explains our being. He created us in his image as beings-in-relation. Yet, as an important sidebar, God’s enemy posits just the opposite. He insists that both God and humanity exist as autonomous beings—as individual gods. So we won’t find these relational insights affirmed by any who lack the Spirit’s life—anyone not “born again.” Which is incredible, given that in life we are immersed in relationships.

That warning aside, this relational image—our “likeness” to God—allows us to commune with him once we know him. The eyes of our hearts are opened when we turn away from satanic premises of autonomy and live, instead, by faith in God working through his love.

Love is key. Love is the label for God’s inherent mutual devotion. Importantly, it is not something external to God—some sort of commodity or power. It is, instead, God’s relational bond. The Father initiates love; the Son responds to it; and the Spirit shares it. Or, as Augustine of Hippo summarized it, in God we meet the true lover, his beloved, and the one who communicates their reciprocal love. And salvation is the fruit of the Spirit sharing that love in human hearts.

From the very beginning, then, as relational beings we were made to love and to be loved. And, in human marriage, to be united in the flesh as the male-female who can then bear children in love engendered by the Spirit’s indwelling presence.

The distinctions in God and in us are key. In reading John’s gospel, for instance, the differing roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit are underscored. So, too, partners in a marriage differ in ways that make a whole—not simply in biological distinctions but as whole persons—with differences that attract and intrigue. God means for these wonderful and sometimes mystifying distinctions to complement and fulfill the one-with-another bonding of love.

And even apart from marriage Christians are members of Christ’s body by his Spirit—and, collectively, the bride of Christ. Our being-in-communion is God’s shared love present in us. By his love we are bonded both to him and to each other.

But what does this mean in practice? Much more than any blog entry can explore! But let’s at least start.

I picked up one lesson in a seminary counseling course. “Remember,” the professor told us, “in marital counseling you counsel the marriage, not the individuals.”

His point was that the two spouses share a relationship. And the relationship is what needs the care. It consists in shared values, choices, hurts, hopes, friendships, children, and more. Each spouse brings different qualities to the whole—as complementary distinctions—so any problems will only be resolved when the spouses come to a more profound and effective bond through Christ’s love.

The claim of 1 John 4 that “God is love” sets all this in play. His love in us makes all the difference—something John unpacks in his letter.

Another lesson comes by collating the Bible accounts of Genesis 3 and John 3. The Spirit has been eternally present in the divine communion of the “one” who is also the “us” of the Genesis creation account. Which is to say that the fruit of the Spirit—his sharing Christ’s heart—should characterize growing Christian relations.

This lesson—that the Spirit grows us—was the point Jesus made to Nicodemus in John 3.  At a minimum, knowing God involves a wholehearted response to God’s love as the Spirit shares that love. His voice, offered in the Scriptures, is needed to make salvation—and marriages—work. It also offers the basis for true church growth.

Jesus summarized this in John 13:15—“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This characterizes his bond with the Father and he treated it as the goal of his incarnation in John 17:22, “that they may be one even as we are one.”

So the practice of responding to God rightly consists in always treating his being-in-the-communion-of-love as the basis for every relationship. He is the ground of every true aspect of creaturely reality. We are, in other words, meant to live in the union and communion of love by always aligning our hearts with God’s heart. There we find shared values and practices.

This isn’t simply a matter of learning truths—though learning is always present—but growing in love. The Father is always initiating in love and the Son is always responding; and the Spirit is always communicating in an eternal swirl of initiative-and-response. And we are invited to join in.

So we are called to be one, just as God is one. This takes place in a progression of heart changes as we have his Spirit working in us. We begin to grasp our own unique distinctions as elements of a whole—as members of Christ’s body—and not as capacities to be used for our selfish ends.

Then in our self-giving we reveal God’s heart—as a holy whole—to the world. And that invites unbelievers—those enslaved to autonomy—to taste and see God’s goodness through our love for each other. His loving kindness lasts forever and we, as his beloved children who are all distinct yet one, offer living samples of what that means!

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2 Responses to One with Distinctions

  1. Gretchen December 24, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    It’s only been through the Bible read-through that I’ve begun to the grasp the significance of what you’ve written of here. When we try to build marriages, friendships, relationships within the church, relationships with our children—really any kind of relationship—on a foundation other than on who God is, there will never be the depth and richness that God intended from the beginning. Further, as you point out, we will not have the self-giving kind of love that reveals God’s heart to the world. And, of course, none of that is possible without a relationship with our Father-Son-Spirit God. Thanks, Ron. Beautifully said! (If anyone reads this and wonders what the “Bible read-through” is, see the Resources section on this website.)

  2. Ron Frost December 25, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    Thanks, Gretchen. Your endorsement means a lot – you’ve traced this theme in your own life with greater care & insight than most.

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