From Fred Sanders’s The Deep Things of God

In this post I want to draw out one of the most important implications of everything we have studied together about the Trinity. In a previous post I discussed the biblical language of the procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father. The idea is not that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” that the Father existed by Himself, all alone, and then at some point decided to create the Son and the Spirit. Rather, the idea is that the Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit. There has never been a time that the Father existed that the Son and Spirit did not (again, check out this post for the biblical reasoning) behind these concepts.

Just as you cannot have a son without a father, or a breath without a breather, the Father would not be the Father without the Son, or the Breather without the Breath or Spirit. This means that the Father, Son, and Spirit are therefore inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And this also means that what one does, all do. Theologians call this concept inseparable operations. Since the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable in their inner life as God, whatever they do outside of themselves (their “operations”) they do together (their work is “inseparable”).

Maybe the easiest way to explain this idea is just to, well, read the Bible! Here are some examples.

The Incarnation of Christ

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35)

The Baptism of Christ

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

The Death of Jesus

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)

The Plan of Redemption

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)

The Church

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18-22)

You get the idea!

There’s an old Frank Sinatra/Bing Crosby/Dean Martin song called Together Wherever We Go. Well, we should think of the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in a similar vein – they are together, whatever they do!

“But wait” – someone objects – “what about the passages that speak of certain actions as if they are exclusively the work of only the Father, or Son, or Spirit?” For example, it is the Son who becomes incarnate, not the Father or the Spirit. Doesn’t that mean some works are only of the Son?

No, it doesn’t. In the first place, as we already saw from Luke 1:34-35, the Incarnation is in fact an example of inseparable operations. In the second place, we must distinguish between our perception of the work of God (which may appear to involve only the Father or Son or Spirit) from the actual nature of the work of God (which always involves the Father and Son and Spirit).

A good illustration of what I mean by this distinction is an old book called Flatland. The premise of the book is that there is a world of only two dimension, length and width. All of its inhabitants are two-dimensional figures, like lines and squares and triangles. Thus Flatland. This world is visited by a three-dimensional figure – someone who has height as well as length and width. Most of the Flatlanders refuse to believe this visitor has three dimension – because, after all, in their perception of him, they can only perceive two of his dimensions. But of course he does have a third dimension. The Flatlanders are just not capable of perceiving it because of the limitations of their own two-dimensional existence.

By the same token, when the Father, Son, and Spirit work in “our world,” so to speak, we may only perceive one “dimension” of the Trinity. But all three are working together at all times. We know this because of the revelation of Scripture.

So we should never imagine that the work of God happens like this – one day the Spirit says, “Hey Guys, I think I am going to go do some cool stuff. See ya later!” And that the Father and Son say, “Awesome – have a great time and let us know how it goes!” No, since the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable, their work is inseparable.