Trinitarian Spirit: One Being—One in Word & Work

When we begin to read the Godhead, we find each doing things only God can do, receiving worship that belongs only to God, and doing that work and receiving that worship in in perfect unity with one another.

The Spirit’s Words

Likewise, the Spirit speaks only Godhead words: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future” (John 16:13).

The Son’s Word and Works

Jesus identified his words and works with those of the Father; if you will, he speaks Godhead words and does Godhead works. When Jesus’s opponents harassed him for working on the Sabbath, he responded, “My Father is always working, and so am I…. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:17–19). In another encounter, people asked about Jesus’s identity, and he responded, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I AM he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me” (John 8:28). Not only did he use the “I AM” formula, but he described his teaching as coming from the Father, and idea that he doubled down on later: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10–11). He didn’t just speak of learning what to say from the Father but of speaking what the Father says because of union with the father.

All the Works of God

All three persons are involved in all the works that God “in and for creation. John Frame notes that these are “the opera ad extra in the traditional terminology, the works of God that terminate outside himself. There are acts that God performs within his own being (opera ad intra) in which only one person is involved, such as the Father’s begetting of the Son.”1John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 479–80.



We know the Father is active in creation because of the repeated “And God said, let there be…” (Gen 1:1–2:3), but Scriptures show the Son and the Spirit as active too.


We see it in the opening of John’s Gospel when he talks of the role of the Logos in creation: “God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” (John 1:3). Paul echoes and specifies: “through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him” (Col 1:16).


The notice of the Spirit’s work in creation is also there: In the creation account itself, we read “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2). Job confesses, “the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4), and the psalmist notes, “When you give them your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). The Hebrew word used in these verses is ruach, and it can be variously translated Spirit, spirit, wind, or breath, depending upon the context. In the creation account, some go with the person of the “Spirit” (ASV, ESV, NASB), some leave it as “spirit,” an agency of the Godhead (Geneva, KJV, JPS, RSV, NRSV), which may also be rendered as “breath” (NLT, NJPS). But even if you see this as divine “breath,” you’re seeing it as the divine ruach bringing life. The same goes for the testimony of Job and the psalmist’s words.


“So the Word became human and made his home among us…. the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14). And we see distinct roles for each of the three members of the Trinity in the Annunciation. The angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).


Perhaps nowhere in the New Testament is the Godhead’s work so clearly shared by all three members of the Trinity than in Jesus’s own resurrection from the dead. Paul opens Galatians ascribing it to the Father: “This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead” (Gal 1:1). Jesus tells his disciples, “I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again” (John 10:17–18). And Paul also ascribes Jesus’s resurrection to God (i.e., the Father) and Spirit: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Rom 8:11).

Sanctification of Believers

As was the case with the Jesus’s incarnation and resurrection, our sanctification is the work of all three members of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul pronounces a benediction over the Thessalonians that attributes the work to God the Father: “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thees 5:23). The book of Hebrews declares that it’s the work of Jesus the Son, who “Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood” (Heb 13:12).

Peter lauds the work of election, sanctification, and growing in grace to the Trinity almost one-by-one: “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace” (1 Pet 1:2). Paul has the same idea when he describes the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of God” (i.e., the Father) and as “the Spirit of Christ” (i.e., the Son): “You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all) (Rom 8:9).

Giving Gifts

Similarly, we see the Godhead fully involved with gifting the church. Exhorting the church to maintain unity, Paul used language sounding a lot like his description of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, then he rooted the church’s unity in Trinitarian faith:

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.
However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:1–8)

That last little bit about giving gifts is striking, in that Paul spends so much effort describing the gifts as from the Spirit, as gifts of the Spirit distributed as he will. And then here you read that they come “through the generosity of Christ,” the ascended Christ who “gave gifts to his people.” And that last little bit is Paul adapting language from a psalm that describes victorious “Lord God” (i.e., God the Father). I say “adapted,” because there the Father’s receiving gifts, like war tribute, rather than giving gifts: “When you ascended to the heights, you led a crowd of captives. You received gifts from the people, even from those who rebelled against you. Now the LORD God will live among us there” (Ps 68:18).

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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