Paradoxology: Thoughts on the Trinitarian Grounding of Human Faith

March 2003

Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That progressive revelation in turn has progressively entailed the revelation of the meaning of man. Because man is God's image, his relationship to God is intended to reproduce, on a creaturely level, the relational life of the Trinity.

Scripture makes it clear that man's relationship to God is governed by faith. Is this an accident of creation, or is it grounded in the life of the Trinity? Given that man is God's image, and that faith is central to his life, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that human faith must in some way have a divine antecedent. Man is the image of God; he is God's "analogy" or "metaphor." Thus, although what is true of God is not going to be true of man in precisely the same way (univocally), nonetheless, we can expect a genuine analogy.

God's Faith?

How does faith exist in the Godhead?

Primarily, I suggest, divine faith means the entrusting of oneself to another. Were there no Trinity, there could be no divine faith. (But then, if there were no Trinity, there could likewise be no image of God either.)

The members of the Trinity entrust themselves to one another. Jesus, the "exegesis" of the Father (cf. Jn. 1:18), who enfleshes the divine life, says that He does not seek His own glory, but the glory of the One who sent Him (Jn. 7:18; 8:50). He depends upon the Father to glorify Him (Jn. 17:1, 5). He depends upon the Spirit to glorify Him (Jn. 16:14). His part is to glorify the Father (Jn 17:4).

Thus the Spirit also does not glorify Himself, but rather the Son. He does not speak "on His own," and it is the things of the Son which He declares, as He glorifies the Son (Jn. 16:13-15).

Jesus makes it clear that it is precisely this entrusting of Himself, the entrusting of His honour and glory to another, that is divine: "If I honour Myself, My honour is nothing. It is My Father who honours Me" (Jn. 8:54). It is not the case that God gets to be selfish, while He calls upon His creatures to be unselfish. God is three Persons, each of whom are self-giving. The Persons of the Trinity live by way of a self-giving faith. Each member of the Trinity entrusts Himself to the others.

To image God faithfully, then, is bound up with entrusting ourselves to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (primarily), and then, to the co-members of Christ (secondarily). Paul calls upon this mind to be in us - the mind that was in Christ: Christ, although equal with the Father, did not grasp this equality as something of a private possession. He entrusted Himself to the Father to vindicate Him, by making Himself of no reputation, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, humbling Himself to the obedience of death upon the cross (Phi. 2:5-8). Therefore the Father highly exalted Him. Marvellously, Jesus receives a name above every other name, and He is confessed as Lord, "to the glory of God the Father" (Phi. 2:9-11).

The Philippians passage, of course, refers to Christ's mediatorial work (which we will return to below), not to the eternal movement of the Persons of the Trinity. Yet Christ's mediatorial work is an exposition of God. What Christ did on earth was not merely a "face," a "mask." Christ's work is truly the work of God enfleshed (Jn. 1:1, 14); consequently, the Son's relations to the Father in the course of the mediatorial work are to be considered as genuine revelation of the life of God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are Persons of faith, who entrust themselves to one another.

Our design in what follows is to reflect a bit upon how the respective callings of Adam, Christ and the Christian are intended to image the faith of the Trinity.

Faith for Adam

Recognizing the faith-dimension of the Trinity ought to help us reflect upon the relationship between man and God. As originally created, Adam was called to reflect the faith-life of his God. He was called upon to entrust himself to God for his well-being and honour. Adam must lay aside any claim to glorify himself, to rely upon himself. He must entrust himself to his faithful Creator.

It will be readily seen that it is precisely this which the serpent challenges. "Is it really true that God is not allowing you to eat of every tree of the Garden? Is it really so that God withholds something from you?" (Gen. 3:1). The woman is forced to acknowledge that, yes, while she and her husband have been urged to eat of every other tree in the Garden, yet there is one tree which God holds back (Gen. 3:2-3; cf. 2:16-17). Here is the test: she must trust God that this prohibition is for her own good.

The serpent responds by calling into question God's faithfulness, His "trustability." The warning of death that God has given is untrue, he says. God only threatens that because He is afraid you will eat and thereby become like Himself, knowing good and evil. In other words, God is jealous of you, His creature. He is not seeking your best, He is rather trying to "hold you down" (Gen. 3:4-5).

Given the nature of the temptation, then, the original sin is above all else a failure of faith. It is a failure of the creature to entrust himself to God. Adam and Eve become distrustful of God's provision, good intentions, and love. They move from trust in God to an attempt to clutch at glorification for themselves.

We are not given explicit explanation in Scripture about how God intended to advance the condition of Adam and Eve. Some believe that glorification would have come about automatically had Adam and Eve chosen to eat of the Tree of Life instead of the forbidden tree. Others suggest that glorification would have resulted simply if they had passed this test in Genesis 3.

James Jordan suggests something else, with (I think) better support from Scripture. Noting that the knowledge of good and evil is not itself a bad thing, Jordan points out that in Scripture those who do not know good and evil are immature (see e.g. Heb. 5:14; Is. 7:15-16 etc.). The issue in the prohibition of the tree, then, would be that Adam and Eve were not ready for such knowledge. They were not mature; they were newly created.

If this is the case, then the faith issue is highlighted once again. Adam and Eve needed to entrust themselves to God. He would ultimately give them all things which were created for them. Psalm 8 says that God ordained that man was to have dominion over all His works. "You have put all things under his feet" (Ps. 8:6). But this universal dominion for man is not yet seen (Heb. 2:8b).

The "not yet" of Psalm 8:6 seems to imply, not merely that man's universal dominion was lost after the Fall, but further, that it had not yet been fully implemented even prior to the Fall. Adam was the son of God (cf. Lk. 3:38), but he was not created fully mature. He needed to be tested, as the presence of the tree of knowledge of good and evil shows. (Jordan develops his thesis considerably more than what I have provided here, but this outline will suffice for our purposes. Some of Jordan's thoughts can be found here and here in the context of a discussion of the "covenant of works.")

But the primary point is that Adam's relationship to God was intended to be governed by faith. The covenantal test which was given revolved around the issue of faith. And since that test was a capsulized form of the entire creation covenant, we can be sure that the creation covenant was a faith-covenant above all else. Glorification, not by human achievement ("works"), but through entrusting oneself to another ("faith").

Faith for Christ

We have said that the universal dominion for man is not yet seen (Heb. 2:8b). This is no longer entirely the case, however: there is an exception. As the writer to Hebrews continues, it is clear that Jesus constitutes that exception. He has become the Captain of dominion, being crowned with glory and honour through death (see esp. Heb. 2:9-10). He is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, possessing the rule both of this age and of the one to come (Eph. 1:20-21).

The way Hebrews represents Christ's work shows quite clearly that His life fulfills the faith required of Adam, which we outlined above. Where Adam failed in entrusting himself to God, Christ succeeded. "In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:7-9).

It is noteworthy that the term "perfected" in verse 9 is often translated "completed" or "brought to maturity." Clearly, the writer is not speaking of Christ becoming perfected in the sense of moving from sinful imperfection to a state of sinless perfection - Christ never sinned, and thus did not need to be perfected in that way. But the man Christ Jesus, as our fully human representative, did need to be brought to perfection in the sense of a fulfillment of maturity. This fits well with what we argued above regarding Adam. It was by entrusting Himself to the will of the Father, even through death, that by faith Christ was led to the perfection of maturity.

The portrait of Jesus in Hebrews 5:7-9, then, is a portrait of faith. He was tempted like us - like Adam - yet without sin; consequently, He has become our forerunner into the heavens, who grants us mercy and grace in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16). He has become the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2) - not only as its object (although He certainly is that), but first of all by being the pioneer, the One who first faithfully and fully embodied that faith.

In two of the three temptations, the wilderness episode clearly highlights this. Satan tempts Christ to grab things for Himself: to employ His powers for Himself by creating food to satisfy His own hunger (Mt. 4:3); Satan tempts Christ to deviate from His path of patient faith by seeking the kingdoms of the world through a shortcut (Mt. 4:8-9). (The other temptation is a sort of mirror-image of these two: the perversion of genuine faith. Satan suggests that Christ "exercise faith" by casting Himself down from the temple pinnacle in "faith" that angels would rescue Him, Mt. 4:5-7).

As we noted earlier, it was in view of this obedient faith that the Father vindicated the Son. Christ did not look out for His own interests (Phi. 2:4), did not wrest His glorious prerogatives to Himself as private possessions (Phi. 2:6), but rather in humility placed Himself in the hands of the Father, becoming obedient to death (Phi. 2:7-8). In dying, He commended Himself into the hands of the Father (Lk. 23:46). Therefore God exalted Him, vindicating Him through resurrection (Phi. 2:9). This glorification was the Father's declaration of Jesus' justification (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16).

Christ achieved salvation for us. Yet in a real sense, we can see that He did not do this by way of the route of "achievement," but rather by the route of faith. What Christ accomplished for us was, paradoxically, not an accomplishment, but a "self-emptying" (Phi. 2:7): He "divested" Himself in order to be "invested" with glory by the Father.

Faith for the Christian

Scripture is abundantly clear that the life of the believer is governed by faith, rather than by human achievement. There are no "works of the law" which can achieve or support our justification, vindication, or glorification. We must place our hope outside of ourselves, in the hands of God. This involves not merely a "feeling of total dependence upon God" (a la Schleiermacher); it involves resting in the perfect substitutionary work of Christ, who fulfilled for us what we as fallen mankind could not fulfill.

Glorification is by way of faith only. This is the rationale behind Paul's argument in Galatians 3:1-5. The Spirit is the Spirit of resurrection (cf. Ezek. 37), the demonstrative gift of God's vindication (1 Tim. 3:16). Thus the Spirit is the Spirit of glory (1 Pet. 4:14; cf. 2 Cor. 3). Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6:4). Thus Paul asks the Galatians: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal. 3:2). The way to glorification is not through human achievement. It is by placing our hope outside of ourselves in Christ crucified (cf. Gal. 3:1). This is signal proof for Paul that justification is sola fide.

The calling to entrust ourselves to God, to find our vindication in Him, is encapsulated in Peter's statement: "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 4:19). We "commit our souls" to God. This is the governing principle of the Christian life: faith.

Given the contours of faith as described above, it is not surprising that saving faith "works by love" (Gal. 5:6). The faith which images God is oriented outside of the self, and thus is naturally complemented by love. The ability of faith to "go outside of itself" is fulfilled in love, which seeks the welfare of others.

Indeed, this is Paul's primary point in Philippians 2: he is calling upon the believers to provide the consolation, love, and communion of the Trinity by walking in affection and mercy, avoiding acting out of selfish ambition and conceit, being driven rather by "the interests of others" (Phi. 2:1-4). It is this ethical goal which Paul is driving toward by his citation of Christ's obedient faith (Phi. 2:5ff.).

It is not to be supposed that faith and love are interchangeable. Yet a faith which is genuinely an image of God's faith will necessarily work itself out in love as its own fulfillment. The Son demonstrates faith by entrusting Himself to the Father and the Spirit to glorify Him; He fulfills the mandate of love by Himself glorifying the Father and the Spirit. The Christian entrusts himself to God, and in that very act of faith, he glorifies and loves God. Hence the first and greatest commandment (Mt. 22:37-38) can be fulfilled only by way of faith.

The Church, as the Body of Christ, is likewise an organism of faith. The ethical imperatives of the second great commandment (Mt. 22:39), which drives Paul's exhortation in Philippians 2, are imperatives shaped by fellowship with the Trinity. Faith frees the believer to engage in love. Faith enables the believer to labour to glorify Christ's Bride through humble service. Faith is the foundation of love; without faith, no love can flower. No marriage blooms with love unless there is a bedrock of trust. Because the Church is not merely a human institution, but the Body of Christ, Who is perfectly faithful and trustworthy, the Christian is enabled to live by faith, and therefore, by love, giving himself to others for the glory of God and the kingdom. The consequence of this is that even those "insignificant" parts of the body, "on these we bestow greater honour" (1 Cor. 12:23). (Faith is also the foundation of the love of enemies. Because we entrust ourselves to God to vindicate us against wickedness and wicked men, we are freed to love those who hate us. Unbelief seeks self-justification over against enemies, but faith leaves our vindication to God.)

Summary and Conclusion

The impulse of history is to move from creation to glorification. This movement is modelled upon the self-giving of the members of the Trinity. The Father glorifies the Son; the Spirit glorifies the Son; the Son glorifies the Father. Indeed, each member of the Trinity glorifies the others; each member of the Trinity entrusts Himself to the others for His glorification.

So it is with the man created in God's image. He was called upon to entrust himself to his faithful Creator. He was not to clutch at his own honour, but to place himself in the hands of God as the One who would bring His creation to full glorified maturity. This is man's full vindication - a vindication by faith, not by autonomous works.

In all of this, we see what I like to call the paradoxological character of human existence. (Paradox + doxology. Doxology derives from the Greek doxa, meaning glory. Thus paradoxology = glorification through a paradoxical process.) Glorification does not come by human achievement, but by self-giving faith, by placing all trust outside of ourselves and putting ourselves in the hands of God. In this sense, even Adam was called to live sola fide, by faith alone. (As with Christians, this does not mean that Adam was mandated to do nothing other than believe. Even as Christians are "created in Christ Jesus for good works," Eph. 2:10, so too Adam was created in the image of God for good works, e.g. to tend and guard the Garden, Gen. 2:15). Adam was to have faith in God's goodness and wisdom and entrust himself to that. Instead, he reached for salvation by works: he laid hold of the thing which he thought would glorify him. Thus the original sin was above all else defection from faith.

All of this also helps explain the paradoxical character of Christian morality. Only Christianity places pride at the head of the vices and humility high on the list of virtues. Classical philosophy thought lightly of the humble; it was considered a sign of weakness. But the Christian faith values things otherwise. Pride opposes itself to faith. Pride rests upon oneself and one's own achievements and is repulsed by the thought of entrusting oneself to another. True humility stretches beyond oneself. It leaves it to God to "look out for one's interests" (cf. Phi. 2:4). It is this faith, paradoxically, which finds its culmination in exaltation.


— Tim Gallant

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