Autonomy and Desire in the Godhead

Fasten your seatbelts everyone, this is a heavy one. The doctrine of the trinity as I understand it goes like this:

  • The Father is God
  • The Son is God
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • The Son is not the Father
  • The Son is not the Holy Spirit
  • The Holy Spirit is not the Father
  • The Holy Spirit is not the Son

There has been all kinds of debate and speculation through the centuries about how God could be one, with the same essence, yet have 3 separate individualities. I am not really going there; I am affirming this nature of the trinity. However, I am going to speculate based on the truth of this nature of the trinity.

The separateness of the persons of the Godhead are not to be diminished or glossed over; this separateness of identity is extremely important. For example, we have this:

16 Jesus therefore answered them, and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
17 “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.
18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
(John 7:16-18, NASB).

28 Jesus therefore said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.
29 “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
(John 8:28, 29, NASB).

42 saying, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.”
(Luke 22:42, NASB).

If Jesus had no autonomy, and could not of His own volition choose to do the will of His Father, then how would He have the ability to SEEK His Father’s glory? It is an essential piece of the Godhead that Jesus is able to CHOOSE, not His will, but His Father’s will. It is not that the Father controlled Jesus like a puppet in forcing Him to lay down His life:

17 “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
(John 10:17, 18, NASB).

We see a similar thing with the Holy Spirit:

4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
(Hebrews 2:4, NASB).
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
(John 14:26, NASB).

The case for the individual autonomy of the Holy Spirit from the scriptures is not as strong, yet we can know that it is foundational doctrine of the Christian faith from antiquity.

So, what are the consequences for us? Within the very Godhead, it is autonomous choice based on love and desire, that maintains the unity among the Godhead’s persons. There is love because there is freedom, and there is freedom because there is genuine liberty of choice. So it is with us. We are not to seek to die in the sense that we become God’s robots or puppets. Our obedience, our virtue, our righteous acts, are always from choice, and always from the joy set before us.

Why do I think that the nature of the relationships within the persons of the Godhead relate to us? Let’s look at this passage:

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense,
3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
(Hebrews 2:1-3, NASB).

In context, the author of Hebrews has just gone on at length proving that Jesus is better than the angels. Here we see the stinger, the reason why this point is so important. When he writes about the word spoken through angels, what does he mean? The answer is right in the verse. It is a word in which every transgression is spelled out, the line of disobedience is defined, and recompense and punishment is spelled out. In other words, according to the scripture, the word spoken through the angels is THE LAW. The word spoken through Christ is different – it is SALVATION. The word of Christ is greater than the word spoken through the angels, because Christ is greater than the angels.

So we are invited into a kingdom which is above the kingdom of the angels.

3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?
(1 Corinthians 6:3, NASB).

We are invited into a world where love is always the motivation, never the coercion of punishment. Our lives are not measured by conformity to standards of practice. In fact our lives are not measured – we have entered a gift culture where the only currency is gratitude. We are invited into a world where it is no longer we who live but Christ, and yet we retain our individual autonomy and choice to act. We are forgiven so that the barriers to the entrance into this world are removed, so that we may come boldly to this throne of grace, where the persons of the Trinity choose freely and autonomously to love, where their essence is one while their personhoods are distinct. This is the world we are invited to, because we are greatly loved.

To sum up, the Godhead is held together by nothing except love; there is otherwise complete freedom to choose. This is true on from eternity to eternity. We as believers are invited beyond any other coercion into the same place. This is amazing!

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  1. Ancient doctrine? Would you care to cite some scholarship? About Pentecost— Jesus said (Gospel of John 16:13-15:)
    “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
    for he will not speak on his authority, but whatever he hears he will speak,
    and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
    He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
    All that the Father has is mine;
    therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

    Then what is to be made of Acts 13:2:
    As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”

    Many claims are made that this is evidence of the Holy Spirit acting on its own authority.

    If the Holy Spirit is acting autonomously then surely the Spirit is acting against what Jesus spoke….

    • I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say. Do you think the Holy Spirit has no autonomy? Would you also say that Jesus has no autonomy? Do you think we have zero free will, that we don’t even choose our own socks? You realize that is a bit extreme.

      Besides, there is a world of difference between not speaking on His own authority, and not having autonomy. He could choose out of love and obedience and a solidarity of will to speak whatever He hears, without violating the idea that He does so a a free choice. In fact, I believe that is my point.

      For example, suppose I am painting a picture. My instructor says, “I think you should use a darker shade of red there.” I look, and see that he is right, and so I use a darker shade of red. Did I then become a puppet or a mindless robotic extension of the instructor, because I took his advice and did as he said? Or did I see the wisdom of it, and so choose to listen to his instruction and do as he said? It was the latter, I chose to heed his advice.

      The Holy Spirit’s adherence to the Father’s authority is made more powerful, not less, because it is chosen freely rather than being controlled like a puppet or robot. This scripture is in no way a refutation of the Holy Spirit’s autonomy.

  2. you sure are rationalistic.

    Instead of looking at Bible texts, you keep coming up with illustrations that assume that your analysis is correct.

    If you decide what is true by what you think is “extreme”, then to stay balanced, you just need to stick with the majority at all times. Most people believe that humans have a power contrary to God which can trump God, so do you. Most people are legalists and Romanists, so you should be also…

    Don’t want to be extreme.

    This from a person who thinks god is enamored with people who won’t “requite” his love for them. Love as….eternal frustration.

    • But, I’m not sure how I’m not looking at Bible texts. I quoted a lot of passages on the other thread, and I’ve based this post on a number of clear texts, in particular:

      4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
      (Hebrews 2:4, NASB).
      26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
      (John 14:26, NASB).

      You could dispute that the proper antecedent in Hebrews 2:4 to the pronoun “His” in “His own will” is the Holy Spirit, but a normal understanding of grammar suggests that “His” refers to the Holy Spirit and not to “God”. That’s what I said in the post. I think the onus is on you to show from scripture that the Holy Spirit is not autonomous, and thus not really His own entity who chooses to obey of His own volition. I don’t think the verses you’ve suggested prove otherwise, and that was the point of my illustration before. If the Holy Spirit harbors no autonomous personhood, you are kind of edging towards some pretty dangerous ground in violating the doctrine of the Trinity. They are three persons who are equally God and yet separate persons. Autonomy is implied. Notice the critical nature of the “Is Not” portions of the trinity as well as the “Is” portions of the trinity.

  3. John 16:13-15 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
    for he will not speak on his authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.

    “Autonomous” in regard to whom? Are you thinking of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son? Or of the relationship of the Holy Spirit to human creatures?

    To answer such questions, you would need to explain what you think “autonomous” means. Does it mean the same thing between the persons of the Trinity as it does when we (supposedly) refuse to reciprocate God’s desire to love us?

    sure god loves me, but it would mean nothing, IF I DID NOT LOVE SECOND

    sure god initiates, BUT I RECIPROCATE

    and that makes it “mutual”, because without me god can do nothing

    Tillich the liberal said to “accept your acceptance, but what if you don’t?

    Tillich said, no matter—but Tillich was an universalist, and you still sound like that group from Dallas Seminary which talks about “the exchanged life” (Miles Sanford) NOT the legalism of rewards for the “Christian life” (Zane Hodges) but rather “the new successful self” (Andrew Farley-naked gospel and Needham-birthright)

    It’s just another kind of “happy talk”, boasting behind a rational mask of “positive thinking”.

    I AM ONE PEARL who now always counts myself dead.

    I AM ONE PEARL who is no longer divided in my desires.

    I AM ONE PEARL who now lives under grace


    than you do

    thus you seem to want to keep telling yourself.


    • That’s not true at all, I’m not saying that it has to be reciprocal. I’m not saying it in the book, I’m not saying it here. I’m not saying it of the persons of the Godhead. I’m saying that they ARE reciprocal from free will. That is the point.

      I have also been very clear that being undivided in my desires is the highest law we can’t achieve. Under the blood of Jesus the threat of the law is declawed, so we become free whether we make mistakes that way or not that we can live with undivided desires.

      You’re being unkind, as well. I’m not pretending superiority.

  4. Your response was not a response to what I wrote. Your distinction between saying that the persons of the Trinity OUGHT to have “autonomous freewill”, and saying that the persons of the Trinity DO have ‘autonomous freewill” makes no difference to the problem you have of subordinating the “blood of Jesus” to “autonomous” factors.

    On the one hand, you write as if Jesus shed His blood for every sinner. If you were rational and coherent, that would mean that all sinners are now free from the threat of the law. But you subvert the gospel with your notions of “autonomy”, so that Christ’s blood’s effect depends on what sinners do with it.

    Sure, you don’t think any of us are perfect, but you think some of us in our autonomy accept the blood and that this is what makes us free.

    I am glad that you agree that you are not superior in kindness to me. You did not even do me the kindness of listening and responding to what I wrote. if I have a false gospel, then the kindest thing you could do for me would be to show me why our autonomy is more important than God’s grace.

    We all have limited time. But calling other people rude while being rude to them is not helpful.

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