I recently preached on the Aseity of God; yes—on a Sunday morning! And in covering this attribute, I spent time discussing the inner life of God—God in Himself. After all, Aseity (or autotheos in the Greek), means that God is God from himself. Nothing created him; he merely is. I am sure many pew-sitters have never heard a sermon on Aseity. I know my congregation was baffled when seeing the sermon title posted on the projector screen before I got into the pulpit. A-se-what?
Furthermore, preaching on Aseity meant I would teach on God’s divine acts or more technically his inseparable operations. It is a fascinating subject to talk about yet so neglected, but so important for a consistent monotheistic doctrine of the Trinity. Because of its importance, I wanted to share the excerpt from my sermon where I explained inseparable operations of God from the text. It is a very technical subject. I worked hard to present it in layman’s terms (well, as layman as I could present it).1
I began an exposition of John 5 (and later passages in John), which I think is the quintessential section of Scripture to theologically expound the doctrine of the Trinity from the text. I say that because many resort to proof-texting to formulate their argumentation for the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Now, I am not against proof-texting; we all do it. But so do our opponents. Deriving doctrine exegetically is the primary route in developing a theology. As John Webster used to say, our dogmatic statements must be “soaked in Scripture.” However, we will proof-text or take a certain interpretation of a text for granted because of an excepted tradition of interpretation (We see this in Aquinas in his Summa). So, when reading my sermon excerpt below, you will notice that I don’t exegetically argue for every statement or conclusion I assert; rather, I am preaching the text from a Trinitarian classical tradition of interpretation behind my arguments.
In John 5, we come to Jesus’ third sign, healing the sick. Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath, and instead of marveling at his mighty work, the Jews began persecuting him because he did it on the Sabbath. In John 5:17, Jesus, in scandalous form, responds to them: “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” To the Jews—Blasphemy! How are the Jews understanding his words? His words infuriated them so much that they wanted to kill him. Why? It was because “he was calling God his own Father – making himself equal to God.”
How did they arrive at that conclusion?
Well, though they were blind to the truth, the little light they had in understanding what Jesus’ words implied was profound.
They understood Jesus to be saying that God is his Father by nature, not by adoption as everyone else is. And if God is His Father and Jesus is doing the same works as the Father, then He is making Himself God. They could not believe that it could be true, as John 10:33 says, “being a man — you make yourself God.” They were also mistaken in their assumptions about the Sabbath. If he were truly God, they thought, he wouldn’t be working on the Sabbath, since Scripture says God rested from all his works on the seventh day.
What is their problem? They misinterpret the Scriptures. God resting from those works of creation served as a metaphor and directive for mankind; for man to rest one day per week. Jesus clarified by stating, in Mark 2:27, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Scripture tells us God doesn’t grow tired nor weary but gives strength and power to the weak (Isa 40:28-29). He sustains all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3); giving all food to all his creatures at the proper time (Ps. 145:15).
Therefore, the Father is still working, and the Son, who is of the Father, is still working too.
And then Jesus makes four statements to drive home the point that He is of the Father, as the Son of God who reveals Him; doing exactly what the Father does.
And these passages require careful attention.
19 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things.
Let’s think through what Jesus is saying in 5:19. He says he is not able to do anything on his own but only what he sees the Father doing. Some easily misunderstand this passage, thinking it means Jesus is merely following in His Father’s footsteps doing the works He shows Him like a human son following after his dad. But that is not what He is saying.
Notice Jesus saying He is not able to do anything on His own. Sounds like Jesus lacks the ability to do anything. But we see Jesus doing all kinds of things in the Scriptures. It seems He is doing these things on his own, right?
No, He only does . . . let me repeat . . . He only does . . . what he sees the Father doing—nothing else! Why? Because the Son has the same power and substance of His Father, and for that reason, he cannot do anything of himself. Therefore, as Scripture says, “whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things.”
So, what is He really saying? Let’s get verse 17 back in our minds. He is saying “His Father is still working, and I am working also.” The works that you see are the works that the Father and the Son are doing because they are the works that only God can do. And because God is one, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit—inseparably acting—healed the man on the Sabbath.
The Father doesn’t work apart from the Son nor the Spirit, the Son doesn’t work apart from the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit doesn’t work apart from the Father nor the Son. The divine persons work inseparably carrying out the actions of God.
Let’s keep going.
John 5:20 (CSB)
20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing, and he will show him greater works than these so that you will be amazed.
In 5:20 we see that the immanent life of God is one of love, in that Jesus says the Father loves Him and shows Him everything He is doing. The Son can only do what the Father shows Him because He is from Him and thus He loves Him, and there is nothing between them that is not shared. But in time and space, certain works are attributed individually.
While creation is specifically accomplished by the Father, the greater works to come, as Jesus speaks of in this passage, will be the Son’s work of reconciliation, and then the Spirit’s work of redemption, whereby, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit—the divine life—will dwell in the hearts of the redeemed. But again, all three do the work.
In John 5:21, Jesus says:
21 And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to whom he wants.
And what does this mean?
26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself.
Wow……. We come to the key passage for the doctrine of Aseity. The Father has life in Himself. We already discussed what that means. And then Jesus says, the Father has granted or given this power, authority, this right, to His Son. Jehovah’s Witnesses will use this passage to support their claim that Jesus isn’t God because he was given this power. But can you see what they are overlooking?
The aseity of God, that is, God having life in Himself, means He is eternal, was never brought into existence, and will never go out of existence. You can’t give self-existence to another; a self-existent being exists by, from, and through itself. His aseity His is identity. He is “I AM,” which means he simply is. So then, what does Jesus mean when He says this? He is of the same essence of God because He is from him, always having been the Son of the Father. Therefore, he too is self-existent in His essence.
In the revelation of the Son of God, Jesus reveals the Father to us, thus He reveals that God isn’t a distant deity; rather, He is imminently relational, and wants creatures to know him. And God is on a mission to reveal His love to a people he chooses. The relations of the three are shown to us in the missions of the three. By revealing their eternal relations through external missions, we come to know God as personal.
The Father as the sender, the Son as the one sent, and the Spirit as the one sent from the Father and the Son. In the beginning of my sermon, I asked the question, “What does it mean to say the Son was sent into the world?” [Because the Logos is omnipresent, so he is already in the world]. Well, this is it. God shows his love to the world by entering his creation as the person of Jesus Christ. The Word has always been, but then the eternal Word takes on flesh. The eternal takes on the temporal to reveal the eternal to the temporal and the carrying out of his mission to redeem and sanctify a people for God.
The missions show the relations.
And that is exactly His point in John 12:44, when Jesus proclaims about his mission and its purpose, saying, “The one who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me. And the one who sees me sees him who sent me.”
In my earlier years as a believer, I always thought it was a bit strange the way Jesus said these things. I just wanted him to say, “Hey, stiff-necked Jews, I am the One true God, I am Yahweh, I am the one who created the heavens and the earth, I am the one who you are to worship.” That would have been so much easier. Now, He does reveal those things. But as the Triune God, he had to reveal them in a certain way, demonstrating his triune inner life while affirming the foundational truth that God is “I AM” and that he is One.
In chapter 7, the Apostle John begins to shed more light on the third person of the Trinity – the one sent from the Father and the Son. In verse 37, in the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus stands up and cries out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and drink. The one who believes in me as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” As the one who has life in himself, he has the power to give the living water, the eternal Spirit of God, to those who believe. The next two passages are astonishing statements that I am sure many of us know by memory.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.
6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
What is striking about these statements is that Jesus isn’t saying that He knows the way to eternal life or that He teaches the truth about eternal life and the resurrection. No, He says “I am” the resurrection, the life, the way, and the truth. Why does He say it that way?
Because that is how He revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush—“I AM.” That is His name. Or did you forget that the Word and the Spirit were there too? Therefore, if you know the Son, you will know the Father, and thus you see “I AM” but, in this way, unlike everyone else who sees God, you will live.
But hear Philip in the very next verse. John 14:8: “Lord, show us the Father, and that’s enough for us.” Are you kidding me?! What has he been doing all this time? I wonder if Jesus was a little T-O’d.
But then Jesus says, (14:9) Philip, “the one who has seen me has seen the Father.” You got it bro? And then he says in verse 10, “The words I speak to you I do not speak on my own.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? Where did we hear Jesus say something similar? Back in John 5:19, when he said “he is not able to do anything on his own.” And now He says, He cannot even speak on his own. So, does that mean Jesus is a mere hand puppet over the Father’s hand? No, He concludes: “The Father who lives in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
After this, Jesus now speaks of another who will come in His name. The Spirit of truth. The third member within the divine life of God. In 14:26, Jesus says, the Father will send Him in His name to teach us all things and remind us of everything Jesus said. And in John 15:26, Jesus reveals that He and the Father send “the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, who will testify about Him.”
We see a word used in this last passage that has been absent in our discussion up until now. But, I was wanting to wait until now to bring in a few other terms used to speak of the persons of the Trinity in order to express their eternal relations. I know many of you, especially the King James folks, are familiar with the Son being referred to as begotten.
John 3:16 is the classic passage, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” And in John 14:26, we see the term proceeds, referring to the Spirit. What about the Father? The Father is referred to as the unbegotten. The terms are formalized in the Nicene Creed written in 325 AD and revised in 381 AD. The Father, who is unbegotten, begets the Son, from which the Spirit proceeds. And this comes directly from the Nicene Creed written in 325 AD and revised in 381 AD.
Unfortunately, church creeds and confessions have a bad stigma attached to them in our modern context that despises any sort of authorial or institutionalized religion. Now, this and other orthodox creeds do not have divine authority but rather they have ministerial authority.
Here are a few portions from the Nicene Creed, where you will pick up on the terms about the relations:
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Simple and beautiful, the Nicene creed crystalizes the gospel of God. These truths are revealed in Scripture and confessed by the Church.
And our last section in the Gospel of John is 17:1–3. It sums up the purpose of the missions:
1 Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
2 since you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him.
3 This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.
God’s mission purposed to reveal his divine life to creatures. As the one who has life in Himself, it doesn’t mean that he has an eternal nuclear generator that keeps His life going. Rather, God’s self-existent life is “the eternal lively plenitude of the Father who begets the Son, the Son who is begotten, and the Spirit who proceeds from both” (Webster, God Without Measure, 1:20). It is the eternal loving relations of the Triune God, which is unbounded and limitless. And while aseity makes God completely and utterly distinct from his creation, it does not entail isolation; rather, the divine life is superabundant, and God’s self-will moves Him to love His creation (Webster, God Without Measure, 1:27).
We must be moved by another to love; God alone is moved by his own perfections to love. God is a giving God. As the triune God has life in Himself, He alone is the fountain of life. And it is to this fountain that God purposes to bring creatures to renewal, satisfaction and completion in Christ. Hear John’s words of this realized destiny at the end of his Revelation:
6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.
17 Both the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let anyone who hears, say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.
Amen! — Romans 11:36
1 For the more technical and most thorough treatment on inseparable operations, though I have yet to read it (it is on my shelf though), see, Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021).
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