The term economic Trinity has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with love. God is love, and the plurality of the Godhead is an expression of love. Love requires multiplicity; that is, love requires an object for its affections and intentions. Since God is love, God must be more than one person, for there had to be an object for God to love before He created anything.
In the Trinity, there is a mutual love. The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; and they both love and are loved by the Spirit. The Son and the Spirit show their love for the Father by voluntarily subordinating themselves to Him and His will without sacrificing any sense of equality or importance. And the economic Trinity simply refers to the administration in the Godhead and how the three persons go about accomplishing all that the Father has intended to do.
Whenever God acts, the three divine persons work together in perfect unity, perfect harmony, and perfect cooperation. But the unity of the Godhead displays itself most clearly and brilliantly in the work of salvation. In Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 we see this “dream team” in action. Each has His respective duties.
Even though we speak of Christ as being the second person in the Godhead, and the Spirit as being the third person, this kind of enumeration is only for purposes of distinction; it is certainly not for purposes of importance or superiority.
To begin with, and to put it simply, this work of salvation was all the plan of God the Father. He thought it up and devised it all. He is the divine architect of this plan of salvation that makes even the angels scratch their celestial heads in astonishment and wonder.
In the eternal counsels of God, according to Ephesians 1, in love He determined to save some of His creation. He made them the objects of His love from all eternity past. God the Father acted as the CEO, if you will. It is He who makes all the “executive” choices. Galatians 4 shows the Father orchestrating it all, sending the Son and the Spirit at just the right time to make us His own.
Out of love for the Father, the eternal Son, the “Son of His love,” volunteered to take upon Himself a human nature, for love would involve physical suffering and dying, and those are things that God cannot do.
The ever-blessed God cannot suffer. He cannot suffer bodily, since He is a Spirit; so God would have to take upon Himself a nature that could suffer.
And the eternal God could not die. He could not cease to be, even for one moment. So the Son would have to become a man so that He could die. The Son, therefore, would do all that was necessary in order to purchase those whom God determined to love from before the foundations of the world.
It is Christ who redeems us. The word redeem means to buy back by paying a price. That is what Christ did. And you cannot buy back what was not yours to begin with. You can see, then, that the doctrine of redemption is inseparable from the doctrine of election. And Christ, in order to be a Redeemer, has to redeem people actually. He cannot be a Redeemer if He only makes redemption possible. He can only be a Redeemer if He really redeems someone.
Christ took upon Himself the human nature, fulfilled all the covenant obligations for which He volunteered in the covenant of redemption made with the Father, lived a life of perfect obedience, suffered ignominy at the hands of wicked men, and endured the Father’s wrath on the cross. In fact, God executed His executive office in condemning sin in His Son on the cross.
Christ is also the preserver of all those He saves (Jude 1). The Greek word used there means to guard as a warden guards a prisoner. Peter says, we are guarded through faith by God’s power (1 Peter 1:5), and we are watched over and preserved by the Son of His love.
The Spirit, then, is the “evangelist,” if you will, in the Trinity. It is He who does the converting, creating living saints out of dead sinners. He takes the Word preached and applies it to the hearts of dead sinners. He awakens them and gives them life so that they can hear and believe the Gospel.
Dead men do not do anything. When Jesus said, “I came that they may have life” (John 10:10), it was because life is exactly what dead men need. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead men won’t believe unless somehow they are brought to life.
That is what the Holy Spirit does. He “quickens” us, that is, He gives life so that we can believe. That is what being “born again” means. We don’t believe and then get born again; rather, we are born again and, as a result, we believe.
Galatians 4:6 says that God sends forth the Spirit into our hearts, and then we cry out, “Abba, Father.” After we are converted from being dead sinners, who can’t choose to please God, to living believers, the Spirit sanctifies us in that He personally applies the blood of Christ to the soul, cleansing the heart from sin.
That Spirit takes up residence in the soul, taking our prayers to God and making sense of them when we don’t even know how to pray. The Holy Spirit interprets the groans of our broken hearts and takes them to God, putting them into the right words for the Father. That Spirit cleanses us, using the Word and the sacraments. He strengthens us and makes us more like God every day.
This whole process of saving sinners begins with the love of the Father. He thought up the plan. He put the plan into motion. He designed and choreographed the plan. He gave each member of the Trinity His distinctive tasks, and He sees that all things work according to His plan. As the psalmist said, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me” (138:8).
The Son steps forward to carry out the Father’s will: “I have come to do your will, O God,” Christ said (Heb. 10:7). “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). He obeyed the Father’s will out of love for the Father, just as we should do. He did whatever it took to accomplish the Father’s purposes, just as we should do. And He made the Father’s glory His motive, just as we should do.
The Holy Spirit takes what the Son has done and applies it to elect sinners, making us righteous in God’s sight. And all of this to the praise of the glory of His grace. What matchless love, what an inestimable privilege. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.… And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:1, 3).