by Bruce Mills
Following the previous post on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, I received an email from a church friend who asked the following question: Do the three distinct Persons of the Trinity operate from (or do they have) one distinct will? Or do they have three distinct wills operating synchronously within the Godhead?
This gentleman's reason for asking this question arose from Jesus’ answer to the Jewish religious leaders in John 5:19 when they were seeking to kill Him. In His response to them He stated, “…whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” This reader understands that the Son and the Holy Spirit do not act outside of the will of the Father, but wondered whether or not, based on this statement by Jesus whether or not he could say that the three persons of the Trinity share one will or whether each has His own will and they are simply in synchronous agreement?
The answer to this question can never be completely adequate to our limited, finite minds because we are trying to understand an infinite, unlimited God, but let me tell you the answer which I gave to this man.
Because the Godhead consists of three different persons, there is a sense in which one might suppose that each member has His own will, yet because the triune Godhead is One, God has only one will. It is impossible to distinguish the will of the Father from the will of the Son or the will of the Holy Spirit. Since there is only one God (albeit in three distinct Persons), He can only have one will. Yet because there are three Persons, each has a will—but it is one and the same with the other members of the Trinity.
When we come in Scripture to passages such as John 4:34, 5:19, 5:30, 6:38 in which Jesus made several statements regarding His will being one with the Father’s will, we have to understand that within the Godhead, while there is absolute unity and equality, there are also roles that each member takes. So there is a Father-Son relationship between God the Father and God the Son in which the Father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, and grants, and the Son responds, obeys, performs His Father’s will, and receives authority. Yet, because the Son is fully divine, equal, and unified in all ways with the Father, His will is indistinguishable from that of the Father.
The same is true of the Holy Spirit. John 14:26, 15:26 tell us that His role is that of the Helper, who is sent by the Father in Jesus’ name. Again, that indicates a role of submission to the Father’s will because He obeys and comes to reside in the heart of believers as the resident truth-teacher. Since the Holy Spirit comes from the Father, His will is identical with and unified with that of the Father. So in 1 Cor. 12:11, where the Spirit is said to be the member of the Godhead who distributes spiritual gifts to each believer “just as He wills,” His will is the same will as that of the Father and the Son.
Logically, it has to be this way because no member of the Godhead will ever act apart from the other members of the Godhead. They always act as a unified individual; thus, God has only one will.
I hope this answer may help clarify this issue for anyone else who might be thinking about such matters. As I told this man (and periodically tell my Sunday School class when we get into difficult issues), we are swimming in the deep end of the theological pool on this issue; we aren’t wading in the shallow end anymore. Trying to wrap our minds around the infinite Triune Godhead is like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble—it simply cannot be done. But that doesn’t mean that we give up and don’t try to gain more understanding. So I applaud when I hear of a believer making the mental effort to dip his thimble in and learn more about our Lord God. I hope all who read this will do the same.