The Essence of Personhood

The following is an excerpt from the new book: The Community Life of God

You can order this new book by clicking here

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak from Myself, but the Father who abides in Me does His works.” John 14:10

Because of our fallen minds, we have a very twisted view of personhood. Our definition of a “person” is not based upon the proper foundation. The proper foundation is God Himself. Obviously, all personhood originated in and with the living God. Before there was anything, there was God. Before there were any other persons, there was God. Therefore, we need to look into God Himself to discover the foundation and essence of all personhood.

The Uniqueness of the Individual

First of all, we need to see that within this corporate God of ours there are three distinct and unique Persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each have their own distinctive personalities. I am not speaking here of functions or roles, but rather the unique personalities that make them who they are. Each one has His own peculiar characteristics, the personality “traits,” if you will, that make Him unique.

Just because they are all one, does not mean they are the same. Oneness does not mean sameness. In fact, oneness presumes diversity. This means that within the one God, there are three different and distinct personalities who all think, live and act as one entity. This is more than just a team. This is a community.

“It reflects the unity in diversity inherent in the divine Trinity of persons that in an analogous way should characterize the life of the church in its local, regional, international, and universal dimension. This fellowship does not aim to overcome all diversity, but rather to embrace it in a dynamic, relational, and growing bond of love and understanding.”

Kevin Giles
What on Earth is the Church?
InterVarsity Press, 1995, p. 202

But my point here is that in order to have diversity, you must have distinction. The Persons within the Godhead all have their own distinctions that make them unique. The expression of this can be seen in the creation.

I love to watch people. Sometimes, when my wife and I go to the shopping mall, we just sit there and watch the people go by. It never ceases to amaze me how each individual person is different. And I’m just speaking of their appearances. Each person has his or her own unique look. No two people look exactly identical. It is so mysterious and yet so wonderful that our God could have so much variety within Himself to be able to express it in such a creation.

Then, when you think about each person’s own unique personality traits and mannerisms it even gets more amazing. There are literally billions of people on this planet right now and yet each one is unique. And that’s just those people who are alive right now! What about the billions who have gone before us and those who will come after? Think about all of the people who have ever been born in the human race since the beginning. Each and every one of those is completely unique. If that doesn’t give you cause to praise your Lord, I don’t know what will.

Your God is into the uniqueness of the person. Your God is into the sanctity of the individual. Your God, obviously, loves diversity and variety. He is not a stoic, boring God. He loves colors, He loves variety, and He loves life! He created you as a unique individual. He created you to be a unique expression of Him. You can bring out and express a side of Him that no one else can express. The Father came into His Son and marked off a particular portion of the life of His Son and He wrote your name on it! Yes, He chose you, in all your uniqueness, to be one of His “holy ones” to be loved by Him (Eph. 1:4). You have been called, chosen, set apart, sanctified, and then placed into the Body of Christ to fulfill a great destiny. That destiny is to be part of His fullness (Eph. 1:23). This fullness is His Body, the expression of Him who fills all in all. And only you can fulfill your specific destiny in your own unique way. You are one of the many “flavors” of Christ. The unique flavor that His life in you produces cannot be reproduced in anyone else.

So we can see that the uniqueness of the individual is one of the requirements of personhood. A “person” is one who is different and unique from others. However, this is only half of the story. Without this next half, personhood would never exist.

Personhood is Defined by Relationship

As I have said many times, within the one God there are three Persons. These three coexist and coinhere together. Their coexistence means that the three live and exist at the same time. All three exist at the same time. The Father does not disappear to then become the Son, and then the Son disappears to become the Spirit. They all exist all of the time.

Coinherence means that they each live inside of one another. The Father is inside of the Son. The Son is inside of the Father. The Spirit is inside of the Son. They all three live inside of one another. Because they coinhere, they are one. They are in one another. (See John 14-17.)

They are also self-dedicated to one another. This means that each one is totally dependent upon the others. They are much more than a co-op.

They not only cooperate with one another, they are completely dependent upon one another. No one Person acts alone. Whenever one Person is engaged in an activity, they are all engaged together. We can see this in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus.

He did all things in the name of the Father (John 17:6). He spoke the words of the Father and did the works of the Father (John 8: 28, 29). He never acted alone. He always moved together in His community. He also told the Pharisees that He cast out demons by the Spirit. Here again, we see the members of the Godhead working together. When Jesus was baptized by John we see the whole Trinity involved. The Son was baptized, the Spirit descended as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven.

This God that we have is a Three-in-one God. Yet all three of these Persons obtain their identities from the community. They are not separated, independent individuals who all do their own individual things. They are one heart, one mind, one soul, and always move and act together as one. Each one receives His “personhood” from His relationship to the others. Without the relationship, there would be no persons. This shows us some very important aspects of personhood in general. Remember, all personhood originates from within this Triune God.

Personhood is Rooted in Oneness

First of all, we can clearly see that personhood has a context. There is no such thing as a person who is in a vacuum. Personhood has its own environment. It must be rooted into the firm soil of community. It must be planted in the solid ground of oneness. It is only in the sphere of corporate life that true personality emerges. Without relationship, there can be no true personhood. A person without community is like a fish out of water.

“Participation in the dynamic of Trinitarian love, however, is not ones merely as individuals in isolation. Rather, it is a privilege we share with all other believers. The Spirit’s activity within us makes us co-participants in the relationship enjoyed between the Father and the Son. In mediating this relationship to us, the Spirit draws us together into one people. Only in our Spirit-produced corporateness do we truly reflect to all creation the grand dynamic that lies at the heart of the Triune God.”

Stanley J. Grenz
Created for Community
Baker Books House, 1998, p. 216

There are many colors of light, as we can see in a rainbow. But all of these colors exist within the one color of white. The color of white contains all of the other colors. We could compare white to community. All of the individual colors radiate from within the white light. In other words, all the uniqueness of the varying colors emanate from within the environment of community. Without the white light, there would be nothing to contain the colors. So we can see in this way that community is the “container” for personhood.

The one God is the container for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three Persons live in and are (together) God. Their relationship or their community is the environment in which they live. They live within a context. They live in and as a community. The main activity of this community is fellowship. Fellowship is the act of sharing, giving, relating, communicating, and experiencing their common life. This is the sphere in which they live. This is what defines them as individual Persons.

Identity Only Found in Community

People in this world are always searching for their identity. “Who am I?” is one of the most basic questions that mankind has ever asked. There is no doubt that as a race, Adam has lost his identity. We really do not have any idea who we are. So the search is never ending for our own identity. I am speaking of the identity of the individual person. How am I unique? How am I special? How do I stand out from the crowd? You, dear reader, may have asked yourself these same questions. But let me tell you that you will never have the answers to these types of questions outside of community. Your identity can only be discovered in the environment of relationship.

You are a unique individual. However, there is only one part of you that can know the real you. You cannot discover who you are with your mind or emotions. You can only discover the real you in your spirit. Paul told us this in I Cor. 2:11. Only the spirit of a man truly knows that man. Why is this? It’s because the spirit is the part of us that is connected with God. God’s Spirit lives inside of our spirit. Therefore, our human spirit is the organ of community. It is the way we communicate with the Triune God.

Personhood and identity can only be defined by relating to others. You will never truly “find yourself” until you are living in the community life of God. Then, and only then, will your true colors come out. What I mean by “true colors” are those aspects of Christ that have been placed into you to make you special. These are the riches of Christ. You are special because God has deposited some unique aspects of Himself within you. But those “colors” can only be displayed in the context of the community life. It is only as you live and relate to others in the Body of Christ that your own uniqueness can come forth. This is because of God’s purpose and plan. He wants to be expressed through a corporate vessel. This vessel is the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23). Each individual person within this vessel will express or display a unique aspect of the living God. Together they all make up this new communal man. Together, as one, they express and enlarge the fullness of Christ!

Author: Milt Rodriguez

Milt is an author, speaker, and organic church planter.

9 thoughts on “The Essence of Personhood”

  1. Thanks Milt. I want to thank you for adding some “color” to my life. I thank the Lord daily for your friendship. As I function in this world, I simply feel gray, or colorless. Simply part of the herd or masses. Not knowing to what I am moving toward, could be to be fed, or perhaps to slaughter, not sure. But we are all moving, a mass of gray.
    Only when I touch the Body, my brothers and sisters, who know me (and are getting to know me), do I feel that “color” come into my life. Loving and sharing my life, the good and not so good parts, my weakness’ and my strengths. This is the family life we all long for. When I am with another part or parts of this Body, I see and feel complete. Very distinct yet very much a part. Thanks for everything, but especially for adding color to my life. John M.

    PS-Remember Rezz Band album Colours ?

  2. Milt,
    excellent fragment on community. It seems to me that God is leading us, ekklesia, into re-discovering and living the reality of their community. It seems to be a long process, taking generations, but we are slowly moving to that direction.

    I would like to add a bit on personhood. The very essence of personhood, in my opinion, is one’s ability to have authority over his own will. A person is an individual because he has his own “center of control”. He can decide over his own matters, decisions that can certainly influence other lives. Coming to Trinity, I see 3 such centers of control each being able to come with His own share to the table, so to speak. Each one has something going on in Himself, a flow of life and revelation, an unleashed creativity. The beauty of Trinity is their character which, without being constrained in any way, leads them into submitting to each other and putting together their wills and personalities into becoming the one true GOD. There is something extraordinarily interesting here. Simply by submitting to one another does not lead anywhere because if they all submit then there is no resulting action because all yield. It’s like all giving up, throwing the cards in. But they must have been doing something wonderful because their submitting finally results in a united action. We, humans, do something similar but we do that by yielding to the one that seems to have more authority among us, or to the wisest or the strongest. The strongest does not submit, he only accepts the submission of the others. The beauty of the Godhead is that each one submits to the others, and they still come to a conclusion, and that makes them One. I understand submission, but how they still stay in action and not in a deadlock, that it is not so clear for me right now. Anyway, I love to be included, or to be more included, in their circle of fellowship.

  3. I really liked this part of the book, Milt. All the unity and oneness stuff kind of made me uneasy at first. Like we’d be the Borg or something. I asked God about it, and He said essentially the same thing you’ve said here (different words, of course), but it’s helpful to hear what He’s said to you about it as well.

    Am really getting a lot from reading it. I’m almost finished, but it does require a bit of chewing. Sometimes I find myself re-reading a paragraph several times because I want to make sure I’ve gotten it. Thanks!

    Love, Cindy

  4. I’m looking forward to reading the whole book when I have time. I really liked this:

    “You are one of the many “flavors” of Christ. The unique flavor that His life in you produces cannot be reproduced in anyone else.”

    But of course, “It is only as you live and relate to others in the Body of Christ that your own uniqueness can come forth.”

  5. Abel,

    Very well put. I especially liked your insight into the mutual submission issue.

    For me, the key to not having a deadlock in the mutual submission process is that they all submit to the overall purpose of God. They all agreed on the eternal purpose was to have a dwelling for the Godhead. The Father had a dwelling in the Son and the Son had a dwelling in the Father and the Spirit had a dwelling in both. But where would God as their unity have a dwelling? The Three wanted that purpose to be fulfilled, so they submit to the progress of that purpose. The action takes place because they all want the same thing.

    Does that make sense?

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