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(This sermon was taken from my upcoming Pamphlet “Doctrinal Cliffnotes: The Trinity.” This is a shortened version to make it fit into a sermon for my series on “What We Believe.”)
What We Believe
Through many of the social media sites there’s a lot being said about the nature and character of God.
One attempt used popular merchandise to describe who God is.
• It said that God is like General Electric; He brings good things to life.
• God is like a Visa Card; He’s everywhere you want to be.
• God is like Scotch Tape; you can’t see Him, but you know He’s there.
• God is like Alka Seltzer; oh what a relief He is.
• God is like Tide; He gets the stains out that others leave behind.
• God is like Bounty; He’s the quicker picker upper.
This is just one of the many clever ways people try to describe God. And while they are nice and cute, they do little to help our understanding of God, especially concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.
Out of all the doctrines, the Trinity has caused the most confusion. The doctrine says that God is one and yet eternally exists in three persons.
This has had people as far back as the first century scratching their heads being unable to, or not wanting to, fathom its reality, thus dismissing Christianity as a whole.
Others view the teaching of the Trinity as rationally impossible going so far as questioning Jesus’ sanity saying He was schizophrenic when He prayed to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Unfortunately they don’t get it.
The Trinity is neither irrational nor impossible. It may be beyond the reach and scope of our complete understanding, but then how can finite human beings with limited brain capacity understand an infinite God with unlimited capability.
Even the Lord tells us about our shortcomings in this area.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Understanding God’s nature goes beyond our ability to understand, and that’s because we know of no other being like God. Therefore it is called a mystery, because a mystery is something that’s bigger than our minds can take in.
However, just because it is a mystery shouldn’t stop us from thinking and exploring its possibility. The mystery of the Trinity invites us to come and study and partake of the biblical revelation found within God’s word, the Bible.
However, before we dig into this doctrine of the Trinity to see if it is biblical or a religious fantasy, it may be good to look at its importance.
The concept of the Triune God, or Trinity, is one of the foundational teachings of Christianity and is considered bedrock of the Christian faith, because it shows the person and deity of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully human.
Why is it important?
First, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then a person’s salvation is at stake. If Jesus was just a human being, then like the rest of us He would have inherited the sin nature of Adam.
Further, if Jesus isn’t fully God, if Jesus is a created being, then He could never have offered Himself as that perfect sinless sacrifice John the Baptist declares when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
If Jesus isn’t fully God and didn’t die as that perfect sinless sacrifice, then all of us would still be in our sins, and thus forever separated from God.
Second, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then salvation wouldn’t be by faith; rather it would be by works, which would make Jesus a liar when He used God’s holy name saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
Jesus also said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
If Jesus isn’t God as He said, then how can we trust Him when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Finally, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then Christianity is a farce, and our praying and worshipping Him does absolutely no good.
This was Paul’s conclusion saying, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17)
Hopefully we see why it is so important to get this doctrine straight.
Nowhere in the Bible is the word “Trinity” found, but that shouldn’t rule out its teaching or its reality.
As an example, the word “theocracy” isn’t found in the Bible either. Theocracy means “rule of God.” It is used to describe Israel’s form of government, that is, Israel was a nation ruled by God.
Yet even though the word “theocracy” isn’t found in the Bible, the Bible clearly teaches it.
The same can be said about the word, “Trinity.” But there is even more evidence for the Trinity than there is for theocracy.
In the New Testament there is a comparable term used, “Theotes,” which is the word for “Godhead.”
“For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)
The word, “Trinity,” is derived from the Latin word, “Trinitas,” which means the number three. It has come to stand for “three in the unity of one,” or “Tri-Unity.” The word is used to express the unity of God existing in three distinct persons, also known as the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In his book, “Systematic Theology,” Wayne Grudem defined the Trinity.
“God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is where we worship One God manifested in three distinct Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are each equally God in their being, power, and holiness. God is one in essence and three in persons.
To be clear, the Trinity is not three gods in one, but one God manifested in three persons.
While this may sound confusing and more like a contradiction, what’s important to understand is that we’re not saying God is three persons and only one person at the same time; rather the Trinity says that there are three persons in one nature, which is God, and while this may go beyond our reason, it doesn’t go against reason.
The Oneness of Unity
The Bible makes it clear there is only one God.
We see the oneness of God in His own statements.
“That you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.” (Isaiah 43:10)
“Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.” (Isaiah 45:21)
This oneness is also seen in in the very heart of the Jewish faith.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Yet, within this declaration of God’s oneness we see the plurality of the one God.
This is seen in two places.
First it is seen in the Hebrew word used for “one.” It is the Hebrew word, “echad.”
There are two words in the Hebrew language for the word “one.” They are “echad,” and “yahid.”
“Yahid” means absolute oneness or singleness, leaving no room for any meaning other than one and one alone. But “echad” brings with it the idea of many that make up one, or a composite unity.
There are several instances seen within the Bible.
The first is God’s plan for marriage where the husband and wife will be one, “echad,” flesh, Genesis 2:24. Here are two distinct individuals comprising a unity of one in marriage.
There is also the time when the spies came out of the land of Canaan with one, “echad,” cluster of grapes, or many grapes that make up the one cluster (Numbers 13:23).
The creation account is another place where a composite unity is found when it says that one day is made up of two distinct parts, morning and evening (Genesis 1:5).
Next, this plurality in oneness is seen in the plural language used for God, like when the Lord recounts His creation of humanity.
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26a)
Plural language is being used, but whom is God speaking to? God is not speaking to or getting advice from the angels or any other created being, because there is no other created being that has been made in the image and likeness of God.
In another example we see the Lord addressing Himself in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.” (Genesis 19:24)
The Lord who was upon the earth rained down fire and brimstone from the Lord who was up in heaven. Two individuals who are both described as “Lord.”
God is speaking amongst Himself in unity, which is the whole idea behind the description of Godhead. But how we can be sure that the one true God exists in the three personages: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Godhead being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is brought out in the Apostle John’s first letter.
“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7)
The Godhead being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is also seen in Jesus’ Great Commission.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
But this idea of Trinity, God existing in three person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not a New Testament concept only; it is also seen through what the prophet Isaiah said in the Old Testament where the Father sends the Messiah and the Holy Spirit.
“Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together.” (Isaiah 48:12-13)
We clearly see this is the Lord God speaking by His reference of the creation account where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Further the Lord wants to make sure we know this isn’t the prophet Isaiah or anyone else speaking as He goes on to say, “I, even I, have spoken.” (Isaiah 48:15a)
And then comes this statement made by the Messiah revealing the Trinity, that is, one God manifested in three Persons.
“Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me.” (Isaiah 48:16)
In the Hebrew language this last sentence literally says, “The Lord God has sent Me and His Spirit.”
Now that we’ve established the concept or idea of the Trinity, that is God in three persons, can we say without hesitation that each one is God?
There are complete chapters, not to mention books, written on this topic, so this will only be a brief overview with proof text from the Bible.
a. The Father
In the prayer Jesus taught the disciple, known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus begins by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
The word, “hallowed,” in the Greek language means to make holy, and only God is holy. Not only is “holy” His name, but it is also His dwelling place.
“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place.’” (Isaiah 57:15a)
Isaiah goes on to talk about God as our Father who is both Lord and Redeemer.
“You, O Lord, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” (Isaiah 63:16)
In His second greeting to the Corinthian church, Paul identifies not only the Father as God, but also Jesus as Lord.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3)
Generally there is little if any controversy surrounding the Father as God.
b. Jesus Christ
Concerning the coming Messiah the Bible says that He will be none other than the Lord God Himself.
In describing the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah uses names to describe Him that are given exclusively to God.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
As a sign to the people, Isaiah said that the Messiah will be called, “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matthew 1:23).
Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord gives the following description and name to the Messiah, and the name that He has been given has never been given to another, only to the Lord God Himself.
“In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:6)
The name, “The Lord our Righteousness,” in the Hebrew is, “Jehovah Tsidkenu.” Not only does the Lord call the coming Messiah by His holy name, “Jehovah,” which He said He would never give to anyone else, Isaiah 42:8, but He also gives Him the name and title of righteousness, and only the Lord is righteous.
In his gospel, John brings out the deity of Jesus, whom he identifies as the “Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)
The reason we know this speaks of Jesus is what John goes on to say in that the Word was made into a person of flesh and blood.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Finally, so there could be no mistake, Jesus declares Himself to be God by calling Himself by God’s holy name.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
This was the very name God gave when Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me.” The Lord said, “I AM WHO I AM.” … “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
c. The Holy Spirit
There are two verses when it comes to declaring the Holy Spirit as being fully God.
The first is when Peter assesses the actions of two church members, Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about a piece of property they sold.
“Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? … Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)
The second are two verses about our bodies being God’s holy temple, and then says it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)
We also see the three main attributes of God being attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Omnipresent: everywhere present
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7)
Omnipotence: all powerful
“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Omniscience: all knowing
“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. … no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
And finally the Holy Spirit is a person, not some impersonal force.
This is seen in the many aspects of a person’s personality that the Bible has attributed to the Holy Spirit, like his ability to teach, John 14:26, conviction of sin, John 16:7, is grieved and has feelings, Ephesians 4:30, has an intellect, 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, and a will, 1 Corinthians 12:11.
There have been many ways people have tried to explain the Trinity through analogies so that others can grasp hold of this doctrine. While each falls short in one way or another, they each add to our understanding and are helpful.
Such analogies include that of an egg with it’s three parts, shell, whites, and yoke, yet it still remains an egg. Water, or H20 exists in three forms: liquid, solid, and gas, while retaining the same properties.
A Human Being
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:27. Since we’ve been made in God’s image and likeness, which we have seen as being the Trinity, one God in three persons, it would only make sense that as a human being we are made up of three parts; body, soul, and spirit.
Further, there is an ordering of activities within the Godhead, that is, while they are one in nature and attributes, they differ in what they do.
Like creation: The father spoke the words of creation, ”Let there be.” Jesus then took these words and created, as it says in John 1:3, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” And the Holy Spirit sustained and manifested God’s presence in creation, as Genesis shows the Spirit hovering over creation.
Or then there is redemption where the Father planned it, Jesus accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit forever seals it in our hearts.
In the end, when it comes to belief in the Trinity it all boils down to a matter of faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Although we cannot see God visibly, by faith and through God’s word we can know who He is. Faith believes God is just as His word describes Him as being. It is the conviction of His reality, perceiving as real fact what is not revealed through our natural senses. We cannot hold or see God, be we know the reality of His presence.
From our study what we can conclude, and what we must by faith believe, is that God is one, and that God is a Trinity, that is, He exists as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that each one is equally God.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Wednesday Evening Bible Study