"God in Three Persons"
Ephesians 3:14-17 (and others)......Rev. Bruce Goettsche (6/4/2000)
This morning I have to confess right up front that I feel like I am engaging in an impossible task. When we talk about the doctrine of the Trinity we are really talking about that which we find impossible to fully comprehend. It's not that I don't think the doctrine of the Trinity is true. I believe it firmly. In fact, anyone who does not believe this doctrine, is a false believer. The reason the issue is difficult is because it is such a profound, mind boggling topic that it necessitates a level of understanding that humans do not possess..
Who hasn't had a child ask them: "Is Jesus God or is the Father God?" or "If Jesus is God, who was He praying to?" And I'm sure you can add your favorite question to the list. The three-in-one character of God is mind boggling. However, we affirm the doctrine of the Trinity for two really good reasons:
THE DOCTRINE DEFINED
The word "trinity" is not found in the Bible. But the concept of the Trinity is all over the Bible. The Westminster Confession states,
In the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit [Chap 2 sec. 3]
God is one in essence and three in person. In other words the Bible (and we) affirm that there is only One God . . .but this God exists in three "persons". We are saying that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. They are not three gods but only one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. They are distinct but one.
It's important to clarify. We are not saying there are three Gods. We are also not saying that God has three "forms" like steam, water, and ice. This is a heresy called modalism. In this heresy God is pictured as moving from one "mode" to the other. However, God is the Father, Son and Spirit at the same time and at all times. We are also not saying that the three persons of the Trinity are pieces of God. That would means that the Father was 1/3 God, the Son 1/3 God and the Spirit 1/3 God. There is one God . . . this one God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit at the same time.
That's enough to give you a headache isn't it? Someone has rightly said "If you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul."
There are all kinds of analogies used to try to picture the Trinity. But there hasn't been a really good one yet. In fact, perhaps the most fun illustration is a pretzel. The story goes that a monk wanted to illustrate the Trinity so he took some dough and made it into the pretzel shape to denote the three in one. I don't know if the story is true . . . but it may help you think theologically as you eat your pretzels.
There are lots of other analogies, but none are very good. Perhaps the most helpful words I've read are those of C.S. Lewis,
A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional word, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways--in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.
Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings- just as in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God's dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. [MERE CHRISTIANITY p. 137-138]
The Trinity is hard to grasp because we have nothing like it in our existence. God is higher and beyond our world but has to be described by human words that have limits.
EVIDENCE FOR THE TRINITY
But the real question is this: Is the doctrine of the Trinity true? The Bible teaches several things:
The Bible Affirms the Unity of God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:21; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jas. 2:19)
The most famous and prominent declaration is part of what is called the Jewish "Shema" which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." This belief is reiterated in the New Testament. For example in James 2:19 we read, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."
There is really no debate on this point. Jewish belief has always been anchored to monotheism. In other words Jews have always affirmed that there is only one God. Christians stand in that same tradition.
The Bible Asserts the Deity of the Each of the Three Persons
The Bible (which strongly affirms that there is but one God) also affirms that in addition to the Father, the Son (Jesus) is divine (or God) and that the Holy Spirit is divine (or God). Sometimes the claims are bold and direct.
When talking about Jesus, the Son the Bible says, in Colossians 2:9 "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form," In John 1:1-4 we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." (cf. also John 14:9; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13)
The Bible tells us that God's Spirit was hovering over the waters in the act of creation (Genesis 1:2); In the Gospel of Acts we have this telling account
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)
In this passage Peter begins by saying that Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit. At the end of the passage he says that Ananias has lied to God. The conclusion is obvious: the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous.
Sometimes the Claims are Implied. Not only does the Bible makes claims that Jesus is God. It recognizes Jesus as possessing attributes of God.
The Holy Spirit is often spoken of as the one who inspired the prophets who are said to be "speaking the Word of the Lord". The Holy Spirit is called "the spirit of truth". The Holy Spirit is also said to "search all things". And blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is seen to be the ultimate sin against the Lord. Both the Son and the Spirit are referred to in terms that are reserved only for God.
The Bible Lists the persons of the Trinity Together as Equals
What I hope you see from these references is that the Trinity is the only logical conclusion from the teaching of Scripture.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRINITY
So, here is the question that I know is burning in your heart: "Who Cares?" It's a fair question. The Trinity is an important doctrine because:
It Sharpens Our Understanding of God
Most of us have an inflated view of our own goodness. We know we are sinful. We know we fall far short of God's standard of perfection. We know we need God's forgiveness. But even as we seek a relationship with God there is this part of us that feels that God is enriched in some way by our discipleship.
It used to be popular, and probably still is, to say that God created the world because He was lonely. But that's nonsense. There is perfect fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is not lacking. He did not create us because of His "need". God needs nothing! He created the world not because He needed our love but because He wanted to demonstrate His love!
The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us of God's greatness. And it also reminds us of our smallness before Him. God does not need us. We need Him! We are not free to create God in our own image. The Trinity sets the limits for human speculation. He is more than the Trinity . . . but not less than the Trinity.
It gives us a standard by which we can separate true teaching from false teaching
In spite of the fact that the Trinity is seen as essential Christian doctrine, lots of people deny the doctrine. Let me give you some examples,
The Unitarian "Church" has rejected the notion of the Trinity. They do not see the Son or the Holy Spirit as separate and equal parts of the Godhead. In fact, the Unitarian church began rejecting the Trinity in defense of the Father, and now in most Unitarian Churches, they have moved to a position of wondering whether there even is a God.
The Mormon Church rejects the idea that Jesus was the eternal God. They would call Him a "son of God" but in the same way that you and I might be called a son of God. They would not say Jesus was the eternal God. The proclaim that Jesus was created before the world was created and holds a special place, but He is not God.
The Jehovah's Witnesses ridicule the idea of the Trinity. They will often say, "1+1+1 does not equal one. But, of course that is not what the Christian is saying. It might be better to say that the Christian is saying 1 x 1 x 1= 1.
A person or church that does not believe and affirm the Trinity is not a Christian person or church. We've said it before, "If you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul." When examining teachers and churches this is the place to start. Find out where they stand on the doctrine of the Trinity.
Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity stimulates Worship and Godly Living
What happens to us often is that we compartmentalize our lives. We have our "religion", we have our work, we have our family and we have our leisure activities. For the most part these things remain separate. That's not the way God intended things to be.
I heard a great quote this week from a conference speaker. It was one of those things that is obvious but something I really needed to hear. He pointed out how often we urge people to get better priorities. We tell them to put God first. We are not called to make God the first thing in our life . . . He is to be our everything. And the reason we are to do so is because of His greatness. He is different from us, greater than us, and perfectly independent from us. We have no two-bit God here. He defies human description because He is bigger than our minds can conceive.
Yet it is this same fathomless God who has chosen to seek a relationship with we who are but specks in the universe He created. He loves us. He wants us to love Him back. He desires this so much that in some mind boggling way, God the Son took a human form and subjected Himself to the limits of humanity and came to earth to invite us to receive His love. Christ chose to step out into the darkness in order to reach us and to make it possible for us to know that perfect communion with the Father. The Son was subjected to the wrath of the Father (a much more intense separation than we could ever imagine) in order to pay for our rebellion.
I hope pray this talk about the Trinity leads you to put your faith in the Father who reached out to you, the Son who died to save you and the Spirit who is here to change you. If you haven't turned to Him . . . please do so today.
And to those who do believe, I urge you to think about the greatness of our privilege. Think about the vastness and depth of His love. If you think about it long enough you will be led to a new depth of worship. Rather than wild activity you will sit in reverent silence and awe.
As you ponder the Trinity you will also be led to a new fervency in your devotion and faithfulness. The God we serve is real. The God we trust is able to do much much more than we could ever ask or imagine. His wisdom is so far superior to our own that it is foolish not to submit to His direction . . . even when we don't understand. We follow Him not because we like the directions He gives, but because we trust the ever-living one to see what we don't see, to understand what we don't understand, and to lead us to a fellowship with Him that is greater and more fulfilling than our minds can comprehend.
So, I hope you can see that even though the doctrine of the Trinity may raise some baffling questions and even though it may not lead us to easy applications, it is still intensely practical. It's practical because it points us in the direction of the majestic three-in-one God. And if this doctrine is successful in pointing us in His direction, it is addressing the most profound need of our lives - to know Him.