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Embrace the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity–part one
There are things that are a wonder to me. If you throw a cat out of the window of your moving car, does the cat at that moment become kitty litter? If a deaf person has to go to court, is it still called a hearing? My wife is still a wonder–I think the term is deep well.
The greatest wonder of all is my God–He is knowable but unknowable, intimate but awesome, recognizable but vast, cognitive but beyond reason. One of the greatest aspects of our God is He is a Trinity–three persons, yet one God. It can’t be explained fully, so people shy away from understanding as much as they can.
But what we desperately need to do is understand, learn, meditate, adore and worship as much as we can. Why study the Trinity? Turn to Philippians 2, because we’ve arrived at Philippians 2:1 to 11, which we will study when I return in July. But as I am already studying Philippians 2, there are some strong references to the Trinity, which caused me to offer up this three-week study into the deep end of the pool of theology.
Philippians 2:1 to 11, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind . . . 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men . . . 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Father, Son and Spirit are all found in this passage–submission, exalting, likeness of men, emptied Himself, God exalting Christ. What are we reading here? We’re seeing one of the strong passages describing the person and work of our triune God–the Trinity. Do you understand your God is a tri-unity? Most Christians have an idea about the Trinity–but by way of intro, often their response to such truth is . . .
First COLD INTELLECTUALISM
When you say, “God is love,” it feels like you’re sitting next to a warm fire on a wintry day–those three words, God is love, warm us and comfort us. But say, “God is a Trinity,” and that’s like running into a brick wall–cold and stodgy, a pure intellectual exercise . . . dull, dry doctrine. The Trinity is truth we just don’t get, so we don’t go there.
But the Trinity should not create that reaction in us. And it is the goal of these next three weeks to move the Trinity out of the irrelevant dogma category, into the cherished, beloved and glorious truths we treasure.
As author Michael Reeves states in his book, Delighting in the Trinity, “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity, that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, and the heart grabbing loveliness of God” (page 9). God wants us to know Him and understand Him. This is why He has revealed Himself to us through His Word.
The problem we battle with, and the risk we face today is misunderstanding Him and stepping into heresy. Look at John 17:3, where Jesus tells us in the verse the puritans preached more sermons on than any other verse in the entire Bible, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change, embracing dogmas or going to church–Christianity is about knowing God. To know Him and grow to enjoy Him is what we are saved for–and that is what this three-week study is all about. Our faith is actually about knowing God, which results in lifestyle change.
Knowing the God of love, and knowing His love for us is what makes us loving. Knowing the triune God, and knowing their relationships, their roles, their unity and their diversity will change our relationships, our roles, our unity and our diversity.
Knowing a triune God will change the way we pray, strengthen our marriages and families, soften our dealings with others, mature our church family, give you a deeper assurance, move us to live holy and change the way we look at life on this planet. Most Christians think they understand the Trinity–but often their response is warped because of . . .
Second INADEQUATE DESCRIPTIONS
The problem with studying the Trinity is this. The triune God is not seen as a solution and delight, but as an oddity and a problem. Christians often find themselves apologizing for the Trinity, then coming up with weak, even heretical ways in which to try to explain the Trinity.
They say the Trinity is like an egg which has three parts–a yolk, the white and the shell. Or they say the Trinity is like water, which can appear as a gas, as a liquid, and when frozen as a solid. Or the Trinity is like a three leaf clover, or like the different streaks in bacon, or like a shrubbery–all of which sound really bizarre, inadequate, pointless and are in fact heretical descriptions of the Godhead.
So many believers view the Trinity as some weird, fantastic monstrosity. As a result, we don’t invest any more time than we have to thinking about or teaching on the Trinity. And if we were to be totally transparent, we’d confess the Trinity as irrelevant to our main priority of focusing on Christ and proclaiming the Gospel.
But friends, you can’t focus on Christ without understanding He’s the second person of the Trinity–nor the Gospel, and our salvation, which is accomplished by all three persons of the Godhead. And if we continue to describe the Godhead as an egg or water, then how could the eggishness of God ever be more than a weird curiosity.
I’m never going to fall down in awe, or find my heart drawn to a God who is described in such a ridiculous manner as an egg. But most Christians say they believe in a Trinity–yet they offer . . .
Third WEAK EXCUSES CREATING INDIFFERENCE
Many say the Trinity is a mystery–that God is a mystery. Mystery means secret. Mystery literally means a truth not revealed in the Old Testament, but now revealed in the New Testament. But the Trinity is not a mystery–God revealed Himself as a Trinity in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. And in His Word, God has revealed Himself as a Trinity. To know the Trinity is to know God as an intimate, personal, eternal God of infinite beauty, interest and fascination. To study the Trinity is not walking off the map into dangerous and unchartable areas of pointless speculation. The Trinity is a God we can know and forever grow to know.
I used to ski, and some of the best skiing I ever enjoyed was on the back side of Schweitzer Mountain in North Idaho. I skied Schweitzer for years before I tried the back side, because the back side was huge, looked isolated, dangerous and mysterious back in the 90’s. For years, I thought only the crazy people skied the back side of Schweitzer. I thought it was for the professionals, adrenaline junkies, or those without kids.
Then by accident, I ended up there and was I shocked. You could ski all blue, a 20- to 30-minute run–the prettiest view of the Canadian Rockies, an awesome view of one of the deepest, bluest lakes in the world, Lake Pend Oreille, incredibly gigantic trees scattered throughout the run. It was awe-inspiring and became my favorite place to ski–and no other ski location has ever come close to how awesome it was on a clear day.
The Trinity is the same. Most of us see this truth about God as dangerous, hard, only for the professionals. But you’ll discover, it is one of the most delightful truths in the Scripture. The Trinity is not a mystery. Our God reveals Himself as a Trinity in both Old Testament and New Testament.
It’s more likely because a Trinity is so awesome, we’re afraid of being afraid. We are too chicken of being awed, too controlling to find ourselves truly out of control before the one true God who is in absolute control. Most Christians believe the Trinity, but have been . . .
Fourth INTIMIDATED by ATTACKS
Bad things have been said about the Trinity by those who don’t know Christ. And sadly, by some who say they do. A common attack is this–the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. This causes some pause, until they realize the word “Bible” is not used in the Bible, or “omnipotence”, describing God as all-powerful. “Incarnation”, describing God being born as a man–even the word “Rapture” is not used in the Bible, but is described in the Bible.
All these are theological terms used to describe what we clearly find in Scripture–they are truths declared in God’s Word, and theologians use these words to then describe what the Bible says. But is the Trinity the hot fudge sundae of our faith–a nice dessert to finish off the meal of our understanding about God? Or is the Trinity the main course and central to our spiritual health?
Don’t be shocked, but the Trinity is central to your understanding about God and crucial to your faith. To deny the Trinity means to lose your soul. But equally challenging for the Christian–to study, to fully understand the Trinity, you may lose your wits. And without a correct understanding of the Trinity, we become heretics.
I hope you know this–the Trinity is unique to Christianity and distinct from all other faiths. Mormons believe in Christ’s resurrection. Jehovah’s witnesses believe in the sacrificial death of Christ. Islam believes in one god. But Christianity alone believes in God who is three divine persons, yet one essence–one God.
And our belief in a triune God is the vital oxygen of our Christian belief and life. Without it, we die eternally or become heretics in life. That is why in the last 2,000 years, Trinitarian truth has been fought over with such passion–a fight that still needs to be fought, because our very salvation depends on it. Do not miss a week in this study, but let’s begin with . . .
#1 The BIBLE clearly declares God is TRIUNE
Turn to Mark 1. When someone asks you about the Trinity, most often the response of believers is to panic. We think, “Oh no–what am I going to say?” It’s crazy, but some are actually embarrassed by the Trinity. Friends, to be embarrassed about the Trinity is to be embarrassed about God Himself, since God is a Trinity.
The living God is triune. The Trinity is revealed in the Scripture as good news, therefore the Trinity should be good news to us. In Mark 1, at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry of 3-½ years, just as Christ is baptized, the Scripture shows us our God is a Trinity. Here we see the three persons of the Godhead.
Mark 1:10, “Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” The Trinity is present as the Lord begins His ministry. The Lord is physically present as He is baptized in water.
The Spirit, in the form of a dove which is the only time the Spirit was represented as a dove–to the Jewish mind the dove was associated with sacrifice, pointing to the coming sacrifice of Christ. The Spirit comes upon Christ, not because Christ was any less God, but in His humanity Christ was being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry by the Spirit.
And the Father declares He is pleased with this sacrifice. No animal sacrifice ever pleased God–but now the perfect Son of God does please the Father. So at the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry, we clearly see the Trinity on display.
Then turn to Matthew 28, for as the Lord ends His earthly ministry, Jesus exalts the Trinity. Matthew 28, speaking to a Jewish audience committed to monotheism (one God)–Matthew concludes his gospel with the Great Commission, clearly calling God a Trinity. Matthew 28:19 to 20, “’Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
We baptize in the name of all three persons of the Godhead–our mission, our purpose, why we are here is to make disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Turn to 2 Corinthians 13. In the early days of the Church, Paul concludes this epistle where the apostle defends his apostleship with a prayer acknowledging all three persons of the Trinity.
Listen to Paul’s pastoral benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Paul clearly affirms the three persons of the Triune God–even describes some of the differing roles of Father, Son and Spirit as he does.
Turn to Genesis 1. The Old Testament also makes some clear declarations that the one true God, the creator, is a tri-unity. At the very beginning of creation, Moses makes this dramatic statement at the creation of mankind in Genesis 1:26 and 27, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
The word for God here is the Hebrew word Elohim used in its plural form. The plural form is often used to extol the greatness of God, called “a plural of majesty”, and can’t be forced to mean a Trinity. Every time Elohim is used in the plural does not mean the word is describing our one God in three persons, but is a Hebrew way of saying God is amazingly majestic.
But here in Genesis 1:26, Elohim is used in combination with some other grammar which points to a triune God. Moses uses two clear grammar indicators in this context. One) Moses uses plural pronouns, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” That combined with Two) Moses uses singular verbs, clearly confirming the Trinity is in view and involved in the creation of mankind.
You all believe in progressive revelation–the fact that God keeps revealing more and more of Himself in the Scripture, giving us a more accurate understanding as more Scripture was written. Meaning, as we read the New Testament, it often helps us clarify the Old Testament. God progressively told us more and more as time passed in the recording of Scripture.
Because of progressive revelation, we know from the gospel of John chapter 1, “the Word” was involved in creation, and Jesus is clearly identified as the Word. We also know from Genesis 1:2, “the Spirit” is involved in Creation. That, plus Elohim, plus Moses’ use of plural pronouns with singular verbs proves the Trinity is our Creator.
Turn to Isaiah 48. You’ll even find references throughout the prophets which declare the God of the Old Testament is a Trinity. Speaking as the coming Messiah, the coming suffering servant–in other words, this is Christ speaking in Isaiah 48:16. Jesus says, “’Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.’”
The Trinity was not a secret nor hidden in the Old Testament. The Trinity is clearly seen and declared, even though it was not a dominant doctrine. But as you open your eyes to the truth of God’s Word, you will find the Trinity everywhere. You see the Trinity clearly on display. What do I mean?
Throughout the Old Testament, God appears to His people in human form–this is the role of the second person of the Trinity. When Jesus comes, He is sent by the Father. Jesus is born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit. Jesus conducts His ministry in the power of the Spirit. On the Cross, the Father gives His Son to save us.
The Son lays down His life for His people in obedience to the Father, but freely of His own accord. We are reconciled to the Father through the death of the Son on our behalf. The Father raises the Son through the Spirit. The Son is now the mediator between God and humanity. The Father sends the Spirit in the name of Jesus. Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father.
The Spirit applies the work of the Son to our lives. Through the Spirit we are born again, and through the Spirit the Father gives us the new life of Christ. We’re saved because of the Father’s kindness through rebirth by the Spirit, whom He poured out on us through the Son. Point #1, the Bible clearly declares God is triune, which means we must . . .
#2 EMBRACE the doctrine of the TRINITY
The importance of the Trinity. You and I need to learn more about the Trinity—why?
First Because the Trinity is UNIQUE to Christianity
Our God is one yet three. Our God is three persons yet one essence. Three individual members of the Godhead are persons with their own emotion, intellect and will–yet they are one essence, one God. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit–three persons yet one God. The one essence is simultaneously three persons and three persons are one essence. God is not a unit, but our God is a unity. Christ, the Spirit and the Father are always one with each other.
Christ is fully God and is fully one with the person of the Father and the person of the Spirit. As Christ’s ministry was recorded in the gospels, He was one with the Father and one with the Spirit. Before Christ was born a man, before the creation of the world and before our universe–before anything was, Christ was one with the Spirit and the Father. Christ who is God, the Father who is God, and the Holy Spirit who is God are one God in three persons.
Read and think deeply about John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Before the world was, this verse tells us Christ existed in glory with the Father. They shared a glory together before creation—a glory they share together now, and will share for all eternity future because they are one, because the Father and the Son are God, and one. We need to embrace the Trinity.
Second Because the knowledge of the Trinity, the function of each person of the Trinity, and the very nature of the Trinity results in awe-filled WORSHIP of our God
Turn to Ephesians 1–as Paul begins this amazing letter, he actually praises all three persons of the Trinity. Paul exalts the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, “to the praise of His glory.” Look at verse 3.
Ephesians 1:3 to 14,” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
The more we know about the Trinity, the more we will want to praise His Person and works. In our jaded world, where we see everything via internet, to embrace a triune Godhead creates wonder, astonishment, reverence, worship and awe. We need to embrace the Trinity . . .
Third Because all three persons are involved in gracing us with SALVATION
Ephesians 1 made that really clear. Each person of the Trinity actually participates in the process of your salvation. You’re not merely redeemed by the Son’s bloody death on the cross. No friends, you are also saved by the Father’s choice in eternity past, and sealed secure by the Holy Spirit. All three persons were involved in your salvation–and without the Trinity, you could not and would not be saved. We need to embrace the Trinity.
Fourth Because all three persons are involved in our SANCTIFICATION
Look at 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” And then in 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
All three persons of the Godhead are involved in growing you to bring glory to God, and to mature you to reflect the Godhead. We need to embrace the Trinity . . .
Fifth Because we PRAY to the Father, in the name of Christ, in the power of the Spirit
Look at Matthew 6:9, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’” And John 14:13, “’Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’” Then Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”
Jesus taught us to pray to the Father–to pray to our Father, our heavenly Father. Then to pray in His name, Christ’s name–referring to all He is. In His name is to pray consistent with Christ’s total character. And the New Testament teaches us to pray in the power of the Spirit, to pray dependent upon the Spirit of God, relying on Him. When we pray, we pray to a triune God. We need to embrace the Trinity . . .
Sixth Because the Trinity is the basis for all RELATIONSHIPS with people, marriage, submission and authority, and to God Himself
From the very beginning, God created man in the image of God. One aspect of God’s image is relationship and role. Just as the Trinity is in relationship with one another, God’s children were designed to enjoy relationship with one another. As each person of the Godhead has a unique function and role, so a husband and wife in marriage will each have a unique function and role.
Look at Genesis 1:26 and 27, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ . . . 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Then look at 1 Corinthians 11:3, “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
As Christ is equal to the Father, so wives are equal to their husbands, and as Christ submits to His Father as head, so the wife submits to her own husband as head. We are made in the image of the triune God–therefore we will imitate, emulate, be like the triune God in relationship. Turn to John 17–we need to embrace the Trinity . . .
Seventh Because the Trinity’s oneness is the basis for all UNITY
God is three persons, yet one in essence. He is one God, yet in three persons. And that oneness is to be reflected in our behavior, relationships and lives. Turn to John 17:11. Jesus makes His desire for oneness really clear, “’I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.’”
We are to be one as Christ and the Father are one. It is this triune oneness which moves the apostle to command us to preserve unity. Look at Ephesians 4:1 to 6, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
It is actually the perfect oneness of the Trinity which draws us to be one in unity, one in heart, one in mind, one in marriage, and one in relationships. We bring God glory by being like Him, and He is one, a tri-unity–perfect oneness. We must be one because God is one. And when we are not one we violate His character.
This is the reason why you must never take communion when you are in conflict with another in this local body. This is why you are to labor to the point of exhaustion to preserve unity with others. Humble yourself, die to self, give up your rights, and walk away from your freedoms if it means maintaining oneness.
“But Chris, some people are really different.” There is black, white, yellow, brown–racial differences. White collar and blue collar–economic differences. Social drinkers, teetotalers and beer brewers–freedom differences. Homeschoolers, private schoolers and public schoolers–educational differences. People from Southern Cal, Northwest, East Coast, Great Plains, people from the south and from the nation of Texas–cultural differences. Plus German, Irish, English, Russian, Italian, Mexican, South American, African background–ancestry differences. Christian and non-Christian family–background differences. Saved as a youth and saved as an adult–timing differences . . . and so much more.
But again, it is the Trinity which shows us we were meant to be different and saved to get along as one. In the Trinity, there are three different unique persons, differing roles, yet they are all one. We are different, unique, diverse, but also one in Christ. Different but one like the Trinity. Let’s pray, friend.