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Own the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity–part two
Do you love math puzzles and patterns? Some do. You know, a man is three-quarters of the way across a bridge when he sees a train coming towards him. Whether he continues across the bridge or walks back, he will reach the end of the bridge at the same time as the train does. How fast is the train travelling? I don’t know, but I know that guy is cookin’! The real answer is, twice as fast as the man.
Do you know what you get if you key 1.2345678 into a calculator and hit the square root button? You get 1.1111111. For many, the Trinity seems like a mathematical trick–a rather improbable attempt to make one plus one plus one equal one. But the Trinity is not a trick, but a wonder of who God is–a uniqueness and greatness of our God.
And this morning, God wants you and I to know Him as a Trinity . . . God the Father, God the Son and
God the Spirit–three persons, one God. We are in the midst of a three-part series on the Trinity—three sermons that are one. That’s Trinitarian humor, but the Trinity is no joke.
Seventy-one percent of people in America say they are Christian. Forty percent say they go to church, and of that forty only twenty percent actually do go to church weekly. Fifty-six percent of those who do go to church believe Christ is God, but even less believe our God is a Trinity.
To not embrace God as a Trinity is to lose your soul. To try to fully comprehend the Trinity is to lose your mind. But to not know God as a Trinity is to lose your heart. Last week, we looked at Scriptures proving there’s one God. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are God–three persons yet one God, one essence. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are differentiated in that the Father is not the Son, nor the Spirit–nor is the Son, the Spirit. No, one God, three persons.
You say, “Chris, honestly this truth blows me away.” You are in good company. Paul said in Romans 11:33 and 34, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
Let God be God and worship Him as awesome. Do not try to contain Him, but be overwhelmed by Him. Which means we must stop using . . .
A Heretical ANALOGIES
In trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, water, steam and ice does not illustrate the Trinity. This analogy is inadequate, because no quantity of water is ever steam, ice and water at the same time. There is no such thing as one water from which all three unique waters come. Plus, the element of differing persons is missing from this impersonal analogy.
Stay away from the yolk, the white and the shell of an egg for the same reasons. The three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover–and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover. In the Trinity, each of the persons of the Trinity is not a separate part of God, but each person is fully God.
Avoid saying the Trinity is like a man who is both a farmer, the mayor of his town and the elder in his church. He functions in different roles at different times, but he is one man. This analogy is deficient because there is only one person doing these three activities at different times, and the analogy cannot deal with the personal interaction among the members of the Trinity–this is just modalism.
The best we can do to illustrate the Trinity is to repeat what God alone reveals about Himself in the Word of God. Be biblical. The best visual description of the Scripture came from the Early Church–a perfect equilateral triangle. Math geeks know in geometry an equilateral triangle is a triangle in which all three sides are equal. True equilateral triangles are also equiangular–that is, all three internal angles are also congruent to each other, each being exactly sixty degrees. Each side is different than the others and each angle represents a different part of the triangle, but the sides and angles are a part of the whole.
But even before this, at the very beginning, before the New Testament canon of Scripture was completed by the apostles, those who lived with Christ immediately described the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament as a Trinity. You know their statements well.
B The BIBLE Teaches
Matthew 28:19 and 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.’” In the gospel written to proclaim the Gospel to the monotheistic Jews, Matthew declares we make disciples in the name of all three persons of the Godhead–the Father, Son and Spirit . . . one God in three persons.
Turn to 2 Corinthians 13. In an early epistle, the apostle Paul makes it clear he is preaching, worshiping and teaching the Early Church, and the world of lost pagans, that God is a Trinity. As Paul defends his apostleship, he ends this book with a prayer acknowledging all three persons of the Trinity 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.”
Scattered through the Old and New Testaments are repeated statements demonstrating the one true God is triune. Last week we looked at a few clear descriptions of the Trinity–Old Testament passages like Nehemiah 9:30, “You bore with them for many years, and admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets.”
Ezekiel 11:5, “Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, “Thus says the Lord.” ’ ” Zechariah 7:12, “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets.”
Turn to Mark 12–even the New Testament writers, as they quoted the Old Testament, referenced a Trinitarian God. And Jesus Christ clearly referenced Himself as one of the persons of the Godhead. You remember Mark 12:35 to 37 quoting Psalm 110:1, “And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, ‘How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.’ ” 37 David himself calls Him “Lord”; so in what sense is He his son?’ And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.”
Turn to Luke 4. Jesus points to the Trinitarian nature of God as He describes His deity to the listening crowd. And Jesus did this more than once, friends. Remember Luke 4:17 to 21? “And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ 20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
In quoting Isaiah 61:1 to 2, Jesus is referencing Himself not only as God, but as the second person of the Trinity. Turn to Genesis 16. One of the most dramatic evidences of the Trinity in the Old Testament is the occasional appearances of the second person of the Trinity in physical form. The Old Testament writers often speak of the appearance of God in some manifestation to His people for the purpose of delivering them, leading them or communicating with them. [Barrack 182]
Whenever you read of THE Angel of the Lord, not an angel of the Lord, but with the article “the” Angel of the Lord, that is a manifestation of Christ prior to His incarnation as a man. Angel means messenger, and in these type of references it’s better to call this person the messenger of the Lord. These are called theophanies. A few call them Christophanies, but it is probably best to call them huiophanies, or manifestations of the Son–appearances of God the Son prior to His incarnation.
This is awesome–one of the roles of the second person of the Trinity is to be the person of the Godhead who manifests Himself to humanity, which eventually includes being born as a baby in Bethlehem in order to fulfill the needed role as substitute, as Savior.
Genesis 16:7 to 13 tells the story of Hagar in desperate need. “Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness . . . 9 Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority’ . . . 11 The angel of the Lord said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael’ . . . 13 Then she called the name of the Lord [Lord is YAHWEH] who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’”
Notice it is not Hagar who identifies The Angel of the Lord as God in verse 13, but it is Moses, the inspired author here who says, “Then she called the name of the Lord . . . for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’” Moses makes it clear the messenger/angel of the Lord is an appearance of God to Hagar. God the Son appeared to Hagar.
Turn to Judges 6:12 to 23. Here the writer of the book of Judges, not Gideon nor the messenger of Yahweh, reports that Yahweh looked at him and said, “The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.’ 13 Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ 14 The LORD [this is the name for God, YAHWEH] looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’ . . . 22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ 23 The LORD said to him, ‘Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.’ ”
The inspired writer of Judges, probably Samuel, tells us the messenger/Angel of the Lord was YAHWEH–the second person of the Trinity manifesting Himself, which so frightened Gideon he thought he’d die because he’d seen God. From the beginning, the Bible teaches Jesus Christ is God. And along with God the Father and God the Spirit, there is one God in three persons–awesome!
The Trinity’s been at work–the Son came to Earth physically many times before being born. Now, as the Church grew, this Trinitarian truth was challenged, which forced true believers to study and become clearer with the Scriptures. Like all essential doctrines, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity was attacked, then wonderfully defended and clarified by believers. How did it come about?
C The HISTORY of the doctrine clarifies the Trinity
We get our word Trinity from the Latin word trinitas, coined by the North African theologian, Tertullian. Like other second century Christians, Tertullian likened the Trinity to an economy–pointing to the management of a household. God is a household, being more than one person. But as Tertullian began to study more, he began to become more clear as to what the Bible declares.
The reason why was to correct another theologian named Praxeas, who was an early supporter of modalism. Modalism later was called sabellianism–named after Sabellius, who further developed the ideas of Praxeas. Modalism suggests that the Son and the Spirit are simply different modes of God’s existence. Only one divine being–sometimes acts like the Son and sometimes acts like the Spirit.
It’s as if there’s one God, but He wears different hats. The Father hat, then the same one God puts on another hat and becomes the Son, then puts on another hat and becomes the Spirit. Modalists often say the Father is the creator, the Son is the redeemer, and the Spirit is the sanctifier, but they are all the same person.
In response, Tertullian pointed to the clear New Testament texts that speak of the Son as a person distinct from the Father, especially those which describe a dialogue between the Father and the Son.
Tertullian described the Son and the Spirit as distinct from the Father, yet also sharing the same essence as the Father.
Then along came Origen, who insisted that the threeness of God was part of His eternal being. When it comes to God, he taught, the term Son does not imply a moment of birth, but the Son was eternally begotten. Origen created a formula of three persons and a single divine essence. This became the prevailing orthodox position, which was continually being refined by heretical attacks.
As someone put forth a false view, it forced believers to correct it–and as they did, they became more clear. Origen also affirmed the differing roles in the Trinity, where the Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Son and the Father. Even though Origen was clear, a generation after Origen a man named Arius, a teacher from Alexandria in Egypt, sparked the most troublesome conflict in the first 1,000 years of Church history.
Origen had said the Son was co-eternal with the Father, but also subordinate to Him. Arius said you could not have both subordination and co-eternity, since co-eternity implies equality but submission (in his mind) did not. Arius ditched co-eternity, and Arius took Origin’s teaching of Christ’s subordination to the Father a step further–a step too far, a step over the line of truth into error.
Arius placed the Son on the side of creation–rather than Christ being the Creator, Christ to Arius was created. For Arius, being begotten of the Father meant the Son was created by the Father. So only the Father is true God to Arius. Arius’s views rightly brought him in conflict with an unnamed Bishop of Alexandria. The Bishop’s counter claim was, “Always the Father, always the Son,” meaning the Father has always existed and the Son has always existed.
Eventually Arius was excommunicated in Alexandria, but by now he’d gained a wider audience and the controversy became a matter of fierce debate across the entire empire. So when Emperor Constantine gained control of the Eastern Empire, he convened a council at Nicea to resolve the issue. He wanted a unified religion for a unified empire.
Arius was defeated at the Council of Nicea, and the resulting Nicene Creed continues today to be an important statement of Christian orthodoxy. This creed was written specifically to stop all Arian teaching. You can hear it in the words of the Nicene Creed, as I read some. “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one BEING with the Father, through him all things were made.”
The most controversial statement from the Nicene Creed was a term I just read, “one being”, which is the Greek word homoousia. It means “the same substance”–to affirm the equality of the Father and Son and Spirit as one God, yet three persons. They are one God, one essence, one substance, yet three different persons.
There was push back around the empire for using this term, and Arianism continued to be embraced in little pockets around the empire. Some tried to drop the term homoousious, but the next Bishop of Alexandria, a man named Athanasius, pushed back and said, “No–it’s the correct term. God the Father, Son and Spirit all share the same essence–equally God, one being, yet three persons.”
More clarification resulted as the Athanasius team taught the three persons of the Trinity shared the same essence, but also maintained different roles, including the Son’s subordination to the Father. Though Son and Father are equally God and the same essence, God the Son submits to God the Father.
The battle to fight for this orthodox position was so intense, poor Athanasius was exiled over this Trinitarian conflict a total of five times from Alexandria Egypt. Athanasius was kicked out five times in a seventeen-year period. But Athanasius finally won, meaning the truth won, and we are glad he did, since our very salvation hangs in the balance of this truth.
To save you, God judged God on your behalf. Only God Himself could have borne the wrath of God, and only God could be a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God. Only the Trinity can make salvation possible. [Tim Chester 83ff]
After Nicea, happily, there was another council called–and this one was at Constantinople in AD 381. At this event, they finished clarifying the Trinity. Three Cappadocian fathers–a guy named Basil and two Gregory’s defended the Holy Spirit’s deity and expanded the Nicene creed to affirm that the Holy Spirit is also Lord, life-giver, and to be worshiped with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit too is fully God [Ware 39ff].
The Bible teaches the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each possess the divine nature equally (which avoids Arianism) simultaneously (avoiding modalism) and fully (avoiding tritheism, wrongly seeing the three persons as each one-third God). In essence, each member of the Godhead is identical–but in person, each member of the Trinity is distinct.
All three persons of the Trinity work together in harmony–not unison, but in harmony. Unison expresses a form of unity, but not fullness. Harmony communicates the idea of unified expression, but only through differing yet complementary parts. The Trinity is God’s unified nature expressed richly and beautifully in the three equal persons, with full possession and manifestation of their one true essence.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not identical persons, but they are harmonious in accomplishing the one undivided purpose, one common work, since they each fully possess the one undivided, divine essence. So what we have is unity and diversity–unity and difference, identity and distinction. How are they the same and how are they distinct? How did God accomplish our salvation? What is in His nature that made salvation possible? That was all introduction.
#1 UNITY–GOD is ONE
The Bible teaches there is one God. There is not a god of the sun, a god of the moon, a god of the earth, and a god of the water. There is not an individual god for each person–God is not the one you imagined He would be. God is not the one you prefer, like, or choose. In fact, any god you design for yourself, or imagine, or think as god is just you worshiping yourself as god.
The true God, the one God, the only right God is the one who revealed Himself in the Bible—period. Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” The only true God is the one who revealed Himself in the Scripture. And God says of Himself, He is one.
The true God, the God of gods, the Lord of lords is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 to 5 says it, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul declares the true God is one in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” And James admits, even demons recognize there is one God, though theirs is an intellectual assent to one God. James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” James clearly affirms that one does well to believe that God is one.
The three persons of the Trinity are not only one in purpose and agreement on what they think, but they are one in essence, one in their essential nature. In other words, God is only one being. There are not three gods, there is only one God. [Grudem 110]
Homoousious–one essence, same nature, one God. There are no differences in deity, attributes or essential nature between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and has all the attributes of God. All three persons of the Godhead all described as divine. They each are deity. They are each fully God.
From the very first verse in the Scripture, the Father is the one who created the heavens and earth, and it’s evident throughout the Old Testament and New Testament the Father is clearly viewed as sovereign God over all. His deity is declared and assumed. Throughout the gospels, Jesus received worship as only God would, was called by divine names, easily accomplished divine acts like raising the dead and calming a storm, called Himself God so clearly His enemies tried to stone Him, and manifested the divine attributes of God throughout His public ministry.
The Holy Spirit is called by divine names, manifests the attributes of God, and demonstrates so many divine works. In Acts 5, when Ananias tried to lie to the apostles in verse 3 and 4, “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’”
Peter declares the Holy Spirit is God–which is not a stretch, since the Holy Spirit is present at creation, inspired the biblical writers, empowered the conception of Christ, convicts the world of sin, is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and regenerates people so they can be born again. The Bible makes it clear all three persons are God. All three persons are deity. Yet there’re distinctions between the persons in the Trinity.
#2 DIVERSITY–GOD is THREE
God is one in essence, two in nature, yet God is three persons. The Trinity is one but three, and three but one. Each person–Father, Son and Spirit are fully God. But there is only one God. The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to creation. They are the same essence (one) but function differently (three).
This truth about the Trinity has sometimes been summarized by the phrase, “Ontological equality but economic subordination.” The word ontological means being and economic refers to different activities or roles. The three persons of the Trinity are equal in being but subordinate in role. Ontological equality communicates each person is fully God. And economic subordination communicates each person functions in a unique role.
The Trinity is not one person who appears to us in three different forms or modes–that is modalism. The Trinity is not God the Father as true God who created the Son and the Spirit to function as His arms to accomplish His will–that’s Arianism. The Trinity is not three gods, where each person is one-third god–that’s tritheism. No, the God of the Bible is a Trinity, meaning God is one essence, but three in person.
So what are some of the distinctions in function or role? For the answer to that, you have to come back next week. Today, open your heart to these truths.
A The Trinity transforms all your RELATIONSHIPS
Because God in Himself has both unity and diversity, it’s not surprising unity and diversity are also found in all relationships–God created relationships. God is the one who created man and woman in His own image–and He made people like Himself, in relationship.
This is so lost today with many churchgoers. You ask, “Do you glorify God?” “Yes, I am kind, loving and wise.” Maybe, but you treat your spouse like trash, you’re a gossip, and unkind to those in leadership.
High school students and collegians, the way you treat your friends either honors God, or it makes Him look bad. Marrieds with children, how you behave as a family towards each other glorifies God or attacks Him. Any who are distracted by race or culture, the Trinity demonstrates our God made His children to be one, even though we are unique.
Someday very soon, Revelation 7:9 and 10 is going to occur, and you best start behaving like it is right now. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
I thank God we can taste a little of that at our church. Church members, how you treat others in this body either glorifies a loving Triune God, or it destroys our witness. Jesus makes this clear in John 17:11b and 22, “’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.’”
When you treat others badly, you’re attacking the Trinity–three divine persons who exist in relationship. Three divine persons who exist in loving unity and diversity. If you truly know the Triune God, your relationships will change. They will become sweeter, more unified, more loving because your desire to imitate Him, reflect His relationship will be stronger than ever.
B The Trinity elevates your WORSHIP
There are two reasons you might not have understood everything I taught today. One, is, I’m not good enough as a preacher to make this truth clear (and there is some truth to that). Two is (and this is a shocker), our Triune God is bigger than you, more awesome, incredibly majestic, and downright mind-blowing. God definitely can’t be put in a box to be understood, and He definitely is beyond our complete understanding.
I love the apostle Paul as he writes the most amazing truth about God and our salvation in his letter to the Romans. At points he just stops, like he can’t stand it any longer, and he moves from exhortation to adoration.
We started with this verse. After amazing theology, Romans 11:33 to 36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Today and this week, your worship should be elevated. Your wonder should overwhelm you. Your awe towards God must increase. Our triune God alone is awesome!
C The Trinity makes your SALVATION possible
You and I can’t be saved without a Trinity. It’s time to grow up, and grow beyond saying, “Just accept Jesus in your heart.” It’s time for you to recognize, affirm and teach that it’s only because God is a Trinity you could be saved. Salvation is not merely the Son dying for you. Salvation is the Father choosing you before the foundation of the world.
Salvation was possible because the Father sent the Son to the cross, 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Salvation is possible because God judged God on your behalf. God the Father poured out His wrath on God the Son instead of you.
Salvation only became a reality to you when the Holy Spirit in time regenerated you, so you could trust Christ in faith and turn from sin in repentance. It was the Spirit who caused you to be born again. Are you getting this? It was the Son who not only was sent by the Father, but the Son who willingly offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to the Father. And it is the Holy Spirit who now makes that sacrifice effective in the life of the Christian.
Salvation is only possible because God is a Trinity. So today, will you admit you’ve sinned against God? That your sin is so bad, God must judge you and ultimately cast you into Hell forever because of your sins? And your only hope is to cry out for mercy from God, who at great cost provided the only way you can be saved–the suffering and death of God the Son, Jesus Christ.
Ask Him to awaken your heart so you can turn from your sin in repentance, and in faith put your entire hope in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let’s pray—call out to Him today.