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Worship the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity–part three
Another sermon on the Trinity? Oh no! The third–three in one. Most believers avoid talking about the Trinity. A lot of Christians do everything they can to turn the conversation away from the Trinity. To an extent, I understand why that is. A lot of believers think, “Hey, I love my Jesus and that’s enough for me, right?”
This other truth is for a different class of Christian. It’s for those ivy-covered, scholarly seminaries. It’s for those pasty-faced, socially disastrous, theology professors–they’re the ones who want to talk about the Trinity. The Trinity keeps them amused while the rest of us live normal lives–right?
How can three be one? How can one be three? That’s about as useful as asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s all unnecessary, mathematical gibberish, isn’t it? Deep within the Christian psyche today, the Trinity is an “awkward irrelevance”–Bruce Ware says, “The Trinity feels like a wart on our knowledge of God.”
And so, when it comes to sharing our faith, we speak of God’s offer of salvation, we tell of God’s grace, we help people understand their sinfulness, but we actively try not to let on that the God we’re speaking of is a Trinity. We wax eloquently about the Gospel, but not about the God whose Gospel it is.
Open your Bibles and turn to John 17. It’s time for us to stand up and say no to this foolishness. It’s time for us to be proud of who our God is, not ashamed. Our beautiful Gospel could only come from a God who is wonderfully and beautifully triune. And the Gospel itself only comes from knowing God as triune.
John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Knowing the triune God is eternal life. You will never know God deeply until you embrace, own, and worship the Trinity. Your knowledge of God will be shallow unless you know your God as three in one–three persons, one essence.
In the last two weeks, I have tried to open up the wonder of the Trinity and why you must know your God as a Trinity. We’ve looked at how the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught in the Old and New Testaments and how the Trinity was clarified through Church history. I desired to help you debunk all the weird, weak and wacky analogies which attempt to explain the Trinity.
I have pled for you to stop saying God is sometimes watery, sometimes icy and sometimes steamy. Let God be God. Stop saying God is a big egg–yolk, white and shell. Stop being a modalistic heretic. We believe God is a Trinity, not because God is similar to eggs or H2O, but we believe in the Trinity because the Bible teaches the Trinity and Jesus Christ affirms it.
The Jesus of the Bible is God the Son, who is one with the Father and one with the Spirit. Jesus is one person of the Trinity. In John 17, on the night before He is crucified, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father and said at the end of verse 24, “for You [loved Me] before the foundation of the world.” That is the God of the Bible–in a perfect oneness, yet in three distinct persons.
I also attempted to warn you in this Trinitarian study–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. And last week we looked at His unity.
#1 UNITY–GOD is ONE
The true God is the one who revealed Himself in the Bible and He reveals Himself as one in essence.
Deuteronomy 6:4 to 5 says it, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”
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.” The three persons are one in essence–one in their essential nature. God is only one being. There are not three gods, there is only one God. (Grudem 110) Yet there’re distinctions between the persons in the Trinity.
#2 DIVERSITY–GOD is THREE
God is one in essence, yet God is three persons. The Trinity is one but three, and three but one. Each person–Father, Son and Spirit is fully God, but there is only one God. They are the same essence, one–but function differently, three. The three persons of the Trinity are equal in being, but subordinate in role. Each person–Father, Son and Spirit function in a unique role.
The Trinity is not one person who appears to us in three different forms or modes–that is modalism. (Remember the hats?) 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. So what are some of the distinctions in function or role?
First The Role of the FATHER
The Father is fully God. He is not one-third God, but fully God. Yet it is not the Father alone who is fully God, but He eternally exists along with the Son and the Spirit, each of whom also possess the identical same divine nature. Yet as one person of the Godhead, the Father possesses a unique role as Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit.
Turn in your Bible to Matthew 6. As Jesus teaches His men how to pray, we learn some about our heavenly Father. What should blow you away as you contemplate the greatness, majesty, and richness that is God is this–He is YOUR God. [Ware 44] Matthew 6:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
For some of you, the term father was damaged by your dad. But never forget–at the highest price ever paid, your God adopted you into His family; He is your perfect Father; He is not like your earthly father. He is your heavenly Father.
Verse 7, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. 9 Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’”
The Father is YOUR God. This should astonish you to realize the God we pray to and follow is THE God–the only true God. He’s God over all. He eternally exists in the fullness of his infinite perfections fully apart from all that is. He knows everything. He knows what you need before you ask Him. As Creator of all, He is the Sovereign ruler of the universe.
He’s so great, He is one. Yet this one God is also three. So when we pray, we pray to the Father in the name of the Son, in the power of the Spirit. The Father functions as supreme among the persons of the Godhead. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,” asserts the Father has supremacy over all. He functions as head, even though the Son and the Spirit are equally God.
First Corinthians 15:28 blows us away with these words, “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” The Father also functions as the grand architect, the maker of creation, designer of redemption and planner of the end. Ephesians 1:11b, “having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
The Father chooses–He elects, He sends His Son. The Father chose you before the foundation of the world. God is not really glorified when salvation is reduced to merely an opportunity or simply a possibility. No–God is glorified greatly because He chose us. The Father is also the giver of every good and perfect gift.
James 1:17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” The Father often provides and works through the Son and the Spirit because they are one. Ephesians 1:3, “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.”
The Father has chosen us in Christ–we are predestined to adoption through Christ. We are regenerated through the Holy Spirit. And realize this– the Father shows us how “us” fathers are to behave. With the Father, there’s no asserting “I’m in charge.” There is His perfect truth expressed in lavish, even extravagant love, provision and protection of His children.
Second The Role of the SON
The Son is fully God, not one-third God. Equally God as the Father and the Spirit, yet the Son is unique in His function. We’ve already seen the second person of the Trinity’s unique role to be the one who visibly manifests God to humanity throughout all history. Jesus is Creator and the Judge you will answer to–and the only Savior Christ becomes incarnate, suffers, dies and rises again.
But the Son’s role goes even further–equally and fully God. Yet the Son is under the headship or authority of the Father. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, but from that position He reigns over Heaven and Earth. Ephesians 1:20 to 22, “Seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 22 and He put all things in subjection under His feet.”
The Son and the Father are the same essence, equally and fully God, yet the Son submits to the Father. In fact, Jesus says in John 8:28 to 29, “So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 …for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.’”
How amazing is this? Jesus is God, but Jesus obeys God. Jesus is not of this world, but in this world Jesus refuses to speak or act on his own initiative, but rather do only what pleases His Father. Jesus is God, but also God the Son and under the authority of His Father. John 14:31, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.”
They are one, yet there is love and obedience that bind the Father and the Son in the Trinity, proving submission is an attribute of God and a quality of Christ. So like Him, we’re to submit to His appointed authorities–parents, employers, law enforcement, and elders. Unless you’re being commanded to do that which is opposed to God and His Word, we are to submit to authority. It’s part of how we show the love of the Son to the Father, and it is that kind of love that actually exalts Christ and glorifies the Trinity. What about . . .
Third The Role of the SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is fully God, not one-third God, but true God. Not more or less God than God the Father or God the Son, but with a unique role within the oneness of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit assists in carrying out the work of the Father and empowering the Son in His earthly ministry.
The Spirit is the one who inspired the human authors of Scripture to write God’s Word. Second Peter 1:20 to 21, “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Revelation, inspiration and illumination all come from the Spirit. You have that Bible in your lap because of the third person of the Trinity.
Evangelism empowered by the Spirit proclaims the Gospel of Christ. Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Regeneration–true salvation, being born again, having new life is only brought about by the Spirit. He draws you, He convicts you, and He regenerates you.
John 3:3 to 8, “Jesus … said…, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit . . . 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
Sanctification is progressively and cooperatively achieved by the Spirit making us more like Christ. Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” You and I grow in Christ as we depend upon the Spirit and stop depending on ourselves. And what an example–the Spirit serves unnoticed, without recognition, with no jealousy, no resentfulness, desiring nothing but to glorify the Son and the Father.
He moves in us to be willing, fruitful, and loving. And the Spirit motivates us to give ourselves to joyful service–even gifting us uniquely to serve God in a special way, which brings God glory and creates in us incredible joy. The Bible is clear–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each (listen carefully to these words) fully God, equally God, eternally God, simultaneously God.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit each possess a divine equality so as to avoid Arianism. Eternally to avoid thinking of God’s nature as created, simultaneously to avoid modalism, and fully to avoid thinking any person of the Godhead is only part God like a piece of the pie. In essence, each member of the Godhead is identical, but in person, each is distinct.
And the three persons of the Trinity work together in harmony. Just like great music is many instruments playing different parts, but one tune in harmony. God is three different persons, but one God–one essence. There is so much more to each person in the Godhead. But I want you to see something else equally amazing.
#3 The Trinity is uniquely LOVING
For eternity, God is love. This is unpacked for us in 1 John 4:7 to 8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” These are extraordinary words. Whoever loves is born of God and knows God. If you do not love, you don’t know Him–because you cannot know Him without becoming like Him.
Do you know someone here or in your family who is an older saint, who uniquely radiates the love and joy of Christ? Do you know someone like that? I hope you do–I do. Now imagine, you are invited to go out to lunch with them. How do you behave when you’re with this special saint? You are nicer in their presence. You don’t slam others, don’t gossip, don’t say harsh things. (You do that later, but not in their presence.) When you’re with them, you are kinder and gentler. It wears off after a bit, but with them you are sweeter.
That is a finite picture of what your God is like. You cannot know Him or be in His presence without starting to become like Him. And God is love. If you know Him, you will be loving. God is love, and He is love because He has been loving the other persons of the Trinity in eternity past and will be loving the other persons of the Trinity in the future.
I’m saying God is love because God is a Trinity. For eternity, God has been loving the other members of the Trinity. You get a picture of this at the baptism of Jesus. Want an illustration of the Trinity? Try the baptism of Jesus, not eggs. What do you see at the baptism of Jesus? The Son is in the waters of the Jordan. The Heavens are ripped open and the Father declares His love for His Son as the Spirit rests on the Son, “This is My beloved Son.”
That is what God is like–God is loving in and of Himself. God has already been loving for eternity. The Father loves the Son and Spirit, and the Son loves the Father and Spirit. Are you getting this? God does not need us! God chooses to love us, but He didn’t need us to love, because in His triune nature He was already eternally loving.
Everything between the Father, Son and Spirit is a perfect unity. In this perfect unity, the three persons enjoy a perfect love. You see, God has to be a Trinity. If God is not a Trinity, then He’s an eternal being totally absent from the attribute of love. If God is an eternal solitary being, all alone, then eternally He does not love because there is no one to love. That’s a main reason why God and Allah are not the same. And that is why there is zero love in Islam.
The essential starting place of Christianity is a God who is three in one, who is marked by a relationship of love. Only the Trinity is God in relationship, and that relationship is perfect, full, authentic love. God doesn’t love you because He needs someone to love Him back. No–He truly loves you because He has no needs, for He is already a loving God in the persons of the Trinity. The Father has never been lonely. He is perfectly satisfied in God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our God has life, love and glory in Himself.
This is a truth CS Lewis captured in his Screwtape Letters. The Screwtape Letters are an imagined dialog between a senior demon and his apprentice demon. The devil is the perfect example of the single person solitary God, compared to the true God, a Trinity. When people think of God as a horrible single dictator on a throne–ordering us about with entirely mean and selfish motives, they are actually thinking about the devil. They are actually imagining the devil.
Lewis compares the devil to the living, loving, self-giving, overflowing triune God. Here’s what the senior demon Screwtape writes about God. “One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as ‘we demons’ would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We [demons] want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.”
Because God is a Trinity, He is self-sufficient, giving and gracious and full of love expressed in the Trinity. And when we come in contact with Him, we will become loving as well. In one of His most personal moments, Jesus says in Mark 14:36, “He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’”
Christ is so intimate, so loving with His Father, He calls God, “Abba,” meaning Daddy–an incredibly intimate love relationship. Now let this blow you away. When you are adopted into God’s family, when you are born again in Christ, you are now so close to God Himself, you call your heavenly Father your Abba.
Romans 8:15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” When you are in Christ, you’re in the Trinitarian eternal love relationship of intimacy. You are now a part of their love for each other. The Father’s love overflows to all His children.
John 17:26, “’I have made Your name known, . . . so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.’” As a child of God, you are caught up in the love of the Trinity. Abba–you are loved as much as the Father loves His Son. You’re now a part of His family–a child of God. You’re loved with Trinity love. Jesus says, “the love with which you loved me.”
The true God, the biblical God, the triune God is totally at odds with all the other gods of human imagination. The triune God is vastly different from all organized religion–all of them. All the lesser God’s of organized religion are needy. Look at the difference between the triune God and Allah. Allah is the best-known single person God.
Do you realize just how different Allah is, because he is not triune? See what difference being triune makes? The untaught and unsaved will say, “The God of the Bible and the god of the Koran are the same god,” but they’re not. The Koran tells us Allah describes himself as different. “Say not Trinity, desist, it is better for you–for God is one God. Glory be to him. Far exalted is he, above having a son.” Or even more pointed, the Koran says, “Say he… Allah is one, Allah is he on whom all depend. He begets not, nor is he begotten.”
In the Koran, Allah is being as clear as he can be that he is not Father, Son and Spirit. He’s a different God. He clearly says he is one, and Allah is not three. That difference means Allah has a completely different motivation and character. Think about it. Imagine Allah is god. What was Allah like for all eternity?
As god, before he created anything, he is all by himself. For eternity, Allah existed without anyone to love. That’s a huge point. Love for others is clearly not Allah’s heartbeat, since Allah spent all eternity with no one to love–no one. Now in Islam, Allah has ninety-nine names. They say one of his names is loving. But how can he be loving? Islam scholars say because Allah is looking forward to his creation and loving that.
But the problem with that is this. For Allah to be loving, he must have a creation. He actually needs creation. Without creation, there is no one to love, to sacrifice for. So to be loving at all, Allah needs his creation. Yet one of the cardinal beliefs of Islam is Allah is dependent on nothing. But in truth, Allah is dependent on his creation. Allah spent all eternity without love, with no one to love.
The true triune God of the Bible is completely different. Unlike Allah, what has our God been doing for eternity? Jesus says to the Father in John 17:24, “You loved me before the foundation of the world.” Because our God is triune, our God is a loving God who has been loving for eternity, before we were even created.
Our God does not need you to love–He is already loving. He does not need an object to love–He is internally loving. He is love, loving, forever–past, present and future. And this love between the persons of the Trinity is now what you enjoy if you are in Christ. You’re brought into the amazing love relationship which eternally exists between the persons of the Trinity. Wow! The love the Father has for the Son is the same love the Father has for each one of His adopted children. Aren’t you glad you are a Trinitarian?
A Being Trinitarian is an awesome LIFESTYLE
1 Being Trinitarian results in a HUMBLE life
The doctrine of the Trinity is so complex and wonderfully awesome, it humbles us. God can be known, but He cannot be fully known, keeping us wonderfully dependent and humble. He is God and you are not. You don’t know everything, but God does know everything. You don’t control today or tomorrow, but God does. Knowing a Trinity makes us humble.
2 Believing the Trinity is a LOVING lifestyle
Since God himself is a loving community, we are to be a loving community in our marriages, families and churches.
3 Trinitarian life is a WORSHIPFUL life
We pray, we sing, we worship, we live for the glory of God the Father through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
4 Being Trinitarian is having a heart of UNITY
We are to manifest the unity of oneness in our relationships found in the Trinity. Because God is one, we are to be one. Because God is a harmonious unity, we are to labor to the point of exhaustion to preserve unity with each other.
5 Believing the Trinity encourages us to appreciate diversity
We are to appreciate and esteem the differing racial, cultural, gender, gifts, talents, abilities of each other within the context of the truth of God’s Word. Just like the different persons of the Trinity are a wonder—differences, diversity created by God are a wonder.
6 A follower of the Trinity lives a life of SUBMISSION
When Jesus said to His heavenly Father, “Your will be done,” then all of God’s children will be willing to say the same thing 24/7.
7 A Trinitarian life is a JOYFUL life
To glorify God is to delight in God, to see God as beautiful, to enjoy His presence. The Trinity is the person of joy, and to maintain intimacy with Him will result in joy.
8 A belief in the Trinity results in an ABUNDANT life
Father is so giving, God reminds us in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Imagine your loving uncle loves you so much, he designs, builds and gives you a lavish home–built to provide all your needs, and designed around all your greatest wishes. The perfect home. Plus, this home is stocked with all your favorite pleasures, food, and conveniences–just for you.
But living there, you discover there is one thing missing. It is lacking a salt and pepper shaker. Now do you think your uncle will actually deny you a salt and pepper shaker? After providing you with everything, do you think he’ll now withhold a simple salt and pepper shaker? No! Like our God, after giving us His Son, Romans 8:32 says, “How will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Our heavenly Father is a giving gracious God–abundant!
B Being Trinitarian is amazing GRACE
1 The Trinitarian Gospel alone can give you SALVATION by Grace
It was God the Father who chose you, God the Son who redeemed you, and God the Holy Spirit who regenerated you so that you could be born again, adopted into God’s family, given abundant new life now and eternal life forever. It is the Trinity who can save you. God judged God on your behalf–you could not die for sin. You could not take God’s wrath for your sin or others. You could not provide a perfect sacrifice for sin.
But God could, by sending His perfect Son to die on your behalf. Only the God-man could take our place as man, and only the God-man could satisfy the Father’s justice for sin. Cry out to God to send His Spirit to awaken your heart and give you new life now, adopt you as His child and give you eternal life in Heaven. You will certainly go to Hell unless you turn to the triune God alone to save you.
2 The Trinitarian Gospel alone can SANCTIFY you with Grace
You are saved, not on the basis of what we do now. You are saved on the basis of what Christ did back then. When you’re in Christ, you are secured, loved, forgiven, cleansed, made new, and will be being conformed by His Spirit. You are His child because of His grace, and you are pleasing to Christ now because of His grace.
Nothing can change your status as His true child–nothing. Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. No event, no sin, no failure, no mistake, no bad day, bad week, bad month or bad year. Once you are adopted, you can’t be un-adopted. Once you are born again, you can’t be aborted. And as His child, the love which the Father has for His own Son, that same love is now lavished on you.
Jesus declares in John 17:26, “The love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Don’t you dare leave today without a fresh awareness of God’s great love for you–each child of God is beloved. Your Father chose you before time. Your Savior redeemed you on the cross and the Holy Spirit caused you to be born again in this life. You are loved.
And we love because He first loved us–we must remember His love for us first. As we return His love, you’ll be filled with joy. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” My friends, there is great blessing awaiting you as you live in the presence of the triune God.
How do you remain in His love and know His joy? It begins with knowing His Word deeply, through prayer, through the fellowship of the saints, through today’s worship service, through suffering, and through the other means of grace. As you get to know the triune God, the Father, Son and Spirit, you will become more like our God. Second Corinthians 3:18, “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.”
Today, my prayer for you is 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.”