Honest Questions 2. - How Do You Explain the Trinity?
It’s my hope when we’re finished, each of us will grow in our delight of the triune God and our faith will be fortified. “To know the Trinity is to know God, an eternal and personal God of infinite beauty, interest and fascination. The Trinity is a God we can know and forever grow to know better.”
1. The word trinity is not found in the Bible but the truth of the Trinity is found throughout Scripture
2. The Trinity is one of the truly distinctive doctrines of Christianity - It is crucial for Christianity because it concerns who God is, what He is like, how He works, and how He is to be approached.
3. This message will not answer all your questions but I hope you’ll grow in your awe of our awesome God
Exposition – What Does the Bible Say About the Trinity?
Wayne Grudem - “The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. To study the Bible’s teachings on the Trinity gives us great insight into the question that is at the center of all of our seeking after God: What is God like in Himself? Here we learn that in Himself, in His very being, God exists in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet there is one God.”
Several passages in the OT point to plurality in the Godhead -
• Genesis 1: 26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness...’”
• Genesis 3: 22 “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil…”
• Genesis 11: 7 “Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so that they will not understand each other.”
• Isaiah 6: 8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I (singular) send? And who will go for us (plurality)?’”
There’s more explicit evidence for the Trinity in the NT with the coming of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Here are some key passages -
• Matthew 3: 16, 17 “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
“At this 1 precise moment all 3 members of the Trinity are performing 3 distinct activities. God the Father is speaking from Heaven; God the Son is being baptized and is then spoken to from Heaven by God the Father; and God the Holy Spirit is descending from Heaven to rest upon and empower Jesus for ministry.”
• Matthew 28: 19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
• 2 Corinthians 13: 14 “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
3 statements summarize what the Bible teaches -
1. There is One God. The Bible is clear there is one and only one God. He is only one being, not 3 Gods.
• Deuteronomy 6: 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
• Isaiah 45: 5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”
• James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God, Good!”
2. God is Three Persons. This means the Father is not the Son and not the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father and not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father and not the Son. God is 1 in essence, 3 in Person.
• John 14: 16, 17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
• John 14: 26 “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
3. Each Person is Fully God. One isn’t the other, and each member of the Trinity is equal in rank, power, glory and majesty. There are a multitude of verses establishing the Father, Son, and Spirit as distinct and divine but for the sake of time, we’ll just look at one for each.
• The Father is God. Malachi 2: 10 “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?”
• The Son is God. After Thomas expressed his doubts he boldly declared the deity of Christ in John 20: 28 “My Lord and my God!”
• The Holy Spirit is God. Peter asks Ananias - Acts 5: 3, 4 “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied to me but to God.”
Explanation – How Can We State the Trinity?
“We find evidence for oneness, evidence for threeness, and evidence for three-in-oneness. By carefully pulling all the evidence together, we arrive at the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity…”
“The doctrine of the Trinity must be divinely revealed, not humanly constructed. It is so absurd from a human standpoint that no one would have invented it…try to explain it, and you’ll lose your mind; but try to deny it, and you’ll lose your soul.”
Due in large part to the difficulty in explaining the Trinity, various heresies surfaced in the history of the early church, some of which are still hanging around today.
• Modalism teaches that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or modes.
• Monarchianism teaches there is only one Person and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit subsist as impersonal attributes.
• Arianism denies the full deity of Jesus Christ - there was a time the Son did not exist. This is what Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims believe.
• Tri-theism teaches there are 3 separate Gods. This is what Mormons believe.
In order to correct these errors the early Church developed concise creedal statements. These were important because in an age when people didn’t have their own Bibles, these brief statements of belief summarized biblical orthodoxy while combatting heresy.
1. The Apostles Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord…I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
2. The Nicene Creed. In order to clarify the Trinity, the Nicene Creed was developed in AD 325, taking its final form in AD 381. We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, of the same essence as the Father…And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
3. The Athanasian Creed. This robust statement from the 5th Century is the strongest and the longest of the 3. The person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has…and yet there are not 3 eternal beings; there is but one eternal being…we must worship their trinity in their unity and their unity in their trinity.”
Illustrations – How Can We Understand the Trinity?
There are strengths and liabilities in each of the illustrations that people have come up with. Keep Romans 11: 33 in mind: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
Three-leaf Clover - A clover has three different leaves and yet is one clover. Tree - A tree is made up of roots, trunk and branches. Water - can exist in 3 states – liquid, ice and vapour. A person with different roles - I am one person but also a husband, a father and a pastor.
Actually, the best illustration in the Bible is the incarnation. John 14: 9 “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Colossians 1: 15 Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1: 3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being...”
The following visual illustration is helpful because it shows how God is 1 in essence existing as 3 distinct Persons.
Application – How Can We Apply the Doctrine of the Trinity?
Instead of seeing the doctrine of the Trinity as only to be understood by dusty theologians, let’s focus on how this applies to our lives today.
1. The Trinity teaches us to treasure who God is.
If you’re feeling spiritually shallow or even apathetic, it’s time to ascend the heights of the nature of God. “Meditating on the trinity is both an intellectual activity and an expression of reverence as we strive to know and love the glorious God who first loved us.”
2. The Trinity puts us in our proper place.
God didn’t create the world because He was lonely. He has always existed as Trinity and love has eternally flowed between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. He made you not because He needs you; He created you because He loves you. He didn’t do it because of what He lacked, but rather, He was so filled with joy that His delight overflowed into His creation.
3. The Trinity gives us a model for unity and community.
God is in relationship in a way we are not in relationship. God is in relationship in the way we were intended to be in relationship and are invited to be in relationship.
Just as there has always been holy harmony within the Trinity, so too we are called to be one with every other born again believer. The prayer Jesus prayed the night before He died - John 17: 20 - 23 “… that all of them may all be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also may be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Our oneness is somehow grounded in the oneness between the Father and the Son! As God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit relate to one another, demonstrate love for one another, and work in concert to accomplish the purpose of God in the world, we must do the same!
4. Treasuring the Trinity helps us understand Christianity. Salvation comes to us from the Father, through the Son by means of the Holy Spirit
5. A proper view of the Trinity teaches us how to pray. “Do I pray to Jesus or the Father?” In general, the pattern found in the Bible is to pray to our Father in the name of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray - “Our Father in heaven…”
Having said that, it’s certainly not wrong to pray to Jesus. Since all 3 members of the Trinity are God, worship is due to each.
I know we’ve covered a lot of ground that may seem confusing or unimportant to you, but here’s the one thing I want you to take away today: The foundation of the Trinity is rock solid. It will never shatter or splinter. The Trinity is the foundation of the gospel and without the Trinity there is no Gospel. There is much more to know about God’s glorious being and His triune nature. Press on to know Him better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you do today.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.