The Trinity: God in Three Persons
It was Trinity Sunday 2010, I was pastoring in the commonwealth of Kentucky, and my task that morning was to teach a group of students about the Trinity. I was given some curriculum that was tied to a large Evangelical denomination. And this is how the lesson started. It said the Trinity is sort of like water. God the Father is like the solid, Jesus Christ the Son is like the liquid, and the Holy Spirit is like the gas. Just like H2o can take three different forms, they’re all God, but in three different forms. And I thought to myself, “that’s a great way to teach the Trinity…if you want to teach heresy!”
Far too many American Evangelicals have not been taught to speak about God in the right way. In an overreaction to bad Roman Catholic theology, a lot of Low Church Protestants have neglected the historic Christian creeds and confessions in our communities. We don’t teach our kids the truths in creeds, confessions, and catechisms, and then we wonder why they don’t know anything about God when they’re on their own.
If you’ve been in my “Apostles’ Creed” class at all since September, you’ll remember that I mentioned a study that came out from Lifeway and Ligonier called “the state of theology.” And to make a long story short, what this study found was that many self-professing American Evangelicals were confessing heresy. Significant numbers denied that the Holy Spirit is a person and that Jesus is deity. These things are the literal definition of heresy. Part of the reason why this problem exists among self-identifying American Evangelicals is because we’ve neglected the language of Christianity that the communion of saints has passed down for 2,000 years; we’ve neglected the creeds and confessions.
Well obviously we have tried not to do so. In an effort to be faithful to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1.3), in recent years we have taken our students through the New City Catechism, on Wednesday nights our men are studying the 1689 confession of faith and the WCF. On Sunday mornings we currently offer a class on the Apostles’ Creed, and over the next four weeks we’re going to spend our time in corporate worship setting our hearts on the Trinity together. So this morning what I want to do is to give us a bird’s-eye view, a snapshot of the Holy Trinity, and then we will spend the next three weeks walking step-by-step through the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Turn in your Bible to Deuteronomy 6.4. Before we can begin to understand the Trinity, we have to train ourselves to use the language that the church has always used about God. For two millennia the church has confessed that we believe in one God in three persons. Those are our 2 points for this morning – one God, three persons. The Bible teaches that there is only one God. Genesis shows us that this one God is the creator of heaven and earth. And probably the most famous text that reveals this reality is found in Deuteronomy 6.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6.4-9)
For thousands of years Jews have recited this passage of Scripture in worship. In fact, I know a guy who is a member of Congregation Shir Tikva in Troy who confirmed that they still recite the Shema every Saturday. It has historically been referred to as “the Shema,” because it begins with the word שְׁמַ֖ע, which is Hebrew for “hear.”
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד; hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
We are monotheists. We are not atheists. We deny the teaching that there is no God. We are not agnostic. We deny the teaching that there may be someone or something out there, but that we can’t really know him/it. We are not polytheists like the ancient Greeks and Romans. We deny that there are a number of deities that all compete for power. We are not pantheists. We deny that the creation and God are one and the same and that God is “in all things.” We’re not Deists like many of the American founding fathers. We deny the teaching that there is a God who is uninvolved in his creation.
We are monotheists, from the Greek μόνος, which means, “the only entity in a class—‘only one, alone.’” And, of course, the Greek θεός, “God.” He is the one God, the only God. He is the “only entity in a class.” He’s completely other. Ontologically speaking there are only two types of being in existence: there is (1) creator and there is (2) creature. God is the only creator, and everything else is creature, creation. We must confess that there is one God. To confess anything else is outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity.
But this is where things seem to get a little more complicated, because we’re not merely monotheists. We are Trinitarian Monotheists. We believe and confess one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From Genesis – Revelation the Bible is a thoroughly Trinitarian book. The text we read this morning is simply one of a plethora of texts that speak of God in three persons. You’re familiar with this benediction because we use it a lot at the close of our services.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor 13.14).
A couple things of note here, because we will spend the next three weeks walking patiently through the three persons, first, the Father here is simply referred to as “God.” In the NT there are times when he is called God, and there are times when he is called Father. This is more just shorthand, for both the Son and the Spirit are called God as well. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the STJ because he identified himself with YHWH. He claimed divinity and they accused him of blasphemy.
Turn to Genesis 1.1. All three members of the Trinity do the work of God. Let me just show you the 2 primary examples. First look at Genesis 1.1-3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Notice that God created the heavens and the earth. Remember, the term God is often shorthand for the Father, and the Father is creator. As the Apostles’ Creed confesses, “We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” But notice also that the Son is at work in creation. Verse 3: and God said, John 1 tells us that the Son is the Word who took on flesh in the person of Jesus. God’s Word is the agent of creation. And the Holy Spirit is active as well. Verse 2, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. So God creates through the power of his Word and the presence of his Spirit.
But the second point to note from our text this morning is that the benediction begins with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I always found that odd because the proper Trinitarian formula is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Why does Paul begin with Jesus Christ here? I think the answer is because this is how we experience Christianity. Everyone enters the waters of Christianity through Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14.6), and there is no other.
There is not Christianity apart from the Trinity because it wasn’t simply Jesus of Nazareth who lived and died, but it was the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life. He could only do so because he is truly God and truly man. It was the Son who died on the cross for the sins of his people. It was the Son of God who resurrected on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scriptures.
The Trinity was active in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of Christianity. Acts 2.24 says that God raised Jesus from the dead. In John 2.19 Jesus says that he will raise himself from the dead, and Romans 8.11 says that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. So we see the Holy Trinity at work in creation and in the first act of new creation – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And we must pause here for a moment to say that this is the gospel. This is the good news of God to save sinners from his wrath in hell for his glory. Understanding the vocabulary of the Trinity is only going to be beneficial to you if you take Christ by faith. Repent of your sin and believe the gospel. This is the plan that the Holy Trinity devised and carried out to redeem sinful humanity. This is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Again, you might be thinking that this is too hard to understand, or it just doesn’t make sense. Let me encourage you with two thoughts. (1) You already understand the concept of one entity in multiple persons. You understand that there is one humanity that exists in two sexes. You understand that when you’re married, you’re one flesh in two persons. Now that’s not an exact correlation, but the idea is similar. Also, (2) this is how God has revealed himself, and we must believe and confess God the way he has revealed himself. So even if you don’t fully understand the Trinity, you want to make a habit of speaking of God as one God in three persons.
Look again at 2 Corinthians 13.14. One last point of application that we’ll explore more deeply in the coming weeks, the Trinity reveals to us that our God exists in community. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is followed by the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity has eternally existed in community. The love and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is part and parcel of the existential nature of God. CS Lewis called it the dance of the Trinity. They have forever existed in love and service to one another. So because we’re created in the image of God, and because the church is the beginning of God’s new creation, we must strive for love and fellowship.
And don’t mishear me; I’m not calling for arbitrary love and fellowship. Unity doesn’t exist regardless of what you believe. I think we buy into that lie sometimes like, well it doesn’t really matter what you think about the Trinity, as long as you’re kind. No! What you think about God matters, and there is only genuine unity when we all unify around the truth. Receiving the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ results in the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Trying to get too cute with the Trinity often breeds heresy. The Trinity is not like H2o. It is not like an egg. This is heresy. And it matters. It matters because what we think about God is the most important thing we’ll ever think. It matters because there’s no genuine unity around a lie. It matters because to say otherwise would be the literal definition of Anti Christ. Understanding the Holy Trinity leads us to worship. We can’t behold our God if we don’t know our God.
We believe in one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 590). New York: United Bible Societies.