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You Say that You're a Christian: Then What About the Trinity? (John 14:16-26)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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In geology a crag is a steep or rugged cliff or rock face. Someone once used this fact to speak of our understanding of the Trinity. This unknown writer said this:

On one of the Canadian rivers, which flows through a fearful chasm, there stand confronting one another two mighty crags, whose pinnacles tower hundreds of feet into the heavens, and whose roots lay hold upon the foundations of the earth. They have been named "Trinity" and "Eternity."

So, in the Christian revelation, confronting one another and inseparable from any true thought of God, there stand these two doctrines of the Christian God—his eternity, the successionless and timeless existence of the everlasting I Am, and his trinity, His threefold expression of Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Both of these ideas baffle human comprehension. When we try to grasp either one of them, the words of Job come to our lips: "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?" (11:7). The question answers itself. When we try to behold the triune God, we feel like a man who gazes upon the midday sun.

We recently began a study on the essentials of the Christian faith. The title of this message today is: "So You Say That You're a Christian: Then What About the Trinity?"

The belief in the Triune God is something that is non-negotiable when it comes to accepting the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The Bible teaches emphatically that there is but one God. At the same time, it informs us that there are three persons who are called God in the Scriptures.

The Trinity expresses the belief that there is but one God who is manifested in three distinct persons who exist in co-equal essence and co-eternal communion as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None of the persons were created by the others. All are co-existent. Each of the persons is fully God in every respect.

Let us begin our Study of this important truth by looking at some heretical views of the Trinity that have been imposed upon the Church over the years.

I. False Views of the Trinity

Sadly, there have been a few false views that have arisen over the centuries. They deny the deity of the Son. And many deny the Holy Spirit by saying that He is not even a person but some impersonal force.

A popular belief is Modalism that claims God is one person who appears to us in three different forms, personalities, or modes (hence the name). Sometimes He appears as the Father as He supposedly did in the Old Testament. Sometimes the Son. According to this belief, God showed up as the Son at the incarnation, or the birth of Jesus. And sometimes He appears as the Holy Spirit. This was said to have happened at Jesus' ascension.

But it isn't 3 persons, according to this view. Just one God who acts in 3 different ways. Like a man can be a son to his parents. He can be a father to his children and can be a husband to his wife. He is the same person but has different titles or modes of operation, depending upon what he is doing.

This is totally anti-Scriptural. And the major trouble with it is that the Bible shows three persons of the Trinity together at times. In Matthew 3:13-17, for instance, it depicts Jesus coming out of the water after His baptism, the Spirit descending out of heaven to light upon Jesus, and a voice coming out of the heavens saying:

"This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (16,17).

Obviously, these verses are showing us that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.

Tritheism, another false view, teaches that the Godhead essentially consists of three separate gods. While it is accurate to say the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, it is wrong to say that these three persons constitute three separate deities. The Trinity portrays the accurate notion that there is only one God, eternally existing in three persons.

Unitarianism maintains that God is only one divine person (the Father) and denies that Jesus Christ is God in that sense. Historically, the term has been used in reference to Socinianism – a form of non-trinitarianism that emerged around the time of the Protestant Reformation, holding the view that Jesus was merely human.

Some actually teach that only the Father was divine and without beginning and that the Father created the Son out of nothing, as His first act of creation. In this view, the reason the Son is called God is because He is the direct offspring of God and has been endowed with divine power to create.

This idea is apparently based upon the statement in Colossians 1:15 which says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature. However, the title of 'firstborn' is merely a title of inheritance, which proves that He owns it all. If you continue to read this passage, Colossians 1 also states that Christ created everything that has ever been made. All things were created by Him. This excludes Jesus from being created Himself.

Well, now that we have some ideas of how the Trinity has been misrepresented over the years, let us get the Scriptural understanding of this doctrine of the Christian faith.

II. The Mystery of the Three-in-One

To speak of the fact that there is one God, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, many people have used different illustrations to try to explain this mystery, but all are inadequate, for God is a unique being. He is one of a kind. We may balk at the fact that God is not fully explainable. But the truth is that there are other mysteries in the universe that haven't been fully explained either.

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To illustrate this let us look at light. We see and use light every single day, yet physicists have never finally and perfectly explained the nature of it. Millard Erickson, in his book Christian Theology, says this:

"One theory says that it is waves. The other says it is quanta, little
bundles of energy as it were. Logically it cannot be both. Yet to
account for all the data, one must hold both simultaneously. As one
physics major put it: "On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we think of
light as waves. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we think of it as
particles of energy." Presumably, on Sundays, physicists do not
concern themselves with the nature of light."

In order to show what the Bible says about the nature of God it must be established that it indeed sees Him as one and, at the same time, as three. Though the word 'Trinity' is not found in Scripture, the concept certainly is there. Indeed, it is this concept that theologians have come up with to explain what has obviously been set forth in the Bible.

A. The Oneness of God

The Old Testament teaches very plainly that there is only one true God. A major passage which demonstrates this is Deuteronomy 6:4. It states:

"Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord."

Though the Old Testament recognizes that other nations worship various gods, it makes it clear that the Lord is the only true God. The others are merely idols. For example, Psalm 96:5,6 says to us:

"For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens."

The New Testament also teaches the oneness of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 lets us know that:

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."

Also, the book of James says:

"You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe and tremble" (2:19).

These are a few examples, but this should give you some idea of the biblical teaching.

B. The Threeness of God

Yet, though there is only one God, the Scriptures plainly tell us that three persons are God. The Old Testament stressed the oneness of God, because Israel, His chosen nation, had come out of an idolatrous culture. The Lord had to establish the worship of the one true God. Yet, though His oneness is emphasized in the Old Testament, we see the seeds of the Trinity there as well. These ideas come to maturity in the New Testament.

For example, the plural name Elohim is used for God (Genesis 1:1,26). There are also some references to God having a Son who was divine (Psalm 2:7,12 ; Proverbs 30:4).

If we look at II Samuel 23:2 and Isaiah 48:16, there is some reference that the Holy Spirit is a person and is God. And of course, there is a hint of the threeness of God in Isaiah 6:3 where He is said to be Holy, Holy, Holy. But in the New Testament all three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are called God.

The Father is referred to as God 175 times in the four Gospels alone. In the Pauline Epistles, we see it 45 times. Indeed, the Father's deity is so well documented that it is not usually denied. What we need to look at in the next section is how each of the other two members of the Trinity are seen. As we look at the Son and the Spirit, it will become increasingly clear that they are both God and equal in every way with the Father.

III. The Deity of Christ

In looking at the deity of Jesus, we see are many proofs of this fact. For one thing He is called kurios.

1. The Title 'Kurios'

The Greek word kurios is translated as Lord and is used as a title for Jesus Christ by every New Testament writer. This would have been understood as a name for deity by people of the first century and was used by the Greek translators of the Old Testament to render the name Jehovah, or Yahweh. Paul refers to Jesus as Lord 19 times in the book of Romans and 21 times in I Corinthians, just to name two of his books. In Philippians 2, Paul states that there will come a time when "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." A term used like this of a mere man would have been blasphemy.

It is interesting that Jesus Himself defends his Lordship in Matthew 22:41-46. He was dealing with the Pharisees and asked them a question:

"What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is He?"

The Pharisees answered correctly and said that the Christ, (i.e the Messiah), would be the son of David.

Jesus answered:

"How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying: 'The Lord said unto my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?"

The Pharisees were unable to answer Jesus because the only way the Messiah could be both David's son and his Lord is that he was his son according to the flesh, but at the same time, the Lord in His essential nature.

2. Jesus is Called God

Not only is Jesus Christ called kurios but he is called God in Scripture. Jesus Christ is the Word in John 1:1-14 and according to John 1:1 the Word was God. The literal Greek reads: "God was the Word." The Greek word for God is put at the beginning to emphasize his deity. And contrary to some beliefs, the construction of this sentence cannot allow for the translation that the word was merely 'a god'. It is constructed in such a way to point out that he is indeed God.

3. He is Worshiped as God

Further, the Apostle Thomas, upon seeing the risen Christ, exclaimed to him:

"My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

If Jesus were not God, he should have rebuked him. But he didn't do this. He accepted the worship. Which leads us to a further point. Only God is to be worshipped; yet Jesus, in several places in the Bible, received worship from both angels and men (Matthew 2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 18:26; 28:9 and 17; John 9:38; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:11-15).

4. He is Called God by the Father

And not only was He worshipped, but the Father Himself actually calls Jesus God in Hebrews 1:8. This verse states:

"But unto the Son he says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your Kingdom.' "

5. The Fulness of the Godhead Dwells in Him

In Colossians 2:9 the Apostle Paul states that all of the fulness of the Godhead bodily dwells in Jesus Christ. The present tense of the word 'dwells' denotes that this is an eternal and essential characteristic of Christ's being. In other words, the divine fullness has always dwelt in Him. Since the incarnation, it now dwells in bodily form.

6. His Pre-Existence as God

And if we look at Philippians 2, it states that Jesus was in the form of God before the incarnation, or before he was born on this earth. It tells us that he thought it not robbery, or a thing to be grasped, to be equal with God. (2:6), This passage both states the pre-existence of our Lord, but also says that he pre-existed as equal with God. One translator of verse 2 correctly renders it this way:

"For he, who always was God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal."

It is hard to get any clearer than that!

7. Some of the Attributes of God are Ascribed to Christ

If we study even more carefully, Jesus Christ is said to have attributes which can only be ascribed to God. For example, He is said to be omnipotent, or all powerful (Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 1:8; Matthew 28:18). He is omniscient, or all knowing (Colossians 2:3; John 16:30 and 21:17). He is immutable, or unchanging (Hebrew 13:8 and 1:12). He is eternal (John 1:1 and 8:58). And Christ is also said to possess all the moral attributes of perfection (Hebrews 7:26 and 4:15; Ephesians 3:19; I Timothy 6:15,16).

8. He Exercises the Offices of Deity

Further, God and God alone is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Yet these offices are attributed to Jesus Christ as well. Just take a look at such passages as John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16,17. Also have a look at Hebrews 1:2. All of these passages leave no doubt that Jesus Christ is indeed the one who made all things and holds them all together.

9. He Exercises Powers Which Exclusively Belong to God

There are, further, some powers that only God has, that Jesus exercised. For instance, Jesus forgave sin (Matthew 9:2-6). Also, Jesus has life in Himself and has the power to give life (John 1:4 ; 5:26; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6 and Hebrews 7:16). He raises the dead (John 11:25). Lastly, Jesus will one day execute final judgement on all (John 5:22; II Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:31; Matthew 25:31 and 32; II Timothy 4:1).

10. He is the Great 'I Am'

We see Jesus' deity again when the Lord was dealing with the Pharisees in John 8:48-59. He told them in John 8:58:

"Before Abraham was I Am."

Of course, the Pharisees picked up stones to kill him because they thought he was blaspheming. They deduced rightly that Jesus was calling Himself the Hebrew name that God gave Himself in the Old Testament when dealing with Moses, and the people of Israel. In Exodus 3:14 and 15, Moses asks God what he should call Him when the children of Israel ask who has sent Moses to them. The Lord replies: "I Am That I Am.." He tells them:

"Thus, shall you say to the children of Israel: 'I AM has sent me.' "

In other words, Jesus dared to call himself by the divine name Jehovah, or Yahweh. For 'I Am' is what this name means."

Now, that we've talked of Christ, let us turn to the Holy Spirit.

IV. The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit

In looking at the Third Person of the Trinity, there is an additional challenge. It becomes necessary, not only to prove his deity, but his personality as well. Sadly, there are people who would say when talking about the Spirit, that He is just an impersonal force. However, by just a rudimentary look at what the Bible says about Him, it will show that they didn't get their information from Scripture.

I. The Spirit's Personhood

First, if we look at various passages, it will be seen that personal pronouns are used of the Holy Spirit. For instance, Jesus says in John 14:16,17 that:

"I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it doesn't see Him; for He dwells with you and shall be in you."

Obviously, Jesus is referring to a person here.

Secondly, we know from various verses that the Spirit can be grieved, vexed, blasphemed and resisted (Ephesians 4:30; Matthew 12:31; and Acts 7:51). All of these are characteristics of personhood.

Further, the Holy Spirit does things that only a person can do. He reveals, testifies, convinces, helps, guides, knows, makes intercession, speaks and gives life (I Corinthians 2:10; John 16:8; Romans 8:16 and 26; Galatians 5:18).

And, the Spirit, in Matthew 28:19,20 is associated with the other two persons of the Trinity, which makes Him a person too. Verse 19 says:

"Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Finally, Jesus distinguishes between Himself and the Spirit. The Lord calls the Holy Spirit "another comforter" who will be given by the Father. Obviously, the comforter is seen as someone who will take Jesus' place when he goes to be with the Father.

II. The Spirit's Deity

Though proofs of personality are not proofs of deity, the Bible clearly indicates His deity as well. Here are a few of those proofs.

For one thing, the names given to the Spirit reveal his deity. Sixteen times he is related by name to the other two persons of the Trinity. See for example Acts 16:7 where he is called the 'Spirit of Jesus'. And in I Corinthians 6:11, the Spirit is called 'the Spirit of our God'. Also, the verse that we used to prove his personality can be used for his deity as well. When Jesus said in John 14:6 that the Father would send another helper, the word for helper, in Greek, means another of the same kind. Therefore, if Jesus is God, so is the Spirit.

We see as well that the Holy Spirit possess attributes which belong to God alone. He is all knowing (Isaiah 40:13; I Corinthians 2:12); present everywhere (Psalm 139:7); and all powerful, by virtue of his work in the creation (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30).

His actions also are those that only God can perform. For instance, he was the cause of the virgin birth (Luke1:35). And it was the Spirit who was the agent in giving us the inspired Scriptures. II Peter 1:21 clearly states this. Finally, Genesis 1:2 shows his involvement in the creation of the world.

Moving ahead, the New Testament writers identified the Spirit as Yahweh or Jehovah of the Old Testament. They took verses from the Old Testament that talked about God speaking applied them to the Holy Spirit doing the speaking. For instance, Acts 28:25 is quoting Isaiah 6:1-13 and Hebrews 10:15-17 is quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Also, we see in Matthew 12:31,32 and Acts 5:3,4 that lying to the Holy Spirit is actually lying to God. Hence the Spirit is God.

Lastly, Matthew 28:19,20, clearly puts the Spirit on an equal footing with the other two members of the Trinity. People are to be baptized in the name of all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

As we conclude, I am reminded of the famous quote that has been attributed to Augustine. He said:

"The Trinity: Try to understand it and you will lose your mind. Deny it and you will lose your soul."

From all that we have observed, it becomes abundantly clear that the Trinity is a biblical concept. The Father is God; the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is also God. And yet all three persons are eternally manifested as one God. God is a mystery, and we can only know about Him by how He chooses to reveal Himself to us. To deny the Trinity is to deny who the Lord has revealed Himself to be, and therefore it means that we deny Him, the One true God of the universe.

May we never be accused of this heresy but accept Him as He is: The eternal Three-in-One. Let us give praise to the Triune God!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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