[ Doctrine in Detail ]

Topic: III. God the Father

Lesson: b. The Trinity

Objective: To understand the Trinity and to defend against false teaching on the Trinity of God

Perhaps you have stayed home sick on a Sunday morning. That is a favorite time for certain visitors. Let's consider this scene: A Jehovah's Witness, at the door, explains that the Trinity is not in the Bible. "We only believe what the Bible says, not what some church council said three hundred years after Jesus died!" The truth in this is that from about 100 years after Jesus' death on the cross until the time of Constantine, who as Roman Emperor adopted Christianity, there was debate in various churches about what it meant for Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be God, yet there can be only one God. The emperor tried to unify the empire using Christianity, but found Christianity divided. He called a council of churches, and several followed in the next centuries, to decide this issue for the Church. We agree with the critics that our faith is not based upon decrees of councils. However, we disagree in that we believe the teaching of the Trinity is contained in the Bible and was simply recognized and clearly stated by these councils. "Well," Mr. Christian replies, "I can't explain it, and I don't understand it, but I'm sure my Pastor says its important to believe in the Trinity of God." Perhaps many of us have been taught to believe this doctrine, and are afraid to question it, but do not understand it. While no one fully understands the Trinity of God, lets take the plain teaching of Scripture and see what it has to say.

We will first look at the Biblical View, which is also the view that our local church takes, and then examine some common false views. We only examine the false views to defend our faith against them, or to make clear the importance of what the Bible actually teaches.

Biblical View

"There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in substance, eternally equal in power and glory." (Westminster Shorter Chatechism, Answer to Question 5) This same quotation is included as Article 2 in the Bible Fellowship Church Articles of Faith. These two sentences hold a lot of statements. Let's look at this doctrine more closely.

Illustration of the Trinity. The following illustration has been used since the early centuries of Christianity.

Following the inner green lines we see that: The Father is God, The Son is God, and The Spirit is God. There are three persons who are God, yet there is one God. Christians believe that The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all equally God and worthy of worship. On the outer red circle we see that: The Father is NOT the Spirit or the Son, the Spirit is NOT the Father or the Son, and the Son is NOT the Father or the Spirit. The three persons are distinct. The Son is not just a different appearance or form of God, but a distinct person, as is the Father and the Spirit.

Three Point Argument. How can this be? How can three persons be one God? This is where Martin Luther said it can only be understood or believed by faith. John Calvin said that we cannot explain it beyond taking the simple statements of Scripture. Our line of reasoning is that Scripture teaches three things: (1) God is three persons. (2) Each of the three persons is fully God. (3) And there is only One God. Whether we can conceive of this, or see how it can happen, with our mind or imagination is questionable. I cannot. However, if we simply take the statements of Scripture we see that it must be so, all of these three statements are true. Perhaps when we see our Father in heaven, our mind will be able to take it in. For now, we must examine these three statements against Scripture.

God is Three Persons. God is Three Persons. By this, we want to show that the persons are not just different faces or appearances of one person. At the baptism of Jesus, all three persons are acting at one time, in different ways. Jesus is being baptized, the Holy Spirit is appearing as a dove, and landing on Jesus, and the Father is speaking from heaven announcing his pleasure with His Son. "... and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'"(Luke 3:22)

In another example, before His death, Jesus told the disciples, "But the Counselor, 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"(John 14:26) In fact, although Jesus was God in the Flesh, God actually present with the disciples, teaching and leading them, and performing great signs and miracles, he said it would be better for Him to depart, because the Holy Spirit would come. This certainly puts the Holy Spirit on a level with God. But again, the point here is that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are depicted as three separate persons. Jesus did not say, after I depart I will return myself in a Spirit form. Rather, a different person, a counselor, the Holy Spirit would come.

Each person is fully God. Each of these three persons is fully God. I will not explain about the Father being fully God, that is pretty much self-explanatory.

Jesus was fully God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."(John 1:1) Later in the chapter it is explained that the Word was Jesus. The part of the verse that says "the Word was God" has been translated by the Jehovah's Witnesses as "the Word was a god." There is no notable Greek scholar who would translate the verse that way. The Greek language has no equivalent of the word 'a'. They can say 'the God' or 'God'. When 'the' is not used, the context and order of words indicates whether to translate 'a God' or 'God'

However, in this case, the Greek itself is clearly translated 'God' because of the sentence structure. The verse does not directly teach us that Jesus is THE God, even if we want it to. Neither does it teach that Jesus is 'a god', no matter what the critics say. Rather, it is like the sentence "the nail is aluminum." This sentence says that the nail is kind of soft (aluminum is) and will not rust (aluminum won't) and is not as strong as iron (aluminum isn't). So, I use an aluminum nail for roofing shingles, where it won't rust, but I don't build a house frame with aluminum nails because they are fairly weak. The "Word was God" describes the Word as being of 'God-stuff'. God is eternal, the Word is eternal. God is all-knowing, the Word is all-knowing. God is infinitely good, the Word is infinitely good. Simply, all that God is, the Word is.

Let's look at another verse. This verse explains an Old Testament passage as being by God the Father about God the Son. "But of the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever ...'"(Hebrews 1:8) Isn't this interesting? God the Father could call the Son, 'God'. Clearly, the Son is fully God.

The Holy Spirit is God. When we accept that the Son is fully God, and we see the Holy Spirit grouped together with the Father and Son, it implies that the three are equal. The disciples were instructed to make disciples of all men, "... baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."(Matthew 28:19) This is an indication of the equality of the three, as are many other passages of Scripture where they are mentioned together like this.

Here is another interesting passage. When some early Christians sold some land, kept part of the money and donated part, they brought part of the money as an offering and told everyone that it was ALL the money they received. The married partners both died as a result. Peter said, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit ...? You have not lied to men but to God."(Acts 5:3-4) We will deal with Satan an his influence in another lesson. But, Peter said they lied to the Holy Spirit, and emphasized that they lied to God. The Holy Spirit is God. Perhaps by itself this verse is not conclusive, but taken with the other verses of Scripture, it does indicate that the Holy Spirit is God.

Perhaps we can review last week's lesson here. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Fully God? It means that the attributes and description of God are equally true of Jesus. As we said of God, we say of the Son, The Son is personal, eternal, a spirit, all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, loving, and good.

We say of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is personal, eternal, a spirit, all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, loving, and good. By saying that the Holy Spirit is personal, we mean an intelligent, thinking personality with a will. Not a force, but a person. And a person that has all knowledge of facts and what is good. In later lessons, we will go into greater detail on the attributes of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but for now, we want to know that everything that is true of God is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There is One God. Being convinced that all three are God is fairly simple. What we cannot comprehend, but we can know has to be true, is that even though there are three persons, each fully God, that somehow they are one God. Let's look at this teaching from Scripture, that there is only one God.

"Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."(Deuteronomy 6:4) This call to worship for the Hebrew nation clearly says Jehovah (LORD in capital letters) is one, and he is our God. There are New Testament references that apply the name LORD or Jehovah to Jesus (more on this when we study the Son). Jehovah is the Triune God, or Trinity, and yet is one.

"... And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me."(Isaiah 45:21) With God saying there is no God apart from me, it is nonsense to think that Jesus can be 'another God' or 'a god'. That would be saying he is really not God at all. Yet God said 'there is none but me.' The Son and Holy Spirit are somehow included with the Father in this statement, spoken by the Triune God.

"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder."(James 2:19) James does say that it is good to believe that there is one (and only one God). Of course, he also says that it is not enough to believe, it must affect how we live. He further states that even demons believe that there is only one God, and they shudder in fear and anticipation of punishment for their sins against this one God.

Well, does this Trinity concept really matter? Is it an academic definition that we can say, 'Yeah, okay' to and then ignore? Here is how it works out in the church I attend, from the doctrinal statement on Creation: "The triune God, according to His sovereign will, created out of nothing and out of things that He had made, by immediate and mediate action, the worlds and all that is in them. He is the Governor and Upholder of the creation by His wisdom and by the word of His mighty power." (Bible Fellowship Church, Article 1) It is not the Father alone who created the heavens and the earth, and who sustains and upholds us today, and who has great wisdom and power. Rather, it is the Triune God, including the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the mighty works of creation and sustaining existence. They are all worthy of worship.

False Views

Name False ViewTruth
ModalThere are Three Modes of One GodGod is Three Persons
SubordinateThe Son is a Created Being, the Holy Spirit is a ForceEach Person is Fully God
Tri-TheismChristians Worship Three GodsThee is One God

This table shows that for each of the three truths we are considering, there is a false view of God based on not accepting that truth. They are the Modal, If we do not accept that God is Three Persons we explain the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as different phases or appearances of one God. More on this in a few minutes. Subordinate, If we do not accept that each of the Three persons is Fully God, we make the Son and Holy Spirit something less that God, namely a created being (Son) and an impersonal force (Holy Spirit). Again, more on this in a few minutes. Tri-Theist, If we cannot understand reconcile the fact that Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit with there being only One God, we say, ad do Muslims and Jews, that Christians worship Three Gods. Lets look at each of these false views.

Modal View. In the following illustration of the false Modal view, a single triangle represents God. Some think that God appeared as Father in the Old Testament, as the Son in the New Testament, and yet only communicates to us today as the Holy Spirit. This is often a misunderstanding of new Christians. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all participants at the same time in the baptism of Christ, God does not change from being one to being another. All three persons of the Trinity always exist and are always active.

Let's remember that we are saved by faith, by believing that the Father sent the Son and asking Him to forgive our sins. We may turn in faith and be saved, become Christians, and yet have very little understanding or even false ideas about God and what the Bible teaches. This is why we are have pastors and teachers in the church, as well as the Holy Spirit, to help us understand Scripture. However, those that are immature or do not have a good understanding of doctrinal truths should not be teaching or in positions of authority in the Church. It is one thing to have questions about the Trinity, or not to understand it. It is quite another to teach others falsehoods from our own ignorance and claim to be teaching God's truth.

Subordinate View. Those that cannot see that the Son and Holy Spirit are FULLY God as the Father is, even if they say the Son is 'a god', make him to be less than God. Usually a created being, or a man of special inspiration, or simply a great teacher or prophet. But Jesus was more than this, he was God who died for our sins. According to this subordinate view, the Holy Spirit is simply a force. In the following illustration, only the Father is seen as God (triangle). The Son is seen as some kind of 'god', but a created being and not really God at all (circle). The Holy Spirit is not even seen as a person, but as some kind of undefined force (shape).

Now there is a grain of truth in this, in that Jesus often said, "I have come to do my Father's will." Jesus obeyed the Father, he was subordinate. And yet, this is a subordination of a relationship, not a subordinate kind of lesser being. The Son is fully God in eternity, wisdom, power, goodness, and etc. This teaching became popular in the last two centuries within the Unitarian Church and some cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. I call this a heresy because it denies a cardinal belief of the Christian faith, that Jesus is God. Again, some weak and uninformed Christians who may have turned to God in true faith may be mislead by this heresy. One of the purposes of this class is for us to become mature in our understanding of God and our faith, and to be able to help and instruct others.

Tri-Thiest View. In the folloowing Tri-Theist or Three God illustration, there are three separate triangles, perhaps connected in some unknown way as if the three Gods might be on speaking terms or acting in their common interest. This denies that the three Gods are essentially one (a difficult concept, but Scripture clearly teaches that there is only ONE God). Again, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Muslims often claim that Christians really worship three Gods.

Conclusion

Lets remember three true statements, and leave our belief about the Trinity of God on this basis.

God is three persons.
Each of the three persons is fully God.
There is only One God.

In Closing

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
" (Doxology)
It is appropriate to remember the words of this traditional Doxology, which has been a part of worship since the Reformation era. In Praising God for His blessings, we are praising the Triune God. All created beings, men and animals, here below on Earth are called upon to Praise God. In the third line, the comma after above is important. The song calls upon the Hosts of Heaven, the Angels, and possibly departed souls, to praise God with us. Without the comma, it could be misunderstood as us creatures below praising God above the Heavenly Hosts, or praising God more than we praise the Heavenly Hosts (which we are never commanded to do in the Bible). The final line says it all, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. To give equal praise and glory to the Son and Holy Ghost is only appropriate if all three are equally God.

It is also appropriate to remember this popular benediction. Although all three are equally God, in this benediction we specifically ask for something from each member of the Trinity."May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."(2nd Corinthians 13:14)


Written Assignment:

Write a single paragraph on the question, "How important is the doctrine of the Trinity of God to the Christian faith?

Reading Assignment:

Ryrie Chapter 8

BFC Articles 2 and 6


Key Verses:

"But of the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever ...'"(Hebrews 1:8)

"... baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."(Matthew 28:19)

"... And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me."(Isaiah 45:21)

Additional References:

"There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in substance, eternally equal in power and glory." (Westminster Shorter Chatechism, Answer to Question 5)

"The triune God, according to His sovereign will, created out of nothing and out of things that He had made, by immediate and mediate action, the worlds and all that is in them. He is the Governor and Upholder of the creation by His wisdom and by the word of His mighty power." (Bible Fellowship Church, Article 1)


All Bible quotations are from the New International Version (NIV), (C)Copyright 1984 by the International Bible Society, used by permission.
Doctrine in Detail (C)Copyright 2002 by Ronald Miller, All Rights Reserved

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