It’s been encouraging to hear over the past week of more churches using A.S.K for their youth groups. This week’s question concerns the Trinity. I suspect this is a much neglected doctrine – and that there are a suprising number of people who consider themselves Christians who do not understand how important it is.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 28
TEXT: Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).
I have a copy of the Shema Yisreal on my desk – it is a Jewish prayer based upon Deuteronomy 6:4: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ The belief in one God (monotheism) is central to the great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Many other religions are polytheistic – they believe in many gods. By definition however there can only be one Almighty, all knowing, all-powerful creator, who made everything. So Christians believe that there is one God.
But we also believe in what is called the Trinity. This is a Latin term that is not found in the Bible. However, what it teaches is: there is one God, who exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry if you don’t instantly grasp what that means – very clever theologians (and some not so clever!) have been wrestling with that for centuries. We are going to try and think about this, but please don’t be surprised if you think ‘this is way beyond me …’ It is way beyond all of us. However, just because we can’t grasp it all, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe what God has told us about himself.
It’s maybe best for us just to say what the Bible actually says. The Father is God (Philippians 1:2 talks of ‘God our Father’ as do many other parts of the Bible). The Son is God (Titus 2:13 speaks of Jesus as ‘our great God and Saviour’). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4 talks about lying to the Spirit as being lying to God).
The Bible does not say that talking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are just different ways of talking about the same person. They are each spoken of as distinct persons. The Father sends the Son. He is not the Son. The Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son. He is not the Father and the Son. Jesus is God but he is not the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is God, but he is not the Father or the Son. The Father is God, but he is not the Son or the Spirit. Are you still with me? Let’s go a little deeper.
God has always been trinity. The Father did not become the Son; the Son did not become the Spirit. God has always been three in one.
The Trinity does not mean that God is divided into three different bits. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are each fully God. Colossians 2:9, for example, talks about ‘all the fullness of the deity dwelling in bodily form’ in Jesus. The Godness of God is in all three persons.
So, thus far we have the Bible teaching that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are distinct persons; that each is fully God; that there is only one God; and all three persons are the same God. There is one God who exists as three distinct persons. Our verse for this study teaches all of those things.
What we call the great commission tells us that there are three persons, (the Father, the Son and the Spirit), that they are all God, and that although they are distinct, yet we are baptised into the one name – which means that they share the same essence. Here is where we run up against the problem of language.
St Augustine argued that we speak, only in order not to be silent! We are trying to express in our limited language, the inexpressible God. This is the basic understanding of the Trinity – God is one in essence, but three in person.
This is not a contradiction because essence and person are different. What does essence mean? It’s what you are. But God is not made of ‘stuff ’ – he is spirit. So we are saying that this applies to the three persons. What do we mean by person? – not a distinct individual – like you and I as humans can exist apart from one another. Person in this sense means personal, in that there is an ‘I’ and a ‘you’. Essence is what you are, person is who you are.
Okay. I’m going to stop there, because that is more than enough! But let me leave you with this thought. Because God is Trinity he is love. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are love. The great news is that they invite us to share in that love.
CONSIDER: Do you think we should be able to understand God? Why is the Trinity important? Does it matter that Jesus is God and man?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves
PRAYER: Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are far beyond our understanding, but we bless and thank you that you have revealed yourself to us. You are our Father – the one who loves and gives. You are the Son, the one who died for us and is risen for us. You are the Spirit, the one who fills us and changes us. Triune God, we bow before you and cry, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty.’