This morning we’re going to look at a complex topic, and so I want to say something about that generally before we begin. There can be a tendency among believers and churches to not want to think through difficult theological topics. In fact, the very idea that we’re offering a Sunday school class on specific doctrines might seem ridiculous. And that gets even worse when we consider a topic like the nature of the trinity.
So, let me just ask and answer the question, “Should we do this? Should we really have a class in which we discuss something like the tri-une nature of God, where we’ll be using words like ‘essence’ and ‘persons’?” Some might say, “No, we shouldn’t,” and they might point to a text like Deuteronomy 29:29. After all, that verse begins, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God.”
Therefore, the argument would go, when we want to know and discuss really difficult topics, we’re actually giving in to a temptation to discuss those things that God knows and we don’t need to try to figure out (i.e., the secret things).
However, before we buy into that argument, we need to read the rest of Deuteronomy 29:29. After saying that the secret things belong to the Lord, the verse concludes, “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
What this means is, if the Lord has revealed something to us in his Word, then he expects us work to learn it, know it, and live in light of it in our lives. And some of the things he’s revealed are difficult and hard to understand. The trinity is one of those things. Therefore, this morning, we’re going to try to think through something that is hard – the trinity – but rest in the fact that we do it because God has revealed it to us and commands us to know his Word. So, with that said, let’s dive into looking at the doctrine of the trinity.
The word “trinity” is used to describe the peculiar nature of God existing as three persons. It is an attempt to connote in a word the “tri-unity” or “three-in-oneness” of God. Though the word itself is not mentioned in the Scripture, the idea of God existing as a trinity indeed is. The doctrine of the Trinity is probably best understood in the following seven statements:
There is one God
The Father is God
The Son is God
The Spirit is God
The Father is not the Son
The Son is not the Spirit
The Spirit is not the Father
There are texts in the OT that help us see this:
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 reminds us that there is one God, and yet we read in Psalm 45:6-7, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever. … You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” The author of Hebrews picks up this text in 1:8 as speaking of Jesus Christ. In the same way in Psalm 110:1, the Psalmist writes, “The LORD says to my lord …” This Psalm is quite interesting. First of all, it is important to note that it is written by David. This is assured in Matthew 22:44, as Jesus gives David credit for the Psalm.
Why is it so important? Well, David begins the Psalm saying, “The LORD says to my Lord” (Ps. 110:1). Critics might say that this was not written by David and that this man is speaking of one in authority over him speaking to another in authority over him. But David is the author, and he is the king; he is the ruler. So if one is Lord over him, it must be none other than God, himself. Therefore, we see that the Psalm portrays the Father speaking to his anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ, and calling him Lord.
Thus, even in the Old Testament we see the idea of God’s triune nature coming through. However, in the New Testament we see a more complete picture of this. In Matthew 3:16-17, you have the Father speaking to the Son (showing their distinctness). However, you see the equality of the essence of the Father, Son, and Spirit as they are grouped together in texts like 1 Cor. 12:4-6, 2 Cor. 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, and Jude 20-21.
But let’s look in more detail at the specifics of our seven statements. First, our statements show there is one God.
There is one God …
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – it says there is one God
Isaiah 45:5-6 – says there is no other God
1 Timothy 2:5 – says there is one God
1 Cor. 8:6 – says the same
James 2:19 – says that even the demons realize there is one God
Second, we see that the Father, Son, and Spirit are God
The Father is God …
There are numerous verses to this end in the Old Testament (e.g. Deut. 6:4-6).
The Son is God …
John 1:1-4 – This says specifically that the Son is God
John 8:58 – Jesus claims eternal existence and equates himself with “I AM”
John 20:28 – Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God”
Titus 2:13 – refers to “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”
2 Peter 1:1 – refers to “our God and Savior Jesus Christ”
Romans 9:5 – says Jesus is “God over all”
Isaiah 9:6 – predicts that the Christ will come and calls him “Mighty God”
The Spirit is God …
Acts 5:3-4 – Peter says they lied to the Holy Spirit and then notes that they lied to God
Trinitarian texts are also more affirmation
Next, our statements show distinction between the persons of the trinity: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 28:19 – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Father is not the Son …
John 1:1-2 – The Word is God, and the Word was with God”
Hebrews 7:25 – Jesus is a mediator between God and man
1 John 2:1 – Jesus is our advocate before the Father
Spirit is not the Father …
John 14:26 – The Father sends the Spirit
Romans 8:27 – The Spirit intercedes for us
Son is not the Spirit …
John 16:7 – Jesus sends the Holy Spirit
Throughout history people have tried to come up with solutions but end up denying one or more of the seven statements to which Scripture testifies. They have said that there are three gods or that there are not distinct persons in the Godhead, but one person going by different names, for example. The problem is that these solutions do not work with Scripture. For if there are three gods, then we directly contradict multiple statements that there is one God. However, if we deny the distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit, then they would deny that the Father sent the Son into the world, that the Son prays to the Father, and that the Spirit intercedes for us – all of which the Scripture claims.
We see the distinct works of each person of the Trinity in the work of redemption. Wayne Grudem writes:
God the Father planned redemption and sent his Son into the world. … The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption for us. … God the Father did not come and die for our sins, nor did God the Holy Spirit. That was the particular work of the Son. Then, after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to apply redemption to us. … It is especially the role of the Holy Spirit to give us regeneration … to sanctify us … and to empower us for service. … In general, the work of the Holy Spirit seems to be to bring to completion the work that has been planned by God the Father and begun by God the Son. (249)
Therefore, we see that the members of the Godhead are “equal in being but subordinate in role” (251). Thus, the Son may obey the Father, but this means he is no less God. He is God the Son.
The Trinity is God’s nature, he cannot exist other than he is and be God.
But how should the mysterious, scriptural doctrine of the triune nature of God affect us? There are many other reasons, but the main thing is that it should marvel at the nature and uniqueness of God. For example, we see from the doctrine of the Trinity that though God has given us sufficient knowledge in the Scripture to know him, we cannot fully comprehend who he is – his nature surpasses our comprehension. And this should cause us to worship him.
The main place we see this uniqueness of God necessary to our salvation and as a cause for worship is in the cross. Now, we know that at the cross, God solves the mystery of how he could justify and remain just (see Romans 3:21-26). Thus, God pours out his wrath on Christ so that he can pardon and justify us and yet remain just, having judged our sin in the person of his Son. Now, pausing for reflection a moment, we see that God’s triune nature is necessary for the cross. First, obviously, if there is not three persons then there cannot be one sending to the cross or pouring out his wrath while one is being sent and receiving wrath for sin. However, there is also a need for both persons to be God. For God would have been unjust if he had simply punished an innocent third party to appease his holy wrath. Therefore, the cross requires that God be the one who occupies the judge’s seat and that God himself be the one who occupies the cross. This is only possible because God of God’s triune nature. Consequently, God the Father pours out his wrath on God the Son and redemption is accomplished for us, and is then applied to our hearts by God the Holy Spirit. May we therefore glory in the majesty and uniqueness of our great God. Amen.