What Is the Trinity?
Come, Holy Spirit. Be among us now & guide us into all that is true. Proclaim your good word among us that we may glorify you – Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, a day the Christian Church historically has celebrated one of its central beliefs: that of a triune God. As the glorious hymn states: "God in three persons, blessed Trinity".
The very first United Methodist Article of Religion states: "There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, & goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity – the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit."
The Trinity: God is three persons. Each person is divine. Yet there is only one God.
Normally when we use the word ‘person,’ we understand it to mean a physical individual who exists as a separate being. That is, a separate entity. But in God there are not three individuals, there are not three beings. God is a trinity of persons, consisting of one substance. In other words, of one essence. God is numerically one.
And, within the single divine essence are three distinct entities that we call persons. And each of the three persons is completely divine in nature; yet each person is not alone the totality of the Godhead.
Each of the three persons are distinct from the others.
Now, the word ‘trinity’ is not found in the Bible. But this does not mean that the concept is not taught there. In fact, the word ‘bible’ is not found in the Bible either, yet we use it anyway.
Likewise, the words ‘omniscience,’ which means ‘all knowing,’ ‘omnipotence,’ which means ‘all powerful,’ and ‘omnipresent,’ which means ‘present everywhere,’ are not found in the Bible. Yet we use these words to describe the attributes of God.
So, to say as some cults do that the Trinity is not true because the word ‘Trinity’ is not in Scripture, is an absolutely invalid argument.
And some dismiss the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit because there is a subordinate order in the Scriptures. Is there subordination of the persons in the Trinity?
There is, apparently, a subordination within the Trinity in regard to order but not in regard to substance. We can see that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third. The Father is not begotten, but the Son is. See John 3:16. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, John writes in 15:26. And the Father sent the Son. See 1 John 4:10. Also, the Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit according to John 14:26 & 15:26. The Father creates (Isaiah 44:24), the Son redeems (Gal. 3:13), and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (Rom. 15:16).
This subordination of order does not mean that each of the members of the Godhead are not equal or not all divine. For example, we see that the Father sent the Son. But this action does not mean that the Son is not equal to the Father, both in essence and divine nature. A wife is to be subject to her husband but this does not negate her humanity, her essence, or her equality. Jesus said, I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me, in John 6:38.
By further analogy, a king and his servant both share a human nature. Yet, a king sends the servant to do his will. Just because someone is sent, does not mean they are different than the one who sent them.
Critics of the Trinity see this subordination as proof that the Trinity is false. They reason that if Jesus were truly God, then he would not be subordinate to the Father in any aspect. But this objection is not logical. If we look at the analogy of the king and the servant we certainly would not say that the servant was not human because he was sent. Being sent does not negate sameness or essence. The servant is still human even though he was sent. The fact that the Son is sent does not mean that He is not divine. That would be like saying that when my wife Sheryl sends me to the store to get bread, that I am not human.
Saying that there are three persons in the Godhead leads some people to think that there are three gods who work in partnership. This is called tritheism (three gods) or polytheism (many gods) – as opposed to monotheism, one god. Christians firmly believe that there is only one God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult yet essential doctrine of our faith.
Augustine one of the greatest and earliest theologians of the Christian faith said this: "Anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing their salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing their mind.”
The truth is there is great mystery concerning the tri-unity of God. It took the Church nearly 300 years to complete the wording of Trinitarian orthodoxy, producing the Nicene Creed that many churches say each Sunday morning.
Most pastors would prefer to preach on any other subject than the Trinity. Perhaps we should heed the advice of Brother Elric, a 12th century monk, who, after badly botching a sermon on the Holy Trinity, took a vow of silence for the rest of his life.
While full comprehension may elude us, and, admittedly we see through a glass, darkly, the fact remains that there is much in the Word of God that we can grasp concerning the Trinity.
Someone might raise the challenge: "Does it really matter? Does accepting or not accepting the tri-unity of God matter?”
If you are a follower of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity is central to our faith; to your faith. The foundation of our faith is built on the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, on the Trinity. God in three persons, blessed Trinity. The sense of Trinity is implicit throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.
The tradition of the Church is clear: God is "One in substance and three in person." And the Word of God is absolutely emphatic about God being one throughout the Scriptures.
One of the key verses of Scripture held as centrally sacred by Jews is Deuteronomy 6:4. The Jews call it ‘The Shema’: Israel, listen! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Judaism and Christianity are both thoroughly committed to the belief in one God, and one God alone. And that sets us apart from most religions of the world.
The first commandment God gave to Moses was: You must have no other gods before me. That does not mean before me as in ‘ahead of me.’ God was not saying he had to be the most important God on their list. Before me literally means ‘before my presence’. In other words, you are not even to entertain other gods because there are no other gods.
Yet, within that one God, within that one Supreme Being, there are three distinct persons. And this is revealed from the opening chapter of Genesis. Genesis 1:26: Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us. Note: There is only ONE image, and there is only ONE likeness – singular; but the plural is also used: Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us. What we have in Genesis is a revelation of the communion, the fellowship, of the Godhead at creation: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father, the first person of the Trinity, is God; and Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is God. Jesus is not just a good man; Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is God. Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. The second person of the Trinity.
John 1:1 states: In the beginning was the Word & the Word was with God & the Word was God. Unbelievers can do all the translation gymnastics they want to, but no reputable Greek scholar would translate this verse to read any other way than John declaring Jesus to be absolutely God.
And Jesus states this clearly when he said: Before Abraham was I am. The Jews clearly understood his proclamation of I am. For God almighty said to Moses: tell them I am sent you. Jesus himself affirms that he is the I am. That He is God.
So, the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God. The Holy Spirit is not a ‘force’. The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’. The Holy Spirit is a person; the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present God.
Remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? Before Ananias was struck dead, Peter told him: How is it that Satan has influenced you to lie to the Holy Spirit? You haven’t lied to other people but to God! Peter is clear that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God.
We see other Scriptural evidence that the Holy Spirit is truly God. We are told that the words of God – the Bible - are words inspired by the Holy Spirit. Believers are called the ‘temple of God.’ Why? Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. One born of the Spirit is said to be born of God. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the divine Trinity, is God.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Beloved, remember, we are created in the image of God.
One final thought: God has never been without fellowship. Before God created anything, before there was a single angel, or any other being, there was God. Was God all alone? NO! Never! When there was nothing but God, there was always fellowship. There was always the eternal communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We are created in God’s image. We too desire fellowship. Fellowship with each other and most of all fellowship with the Triune God. Beloved, we worship the one and only God.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth & sky & sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful & mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
Amen and Amen!