“The Triunity of God”

“The Triunity of God”

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“The Triunity of God”

Pastor Ryan J. McKeen

04/14/2024

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Transcript

This morning we do begin, as I said earlier, our Trinity series.

This next three weeks we will be focusing on the Trinity and several of the doctrines that are implications of the Trinity and the fact that our God is one God, but that He is also three persons. As you may have seen at the top of your inside page of your bulletin, there’s a quote there by John Calvin. He says this, Scripture sets forth the distinction of the Father from the Word. Yet, the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this.

And that is indeed true. This is a very weighty matter. It’s a very complex and difficult doctrine to wrap our minds around. That’s because God is incomprehensible, that we don’t have the ability to fully understand and fully grasp who God is. But that’s what we’re going to endeavor to do, because God also revealed himself. God is knowable. And what he has revealed of himself in scripture It is our responsibility to know Him. As much as He can be known, we are to seek to know Him.

And this will be a bit of a different style of series as we typically do around here. We usually preach verse by verse through a book, and now this will be more of a topical, focused on one issue type of a series, and that is, again, the Trinity. So this morning, we’ll begin with an introduction to the doctrine, really kind of talk about the basics of it, the essentials of the doctrine of the Trinity. Tonight, we’ll look at some of the heresies, some of the ways throughout history that people have gotten it wrong. And not only that, some of the modern equivalents of those heresies that we still see today. And then from there, we’ll look at some other specific doctrines in the weeks ahead.

But to prepare for this series coming up, I had sent out, those of you who were on the church email list, I sent out a survey to help get an understanding of what we know of the doctrine of the Trinity, really to gauge the level of understanding of the people. And this is one of the assignments for my doctoral classes, so part of that was to do that survey. And I really enjoyed that, and I know many of you did as well, and have given me good feedback as to how the survey was helpful in making you think more deeply. And that survey had 15 questions. They were all true or false questions. You would have a statement about this doctrine, and is it true, false, or are you unsure?

So as we go through this series, I want to use those questions to kind of help us dig a little deeper into our understanding. And I will say that you guys all did very well on the questions. You all passed. I actually didn’t even know who submitted it, because they were all anonymous. But in general, as a group, you passed. So congratulations. But we will look at a few that were a little bit tricky as well. Some of the words we need to use when we speak of God, when we speak of the doctrine of God, some of those words we need to be careful with because they can lead into some errors.

But as we go through this series, one of the things I’m not going to do is bring up illustrations from things around us that will try to help you get an idea of what God is by his creation. I’m not going to tell you that God is like an egg with a yolk and a shell and a white. We’re not going to talk about the eggishness of God. We’re not going to talk about how any other created thing can, although things do reflect God’s characteristics, God alone is a trinity. God is not like any of His creation in that way. There are things that do have similarities, but ultimately they fail to fully describe God to us. Ultimately, any illustration of the Trinity falls short. I mean, really, God tells us that He is not like anyone or anything else.

In Isaiah 44 verse 6 he says, thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts, I am the first and the last and there is no God besides me. And verse 7, who is like me? No one is like God and no thing is like God.

So we can’t just look at something and see, see God is just like this. There’s just nothing in creation that accurately and fully reflects God. So an illustration ultimately will break down eventually and will not prove to be overly helpful. But this is why it is important that we need to dig into this doctrine and understand it as much as we can. Looking at the The breadth of church history and the way that the different theologians of the past have thought of these things is very helpful.

So I’m gonna look at a few different men who’ve commented on these things. One being Herman Bavinck. He was a very good theologian. He was a Dutch theologian and he said this. The entire Christian belief system, all of special revelation, stands or falls with the confession of God’s trinity. It is the core of the Christian faith. the root of all of its dogmas or teachings, the basic content of the new covenant. It is the essence of Christian religion. That’s how important it is to understand the Trinity. So how do we understand, the way that we understand the Trinity reflects how we understand our faith. The triunity of God is at the heart of the Christian faith, and that’s really where the word trinity comes from. It’s a combination of tri, which is three, so there’s three persons, but also the unity, that there’s one God. God is a trinity. W.G.T. Shedd said, Christianity, in the last analysis, is Trinitarianism.

So again, this is an important doctrine. And these are fine and nuanced ideas, but they’re matters of God’s self-revelation. They have potentially harmful implications if we get them wrong. Too often we settle for, well, it’s too out of my grasp. I can’t understand it. There’s one God and there’s three persons, and I don’t get it, so we won’t think about those things. God has revealed himself and revealed those things to us. He is knowable. It is important that we seek to know God better. Wilhelmus Brakel said the entire spiritual life of a Christian consists in being exercised concerning this mystery. We should be putting in the effort to grow in our understanding of who God is. I

f you’re growing in sanctification and you’re seeing that only as, well, I’m looking more like a Christian, I’m doing the things a Christian should be doing, and that doesn’t include I know God more, I know God better, I have a better understanding of who God is, if that’s not tied to your outworking of sanctification, then all you’re doing is working better, doing better works. You are not growing in your knowledge of God, and that’s what the Bible spurs us on to, to grow in the knowledge of our God, and that will produce a life that looks like who God is.

Augustine said, in no other subject than the Trinity, is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable? Nothing is more profitable than knowing God better. And I can tell you, from preparing for these sermons for a couple of weeks now, and spending all day studying the Trinity, and getting home at night, and I just can’t wait to explain to Chelsea all the things that I’ve been reading about all day long, and she’s looking at me like, great. But I’m telling you, it just stirs up an excitement and a passion when you spend time meditating and focusing on who God is and you study his word for what his word has to say about him. And that’s what we’ll be doing for these next few weeks.

So really the importance of this doctrine is as important as the question, do we know God? Do we know God? Knowing God, the true God of the Bible, is crucial for salvation. This is what Jesus himself said. In John chapter 17, verse 3, he says, and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. We must know God. And if we define God in any other way than how he has defined himself in scripture, we have made a totally new God. We’ve made an idol. We are nothing more than idolaters.

And that’s why, as we’ll see this evening, when we look at the different heresies and the different sects or cults of religion, that have done exactly this, created their own God because they reject the Trinity, groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, or we will go down the list this evening. They don’t know the God of the Bible. They don’t know the God of the Bible. They’ve rejected that God and created a God of their own making. They’ve got God wrong. No matter who might tell you, well, we worship the same God, just in different ways. No, no, you don’t. And again, we will speak more of those different errors this evening, and those really help us sharpen our understanding. Examining the way that those who get it wrong have gotten it wrong, it really helps us trim off the fat of the doctrine that we hold so dear.

But scripture is clear. There is one God, and he exists eternally in three persons. And all three persons are truly and equally God. And so we need to come to know and understand as much as we can about this doctrine called the Trinity. God is three distinct persons. And in the words of the creed that we read earlier, the Athanasian Creed, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three gods. There’s one God. The early church fathers did help us to formulate the way we speak of this doctrine because they had to be careful with the words that they used. They had to defend against those who were bringing in other ideas. And when we read something like a creed, we can see what other people were saying, what other theologians may have been saying.

Well, if they have to define that there’s not three gods, that probably means there was people saying there was three gods. And as we look at the different creeds, they do help us to see that. Athanasius, who the Athanasian Creed is named after, although that was written after he had already died, it was written later on, but he was a man who defended the biblical doctrine of who God is. He defended against the man named Arius. And as they battled back and forth over who God is, is Jesus God? Or is he created? Is he just the best creature God made? They had to sharpen each other’s language, and ultimately, the men of the church came together and wrote these creeds that we know now that help us to speak of God even today.

Men that came after Athanasius, like the Cappadocian fathers, these men brought clarity to the way we think of God. One man in particular, his name is Gregory of Nazianzus. And he helpfully says this, no sooner do I conceive of the one that I am illumined, sorry, no sooner that I conceive of the one that I am illumined by the splendor of the three. And no sooner do I distinguish them that I am carried back to the one. It’s a beautiful way to say it. Yes, I can distinguish the three, but at the same time, they’re one, he’s one. There’s a balance there, the balance between the three-in-one and the one-in-three.

So as we dig into the Trinity, I’d like to use the questions from the survey that we did to help guide our thinking as we go through. as we walk through these different doctrines. We again won’t have just one passage of scripture, we’ll have several that we’ll look at. And some of them I’ll ask you to turn to, but others I will just read as we go through several of them, and you can write down if you’re taking notes the references. And we won’t cover all of the questions, all 15 this morning. Several questions have to do with specifically the two natures of Christ, so we’ll cover that in the coming weeks.

But let’s begin by looking at some of these questions and helping us see more of God in the doctrine of the Trinity. Well, the first question on the survey was, true or false, I have a strong understanding of the Trinity. Well, understandably, only two-thirds of you said true. Because it’s really hard to say that I have a strong understanding of the Trinity. What does strong mean, right? I mean, God is incomprehensible, so as much as I can know him, I’d like to think I do have a strong understanding, but even that’s hard to say. So it’s okay to be a little unsure of how well we truly grasp these things, but that’s why we do studies like this. That’s why we dig deeper into God’s word on these things. And while God is incomprehensible, like we said, he’s knowable. He has revealed himself in his word, and he intends us to know him.

So as we continue, questions two and three on the survey, again, are true and false questions. So number two was, there is one true God in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And rightfully, you all said true. So that makes me feel good that you know that. The third question was, there is only one God. And again, you all answered true on that. So there’s one God, but three persons. So let’s look at scripture and see where, even though you all answered correctly, let’s see where these things are supported by God’s word. Because as much as we can say about it, as much as we can read in creeds and confessions that are helpful, It’s meaningless if God’s word does not support these things. God’s word is our authority.

So let’s turn to God’s word. And let’s first look at the oneness of God, the unity of God, that there is one God. Immediately should come to your mind is Deuteronomy 6:4. Deuteronomy 6:4, let’s turn there. And in Deuteronomy 6:4, We know Moses is preaching to the Israelites as they’re getting ready to enter the land, and here, one of the most important things they need to know, and what would come to be repeated in Israel as their creed, hear, O Israel, Yahweh, or the Lord, is our God, and the Lord is one. There is one Lord. And this was a truth that set Israel apart from every other nation around them. That they had one God. And that is what distinguishes Christianity as well. We have one God. So right from the beginning of the Old Testament we see The Lord is one.

Then John 17 three says, and this is eternal life. And I just read to you that they may know you the only true God. Only meaning one. There’s only one. And Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. And Jesus is not contradicting himself there. That they may know you the only true God and Jesus. because they’re one in the same.

James chapter 2, verse 19, you believe that God is one. You do well. And the demons believe also and shudder. But they’re right, that God is one. There is one God. And we could go all over the Bible because this is a consistent foundational truth to God’s revelation. There is only and There’s only ever been one God.

In Isaiah 44, there is no other God, there is none like me, there is none beside me. This was, again, foundational for God’s people. And while there’s one God, there’s also three persons. Three persons who are God. And this is not a contradiction. This is not something that we just have to throw up our hands and Well, that’s what God’s word says, so even though it’s nonsensical, I’m gonna believe it anyways on blind faith. We need to understand how this is. And again, it’s not gonna fully reconcile with our minds because we don’t know anything else that is a trinity, a three in one like God is, but we need to see where God has revealed himself like this.

And the first place that we usually go to to reveal the Trinity is Jesus’ baptism in Matthew chapter 3. Turn there to Matthew chapter 3. Here you see Jesus going to John the Baptist to be baptized. And Jesus goes down into the water and in verse 16, of Matthew chapter three. It says, and after being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And behold, there was a voice out of the heavens saying, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. So there is one of the rare times that all three members, all three persons of God are there. You have Jesus, who we know is God, then the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and coming upon him. But then there’s a voice speaking out of heaven, the Father, saying, this is my beloved Son. There’s three there, three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, all coming together at Jesus’ baptism. Then turn to the book of John. John is one of the most revealing of the Trinity in his writing. Throughout the book of John, he continually, as making the case that Jesus is God, references the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

In John 1, verse 1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. So you have the Word who was with God, there’s a distinction. There’s the Word and there’s God, there’s two there. But then the next phrase, and the Word was God. And in case you think it’s just some abstract word, verse two says, he, the Word, personal pronoun, he’s a person, He was in the beginning with God. So not only is there the Father and the Son here, but it’s eternal. He was in the beginning with God. He did not come to be when Mary became pregnant. The Word, the Son of God, was with God in the beginning.

Then flip over a few pages to John chapter 5. In John chapter 5, verse 20, Jesus speaks of his equality with the Father. Verse 19, he starts, therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing from himself unless it is something he sees the Father doing. For whatever the father does, these things the son also does in the same manner. For the father loves the son, and he shows him all things that he himself is doing, and the father will show him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the son also gives life to whom he wishes. Who is the giver of life? God is. And here the Father gives life and the Son gives life. Both are God. The Father and the Son, two distinct persons, are the one God.

Then in John 14, as the third person of the Trinity, is spoken of. John 14, starting in verse 25, Jesus speaking to his disciples of what will happen after he dies, raises again, and goes back to the Father’s side. Verse 25, these things I have spoken to you while abiding with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. So you have Jesus speaking, the Father will send the Holy Spirit. There’s all three. There’s further clarification in chapter 15. So go to chapter 15, verse 26. When the advocate, the Holy Spirit, who we just mentioned in chapter 14, when he comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. So there Jesus says, he too is sending the Spirit. The Father sends the Spirit and the Son sends the Spirit.

And then the last one in John we’ll look at is John 16. So over one more chapter, verses 13 through 15, he says, Jesus says, but when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify me, for he will take of mine and will disclose it to you. And all things that the Father has are mine, and therefore I said that he takes of mine and will disclose it to you. Jesus explaining the ministry of the Holy Spirit. First of all, he’s not some rogue spirit doing what he wants. It’s God’s spirit. He does nothing of himself. He speaks what he hears as God’s spirit. And he takes of mine, Jesus says. And he takes of mine and will disclose it to you. And then Jesus even further clarifies, and not only is it mine, all things that are mine are the Father’s. This is true because there’s three persons, yet one God. They all share, they’re all equal, co-eternal with each other.

And we know the Spirit is God, as we see in places like 1 Corinthians 2. Who knows the mind of a man except the spirit of a man? Even so, the depths of God. No one knows except the spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is God. It’s God’s Spirit. So there are three who are God. Now, while some may say, well, that’s a New Testament thing. That wasn’t that way in the Old Testament. It’s a New Testament development. That’s not true. While it is not quite as clear and not as prevalent in the Old Testament, The Trinity is an Old Testament doctrine as well. First, you have the word for God. The word for God, Elohim, is plural. And while that is a supporting evidence, it matches with the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not necessarily proving anything because there’s other words that function that way. But the fact alone that the word for God is plural helps support that.

But then go to Genesis 1:26. when God speaks. God creates man. And God speaks in verse 26 of Genesis 1. Then God said, let us make man in our image. Who’s there? God is. God’s speaking to himself. Let us make man in our image. according to our likeness, so that they will have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in his own image. Now think about the image of God. And God’s speaking in plurality there, let us make man in our image.

What does the Bible tell us God is? He’s a spirit. God is love. Right? God is love. Well, if God is singular, and there’s only one person, like, for example, Islam believes, that there is no Trinity, there’s only the Father, there’s only one, there’s only God. Well, if in eternity past, before creation, how is God love if there’s no one to love? How is God love? No, the Trinity, the three persons of the Trinity, that is love. God the Father loves the Son, who loves the Spirit, and vice versa. That is the Trinity.

The fact that God is love, and that is the image of God he put into man. The fact that we love one another, that we desire love, That’s God’s image.

Further in the Old Testament, as I had Dr. Monroe read earlier in Psalm 110, verse one, the Lord says to my Lord, the first Lord there is the name of God, Yahweh. Yahweh says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies as a footstool for your feet. That’s David speaking there, David writing. And he’s saying, my Lord. And as we see in the New Testament, Jesus uses this as support for his own deity. How is it that David calls his offspring my Lord? Well, because you have the Father and the Son there. Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.

Then you have the blessing that the benediction God gives Moses in number six, it’s a very familiar passage, Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace. Again there, that’s the name of Yahweh, the divine name, three times. Again, there’s a very consistent pattern of three in reference to God.

Isaiah 6, as we sang this last song, holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory. Well, that makes sense since there’s three persons who are God and they are all holy. Each of the persons of the Trinity fully possesses all that it is to be God, because there’s one God.

Then later in Isaiah, this is the passage I read earlier, and this is where I want to focus on this morning, Isaiah 48. Turn there in your Bibles. This is a passage that is not often thought of as a Trinitarian passage, and even in a lot of the reading that I’ve been doing on the Trinity, not a lot of people mention this section of Scripture. But here, as we will see, all three members of the Trinity are here. Isaiah 48, starting in verse 15. Even I have spoken and indeed I have called him. I have brought him and he will make his ways successful. That’s clearly God Down to verse 17 thus says the Lord or thus says Yahweh your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel So this is God speaking Back in verse 12 He says hear me. Oh Jacob even Israel whom I called and then he says this I am he What’s that from? That’s Deuteronomy. That’s what God said through Moses to the people as they’re going into the land, I am he. I am he.

And then he says, I am the first and I’m also the last. Now what’s that sound like? Revelation. Jesus is the alpha and the omega. So this is Yahweh speaking, I am he, I am the first and the last, but look specifically at verse 16 here. Draw near to me, hear this. From the first I have not spoken in secret. From the time it took place, I was there. So now, the Lord God has sent me in his spirit. The Lord Yahweh has sent me in his spirit.

Now I know the New King James says the Lord God and his spirit have sent me, But a lot of the more modern translations, whether it’s the ESV, the LSV, the NASB, they flip the order there. And the reason why is because that verb there is singular, meaning there’s one actor. So the way it should read is, the Lord Yahweh has sent me and His Spirit. The Father has sent who? the Son and the Spirit. You have all three here.

I am He, back in verse 12, the first and the last, but then the Lord, Yahweh, there’s the Father, sent me, the Son, and you see, with His Spirit. This is the pre-incarnate Christ speaking here, being sent, the Father’s not sent, the Son is sent. and the Spirit is sent. And as you read through this passage, it’s almost like, well, is there one God, or is there multiple speakers here? Yes. The Trinity is in the Old Testament, because God doesn’t change. God is three persons, and yet he’s one.

And if all of that was not evidence enough, Matthew 28. Turn to Matthew 28 with me. Matthew 28 is Jesus ascending back to heaven after he has died and risen again. Matthew 28, right at the end of the chapter, starting in verse 18. Jesus says, well, and Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptizing them in the name, singular, the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. There’s one name, three persons. Jesus’ command to the disciples is to baptize them into the one name of God, specifically the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Three persons share one name, one being who is God, three persons who are God.

And I have more that I intend to get into this sermon, but as we are running short on time, we will have to save those for another week. But as we look at this doctrine of the Trinity, it’s one of those truths that’s really too great to grasp with our finite minds. We can see it, we can read it, we can agree to it, but do we fully understand this God?

And you can get frustrated at not being able to understand that, But you shouldn’t. That shouldn’t frustrate you. Frustration is one of the things that leads to all the different Trinitarian heresies. Because people try to make God understandable. They try to make it fit with the way that I’m thinking, the way that it makes sense to me.

Instead, you should be encouraged that it doesn’t make sense, that it doesn’t fit with my thinking. You should be encouraged if this is confusing, if you can’t comprehend it. Because if you could comprehend God, God would be smaller than you. If you could comprehend God, then God would not be the Almighty. We are finite. God is not. He is infinite. there is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And each of these are distinct and yet fully God. A couple more verses that you can write down.

2 Corinthians 13:14, the last verse of 2 Corinthians. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

1 Peter 1 verse 2, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of his blood. That’s our God. To deny this truth, that God is one being in three persons, is to deny what scripture clearly says.

The last question of the survey was, True or false, one can deny the Trinity and be a Christian. If you deny the Trinity, you deny who God is.

Now, I did not say that you need to understand or even have heard of the Trinity. There are Christians who’ve never heard of such a doctrine, and yet they trust Christ for salvation. But what I am saying is when you hear of the doctrine of the Trinity, when you see how God has revealed himself in Scripture and you reject that, And you say, no, no, that’s not the way God is. I’ll tell you who God is. He is the way that I want him to be. He is the way that makes sense to me. If you do that, you reject the God of the Bible. You do not have the God of Christianity. You cannot deny or reject the Trinity and be a Christian. It is the essence of the Christian religion itself.

Christ says we must worship God in spirit and in truth. We need to worship the true God of the Bible. He is three persons, and we can know him personally, but he’s one God, and there’s no competition between him and any other. He is a trinity, and this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God. We must know God. And when we begin to know God as he is, our response will be worship. We will magnify this God. We will give him glory for who he is and for what he does.

To go back, in closing, to the quote I read earlier from Gregory of Nazianzus,

Earlier I read this, no sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three. And no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. And that quote goes on and he says, when I think of any one of the three, of him as the whole, my eyes are filled. And the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and I cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.

That’s our God. I pray that our study of the Trinity, of which this is just a brief introduction, will drive us to a greater sense of who God is, and that our worship will become richer and deeper, and that we will know God better by what his word says to us of who he is.

Let’s stand and close in a word of prayer this morning. Our Father, we are humbled by this, revelation of you, this doctrine that we struggle to grasp, that we can’t fully understand who you are, but that you have revealed to us nonetheless. We thank you for your word that has revealed that you are Father, Son, and Spirit. And I pray that as we study your word more deeply, we would come to know you more deeply, that our hearts would be stirred for the majesty of who you are. We thank you for this truth. We pray that our worship would reflect your beauty and your glory. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.

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