by Karen Rich, Porirua Gospel Chapel
Saint Augustine once said, “Those who deny the trinity are in danger of losing their salvation, and those who seek to explain the trinity are in danger of losing their mind.”
That is because God is a mystery, and while we seek to understand God as best we can based on his self-revelation, we will never get it all figured out. How can we possibly begin to understand God, when the Bible tells us that he can hold the universe in the palm of his hand? That’s our universe, which has more stars, most of them bigger than our sun, than there are grains of sand on our seashore. How can we understand, when we know he is listening to us pray as if it were a one-on-one conversation, yet there are millions of other people praying at the same time? How can we begin to understand his mind. Yet even though we have to give up on the understanding, he still wants our love and our commitment. It is said, “as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 9).
We need to dig further into what we believe. We want to understand the God we believe in so our faith is firm and secure. This is essential to our confidence in our salvation. We need to know we are saved by grace and not by works, that no one has to count how many doors they have knocked on or how many others they have led to knowledge of our God and his saving grace.
“The Trinity” is a convenient term to explain the God we read of in the Bible, which is God’s inspired word to us. We do not find this term anywhere in the Bible. It was coined to explain what we read. It is especially important to come to grips with this three-part Godin our individualistic world . This is not polytheism which imagines many Gods. We have one God with three different faces or personalities. We may not understand it any better than the wind. It simply is so.
Consider these Bible verses that refer to this triune God, and picture concepts to explain the three in one. Each of these verses talk about the three natures of God.
- Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
- May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14)
- Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood (1 Peter 1:2)
The parallel I remember from my childhood that was used to explain this was that of an egg. The whole object is an egg, yet there is a shell and a white and a yolk and they all hold together to make the whole. In both God and his created egg the three work together to be a complete unit. The three individual parts have different qualities, yet together they are one.
Jesus said, quoting from the Torah, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29) and Acts 17:24-25 reads “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
So God is the only one God. He created all that we know, and there is no other God or gods. This is the solo God that the Jews believed in. There is no one else like him; he is the supreme being from whom we have our life and breath, and he has our days numbered. God is the giver of life which we see in a newborn baby, and also the preserver of life, and he has a plan for us to live out.
That we believe in one God separates us from many religions.
Our early fathers gave us the picture of the Trinity to explain the one God that is presented to us as three entities. Another picture of three in one is water: ice, liquid and vapour. All are the same composition yet they assume different forms. So God has three compositions: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The next distinguishing difference is how we view Jesus Christ. John wrote, in 1 John 4:2: “This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” So we need to accept Jesus as God. He is the Messiah long awaited in Jewish history, God revealed to us in human flesh. He was born to a virgin through a divine miracle, and his life and death and resurrection were planned. To deny his virgin birth is to make him human; a good man, but not God. To say he was a good man but not God makes him a liar and a fake, because he claims his relationship with God the father many times and asserts that he was carrying out God’s plans. “Very truly I tell you,” he said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does (John 5:19).
Here is God the Father and the Son working together clearly in telekinetic communication. Augustine saw the Trinity like the human mind which has three distinct parts: memory, understanding and will. You can’t divide the three and all are necessary to our mind, yet they work differently
The apostle Paul wrote, in Colossians 1:15-19, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth … God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”
So now we see Jesus as God and that’s part of the message. But the other part is that Jesus Christ and ‘God the Father’ are both God, but different. Jesus prayed to God often, going away to a quiet place and praying for long periods. I may talk to myself occasionally when I want to concentrate, but I don’t pray to myself and ask for permission to do something because that is not necessary. I decide for me. So when Jesus prays, we understand there is a Son and a Father part to this God. How we understand Jesus to be God’s Son and part of the Godhead sets us apart from many other religious groups.
Then we consider the third part — “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me” (Jesus speaking, John16:13-14).
The Holy Spirit is the third part of God. Not a force for good like we see in children’s fiction, but an individual who is part of God, who can support us. He can also be lied to, as Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his” (Romans 8:9).
In this politically correct world it isn’t okay to put down other groups but — and this is a big but — the closer they are to the truth yet not accepting the Bible unconditionally, the more dangerous they are. That is because if we don’t understand what we believe, then we are easily confused and able to be recruited into groups with false views of God. It is only in accepting Jesus as Son of God and our redeemer and saviour that we can be saved and assured of our place in heaven. Other groups do not have this assurance, but believe they have to work their way into heaven. Some even believe they can achieve a god-like status through good works. But we are saved by grace, and our best efforts are still flawed and not worthy of our God. Yet he accepts us as we are.
Another picture of God is us. God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 26-27).
Now we are made with body soul and spirit. The body is the obvious part and we look after it with great care, eating, dressing, cleaning and training it. Our soul is the part of us that makes us individuals with different personalities and skills. Our spirit is the part of us that seeks a relationship with God and has the desire to worship. So if we don’t worship God, we find something or someone else.
When we are sure of What we believe and Who we believe and Why we believe, then out of our love for others we know we will seek to tell them the truth we know because we want to see them in eternity with us.
The nature of relationship and unity within the trinity shows us that harmonic relationships are important. It is not good for a person to be alone. The church should provide a loving and unified community for its members to be distinct in their identities and yet unified in their love.
A good reflection is the Nicene Creed. Since 325AD, people have repeated:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfilment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.