You Asked for It 2008 part 2
Reflections On the Trinity
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 24, 2008



At the beginning of the Service:

What do these words have in common?

Sasquatch
Asparagus
Minivan
Salad
Gertrude
Photography
Television
Trinity

None of them appear in the Bible. I don’t know if there are any other things they have in common or not, but that’s one I’m sure of. Now, you’re probably not all that surprised that you won’t find “Sasquatch” in the Bible. But you might be surprised that the word “Trinity” isn’t there. After all, the doctrine of the Trinity is central to Christianity and our understanding of God.

Later on this morning we’re going to be exploring this a bit further. If the word Trinity isn’t from the Bible, where is it from? And is it a true picture of who God is? Why is it even important? Those are the kinds of things we’re going to be talking about later on this morning.


****************

Video – Lee Stobel discussing the mystery of the Trinity

Lee Strobel in that video was right – the Trinity is difficult to understand. Some of you may have found yourself questioning the very concept of One God being expressed in Three Persons. In fact, if you’ve never found yourself questioning it, I would say you’ve probably never even thought about it.

For nearly 2000 years, believers have struggled to understand the nature of God. And what we’ve discovered has been summarized in our doctrine of the Trinity.

Now, this is our second week in our “You Asked for It” message series, our annual August series when we deal with specific passages or topics that you have requested. Last week, we talked about Princesses of the Bible. That was the request for last week. So we’re going from that last week to the Trinity this week. It’s always and interesting variety, isn’t it?

So what I want to do this morning is this: I want to share with you five reflections on the Trinity. And then we’ll discuss why understanding the Trinity is important. So let’s start with…


Reflections On the Trinity:

1.    The word “trinity” is not found in the Bible.

A lot of people get hung up on this right here. They think, “the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible so I’m not going to believe in the Trinity.” But the problem is, they fail to understand what the word is. No one ever claimed that the word Trinity is in the Bible; what we do claim is that the Trinity summarizes what the Bible does teach about the nature of God.

Think about it like this: You’re not going to find the word Eschatology in the Bible, either. But that word refers to the collective teachings of the Bible about the End Times.

You’re not going to find the word Bible in the Bible. Does that mean the Bible doesn’t exist?

You’re not going to find the word pornography in the Bible, but the Bible has plenty to say about the problem of pornography.

The Trinity is not a Biblical word, but it is a Biblical concept.


2.    It is a term that describes what the Bible teaches about the nature of God

So the word itself isn’t in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t talk about the Trinity. In fact, we didn’t come up with the idea of the Trinity and then try to find it in the Bible; we found it in the Bible and then came up with the term to explain it. This is what the Bible teaches…

The Bible teaches that…

•    The Father is God
(John 6:27; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:2)
•    The Son is God
(Mark 5:19-20; Luke 8:39; John 8:58; John 20:28-29; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:16-17; Revelation 17:14)
•    The Holy Spirit is God
(Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18; John 14:16-17, 26; John 15:26; John 16:7-15; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 5:32; Acts 9:14; Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 4:30)
•    There is One God
(Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:6-8; Isaiah 45:22; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19)

So the word Trinity is used to describe this. But as we’ve already discovered, the term is not found on the pages of the Bible. So where did the word “trinity” come from?

Well, you need to understand first of all that the idea of a triune God was a revolutionary concept for the early Christians. Most of them had grown up as Jews understanding that there is only one God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

This was central to the Jewish faith. They were fiercely monotheistic… they were unwavering in their belief that there is one and only one true God. And this belief is affirmed over and over again throughout the Bible.

And then Jesus shows up on the scene. And He pulls this group of disciples around Him, and they watch Him over the next few years as He teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, and as He performs many miracles, and little by little they come to understand that this is God in the flesh.

In fact, two years into it, Jesus asked His followers…

Matthew 16:13-16 (NLT)
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus affirmed that Peter got the answer right. But I’m not sure that Peter understood the significance of it yet. I don’t think he really grasped it until after Jesus was crucified, and buried, and then rose from the dead. And even then I think it took him some time to process it.

Or how about Paul? Paul was an educated Jew who studied under the leading Rabbi of the day. He was well aware that there was only One God, and He knew the difference between one and three. That’s why he was so strongly opposed to the early Christians. But then He encountered Jesus Himself. An incredible story you can read about for yourself in Acts 9. How could this be? How could God the Father be the one and only God, and Jesus be God, too? Well, Paul disappeared for about fourteen years, and I’m sure that during that time Paul wrestled with these types of questions, trying to grasp the nature of God. And when He resurfaced and began His own missionary ministry, it would appear that He came to understand that God was One God revealed in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Well, that’s what the early Believers understood about God. But it wasn’t until around the year 200 that the Latin Theologian Tertullian first used the word Trinity to describe the nature of God as one in essence but not in person.

And then about a century later, at the First Council of Nicaea, this understanding of the nature of God was officially formulated into the doctrine of the Trinity.

You see, there was this one church leader in Northern Egypt named Arius, and around AD 313 he mixed some Greek philosophy into his beliefs and began to teach that Jesus was a created god, the very first creation by God the Father. Kind of like “God 2: the Sequel”, or God-junior. A belief, by the way, which Jehovah’s Witnesses cling to today.

But there were others who argued, “No, Jesus is God, always has been God, always will be God. He had no beginning and has no end. He and God are one.”

And over the next few years, this dispute built until Emperor Constantine, in the year 325, called together around 300 bishops to the city of Nicaea in modern-day Turkey to resolve it. Both sides were listened to, and the debate revolved around two words in particular…

Homoousios  = “of one substance”
vs. Homoiousios = “of like substance”

You know the phrase, “It doesn’t make one iota of difference”? Well, it comes right from this Council and these two words. Homoousios means of one substance. But with the “i”—or the Greek letter iota—put into the word, it changes the meaning.

Now, which word best explained Jesus’ relationship with God the Father? That was the question the Council was trying to answer. If Jesus Himself had been created, then He’d be homoiousios – He’d be of like (similar) substance to the Father, but certainly not on the same level. However, if He was homoousios, of one substance or of the same substance, then He’d be an equal part in the Godhead… with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

And they didn’t take this issue lightly. The Council began on May 20 and lasted until July 25. And they spent the entire first month on this one issue.

But when it was all settled, the Council affirmed what had been believed and taught for almost three centuries. Jesus is indeed “of one substance” with God the Father and is a vital and equal part of the Godhead… the Trinity. And while it’s difficult to grasp the very nature of God, the basic summary is that there is only one God, and He’s expressed in Three Persons… God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Well, by the end of the Council, the bishops who were there expressed themselves in the form of a statement of belief… a creed… which we know as the Nicene Creed. Here’s part of what the Creed says…

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, of one being with the Father.

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 worshipped and glorified…

So the word Trinity is not found in the pages of the Bible. But the concept is based on strong Biblical teaching and has been examined and evaluated and dissected and thought through and fought through over the years.


3.    It is not a contradiction to describe God as “Three in One”

A lot of people believe it is. A lot of people will point to the doctrine of the Trinity and conclude that it’s illogical, it’s unreasonable, and it’s contradictory. They would say that simple mathematics can disprove the Trinity: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, not 1. Only an idiot would claim otherwise.

Well, don’t you think the early believers knew what 1 +1 + 1 equal? I mean, many of them were very well educated. And even the ones who weren’t, I’m sure they could tell the difference between 1 and 3. Hey, there were even tax collectors among them. If their math were off, I’m sure they would have conducted an audit and found the error. So I’m sure they wrestled with this seeming contradiction themselves.

And besides, if they were just going to come up with a doctrine on their own and then try to convince others to buy into it, don’t you think they would have come up with something simpler than this? They knew the opposition they would face.

Plus, as theologian Norman Geisler points out…

“God is triune, not triplex. His one essence has multiple centers of personhood.”
~ Norman Geisler

In other words, he’s say that it’s not 1 + 1 + 1 = 3; it’s 1 x 1 x 1 = 3.

Geisler further explained the Trinity this way…

“The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. This may be a mystery but it is not a contradiction. That is, it may go beyond reason’s ability to comprehend completely, but it does not go against reason’s ability to apprehend consistently. Further, the Trinity is not the belief that there are three natures in one nature or three essences in one essence. That would be a contradiction. Rather, Christians affirm that there are three persons in one essence.”
~ Norman Geisler

So there is a mystery, but there’s no contradiction. The doctrine of the Trinity may go beyond reason, but it does not go against reason.

Ravi Zacharias is a Christian philosopher and speaker and one of my favourite people to listen to. One of the things he does is travel around to different universities holding open forums where students can ask him whatever questions they want to ask. Take a look at this one..

Video – Ravi Zacharias
(Fields a question about how the Trinity does not violate the law of non-contradiction)

So there is a mystery, but there’s no contradiction. God is three in person, but one in essence.


4.    Our understanding of God grows over time

My wife and I have been married for ten years this October. I knew her pretty well when we first got married, but I can honestly say that I know her better now. And yet, in many ways she’s still a mystery to me – she is a woman, after all.

That’s the way it is in a relationship. I get to know her better and better over time as I discover more of who she is and as she reveals more of herself to me and as I process all of that and as I come to understand her better today than I did yesterday.

Does it surprise you that God works like that? Does it surprise you that the more you get to know Him, you come to realize that you will never fully understand Him? Does it surprise you that even in Theology we will never get to the point that we know everything about God.

“[God] is infinitely beyond our capacity to apprehend. There’s always more.”
~ Stuart McAllister

Richard Dawkins is the leading atheist in the world today. A couple years ago he wrote his bestselling book, “The God Delusion.” I’ve actually read it. And I was very disappointed in his understanding of what the Bible actually teaches and what Christians believe. He seems to make assumptions and then argue against them, even though his assumptions about what Christians believe is often way off target.

Well, one of his arguments against the existence of God is that we can’t comprehend who God is. We can’t understand the Trinity. But isn’t God beyond our comprehension by very definition? I mean, if we understood the nature of God completely, would He really be God? Personally, I want a God who’s too big for me to grasp. I want a God I can understand more and more as time goes on but never reach the end.

Think about this: in the world of science, new discoveries and theories and experiments are based on the science of the past. It’s progressive. As the centuries pass, there is more and more that we discover and come to understand.

It’s the same way with Theology. Yes, God has revealed Himself to us through Scripture. But our understanding of that grows and deepens. The work of theologians today is built on the foundation of theologians of the past. It’s not like we start from ground zero with every generation. It’s progressive.


5.    The tendency is to go too far toward either the “One” or the “Three”

Because the Trinity is a difficult concept to grasp, we tend to swerve to one side or the other. For instance, we might start to think of there being three Gods. And we need to remember that there are not three Gods; there is only One God expressed in three persons. Otherwise, we end up believing a form of polytheism – a belief in many gods.

Or we might swerve to the opposite side and start to believe that there’s only one Person who wears different hats. Kind of like a one-man play, God shows up dressed as the Father for a while, then goes backstage and returns as the Son, and then puts on a mask and becomes the Holy Spirit. This is called Modalism, believing that God just expresses himself through different modes. And there are churches right here in Charlottetown that would teach something like that. You might here them referred to as “Jesus-Only” or “Oneness Theology.”

But what this view fails to recognize is that there are times in Scripture when all three persons of the Godhead are present or referred to at the same time. Like this one…

Luke 3:21-22 (NLT)
One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

All three persons of the Trinity in the same two verses.

Or how about when Paul wrote…

2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Or how about when Jesus prayed. Who was He talking to? He was talking to God the Father. Or how about when Jesus explained to His disciples that He would be leaving them and sending them another Counsellor – the Holy Spirit. He didn’t say, “I’m going to go away and come back as someone else.” No, He was going to send someone else. So it’s clear that it’s not just different manifestations of the same person. It’s three different persons, but only one God.

About 800 years ago, someone put all of this in a diagram that’s known today as the Shield of the Trinity. You see this in your notes…

 
So that’s the Trinity – One God in three Persons. But who really cares? Why is this important? Why should you know about this? Well, one reason is…


Why is the Trinity Important?

A.    It helps me understand God better

I’ll never understand Him completely, but I want to understand Him as best as I can. And an understanding of the Trinity helps me to do that. And this is important because we want to know the God we worship. In fact, we can’t worship God authentically if we don’t know what He’s like.


B.    It helps me understand myself better

To understand myself, I must understand the God in whose image I’m created. For example, when I come to understand that God experiences a sense of community within the Trinity, that helps me understand why I also crave to live in community with others. Because I’m created in the image of God, that means I possess that same desire.


C.    It helps me understand how God works in my life

Video – Lee Strobel and Dr. William Lane Craig
(describes how the Father sent the Son, the Son died for our redemption and conquered death, and the Holy Spirit works in our lives today convicting, guiding, and empowering us)


Next week, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the Persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

 

 

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