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The title of my message today is “The Trinity: Unraveling the Mystery”. It is something that God placed on my heart to speak about this week. I guess in many ways the Doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery and we often fumble our way through when we try to explain it. Hopefully and prayerfully after this message you will be a little more at ease.
In this message I want to look at five things – what does the term Trinity mean, Old Testament references to the Trinity, two of the main creeds handed down by the early church, six divine characteristics of the members of the Trinity and I want to finish with an image that will help us understand the three in one concept.
1. What does the word Trinity mean?
Trinity as a word is not found in Scripture, but used to express the doctrine of the unity of God as subsisting in three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Greek word trias and from the Latin word trinitas. Both of these words started to be used in the last second and early third centuries AD.
The key thought of the Trinity is one God in three persons – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, but they are one in love, one in purpose, one in unity, one in relationship and so on. All are equal members of the Godhead, all are all powerful, all are eternal, all are all knowing and all are involved in the salvation process. We will look at some verses soon to show these things.
2. Old Testament references to the Trinity
The idea of a Triune God is also hinted about in the Old Testament.
Genesis 1:26 – Then 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.
Genesis 3:22 – And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
Genesis 11:7 – Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
In all of these verses it talks about a plurality of God when it uses the words “our” and “us”. It does not conflict with Deuteronomy 6:4 that says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This still allows for one God in three persons. This verse is a description of God in a world where the surrounding nations worshipped many gods. They had gods for love, war, success, food, and many other things. This verse was to make a statement that the God of the Hebrews looked after all things and was all powerful.
3. Passed down from the early church
The Doctrine of the Trinity has been passed down to us since the times of Christ and the early church. The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are probably the two most famous. They both talk about believing in one God in three persons.
Nicene Creed (325AD)
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Apostles Creed (1st confirmed letter 390AD)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Both of these creeds talk about the Trinity. A triune God who is eternal and intimately involved in the world.
4. Divine Characteristics of the Members
When talking about the Doctrine of the Trinity we need to remember that all are equal in all of their aspects. Now I want to have a look at some of the aspects and God and see they are present in all members of the Trinity.
Father – John 17:11- I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Son – 1 Corinthians 1:30 – It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Spirit – Romans 1:4 – and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Father – 1 Timothy 1:17 – Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Son – John 1:1-2 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
Spirit – Hebrews 9:14 – How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
c. All knowing
Father – Matthew 6:8 – Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Son – John 2:24-25 – But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Spirit – 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
d. All powerful
Father – Psalms 135:5-6 – I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. 6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
Son – 1 Corinthians 15:27 – For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.
Spirit – Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
e. Everywhere present
Father – Jeremiah 23:24 – Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
Son – Matthew 28:19-20 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Spirit – Psalms 139:7-10 – Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
f. Involved in salvation
Father – John 3:16 – For God [the Father] so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Son – Titus 2:13-14 – While we wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Spirit – John 16:8 – When he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.
As you can see from all of these 18 references the Trinity or Triune God is holy, eternal, All Powerful, all knowing, everywhere present and all involved in the process of salvation.
5. Explanation Diagram
Over the years I have heard people try to explain the Trinity is a number of ways. The three in one aspect of an apple – the skin, the flesh, the core. I have also of water being liquid, ice and steam, but it is still water.
The best description that I have seen is the following diagram on the screen (click here to view the image). My lecturer at Bible college taught a whole lesson on the Trinity and kept referring to this picture. It took the mystery out of it for me and the penny dropped for me.
When we think of one God in three persons it makes it easier to understand why the Father sent the Son, the Son was able to pray to the Father, the Son is now seated at the Father’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit is now current working in the world.
We run into problems and get confused when we interchangeably use the word God/Father in the wrong way – if we say Jesus is God, no hang on Jesus is the Father – it causes problems. We should say Jesus is God, the Father is God we avoid confusion. Or to be more precise Jesus is part of the Godhead, the Father is part of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead.
When Jesus says I and the Father are one in John 10:30, He is not saying they are the same person, but they are one in unity, purpose, love and mission.
If we do a quick run through of the Bible we see all three members were involved in creation. At the right time Jesus left the Father and Holy Spirit in Heaven when He came to earth. When He returned to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper and comforter. Now in this church age the Holy Spirit works in the world. In time Jesus will come back and take us to be with Him forever.
Today we looked at the Doctrine of the Trinity. We saw the following things.
- The key thought of the Trinity is one God in three persons – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
- The Old Testament references to the Trinity include plural descriptions of God.
- The idea of the Trinity was handed down to us from the early church in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds.
- The Divine characteristics of holiness, being eternal, all knowing, all powerful, and everywhere present are present in all three members of the Godhead.
- The diagram showed the three distinct members who are part of the Godhead. All are God, but separate persons.