The doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental to our understanding of who God is. After spending last week’s preaching about what is God, it is important for us now to move towards this question about the being and persons of the Godhead. So we come to next topic under the doctrine of God which is the Trinity. Now, the Trinity as a doctrine distinguishes Christianity from all world religions. Even in the monotheistic historical faith of Judaism and Islam, Christianity sets itself apart as the only religion who understands God as triune. In the earlier four centuries of Christianity, this doctrine of the Trinity lies at the center of what it means to be orthodoxy and catholic. To confess the Trinity is profess salvation from the God who reveals himself as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
So the whole of Scripture reveals to us who God is. Both the Old and New Testaments teaches the being and persons of God. While concealed in the Old Testaments then fully revealed in the New Testament, Scriptures unilaterally points us to the one, true, and living God who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So our sermon points for today’s preaching follows the same pattern and they are: 1) One God; 2) Three Persons.
Before we begin, let us pray:
Our gracious God, You build Your church on the foundation of the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone, and so we pray that You would bless our congregation to grow in their teaching. Assist us in meditating with joy on Your mighty acts, enlighten our minds more and more with the light of the everlasting gospel, kindle in our hearts a love of Your truth, nourish us with the full counsel of the Word of God, enable us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and defend us from the sins of heresy and schism. And as we have heard the true doctrine proclaimed to us, by Your great blessing may it be preserved among us and propagated through us by our lips and lives to the glory of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Question #5: Are there more Gods than one?
Answer: There is but One only, the living and true God.
Question #5 of the Shorter catechism answers the question about the uniqueness of God. Last week, we learned about God’s attribute as a a Spirit and we can derive from this God’s simple nature. This means God alone exists in this kind of being and no one else compares to him. When Israel receives the second covenant of the law prior to entering Canaan, God emphasizes his unified nature to Israel in the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The term “one” comes from the Hebrew word “echad” which either means numerical one or unified existence. And in the prophetic writings of Isaiah, God reiterates this point by declaring, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God (Isaiah 45:5);” So these verses from the Old Testament testifies for us the one being of God. Therefore, there no two or three beings of God. Christians are not Tri-theist. Rather with regard to God’s being, it always remains one.
Now from God’s unique being, the catechism highlights his superiority over false and dead idols by asserting that our God is the only one true and living God. Scriptures testify to them and an example of it comes from Jeremiah 10:10 where it reads, “But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.” This assertion exposes the foolishness of believe in false and lifeless idols. Jeremiah warns Israel against those who follow after them, “Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” But since the hearts of sinful people perpetuates these lies about false idols, God consistently sets himself apart from them. The battle against false gods have become a central theme in 1 Kings 18 where Elijah and worshipers of ba-al had a showdown. The aim was to bring over their sacrifices. The prophets of ba-al were unsuccessful while only Elijah prevailed. God warns Israel against the foolishness and futility of believing in idols because they do not exist. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God. (Psalm 14:1)” says the psalmist. Why? Because it is simply not true and unreasonable. Scriptures assume and assert the existence of the one true and living God.
This ends our brief first point so let us move to our lengthier second point, the three persons of God.
Question #6: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Clearly, the amount of revelation showing the persons of the Godhead from the New Testament is overwhelming. And when we read these verses none of them will ever make sense if the truth about the Trinity is ignored. The Gospel writers (Matthew, Luke and John) wrote about the baptism of Jesus where the Father spoke about the Son and the Spirit was hovering like a dove. The presence of the three persons were there. The Great commission of Matthew in chapter 28 clearly speaks of the baptism in the name (singular) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (threeness). The clarity of the Son’s revelation about the Son from John 14 to 17, the greetings and benediction of the apostle’s letters specifically in Ephesians 1 with Paul, 2 Peter 1 for Peter, 1 John 1 and Revelation 1 with John all points to the reality of Threeness of God.
So that is from the New Testament but how about in the Old Testament? Well, there are several places in the Old Scriptures worth mentioning. In Genesis 1, the plural first person subject “Let us” points to the plurality of the Godhead. Also, we can assert that God created the heavens and the earth by the Word and Spirit when we read “God said” and the Spirit of God hovering over the formless earth. At the same time, we can read from several passages the appearances of the pre-incarnate Son as the angel of the Lord and in the same way, we can point out the presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 8 point to Wisdom as a person and Isaiah 63 reveals the triune nature of God as the Savior in verse 8 and the Holy Spirit in verse 10.
But Scriptures reveal God fully to us in the incarnation of his Son and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. This means that the unity of His Being is a complex unity. This is where the most misunderstanding appear. That while we as Christians affirm that God in His Being is one in essence and substance, we assert that in His being there is a complex unity of three, not multiple, not two, not one but three persons in the Godhead and all three are co-equal and co-eternal.
Trinity, a word used first by Tertullian, comes from the Latin word “trinitas”. It means “threeness” and when referred to God, it points to the fact that there is a unity in the three persons of God. However, please take note we distinguish God in his being by the term “Godhead”. Now, since we using human language here to describe God, we have to further explain what we meant when we say “essence” and “persons”. Why? Because God in his essence is beyond the limitation of any definition as we have from our preaching last week about the attributes of God.
The “essence” or” substance” are the terms equivalent to the being of what we are trying to describe. Again, It answers the question of what. So it is important before discussing the threeness of God in his person or the question as to who is God, we need to have a grasp of what He is. And we covered this already last week. Christians confess the unity in the one Being of God. There are no two gods nor three but only one and True God. This assertion of monotheism is what we affirm from the Old Testament. God is one in His Being, his substance and essence. It cannot be divided because it is simple. He has no body and parts because He is Spirit.
Now what is a person? A person exists when you consciously address yourself as “I” and differentiate yourself with others by calling them “you”. Personhood is an attribute communicated to us by God but in finite or limited capacity. We can only contain in our being, one person and when compared to God’s being (since he is exceedingly infinite and eternal), we know he alone can possess three persons in his one being. There are only three kinds pf personal beings who exists: humans, angels and God. They all posses in of themselves minds and wills. However, when the person of God is compared to either human or angels, our language cannot say enough to describe him. Again, God does not have parts like that of a human or angel. He is a Spirit and he is not finite unlike the created spirits of the angels.
How can this be so? Again, God is simple as He himself is a Spirit but we also affirm from Scriptures that He is infinite and eternal. Now, these concept goes far away from any comparison that we can know and even experience. Again, to be infinite means to be limitless and to be eternal means to exist outside of time. The assumption that God’s being can only contain one person was proven false by Scripture with the revelation of the Father, the Son and the Spirit from the New Testament. There can be no clearer revelation than this that God in His infinite and eternal being there exists three Persons and not three Beings.
Why is it important to learn all these things about God? After personally spent days reading and learning what and who God is, what can I say about the whole experience?
First, I have learned that God is all wise and his wisdom is inexhaustible. I have understood why theologians and biblical teachers write these volume of books about God because when we find ourselves engaged with such a task, we would realize that the matter is indeed enormous. It was indeed a humbling experience for me and I can personally confess that the study of God leads to proper doxology. Paul’s experience the same kind of humility and gratitude when he realized the depths of God’s wisdom in the plan of salvation. He concludes in Romans chapter 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (verses 33-36).”
So when we hear or read about God’s wisdom both in his decrees and his work, we cannot help but submit to his will. When we are being tested for our faith and we hear how God wonderfully planned the salvation of his people, we cannot help but think that if God was so gracious towards us sinners, how can we ever doubt his provision and care over us in every detail of our lives here on earth. When he revealed himself to us through the wisdom of his Word, we simply acknowledge that his will is indeed wise and his work will lead to his glory.
Second, the other lesson we can take away from this study is the greatness of God. He does indeed deserve all the glory because there is really none like him, nothing can be compared to him. His being and persons, his simplicity, infinity and eternity clearly points to the immensity of his being. Heaven and earth cannot contain him. His work of redemption through each persons are indeed inexhaustible: “Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name (1 Chronicles 29:10-13).”
The greatness of God in creation and in redemption reveals to us his being and persons clearly. This sets our hearts to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Knowledge of God leads to the proper worship of God. It sets our affections to him and him alone and intimacy of such knowledge brings about a sense of awe and gratitude for his majesty. This kind of worship cures us of our obsessive impulse to think about trivial matters of life and worries. Instead it allows us to be truly become what we are created and called for which to glory God and enjoy him forever. We behold God’s glorious being and persons as revealed from His Word. May we all be blessed by our God in Three persons. Amen.
ZCRC(Imus), this is our God. Let us glorify him and enjoy him forever. Let us receive him for who He is and meditate on them with thanksgiving and praise. May our one, true, and living God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, continues to bless his people with his presence. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.