A Primer on Basic Christian Theology, Part 2A: The Trinity

In the previous post in this series we discussed the Being of God. In this post we’ll look at the Persons that inhabit the Godhead.

Probably on of the most confused aspects of the doctrine of God in Christian theology is the confusion of being with person. In Christian terminology, it is best to say that the Persons which inhabit the Godhead, are God in their being. While there are distinctions between who they are, there is no meaningful distinction in what they are. All three are God, and what makes up God is shared, co-equally and co-eternally, between the three. They work together toward the same goal, at the same time, with the same intention. That is why Christians can speak singularly of God and of the Persons plurally. God gives us no explanation of the reason why he is like this, it is just how he exists, and has revealed  himself to us.

Of course some will quote that famous testimony of Jewish monotheism,

The LORD is God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

and try to argue that such a statement clearly indicates that there is no way that such a distinction of Persons can exist, much less eternally existed. But such arguments engage in circular reasoning, assuming what they have yet to prove. It could just as easily be argued that the phrase “the LORD”, which is simply a stand-in for the Hebrew YHWH, could be understood plurally, and that the declaration of oneness is a statement of their perfect unity, based upon any number of texts brought forward to demonstrate such claims, such as Exodus 34:1-8, and ask how many LORDs are there, or John 17:5 and ask, how could such a request be made of someone who was merely a man and not God, since such texts are presented as evidence to justify the conclusion.

So, when we speak of the Persons of God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, what are we speaking of?

God the Father

If we search the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures, rarely will there be a reference to God as “Father” outside of describing God as “creator” or as the founder of the nation of Israel. The attribution as a name only becomes known to us as an element of revelation in the New Testament. He is the one that could not be known apart from the work of the Son and the Spirit, who are begotten by and generated from the Father. This is not to say that the Son and the Spirit began to exist but to show that the existence of the three is only because of God’s uniqueness in being and an active element of the existence of the Father. What we know of the Father is what he has allowed to have been revealed by the Son, of whom much more can be said.

God the Son

The second person of the Trinity is God the Son, we know him as Jesus. But He is more than a historical figure, a teacher, or a prophet; He is the revealed God of all creation. Philippians 2:15 spells out the attitude of our incarnate God, “[that] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

In order to accomplish that feat, God the Son had to do something which to even our modern minds is impossible, be born of a virgin. Now, there are a lot of theories, mostly based on liberal theology, which say such is impossible, because we know how children are conceived. But, and it’s not that big a ‘but’, if we consider all of the attributes of God just listed, this becomes not only possible, but a necessary step for the arrival of God. Needless to say, that once you doubt or deny the virgin birth, the veracity of all other Scripture suddenly comes into question, and easier to disbelieve.

Christians also see Jesus as the supreme revelation of God. This is the first test of any cult that it should claim there is any other or superior revelation should automatically mark it as false. When we ask anyone what they believe about Jesus, that he is not the full and final revelation, it should automatically sent up red flags and cause us to flee from its presence. For Paul clearly states in his letter to the Colossians that “[in] Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (2:9)”

Being that, Jesus is divine and human: He is fully God, and He is fully man; He is God-man. In that he can fully represent us to God, and fully represent God to us. He said in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”; earlier in 10:30, he had said, “I and the Father are one”: in saying those things he showed us the depth and breadth of His relationship with God. More than that He extends the same relationship to all who would believe on Him, but He can only do that because He is the promised Messiah.

Jesus as Messiah is rich with meaning. The word Messiah, which is the Hebrew or in the Greek Kristos or Christ, simply means anointed one. It is reflected in the idea of King David, who was chose by God to lead Israel, and prophesy would attach that same identity to a later, greater one. Apocryphal writers often attached this idea to a political leader, like David; but as much a political leader David was he was also a spiritual leader, setting the way for his son Solomon to build the great Temple in Jerusalem. As a man Jesus was tempted in three ways:

  1. He was tempted by Satan in his humanity thru hunger. His refusal to selfishly meet his own needs means that he can meet a need greater than any physical need we might have.
  2. He was tempted by Satan with making a spectacle of his power.  Most people at the time thought that the Messiah would announce himself as such by a demonstration of divine power, but Jesus knew such a spectacle would overwhelm the message and so began his ministry in some relative obscurity.
  3.  He was tempted with the lure of conditional surrender by Satan. Satan was trying to subtly do what an all-out attack had been unable to do, unseat the eternal God, because God would no longer be God, He would be Satan’s servant. Jesus rejected this because He was supposed to be the King, not Satan.

 

As such, Jesus is our only true prophet, priest and king. As a prophet he taught us how we as his followers should live by miracles and parables filled with moral meaning. As our priest he offers up the full and final sacrifice and mediates between us and God. As king he has been given the full and final authority over His Kingdom. In it He called for obedience, spoke with authority, worked miracles, called forth His church, established ordinances, died on a cross, conquered the grave, ascended to the right hand of God, and from there will reign until all of his enemies are subdued. And in that fact we find our commission and command, calling for His people, so that he will fill us with His presence thus empowering us for life until He comes for His people who will live and reign with Him forever. More than that, He is Lord, having full right to his Kingdom. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that God has made Jesus “heir of all things”; in that God has taken all that He has and put it squarely in Jesus hands; that was part of the message of the early church, and should be part of ours. Such is only possible though, through the work of the Spirit of God.

God the Spirit

When it comes to religion, people are very religious is one way or another. For the most part we like the do-it-yourself type of religion so that we feel in control, when often the fact is that we are absolutely not in control. We do things to make us feel free but in truth we are slaves to those things. Jesus taught that God is seeking man. Think back to Genesis, when Adam and Eve sinned then went to hide, what did God do, even though He knew what they had done? “Adam, Eve, you come here right now! Come here right now and reap the harvest of your disobedience!” No, not at all. “Adam, Eve, my children, where are you?” God was seeking them out, calling so lovingly to them because He hoped they would come out running into his arms like they had so many times before. But they didn’t, and so here we are now. I can’t blame them; I would do the same thing. And God knows that, so he sends His Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, to call us so gently.

Scripture tells us one important fact that no one can say that Jesus is Lord unless the Holy Spirit helps him (1 Cor. 12:3). No one can confess sin unless the Holy Spirit helps him. No one can know that they are lost and in need of a savior unless the Holy Spirit helps him. And no one can live a life reflecting Christ unless the Holy Spirit helps him. The reason why Jesus came was to show us what we need; he left so that we could get it. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, teaching us, guiding us, helping us to discern and confess truth. It helps us to be like our Savior and Lord. And we cannot live this life of belief without the help of the Spirit.

Often in describing the Spirit the Bible uses the terms regenerating, renewing, restoring. All of these terms reflect the fact that we have fallen from some previous state, a state we don’t know about until we are confronted with the reality and consequence of our sin. Then, after our eyes are opened by the Spirit and we allow the Spirit to begin to work in our lives can we then have hope, which is given by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, and promise of God the Father.

We know that the Spirit has personality and will and knows the will of God because he is sent forth from God.

There are many resources that go into much greater depth than this such as Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology and James R. White’s The Forgotten Trinity both of which I highly recommend for further study on this issue.

 

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