Walking Through the Confession Series | Part 3
On God and the Holy Trinity
Scripture covers a variety of topics that inform us who the Lord is and who He has made man to be. Within this realm, we have doctrine (teachings) and truth that instruct us on a variety of topics. These include election, foreknowledge, predestination, Christ, sanctification, the Godhead (trinity), regeneration, creation, the fall, Christ’s second coming, the ascension, salvation, and Christian living; and the list goes on and on. In the second chapter of the London Baptist Confession, they decide to take two of the more expansive teachings and combine them into one section entitled “Of God and the Holy Trinity.” These sections are supposed to be succinct and sum up matters of truth, but if you ask me, these two categories are the “surf and turf” of the menu. They took two of the most expansive categories and combined them into three paragraphs.
Before we talk about each one, I want to say two things. First, Matt Chandler said something years ago that I have always thought helpful in our definition of who God is: “trying to figure out God is like trying to catch a fish in the Pacific Ocean with an inch of dental floss.” Please don’t misunderstand- the God of creation has revealed himself to us plainly in the scripture.
We can know God because He has made Himself knowable to us. But we will never fully comprehend who He is or how big He is. We can’t. He is infinite, and we are finite; He is eternal, and we are created.
Secondly, many a Sunday school teacher, well-intentioned parent, pastor, and even I have unintentionally made ourselves heretics discussing the trinity. God is not equivalent to the stages of water, a three-leaf clover, an eggshell, or the Kool-Aid man. There is a nice little video that sums up these heresies for you here.
Why did I want to make these two points? Well, as we walk through our questions and answers, you will likely feel that the magnitude and mysteries of God are not fully captured. This is the correct response. If we spent the rest of our time on this earth writing day-by-day about the Godhead, we would not even scratch the surface of His majesty. We will spend the rest of eternity with Him in heaven and continue to always learn more about Him. The fact that God is triune (one God but three distinct persons) is confusing and mysterious; however, we know this is true because it is what the Bible says. Now, without any more build-up, let’s discuss.
Who is God?
We will begin by discussing God and His nature before looking into the persons of the Godhead. God is massive and has made Himself known within His scripture (specific revelation) and within His creation (general revelation). Chris Tomlin put out a song several years ago called "Indescribable" that somewhat attempts to address the issue of God’s magnitude. While Tomlin's heart may have been in the right place, God has described Himself in the scriptures and His glory can be seen within the world- not fully, but clearly (Romans 1:19-20). Our God is one, He is the living and true God. He is the author of creation, and He alone sustains all that exists. He is good, He is just, He is kind, He is patient. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and He does not change.
The paragraph above is a shortened list of characteristics that help to define God. Some characteristics are knowable to us, while other aspects of His character are things we reference but have a hard time understanding. God is for His glory, He is self-sustaining, and He does not need creation. But, in His divine purpose, He has created us and uses us for His glory. These aspects of His character help us to determine what He is not- since God is all good, He cannot be bad; since He is just, He cannot be unjust; since He is perfect, He can know no flaw.
Many in the enemy’s camp would seek to discredit what we know of the Lord’s character by pointing to their own experiences. Typically, their pushback sounds like “if God is good, why is there pain and suffering in the world?” This argument is known as ‘the problem of evil’. Paul lays out an explicit answer for this in Romans 9:10-26. While that is a conversation worth having, that is not the purpose of this post.
Now that we've discussed some of God’s characteristics, at this point we will shift to His makeup. The Lord our God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), infinite in being, and made up of three persons: The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Spirit have all existed from eternities past and will continue to exist for eternity. They have the same power and essence and are not to be divided. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father is neither begotten nor proceeds from either. They are equal in power, eternal, and in essence, never to be divided. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, but, they are all God.
By this point, one of you readers is likely saying, “what?” I understand this reaction; this is how most people respond to the trinity. This is a point of doctrine that is often attacked because it is so hard to explain and grasp. If you’ll bear with me- I would like to remind you of the introduction to this blog post.
We will spend eternity with God in His presence learning more of Him and never fully understanding His greatness and majesty.
God is eternal and infinite, we are created (not eternal) and finite. This is one aspect of what makes Him so worthy of our praise. Turn with me as we look to the text and determine what the scriptures have said about the trinity.
What does Scripture Say about The Triune Godhead?
Part of the reason this doctrine comes under such heavy scrutiny has to do with the number of times we find the word “trinity” in the text. If you had to guess, throughout all 66 books, how many times do you think the word trinity shows up? The right answer: zero. However, that does not mean that the truth of the trinity is not directly within the text. For our purposes, we are going to look only at three different sections of scripture: 1 Peter 1:2, Matthew 3:16-17, and Matthew 28:19 (emphasis on only – I am attempting to be concise).
In 1 Peter, this message comes as a greeting to all the saints in the Dispersion. There has been mass persecution that is ongoing, and Peter is writing to reach the elect (all who belong to Christ Jesus). After addressing his audience, Peter states “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Peter invokes the three members of the Godhead regarding their role in salvation. All of them are brought up by name in combination with the role they play. The Father chose them, the Son bled for them, and the Spirit is sanctifying them. Peter is reminding them of what all has happened to accomplish their salvation, but also what is currently happening to bring their salvation to completion. All three members of the Trinity work together for the salvation of those who belong to God. From eternity past (foreknowledge), the Father has chosen those who will be His. At Calvary, the Son fulfilled this redemption by the sprinkling of His blood- His death on the cross as payment for sins (Romans 5:10). And now, the Spirit currently sanctifies them to live according to the will of God. Peter is writing amidst the persecution to remind them of the eternal security they have because of the nature of the Trinity. He starts this letter in this way as an effort to comfort them during their hardship. The dispersion was one of the worst times in Christian history. Men and women were being run out of their countries and killed for their faith. Peter takes this time to remind them of the assurance they have in Christ. Let's look at the next two passages.
The first is Matthew’s recollection of the baptism of Christ Jesus. Here, we see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove while the Father affirms the Sonship of Christ (all three members present). The latter passage is a part of the Great Commission where Christ instructs the Apostles to baptize new disciples in the name of “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” So, the first passage shows us the presence of all three members of the Triune Godhead, and the latter shows us the significance of acknowledging all three members of the Godhead during the baptism of new believers. The role and presence of the trinity was not only a part of the baptism of Christ, but Christ himself commanded their recognition with each new baptism into the kingdom.
I decided to reference just these three passages of scripture as a means of presenting the scriptural foundation for the trinity. We could also look at Genesis 1, John 1, John 6, John 17, 2nd Corinthians 1, Ephesians 1, Ephesians 4, any of the Old Testament Christophanies, or many other passages that proclaim the same thing- the Lord our God is one, made up of three persons, who are distinct in their roles but equal in their deity.
The point is- sure, you can argue that scripture never says “trinity,” and you would be right. But, to go as far as to say the doctrine of the Trinity is unbiblical is unfounded and dishonest.
Why is God and His Triune Nature Important?
We must now answer the questions: why is a correct understanding of God important, and does it matter that He is triune? Brothers and sisters, God has revealed Himself in the scriptures and He has told us who He is. To turn around and say that it does not matter is to usurp His role and authority over us. If we act in ignorance or apathy regarding our approach to the Lord we are in dangerous territory. The author of Hebrews tells us “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” During a lightning storm, most of us pull our kids out of the water to keep them safe. We know that most likely nothing is going to happen since the odds of getting struck by lightning are slim to none. Still, we recognize and respect the raw power of lightning and the potential threat it poses to our children. How much more should we revere the One who commands the lightning where it should go (Job 38:35)? Our God has spoken plainly to us and described Himself accordingly within the scriptures.
Why is it important that we understand His triune nature? First, because it is a correct understanding of who He is (circle back to the previous paragraph). All members of the trinity are God and so all are equally worthy of being discussed, worshiped, and understood (to the best of our ability). Though different, one could not say they know much about basketball if they do not even understand that it is a game. Our knowledge of God is not a game, it’s an effort to know the creator of the universe truly. Secondly, as 1 Peter 1:2 points out, each member of the trinity has a distinctive role in our salvation. Shai Linne puts it like this: “The Father chooses them, the Son gets bruised for them, the Spirit renews and produces fruit in them.” To have a correct understanding of God is to understand that He has three distinct persons that all are equally one God.
Now, to conclude, I want to remind you- our God is vast and incapable of being understood fully, yet, because of His love for us we can know him truly.
The best way to know God more is to engage with Him by the means of grace He has given us: devout prayer and reading of the scriptures.
It is my earnest hope that Your magnitude and mystery may not be a discouragement to Your saints but would instead encourage them in the Spirit. You are capable of all things, sovereign over everything, perfect in power, and awesome indeed. I pray You would be with Your people as they seek to learn more of who You are and that You would lead them in the way everlasting.
It is in Your Son’s holy name I pray,