The Three-Personed God
June 22, 1997 / No. 2841
On the night in which Jesus Christ was betrayed, He gathered His disciples together for a final time in an upper room. Only hours separated Him from the cross, where He would be mocked and beaten and nailed to the tree. The time of His earthly ministry with His disciples had come to its end. As the Son of God in our flesh, He opened the evening by washing His disciples’ feet in an expression of profound humility, that He would humble Himself even unto the death of the cross for us.
Then He arose to speak to them one last time. What He said is found in John 13-17. In such circumstances, what would you expect to hear from His lips? An exhortation to the disciples to be faithful? Yes. An expression of His undying love for them? Yes. But there was a theme that ran through His teaching that night which very few would expect to find. Jesus, on that night, expounded to His disciples the truth of the Trinity – that God in His Being is One, and that in the one Being of God there dwells three blessed Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He taught them in profound and personal and rich words of the relationship between the Father and the Son, between the Son and the Spirit, between the Spirit and the Father. Some of the most wonderful teaching on the Trinity is based on those chapters.
Why? Certainly the time at which the Lord chose to bring this instruction shows how important this subject is. Jesus decided that the great mystery of the Trinity was the one teaching the disciples needed most to hear at that moment. Why? Because He had come in order that we might know God, in all the riches of His being. He had come in order that we might know God as the God who is our Father who loved us, as the Son who died for us, and as the Holy Spirit who would bring salvation to our hearts.
But more. This truth was so fundamental because the entire heart of the gospel depends upon it. Those who deny the Trinity have no gospel, for at the heart of the Trinity is the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and therefore, as the Son of God, the one who is able to bring a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Only those who know the Trinity by a true faith can stand firm in the days of trial. Jesus concentrated on this truth in the darkest hour, at the time when His disciples stood in great need for comfort and encouragement. This doctrine of the Trinity has the most practical and important place in our lives.
Many think of the doctrine of the Trinity as so much heavy baggage to carry around as dry dogma. Jesus said that it is the fountain out of which we may joyfully draw the waters of our salvation. Our faith is constructed on the foundation of the Trinity. Those who believe, unto the saving of the soul, must believe the holy Trinity. All of the Scriptures thrill with the presence of the three Persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And these three, says John (I John 5:7), are one.
The Trinity is necessary to make a Christian. The truth of the Trinity comforts and cheers and gives hope to a Christian. This is the God who has saved us. We have the divine love of the Father, the redemption of the Son, and the blessings of Christ poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And in all of this, we have the one God of our salvation.
We must learn to sing on this earth: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen, amen.”
God has revealed Himself in His Word as the one, only, true God in whom exist three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We may speak of the Trinity, a word which means three-in-one: three Persons in the one Being of God, because Scripture has so made God known. Scripture accurately mirrors God, shows God to us. This is crucial. All of our understanding of who God is, what God is like, must be taken from the Bible. Or we make an idol. We will lie and distort and make a god after our own imagination. Every time we talk of God, every time we form in our minds what God is like, the words of Romans 1 ought to ring holy caution in our heart: “Who, knowing God, glorified Him not as God, but became vain in their imaginations and changed the truth of God into a lie.” The human mind, unguided by the holy Scriptures and apart from faith, always makes God less than what He is, always makes God out to be like man, like the creature.
You will often hear people say, “Oh, but my God is not like that! He would never send people to hell. I can’t imagine that. Oh, my God would never send a car crash, or cancer. God cannot control those things.” You see, people are forming their god after themselves. Always we will make God out to be limited in His sovereignty, that is, in His royal power. We will make God unable to do what He wants to because He is checked by man’s will. Ultimately, if you think it through, man will always say, “Man is god.”
So all of our thinking is to be based upon the Word of God. The Bible is God’s revelation. The Bible is not, first of all, about man. It is about God! Who He is, what He is, and what He has done in order that man might bow and worship before God.
The Bible tells us that God is one. There is only one true God. There are not many Gods, and Jehovah, the God of the Bible, is the best of them. There are not three separate Gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But there is one divine Being who is God. In Deuteronomy 6:4 Moses presses the commandments of God upon Israel as they entered into the land of Canaan, and commands them to teach their sons and their sons’ sons all the days of their life. What must they teach? Listen. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” The same thing is found in Isaiah 44:6, 8. Clear words in a day when God’s people had formed gods for themselves out of stumps of wood. God says, “Behold, I am the first and the last. And beside me, there is no God.” God is God alone. Other gods are not the noble expressions of men’s attempt to attain after God. Allah, Buddha, humanism are accursed. Do not trust them. They cannot save you. They are dumb, blind, powerless. God says in Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”
God is one in Being. God’s Being, the Bible tells us, is a spiritual Being, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). God is not material. He is not visible. He is not physical. He is not earthly. He is the only invisible God (I Tim. 1:17), who dwells in a light to which no man can approach (I Tim. 6:16). He transcends, that is, He is infinitely lifted up in His being, above all earthly things. He is light in Himself. He depends on nothing outside of Himself. He is God. He is glorious, filled with radiant and pure attributes. He is love, mercy, truth, holy, just, and right. That is His glory – the out-shining of all of His virtues. So we can say, “My God, how wonderful Thou art!”
In the one Being of God there lives in blessed unity and love Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call them Persons to get at what the Bible teaches. A person is the “I.” Your person is what makes you you, your self-consciousness, what sets you apart from everyone else. We read in Psalm 139, “Oh Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.” The person is myself, what I think, what I want, what I love. The person is the individual you. In God there are three Persons. There are three who say “I.” There are three who possess self-conscious existence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, as I said, I John 5:7 tells us that these three agree in one. Three Persons in the Godhead who say, “I love, I desire.” These three Persons are not each one-third of God. No, they are fully God! Speaking of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, I Timothy 6:16 says that He is the blessed and the only potentate. He is fully God. These three Persons are not arranged in the Being of God in order of rank or subordination. Not in order of time. No, we confess that they are fully God. All co-eternal, co-essential, and co-equal.
Now let us follow our Lord’s words, shall we, in John 14-16. He taught, first of all, that all three were one in Being (John 14:11). He says to His disciples: “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.” “In” is used here in the sense of possessing one essence. He said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). They are one in Being as God. Yet, they are separate Persons, Father and Son. He says in verse 9 of John 14, “He that hath seen me (person) hath seen the Father (person).” And yet one in Being.
He says again, in John 14:16 of the Holy Spirit, that He will send another Comforter unto you, that He (person) may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not neither knoweth Him. But ye know Him, for He (person) dwelleth with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.
Now, what is the Lord saying? Is He saying that two are going to come to us: the Spirit and He, Himself? No. He is saying that God, God the Holy Spirit possessing Christ will come to us. The Holy Spirit, then, is God. Everything that can be said of our Lord as equal to God may be said of the Comforter. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is God.
Then in John 16 we read that Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father and return unto the Father.” The disciples respond by saying: “We believe that Thou camest forth from God.” The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet, said Jesus, all three have their own function within the being of God. The Father has sent forth the Son. He calls the Son “My only Begotten.” There dwells between them the relation of tenderest love. Jesus says in John 5, “The Father loveth the Son.” The Son came from the Father and came to glorify and reveal the Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And so, when we bring it all together in a way that we cannot fathom, there are three Persons in the one Being of God who dwell in a life of perfect fellowship and love and warmth.
And all three are blessed in one. That is the Trinity.
Contemplating this the church of Jesus Christ has been led to confess it in this way:
Now to the great and sacred Three,
The Father, Son, and Spirit be
Eternal power and glory given.
To all the world where God is known,
By all the angels near the throne,
And all the saints in earth and heaven.
As the triune God, He is united in the work of our salvation. As the triune God He creates, He redeems us in Jesus Christ, and He makes us holy by the Holy Spirit. If you were to ask me: “What is salvation?” now we have the answer: It is to be brought to know this God and to enjoy fellowship with Him forever. Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Salvation, then, is the work of the triune God. As the Father, though not alone, He created us. As the Son, though not alone, He redeemed us. As the Holy Spirit, although not alone, He sanctifies us. The work of the Trinity unites in salvation. We do not confess merely: He creates, He redeems, He sanctifies. But He is our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, the Spirit who makes us holy. We say “God is for us! All of God is for us! The triune God, who works our salvation, is for us.” We confess that our salvation is of the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. It is of God.
Can you imagine? The sacred three-in-one to whom nothing can be added, who lives in Himself in the fullness of love and joy, is committed by the decision of His own will to save us completely and to draw us to Himself.
This is the God who is to be worshipped. Paul says in Ephesians 3, “I bow my knee before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you? As the Father, He makes me His son, and shows me all the riches of His favor. As the Son, the Son of God redeems me and loves me and gave Himself for me. As the Holy Spirit, He dwells in me and promises never to forsake me and brings me the salvation of Jesus Christ.
If you deny this truth, you worship an idol. Failure to embrace the truth of the Trinity means no salvation. It means that you refuse the one true God of the Bible. This is how He has revealed Himself. This is eternal life: to know the triune God! He that denies this has no salvation. John says in I John 2 that “he that hath not the Son, hath not the Father.” This is the one whom we adore upon bended knee. Heaven will be the place where we stand before this one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and gaze upon Him in wonder. And we will say, “Lord, what can we offer Thee, what can we add to Thee, what can we bring to Thee that Thou dost not have, perfect three-in-one, holy God, delightful Trinity? Nothing can be added to Thee. Thou hast loved me and willed that I behold Thy glory. All glory, laud, and honor be to Thee, our Redeemer King.”
Now, on this earth? On this earth we live in the midst of trials, sin, and suffering. But we live in faith, faith in God: God the Father who loves me, God the Son who died for me, God the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. Knowing Him as the triune God there is nothing that I could yet desire (Psalm 73). The psalmist says, “Having Thee on earth, what is there that I could yet desire?” Except, perhaps, this: that I might know on this earth Thee, and then be known as one who knows, loves, and glorifies Thee in my actions, words, and thoughts. One whose life confesses: glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen and Amen.
Let us pray.
Sacred three-in-one, one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what shall we offer or render to Thee, the God of our salvation? Blessed art Thou. We bow our knee before Thee and ascribe to Thee praise as the one God: Father who has loved, Son who has died, Spirit who dwells within us. Amen.