Pastor Caleb McClarren
“Community” is a word we use to describe our need for relationships. We call, text, Skype, email, Twitter, Facebook and occasionally talk (you know, face to face... with words), all as part of our endless pursuit of community. We even make up artificial community through online social networks made up of totally digital “people!” It isn’t even a question; we desperately desire and pursue community with our spouse, kids, in-laws, out-laws, and even total strangers on some level.
Why do all people from every generation long for and deeply desire significant, meaningful, sacrificial relationships? It should come as no surprise that we find our answer in the Bible. On the very first page of your Bible, you will read: “ And God said: ‘Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness...’”1 The truth is, we long for perfect, sacrificial, loving, unified relationships because we were made for community, in the image of the Triune God who eternally exists in perfect unity (which is the last half of the world “community”).
Hold on. Don’t stop reading just yet. I’m NOT saying that God is some kind of quirky clock maker with multiple personalities who is off His meds. I AM saying that God is, always has been and always will exist in as three distinct, co-equal and co-eternal persons who serve and submit to one another in loving community and who are entirely one in essence. This concept is summed up in one word “Trinity.” And yes; It is a confusing concept. Try and hang with me as we try and unpack some of what the Bible has to say about the Trinity.
God Is: “In the beginning God...”2 The Bible begins with the very clear declaration that before anything or anyone was – God is. It isn’t a hypothetical question, a punch line to a joke or some obscure philosophical construct. It is the statement that all of the Bible – and life itself – hangs on: God is. He was not created. He did not evolve. He has no beginning and no end. He is the uncaused cause, the Creator of matter, the Author of light and the Narrator of history. Without Him nothing exists. With Him everything both exists and holds together.3 This truth is fantastically simple. God is.
God is One: If you were in Church last Sunday, you heard Bill Allison quote the Shema which begins: “Hear, Oh Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.”4
The Shema has been the centerpiece of Jewish prayers for centuries. In Jesus’ day it was the whispered in the ears of Jewish babies as they were born, they would learn to recite it several times each day for the duration of their lives and, as they stared death in the face, they would likely recite these same words they had first heard as an infant. These ancient words reminded them of their God and would be a comfort throughout all of life.
For thousands of years, the Shema has echoed these three foundational truths about God:
God is the Sovereign King of the Universe who keeps his promises: LORD is the covenant- keeping name of God. The God of the Bible claims to be the supreme Ruler – the King over all kings and the God over all gods. Throughout the Bible, each story, each prophesy, each timeline and teaching help to further illustrate this point: The same God who spoke everything into existence, is not only alive and well, but He is reigning supreme over His creation and, He alone, is worthy to receive worship because He alone is the sovereign King and he alone always keeps his promises.
God is One: Throughout the Bible God clearly introduces Himself in the singular. The God of the Bible is not like the mythological pagan gods who continually vie for power and exercise control over certain parts of the earth. The God of the Bible is one in essence, purpose and nature.
God is Personal: The Creator, King, Ruler and Sovereign of the universe is “our” God. He is not some detached cosmic force from Star Wars. The God of the Bible is a personal God who refers to His people as His bride and his children! He is our Rescuer, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Friend, our Judge and our God!
God is Trinity: “Trinity.” The word never appears in the Bible, yet it is, perhaps the most foundational belief that distinguishes all of “Christianity” from any other religion, cult or belief system. Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites and Pentecostals all agree that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each are fully and equally God. The word “trinity” literally means “tri-unity” or “the unified three” and was first used by the church Father Tertulian in the second century A.D. as a kind of “shorthand” when referring to God’s unique relationship with Himself.
God the Father – God our Dad: There isn’t (and never really has been) any debate surrounding the existence or deity of God the Father. Even a casual, uninformed briefreading of nearly any portion of the Bible will quickly reveal the existence of God the Father.5 As Christians, we have a unique relationship with God. The Creator of the Universe has adopted us and He is our Dad! (Romans 8:14-17). God is not some “Old Man in the sky.” He is our Dad! He loves, cares for, enjoys spending time with, is available to, and sometimes disciplines us – Because He loves us – because we’re His kids!6
God the Son – God Our Savior: Jesus is repeatedly referred to, and refers to Himself, as God.7 Because of these claims, Jesus was ultimately brutally murdered – But God (the two most hope-filled words in the Bible) raised Jesus to life, clearly authenticating His claims once and for all. Despite the Bible’s clarity regarding the deity of Jesus, cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and world religions like Judaism and Islam have routinely rejected Jesus as God. The Deity of Jesus is not just a minor point. If Jesus is not God than He has no authority to forgive sins. If He cannot forgive sin, than we are still dead in our sins and have no hope for eternal life. Jesus is not just a good example to follow – He is God. All who do not worship Him as God do not know God and are still under the wrath of God.
Jesus is not only God, but He also became a human like us, lived the perfect life we could never live, died the horrific death we should have died and paid the price we could never pay.8 He exchanged His perfection for our imperfection, His beauty for our ugliness, His glory for our shame and His righteousness for our sin – so that, through Jesus we could become sons of God and co- heirs with Jesus.9 Jesus is not some trivial side note in the margin of history; He is the very centerpiece. He alone has conquered sin and death, and He alone has rescued us from the just punishment of God and has brought us into community with God. Jesus – the second member of the Trinity – is our Great God and Savior.
God the Holy Spirit – God Our Helper: The Holy Spirit is also called God throughout the Bible. He is Creator.10 He is eternal.11 He is all- powerful.12 He is all-knowing.13 He is everywhere all the time.14
And, the Holy Spirit is just called “God” straight up.15 It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit isn’t just a “force” or “God’s energy;” He is a person who can be resisted, insulted and grieved.16
Throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit does many things. But, perhaps the best word to sum up all he does is “Counselor.”17 Jesus tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment – thus pointing people to Jesus.18 Christians have been “sealed” (like an envelope) by the Holy Spirit.19 He empowers us to resist sin, do good things and understand truth.20 When we are unable to even find the words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us.21He is far more than a mystical “Force.” He is God our Counselor and Helper.
This is a more than a little confusing. Know that any attempt to illustrate God will inevitably fall far short. But, one illustration that may help us understand the relational aspect of the Trinity is the family – dad, mom and kids. Though not one in essence, each member of the family is equally human and equally valuable. The kids are not “lesser people” than their parents, just like the dad is not “better” than the mom. In a family everyone, though equal, has different roles and there is only unity when everyone functions within their given role – this is called “deference.” Within the Trinity there is deference (which is a great vocab word). The Fathers sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit and the Spirit sends us back to the Son who takes us to the Father. God is One, in Community and this is the Trinity.
Don’t be worried if you don’t completely understand everything about the Trinity just yet. After a lifetime of study, one of the great theologians in all of Church history, Augustine of Hippo, allegedly said this about the Trinity: “If you deny the Trinity you lose your soul, if you try to explain the Trinity you shall lose your mind.”22 It is important to remember that God is God and we aren’t. If we could totally explain and understand all of who God is, He would cease to be God, for He would be no greater than we are. Mystery, as frustrating as it can be, serves as a needed reminder of how small we are, and huge God truly is.
1 Genesis 1:26-27
2 Genesis 1:1
3 Colossians 1:16-17
4 Deuteronomy 6:4
5 John 6:27; 17:3; 1 Cor.8:6; 2Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3
6 Heb. 12:5-11; Matt. 7:9-11
7 Matt. 28:9; John 1:1-4; 5:17-18; Isa. 6:9-11; Acts 20:28; Rom. 1:3-4; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:8; Rev. 1-8; 22:13-16; Matt. 26:63-65; John 5:17-23; 19:7
8 Phil. 2:6-11; Rev. 5:9-10
9 Rom. 8:17
10 Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30
1111 Heb. 9:14
12 Mic. 3:8; Acts 1:8
15Acts 5:3-4; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 3:16-18
16Eph. 4:30; Acts 7:51; Heb. 10:29
20Gal. 5:16-26; John 16:13
22Butler, Amy. "Losing Our Minds." Faith on the Couch. May 22, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2018. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/talkwiththepreacher/2016/05/22/losing-our-minds/.