'God is love.' How does that make you feel?.. Those words communicate liveliness, loveliness and real warmth. How about this next statement. How do this make you feel? 'God is a Trinity...' Maybe not quite the same effect. Maybe we think of stodginess, cold libraries and large theological textbooks. However, what I want us to see this morning is the Trinity is as far from being stodgy, cold and irrelevant. Rather God is love because God is a Trinity. God's loving nature comes from the fact that God is a Trinity.
So let's think about the Trinity then. Trinity simply means 'triunity' or 'three-in-oneness. You won't find the word in the bible. But there's a difference between the word being absent and the concept being absent. Trinity is simply the word Christians use to show the fact that the one God has shown himself to be three persons in the bible.' The 39 Articles says this about the Trinity: 'There is only one living and true God, who is eternal and without body, indivisible and invulnerable….
Within the unity of the Godhead there are three persons who are of one substance, power and eternity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' And Trinity is a doctrine that all orthodox Christians share. It's not just a 39 Articles thing. And to make that point, I've been really helped out this week by a book called Systematic Theology, written by a Baptist called Wayne Grudem. You will recognise some of his points in my sermon if you've read it! Before we dive in it's worth saying this: the Trinity is clearly taught in the Bible. But God's being is far greater than we can ever fully comprehend. There is mystery. And that should humble us as we seek to know him better.
I want to make three points about what God is like this morning. Firstly, There is one God; secondly, God is three persons; and thirdly, Each person is fully God. So point one:
1. There Is One God.
I've put all the the quotations on one sheet – they're gonna come thick and fast! Deuteronomy 6:4 says
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Isaiah 45.5-6 says:
I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
1 Timothy 1.17 says:
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It's really straightforward: there is one God. But it's got massive consequences. Today in Gateshead, people tend to believe in one God or none. But in ancient times people believed in many different gods. The more gods you worshipped the better – you covered all the bases. It's a bit like the episode of the Simpsons where Homer is about to die and he says 'Jesus! Allah! Buddha! I love you all! And so for Israel to worship one God was a bit…odd. The God of Israel was unique. He is one! And this isn't just some kind of mathematical fact. It has massive practical consequences. There is one God, and therefore he deserves people's worship. All people's worship. And this compels mission. The church is called 'make disciples of all nations.' And so the church is made up of many different types of people worshipping one God.
And that is the picture in Revelation 7:9 where John is given a heavenly vision of a diverse crowd worshipping the one God:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
There is one God for many people. Diverse people are united in the worship of one God. It is a picture of unity and diversity in the church.
And so we should expect to see unity and diversity in HTG too. Even as we look around it's great to see people from so many different places in the world. But as we grow, God willing, we should expect to become more diverse: more internationals, more local people from the community, more retired people. So we need to be a church that feels safe to different people. A church that communicates it's o.k. to be different. Whether you come to church in a tweed jacket or your favourite Adidas tracky top. But how do we do it? We've got to accommodate people. It might mean not always assuming people are confident readers in bible study. It might mean holding loosely to the amount of emotional openness we consider normal in home groups. Or holding loosely to our favourite style of songs or hymns we sing on a Sunday - for the sake of involving and reaching out to people from different backgrounds.
God is one. So there is a basis for unity in the church. But wonderfully there is also a basis for the church's diversity too, because God is three persons. And that's my next point:
2. God Is Three Persons.
And that means that the Father , Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. So the Father is not the Son. The Son is is not the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. And we see these distinctions in the Bible. The Old Testament attributes plurality to God. So in Genesis 1:1-2 we read:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
In Genesis 1:26, God says:
Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.
But in the New Testament we see the three persons with even more clarity as the Bible writers record the entry of the Son and the Spirit into the world.
In Mark 1:9-11 we see all three persons of the Trinity in action:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
John also opens his Gospel showing the distinct persons of the Father and Son:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
We're told the Word – Jesus, the Son, was with God in the beginning. They are distinct persons. And John also tells us that the Son was the Father's means for creating the world. Creation is an act all persons of the Trinity were involved in. And In John Chapter 14:16, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth.
Note that the Spirit is another counsellor, he is distinct from Jesus. Before we think what this means it's worth saying what the Trinity is not. Some people have suggested that God is one person, it's just that he put on different faces at different times in the Bible. This is called modalism. This would be like a theological version of Mrs Doubtfire where Robin Williams dresses up as elderly Scottish nanny in the day. And then plays Dad to his kids in the evening. God does not play persons. That is not the Trinity. Neither is the Trinity three Gods. This is tritheism. This is what Mormons believe. But Jesus doesn't say "in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit." He says in "the name of." The Trinity is three in one!
O.K. God is three persons. That's nice. But so what? Because God is Trinity, God is in essence relational. In John 16:14, Jesus describes the Spirit as living to "glorify" him. In 17:2 we see Jesus pray that he would glorify the father:
Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
And in 17:5 we hear Jesus pray that the Father would glorify the Son:
And now,Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
We see that this has been going on for all eternity! That is the Trinity have been glorifying or delighting in each other for all eternity. Not a selfish love, but a self giving love. Each of the persons of the Trinity centres upon the others. Each person glorifies and loves the others. This is why we can say God is love. Love only exists if there is a person to love. And the Trinity has been in relationship for all eternity. The Trinity have been delighting in each other from eternity.
This is really important. Sometimes people suggest God created the world and us because he was lonely. But the Trinity tells us the opposite. God didn't need to make us. He is in no way dependent on us.
He is utterly complete in himself. There is no other god like him in this regard. Marduk, the ancient Babylonian god, made the world so the gods could have slaves. It's a pretty plain speaking creation myth! Or think of Allah.
One of Allah's names is 'the Loving.' But how could Allah be loving before he created the world? And if Allah needs the world to be loving then he is dependent. So then why did the Trinitarian God of the bible make us? God wants to share his love with us. Look with me at John 20:24. Jesus prays this:
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
The Father loved the Son before the start of the world. And the Father sends him into the world so that the love of the Father for the Son may be shared, it may be in us! And Jesus' response to the father is our model.
Just as Jesus loves the father, we are called to delight in the love of the father. We have been created that we might know the father's love.
The American sitcom Friends officially finished in 2004. If you missed it, it's on permanent repeat on the Comedy Channel. If you didn't see it, it's essentially about a group of six friends living in New York. It was incredibly popular because the relationships were though flawed deeply attractive. It was a community that people kind of thought – it would be fun being friends with them. But there is better community…
In the Trinity we see a perfect set of relationships. We see perfect love. Eternal love. Self-giving love. And through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are invited in to join the fellowship of the Trinity. That we might know God. That we might know the Father's love ourselves. And if you haven't accepted God's invitation, please don't put Jesus off. You will find no better relationship.
This week I was flicking around on the Radio, and there was a documentary on 'How to find happiness.' While I was listening the presenters interviewed a woman who had won the lottery and they asked her if it made her happy. She said it was nice, but relationships were more important in giving her happiness. And she's onto something isn't she? Knowing friends and family is important. But knowing the Trinitarian God is the greatest. God is the happiest person that ever existed. There is no sin in the Trinity. Just perfect love. And we've been invited into this relationship. The best relationship in all of eternity.
O.K, so having a Trinitarian God means we can know God. And so knowing each other reflects what our God is like too. Relationship, community, friendship and connection is what God intends. Isolation and loneliness is not what God intends. Part of the way we express those convictions as a church is by encouraging community in home groups, women's fellowship and HTG Youth. It's in those groups we can know God better, and know and love each other. Yes, getting to know each other can be awkward at times – especially if you're English. But God calls us to know each other, and to love eachother just as the Trinity know and love eachother. So if you're not part of a group, can I encourage you to join one. If you're in one, can I encourage you to stick at knowing and loving the other members. Because when we do that we're ever so faintly reflecting our God.
3. Each Person Is Fully God.
As well as being fully distinct, the Bible shows us that each person is fully God. The 39 Articles say the three persons are of 'one substance', that is they all share the same 'Godness.' So God the father is fully God. We see the Father in Genesis 1:1 creating the heavens and the earth.
And again where Jesus prays to his heavenly Father in John. God the Son is fully God. John 1 tells us that Jesus the
Word was God.
In John 20:28, Thomas confesses Jesus as God. John simply writes:
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!'
The Spirit is fully God. Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 shows that the Spirit is classified on an equal level to the Father and the Son. In Acts 5.3-4, Peter asks Ananias:
How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.
According to Peter, to lie to the Spirit is to lie to God.
It's really important for us to see that each person is fully God. I came across a quote in my prep that said:
'Between Trinity and Hell, there lies no other choice.' The point is clear. If you deny the trinity then you lose your relationship with God. The wheels come off our salvation. For example, how could the Father send the Son if he was only a creature? How can the Spirit sanctify us if he is only a creature?
Let me explain a bit more by focussing on Jesus.
If Jesus is merely a created being, and not fully God, then it is hard to see how, he a creature could bear the full wrath of God for all of our sins. Only a perfect sacrifice could deal with our sins. No creature could deal with it. And the denial of Christ's divinity is what we find in the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses. When I was a student, Ian Garrett was the student minister at my old church - JPC. He told the story of when he was at home one day and a Jehovah's Witness came the door. Ian said he didn't want to hear what the man had to say. The man said, 'Won't you even look into it?' Ian said, 'No, because all you can do is rob me of my assurance that I'm accepted by God.' And the man said, 'What do you mean?' And Ian said (something like), 'Well, I know you're about to tell me that Jesus was not really God. a) That contradicts the Bible so much that you need your own mistranslation of it. But b) more importantly, if Jesus was not God then his death on the cross did nothing to put me right with God, and I'd be left like you, desperately trying to earn my salvation. Like I said, all you can do is rob me.' The story sticks with me because it makes the point. If we deny the Trinity we lose our salvation.
Lastly, each person of the Trinity is fully God but they differ in the ways they relate to each other and creation. Or to put it another way, they are 'equal in being, but subordinate in role.' So in John 3.16 we learn that,
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Son says in John 6.38 that,
I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Jesus lovingly obeyed the Father and achieved our redemption by dying. Once risen the Father and the Son send the Spirit. So we see the Father's authority over the Son, the Son's obedience. And the Spirit's obedience to the Son and the Father. Despite being fully God, the Trinity submit to each other.
This is massively practical for us. We are all called to submit and serve in various ways. And we find it hard at times. But the Trinity shows us that submission and service in no way demeans us.
It's the way God relates, and it's the way God wants us to relate. By submitting and serving each other we reflect our God. If God can submit then we can submit! It might mean when you're asked by your boss to do some incredibly dull task, we do it without complaining. On the flip side, Husbands, it might mean when you get in after a long day and feel crabby, trying extra hard to be gentle with your wife, because we're meant to reflect the Father's perfect headship over the son. Or similarly it might mean for parents taking the 'Father like' initiative in reading the bible and praying with your kids before bedtime.
God is a Trinity? How does that make you feel? It shouldn't leave us feeling stodgy and cold. Rather it should remind us that God is love. And he has invited you into the fellowship of the Trinity through his son. You will never receive a better invitation. Let's respond by delighting in the Trinity.