8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let’s begin with prayer:
Thank you, our heavenly Father, for this opportunity to again open your Word and study it. What an amazing book this is! How desperately we need its truth in order to understand reality, to see things the way they really are. Grant to us, Father, as we approach the doctrine of your own self-disclosure that we may, as much as possible, be able to grasp the wonder and mystery of a God like you. We ask for the guidance of the Spirit as we look at these things together. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Tonight we are covering the second of the Doctrinal Statement of this church.
“We believe there is but one true God, who eternally exists as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who exclusively share in the work of creation, maintenance of the universe, redemption and judgment.”
That is a nut shell summary of a great deal of truth in the scriptures. There is a passage in the prophecy of Isaiah where God speaks through the prophet about himself in relationship to us. You ought to commit it to memory because it is so important:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Theologians call that a revelation of the transcendence of God. He is beyond us, the “Holy Other”, as Karl Barth calls him. Now that is a bit tricky, because if God were entirely different from us it would be impossible for us to know anything about him, even if he told us. Of course we are also told that we are made in the image of God, so that there is a resemblance between God and us. In some sense, it is a low level resemblance, because as we have just read, his ways are higher and his thoughts are different from ours. This is why we must never be surprised if God does something we don’t understand. He tells us he will do that kind of thing. Therefore, the only way we would ever be able to comprehend who God is and what he is like is if he himself tells us.
This is why the revelation of God in Scripture is so important for us. We would not be able to understand what God is like and what we ourselves are like if we did not have this revelation. Many people have trouble with that. I think it is almost universal for us to imagine God as sort of an enormous man, very much like us. And we have great difficulty when we are confronted with any part of his being which acts or thinks differently than we do. We tend to think of God as a man projected into infinity. But the Scriptures tell us that this is not true.
Of two important things God has declared about himself, first of all, there is only one God. This is in opposition to all the polytheistic theories existent in the world today. The New Age movement, for instance, claims there are an infinite number of gods, and that they appear in various forms, reappear at various times, and man is related to them in a pantheistic manner. Now the New Age movement is not alone in that. Nearly all pagan religions claim there are many gods. That idea has arisen largely because of the existence of what the Bible reveals is the world of demons or angels. Angels and demons (who are fallen angels) are higher than man. Any encounter between angels and man makes men think they are encountering God. This is probably why polytheism is such a widespread idea in the world and always has been, because man is in touch at times with demonic or angelic beings, which gives rise to such ideas.
But we share with the Jews and with the Muslims the conviction that there is only one God. God reveals himself that way in many places, notably again in Isaiah 40-48. This is a great section where God declares he is but one God, there is no other. He is above and beyond all other beings that are called gods, and exists as one God. As you know, the Jews have made much of that. The central declaration of their theology is in Deuteronomy 6:4, where Moses says: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah, our Elohim, our God is but one God.” This became the central premise of Jewish faith.
Christians also believe that there is but one God. We don’t believe in three Gods. But many think when we talk about the Trinity we are really believing in three Gods. They usually put it something like this, that mathematically if you express it this way--one person plus one person plus one person--how do you come out with one? You’re talking about three, not one God. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, called the doctrine of the Trinity “incomprehensible jargon”.
But it is possible to express mathematically the nature of God as Trinity and still come out with one. How is it done? One times one times one equals one, of course. So you see it is possible to blend persons and still retain a unity. This is the Christian doctrine of God. How did we arrive at that? The Old Testament focuses upon the oneness of God, and declares it many times. If you talk with Jewish friends about the nature of God, they will stress that point.
But when you come to the New Testament, it soon becomes evident that God must exist in a somewhat different form than a single uni-modal entity. This arose largely out of the conviction to which the Apostles eventually came, that Jesus was God. They must have struggled with that. I’ve often wondered how they ever arrived at that conclusion. They where Jews, trained to think of God only as a single unity – one God. In fact they were taught that anyone who denied the unity of God was not worthy of living longer and was put to death. Yet, trained as they were to think that way, as they lived and walked and worked with Jesus, and saw and heard him, there came a gradually increasing conviction in their hearts that this was more than man.
You can trace that through the Gospels. Remember how amazed they were at some of the things he said and did, when he stilled the wind and waves with just a word of command, “Peace, be still!” Mark records they said to one another, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” That isn’t simply a magician. Actually, the storm they were encountering on the Sea of Galilee was very severe, and the account makes clear that when Jesus spoke the words of command, “Peace, be still,” there was an instant stillness. The lake immediately reverted to mirror-like surface, instead of gradually dying down as the sea does when the wind stops. This tremendously impressed the disciples. His miracles were very impressive, and I think more than anything else, his words, his claims were what convinced them he was God.
At any rate, you know how at the end of the three years they had with him, as he was up in the northern part at the foot of Mt. Hermon, at Caesarea Philippi, he asked the question, “Who do men say that I am?” They reported some of the local rumors that he was Elijah, or John the Baptist risen from the dead. Then after all the months and years of observation, hearing him and watching his spotless life, he put it to them directly, “Who do you say that I am?” You remember Peter, speaking for all of them, said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” That is a divine title in the Hebrew vocabulary, and when Peter said that he was acknowledging in the presence of the others, and evidently with their consent, that Jesus was indeed God.
Well, subsequent Christian theology had to deal with that fact. It meant that the early disciples had to somewhat change their minds about the teaching of the Bible concerning who God was, and incorporate this. And of course it was complicated even further by the fact that Jesus taught them in the upper room discourse in John 13-17 that he was going to send the Spirit from the Father and from him, and that the Spirit would perform various ministries. He would bring to their minds the things Jesus had said, fill them, and in some sense make the reality of God the Father, and the Son, to dwell in them, and they would sense and feel that God was in them. They then began to see the Spirit, which was frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, was more than just an emanation from God, a kind of force from God, but that he was another being of the Triune nature of God.
Then early on in the Christian church you find the Holy Spirit being treated as God as well. You recall in the early part of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira tried to gain a reputation for a degree of commitment to the cause of Christ, which they did not really deserve. All the people were selling their land and houses and giving the money to the disciples. Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and brought some money, giving the impression that it was the whole price of the land they sold. But Peter, led of the Spirit, realized that they had held back part of it. You remember he said to them, “Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit?” Then he further says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” So it became very apparent early in the church that the Holy Spirit was being treated as and called God, just as the Father and the Son. This is what has given rise to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Someone always points out that the word Trinity is not in the Bible. How can you believe in it when the Bible doesn’t teach it? It is true, the word Trinity is not in the Bible, but the idea is clearly there. There are other words frequently used that are not in the Bible. “Sunday school”, for instance, is not there. But no one questions we have a duty to teach our children and have a school for that purpose. Other words frequently bandied about today are not in the Scriptures, such as the term “eschatology”, or “premillennialism”, but these ideas are clearly in the Scriptures. And so it is with the doctrine of the Trinity.
Now if you search through some of the verses of the New Testament you will find the idea of the Trinity clearly in the forefront. For instance, at the baptism of Jesus, recorded in the first chapter of John’s gospel, John refers to all three members of the Trinity. We read: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God;”. Who is God in the thinking of that time? It is the Father, isn’t it? Then, after the baptism, he says, “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” From the Old Testament, that is clearly a divine title.
You will find it in the book of Proverbs 30:4, Agur son of Jakeh raises the question: “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” So even in the Old Testament, even though his name was not known, and there was mystery connected with it, nevertheless there is recognition that God has a Son. So John calls Jesus the Son of God. And then he says, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.” (John 1:32)
Perhaps the clearest statement of the Trinity is found in Matthew at the close of the Great Commission. Jesus said (28:19): “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Notice, one name but three persons; this clearly is a statement of the three-person God.
Paul closes his second letter to the Corinthians with a reference to the Trinity in a well-known and often quoted benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (II Corinthians 13:14). He places all three persons on the same level. Then again in Ephesians 2:18 we have another statement of this: “for through him (that is, Jesus) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” He sees the persons of the Godhead as working together.
There are others, but one more is sufficient to make the case. I Peter 1:20-22, speaking of Jesus: “He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth by the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren…”
So there are these many places where the doctrine of the Trinity underlies and is interwoven throughout the texts of Scripture. Someone put it well by saying; “the doctrine of the Trinity is in the Bible like the salt is in the sea.” You can taste it everywhere, but you can’t very well separate it out, because it is so grounded in the very nature of God himself. Now as you know there are places where the Son is clearly called God. John 1:1 is a noteworthy one: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Despite the arguments of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who try to take that verse apart and make it something less, that is clearly a statement of what the Greek text says. You will find it again in John 20:28. Both at the beginning and the close of John’s gospel he makes this very clear. Thomas replies to Jesus after the resurrection: “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ This from one of the disciple’s own lips. That is probably enough. I could give you other references to jot down and look them up for yourselves: I Timothy 3:16; Hebrew 1:8. Then the Spirit is treated as God in Hebrews 9:14; I Peter 3:18; I Peter 1:21.
Even when you begin to clearly see from the New Testament that there is no escaping the Triune doctrine of God, you will find it in the Old Testament as well. There are rather hidden references to God in the Old Testament. In the very beginning, in Genesis 1 we read “God said”, and the name of God given to us is Elohim. Elohim is a Hebrew plural. There are three forms in the Hebrew. There is the singular, dual (only two persons), then three or more which is expressed by the ending I AM. This is clearly that three or more persons, Elohim God. Elohim said, “Let us make man in our image.” Who is “us?” The Jews say that is a plural of majesty, of grandeur like a king or emperor who says “we do…” and he only means himself. Actually, the plural would suggest more than one being in God.
Even in the famous statement I quoted to you from Deuteronomy 6, which is the central point of faith of Jewish theology, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God”, the word “one” is interesting. There are two words in Hebrew for one. There is echad and yachad.Yachadmeans a single unit; such as I am holding up one piece of chalk. It cannot be two; it is not divisible. But echad is a plural unity, unity in diversity, and this is the one used in the statement in Deuteronomy 6. It is also used in the story of Adam and Eve when it says, “they became one flesh.” They didn’t become one person, but they became one flesh, two persons in one. It is frequently used this way in the Scriptures.
Anyone who studies the Bible at any length, soon has to come to an understanding that God exists as a three-fold being. Father, Son and Spirit. Many have tried to illustrate that. Several illustrations have been suggested, none of which I think very satisfactory. One is the idea of an egg, with the outer shell and the two inner divisions of white and yolk, and this is sometimes used to illustrate the nature of God. Maybe this is the origin of the Easter egg. It is used as an early symbol in Christian churches, and it may be that they thought of it as a representation of the Trinity. However, it is not very satisfactory, and I’ll show you why in just a moment.
Another illustration that is widely used is the three states of water. Water can be found as liquid, as a solid when frozen, and as invisible vapor when heated. Therefore it is said to be like the Trinity. It has three parts, each different from the others. That’s a little closer than the egg, but it isn’t very satisfactory, and here is the reason why.
The word “Trinity” is a shortened form of the word “tri-unity”, three-in-one. The nature of a tri-unity is remarkable. In a tri-unity, there are not just three parts, but each one of the parts contains the whole. That is the difference. An egg doesn’t do that. The shell is not the yolk or the white, and it does not include them, nor do the other parts. But in a tri-unity, each of the parts is equal to the whole. That’s hard to grasp, isn’t it? But that is what God is like. The Father is wholly God; the Son is wholly God; the Spirit is wholly God.
••••• When I was a student at Dallas Seminary, one rainy day I was browsing around the library trying to find something to read, and I stumbled across a small, dusty book way back on one of the book shelves that I had not seen before. It hadn’t been checked out much, but the title intrigued me. It was called “The Secret of The Universe”. I thought this was a strange place to be running into the secret of the universe, on the dusty back shelf of a library, but if that’s what it is I’d like to find out. I checked it out and read it, and I’ve never read a book that had more profound impact on me than that amazing book. Its author was the President of Gordon College and Seminary back in the 30’s. His name is Dr. Nathan R. Wood.
He made the statement at the beginning of the book that God’s image as a triune being is stamped everywhere in the universe. It isn’t difficult to illustrate it if you know what to look for. It’s everywhere. And then he proceeded to show that that is true. He said that for instance there are three widely accepted parts of the universe. There is time, and space, and matter. Those elements make up the universe. There is nothing else, outside of God himself. And each of those is a tri-unity. Time is made up of the three things and each includes the whole, likewise space and matter. For instance, take matter; that is, all the visible things in the universe. Anything you can see makes up matter. It always consists of three things: energy, motion and phenomena; that is the thing you finally see. If you go to the Stanford linear accelerator and ask them about this, they will say yes, it is true. Everything is energy.
Energy is invisible, but everything in the whole universe is made up of energy. But more than that, it is made up of motion, because energy is constantly in motion. Therefore, everything in the universe, the whole of matter, is also motion. But more than that, motion manifests itself in visible objects, in phenomena. Therefore, everything in the universe is made up of phenomena. You see how each of the three divisions actually includes and consists of the whole. That is a tri-unity.
Space is the same. We might imagine, for instance, that this room contains all of space. Now space is made up of three dimensions, no more. Time is said to be another dimension, but actually it’s a particular division of the universe. But space is made up of the dimensions of vertical, horizontal and breadth, and everything in this room has those three dimensions. If you have a good imagination, you can picture vertical lines that run up and down, that would fill this whole room. Can you imagine that? That means that the dimension of vertical fills up the whole of space, and space is all vertical. But you can also imagine it running horizontal and filling up the whole room, so horizontal fills all of space. Or breadth, likewise, would fill up all of space. So you have three dimensions, each consisting of the whole. That is a tri-unity.
You have some sheets on Time, and I want you to read that with me, because our author has done a wonderful job of showing how this fits. Turn to the section that says, “What is time?” Let’s read this together, and I’ll comment as we go.
“The makeup of everything is always three-fold: space, time and matter. Time also consists of three dimensions: past, present and future. This is always from the standpoint of an observer.” If you don’t have an observer, you don’t have time. He says, “We cannot experience it in any other way.” That’s true, but though we usually list it as past, present and future, the actual flow of time is the reverse. We think of the past, and now we are in the present, and we are going into the future. But he says, no. “Time comes out of the future, through the present, into the past.”
You can see how that is true. Two weeks ago, what were we all looking forward to? The super bowl. Right! It was in the future, wasn’t it? Then as we moved closer to it Sunday arrived, and it became the present and consumed everyone’s attention. Now as we sit here it has gone into the past. So you see the flow of time is from the future, into the present, and into the past. The future is the source. The future is unseen and unknown, except as it continually embodies itself and becomes visible in the present. We can only guess at the future until it becomes the present. When it becomes the present, then we know what the future was, because now we see it. The present is what we see and hear and know. We know where we now are, what we are doing, and this is the present. It is ceaselessly embodying the future. Day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment, it’s perpetually revealing what the future was, hitherto invisible to us.
Read on: “The future is logically first, but it is not chronologically. That is, it doesn’t precede it in time. For the present exists as long as time exists, and is co-existent with time. There has always been a present when there is time. Time acts through and in the present. It makes itself visible only in the present. It’s in the present that the future becomes a part of human life and so is born and lives and dies in human life. The past, in turn, comes from the present. What we are doing here tomorrow will be the past, won’t it? It does not embody the present. On the contrary, time in issuing from the present into the past becomes invisible again. We can’t see the past. We can see the present. We can’t see the future, we can’t see the past, but we know what it was because it’s then in the present. And so the past proceeds silently, endlessly, invisibly from the present.”
The fourth paragraph says, “But the present is not the source of the past which proceeds from it. It’s the future that is the source of both the present and the past. It all starts in the future. It comes to us, then proceeds through us to the past. Back of the present is the future out of which the present comes. The past issues and proceeds from the future, through the present, and becomes the past. The present therefore comes out from the invisible future and perpetually and ever newly embodies the future, in visible, audible, livable form, and returns again into invisible time as the past. The past acts invisibly. It continually influences us with regard to the present.” How do you make decisions in the present? On the basis of what you have seen in the past, don’t you. It casts light upon the present. That’s its great function. It helps us to live in the present which we know, and with reference to the future which we expect to see. (Comment from the class – good analogy is looking through your rear view mirror as you drive).
Now turn over the page. Without changing any words except the nouns and the pronouns, he says the same thing. “God consists of three persons: Father, Son and Spirit. We cannot experience him in any other way. But though we usually list him as Father, Son and Spirit, the actual experience of God is different. We first meet the Son, just as we meet the present, by means of the Spirit, and then the Father. The Father is the Son.” This is what the Bible keeps saying. Jesus said, “My Father has sent me to you.” And he returns to the Father. “The Father is unseen and unknown except as he continually embodies himself, makes himself visible in the Son. What did Jesus say in the upper room? My Father and I are one. The Son has come to reveal the Father. The Son is who we see and hear and know. He is ceaselessly embodying him, making the Father visible. Day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment, he is perpetually revealing the Father, who hitherto was invisible.
“The Father is logically first, but not chronologically. He is not older than the Son. The Son exists as long as the Father exists, and is co-existent with the Father.” That is good theology. “The Father acts in and through the Son. He makes himself visible only in the Son. It’s in the Son that the Father becomes a part of human life, and so is born and lives and dies in human life. Now the Spirit in turn comes from the Son. Just as the past comes out of the present, so the Spirit comes from the Son. He does not embody the Son, because you can’t see the Spirit any more than you can see the past. On the contrary, God in issuing from the Son into the Spirit, becomes invisible again. The Spirit proceeds silently, endlessly, invisibly from the Son. But the Son is not the source of the Spirit which proceeds from him. The Father is the source of both the Son and the Spirit. Back of the Spirit is the Father, out of which comes the Son. The Spirit issues and proceeds from the Father to the Son.” That’s again good Christian theology.
“The Son therefore comes out from the invisible Father, perpetually and ever newly makes visible the Father, in visible, audible form. ‘He that has seen me’, Jesus said, ‘has seen the Father’.” Jesus says, he is just like me. “And he returns to God again in the Spirit.” So the Spirit acts invisibly. We can’t see him but he continually influences us with regard to the Son, doesn’t he? Jesus said, “He will take the things of mine and reveal them unto you. He casts light upon the Son. That’s his great function. He helps us to live in the Son, whom we know, and with reference to the Father whom we expect to see.” Isn’t that remarkable? Now if you have ever had doubts about the Trinity, I think that would dispel them, because it’s imprinted in the universe all around us. The universe bears the footprints of God. [see Gems of Theology ]
(Comments during class “break”). As a sidelight on the publishing industry, I’ve been struck by the fact that almost every book that I’ve found influential in my Christian years of growing up, is out of print. It indicates publishers only print popular books, and the real solid stuff is very difficult to find. That’s why pastors and scholars learn to haunt used book stalls, where Christian books are kept on back shelves, because you’ll find treasures there. There’s another book, by the way, published by the same publisher as Nathan Wood’s book that was also extremely influential for me. It deals with the nature of man. It’s called “What Is Man?” by T. Austin Sparks. Great book on the nature of man. [The book What is Man? is available online on the T. Austin Sparks website here.]
I hope by now you have added to this study (because it can be rather mechanical) the fact that each member of the Trinity is a person, with personality. He reflects the same nature. The creedal statements about God always put it that God exists as one God with three persons reflecting the same substance, which means that the divine nature is one, and remains the same in all three but reflected in different ways. Just as in this paper, the past is not the present, and the present and past are not the future. They are different from one another. The three dimensions of space are not the same. Vertical is not horizontal. They are different and yet they express the same substance. They fill the same space.
This is the nature of the Trinity as well. So we are dealing not with mere mechanical divisions, but with three gracious, compassionate, powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient persons. Omni-competent, able to do anything they desire, and always they work fully together. There’s nothing the Son does without the Father. Jesus said so. “I can do nothing by myself”, he said. “I do always those things that please my Father.” “My Father works hitherto and so do I.” You will find the revelation of Jesus about the Father fits this pattern perfectly. For me, it settles the question about the reality of Christian teaching. It squares with the universe. It’s exactly what we run into on every side today.
(Question from class on authority). The Father is the source. In some sense you can’t divide authority. They are equally authoritative, but the Father is the source. There is mystery about God. We won’t ever fully grasp it with our minds because, as he says, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” As believers, we must learn to be content with some degree of mystery. We don’t like that. Our minds like to unravel all puzzles. We want to unscrew the “unscrewtable”. But it’s impossible to do that with God. He is beyond us, and though he reveals himself, all that you can know about God is in the Scriptures.
To understand the Scriptures is to understand God. And to understand God is to understand man, because we are the image of God. This is why whenever you lose God out of a culture, you also lose man. Men no longer understand themselves. They don’t know what makes them tick. This is why the atheist Communist countries, who are proud of that, and have tried to put God aside entirely, have also lost a real consciousness of who man is, and they descend to the level of thinking of him as an animal. An animal that can be manipulated, trained and taught, dispensed with, eliminated, or whatever they like for the good of the cause. Underlying all of history, it is always true that when you lose God you lose man as well. When you gain God, you gain the understanding of man. You begin to see how he functions, especially in relationship to one another. That is why all the social sciences must learn at last to understand God if they want to learn how to function as social entities.
This is why the devil works so hard to keep God out of education. He does not want the idea of God interjected into educated philosophies, because this would destroy his position, as he sees it, as the god of this age. He wants men to be ignorant, deceived, unlearned, and stumble into destructive habits, drug addictions, etc., in order that he might fulfill his nature which is one of a murderer. So you see, the heart of theology is the nature of God. And the heart of all knowledge is the nature of God. That’s why it is so important for us to grasp and understand as much as possible of the mystery of God in the Scriptures, his own self-disclosure.
There are many cults that have tried to distort the teaching about the Trinity. You may run across in your reading the name of Sabellius. He was a third century heretic who believed what has been repeated many times since, the idea that the Trinity is just a manifestation of God in three different ways. That the Father manifests himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit. That appeals to the logic of some, until they begin to examine the Scriptures. Then you have instances where all three appear at the same time. How could that be? One addresses the other. The Son prays to the Father. Would he be praying to himself? So Sabellianism, or Mosolism as it is also called, was rejected as a heresy.
In the fourth century, there arose a man named Arius, who claimed that the Father was God, and the Son and Spirit were simply emanations or manifestations from God, lower creatures created by God. This created great controversy in the church over the nature of God which was finally settled in the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., where they propounded the Nicene Creed, which you may run across in your reading. It is a clear-cut statement of the triune nature of God. Arius gave rise to all the cults and sects that we still have today that are called Unitarians, teaching there is only one God, who is one person, not three, and the other two are simply emanations from him.
There is an important statement in the Athanasian Creed. Athanasia was the great bishop of the church in North Africa who opposed Arian, and at the Council of Nicea made a dramatic challenge to the Arian doctrine. It was his position that was ultimately adopted by the church as reflecting the truth of the Scriptures. Athanasia put into the creed these words about God: “He exists in three persons, neither confounding the persons (that deals with Sadonianism); the three persons are distinct, not just manifestations of one person, nor dividing the substance.” That means there are not three gods, only one but existing as three persons. These are attempts to try to clarify this doctrine through the ages and protect it from misunderstanding. That is why the creeds have been important to us.
(Questions from class). The question deals with the nature of Jesus. That of course was a great controversy in the church in the early centuries, and there are many positions on this. I refer to the ultimate conclusions of the church, I don’t mean to imply that the church decides what doctrine is. The church decides what the Scriptures teach by studying them. It’s the Scriptures that decide about doctrine.) The ultimate conclusion of the church was that Jesus was fully God and fully man, that in his humanity he was everything we are as humans, except sinful. In his deity he was everything God is. He was fully a member of the Trinity, and therefore equal with the Father and the Spirit in every way. This is another mystery we don’t full comprehend, but is nevertheless clearly revealed in the scriptures. We have to simply believe it and operate on it, and we will find that God always honors that by bringing reality into our experience in line with that teaching.
The question is what happened on the cross when Jesus died—where did the Trinity disappear to? Well, it didn’t disappear. The only aspect of Jesus that could die was his humanity. His deity could not die. Deity cannot die. And yet, in the mystery of his person, his deity and his humanity are so blended and tied together that it was, in some sense, as though God had died. However, it is wrong to speak of the “death of God”. It was the death of Christ, who was both God and man. But God became a man in order to die.
How can the immortal die? By the way, do you remember the great hymn of Charles Wesley which says, “’tis mystery all, the immortal dies!” How can an immortal person (who cannot die) die? Well, that was in a sense the ace up God’s sleeve that the devil knew nothing about. This is what finally traps the devil. He thought if he could put Jesus to death, he would defeat God because he thought God couldn’t die, and he knew sin required a death in order to be set aside by a just God. So he thought he had him. “’tis mystery all, the immortal dies. Who can explore that strange design?”
But Wesley goes on to say that in the mystery of God, “’tis mercy all, let earth adore. Let angel minds inquire no more.” It’s a mystery we cannot fully comprehend, but it is nevertheless true, that in the wonder of the cross God gave up himself for us. The deeper you plumb that mystery, the more marvelous it appears, that God could ever solve the problem of human sin by assuming it to himself. We need to leave it rest there. The Trinity was there. Jesus said on the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” It was by his eternal spirit, we are told in Hebrews, that he offered himself unto God. So the Trinity was clearly there at the cross. The Father, the Son and the Spirit were all at work.
The question is about the Trinity’s role in prayer. Well, all I can do is try to gather up the teaching of the Scriptures in that regard. It is proper--certainly not improper--to pray to any member of the Trinity. There are prayers addressed to the Son in Scripture, and to the Spirit in the Psalms. But we are taught by the Lord specifically that for the most part prayer should be addressed to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Spirit. That’s the way the Trinity would work. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we don’t know what to pray for, as we ought. We are ignorant, and we must never forget that there are vast areas of knowledge that we know nothing about. This is what keeps us humble as man. It undercuts our pride. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with deep groanings we can’t put into words, feelings that cannot be uttered. He who knows the heart knows the mind of the Spirit and answers accordingly.
I think that’s a wonderful encouragement to us. There are times we don’t know what to say, what to pray for. Some disaster occurs, some threat bearing down upon one of our loved ones, and we don’t know how to ask or what to do about it, but if we just come to God and pour out the agony of our hearts, he translates that into prayer as God the Father answers. Then what happens as a result is the answer to that prayer. When you pray this way, and something happens, whether it looks good or bad, it is the answer to the Spirit’s prayer. That’s why the next verse says, Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That’s what makes it work together for good, because God the Father is answering the Spirit’s prayer.
Arianism taught there is only one God, the Father, and that he created the Son and the Spirit who are lesser beings than the Father. That is the teaching of Unitarianism, and the Unitarian Church, which is now uniting with the Universalist Church, and of cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., who have a Unitarian doctrine.
The question is who really is the Creator, because some texts apply creation to the Father and some to the Son. We must train ourselves to always think of all three persons of the Trinity as always working together. You find that the very first verse in the Bible says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the next verse says, “and the Spirit moved across the face of the waters.” The creation is assigned to the Son, but the members of the Trinity don’t work independently. Therefore, the Father created the world through the Son. I think it helps to think of the Father as the originator of the idea of creation. In a sense he said to the Son, “create a world”, which the Son then planned. He is the Architect of it. And the Spirit built it. So they all work together in the work of creation.
(Answering a class question) Jesus says in one place he has committed all judgment to the Son. Remember Paul in Athens, in Acts 17, says, “ For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” So judgment ultimately belongs to the Son.
(The question is about Jesus saying there were some things he did not know--as to the time of his return. He says only the Father knows). What you get in the gospels is a presentation of Jesus living as a man. His primary purpose in coming was to live and function as a man indwelt by God. The God who indwelt him (again we have the mystery of the Godhead) is himself, along with the Father and the Spirit. We don’t fully comprehend that, but Jesus is demonstrating how we can live. We are to live as a human filled with God. This is the glory of Christian truth, that we are called to be, as Peter puts it, “partakers of the divine nature”. That’s an amazing thing. We read these phrases so glibly, and quote them, but never let the radical character of them hit us fully. But we never become God, we never become gods, but we share the nature of God and he expresses himself through us. That is what we are put here on earth to learn--how to function as men and women indwelt by God.
(The question is are there other verses that speak of Christ indwelling us?) Yes, in the Upper Room Discourse, John 14:23: “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” Then of course there are numerous references that speak of “receiving” him. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (I John 5:11). These are clear indications that he comes to live within us.
(Responding to a class question). There are suggestions that there are divisions of work among the Trinity, but I think we should not press this too far. Yes, sometimes the prophet (in the Old Testament) begins to speak in the third person and then suddenly it becomes God speaking directly through him.
(Class question, does God suffer damage from what happened on the cross? ) Well, there is clear implication in many passages that God the Father suffered with his Son, felt the anguish of the cross along with him. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” There you see the act of reconciliation is attributed to the Father as well as the Son. Since all three are eternal beings , it is possible in some sense that the anguish of the cross, the terrible sense of desolation and dereliction expressed by Jesus on the cross, goes on forever in God’s heart. He is willing to bear the pain of it forever, that we might be free from it forever. That is only a suggestion, which may be wrong, but there are certain verses that imply that. I think the most reverent and careful and thorough treatment of this that I know of is John R. W. Stott’s new book called “The Cross of Christ”.
(Responding to question) The part of Jesus that was deity is always greater than his humanity. Some of his expressions were as a man. I’m always uneasy about dividing up Jesus between his manhood and Godhood, but sometimes it helps our understanding. Some things Jesus would only say in the days of his flesh.
(Class comment). Much of the work of the Trinity is attributed to each from time to time. Yes, you are right to point out that we have mystery in our own lives. How is it that we, who live twenty centuries later, died with Christ on the cross? Well, time is not a factor in that. The value of that is attributed to us as though we had actually participated in it. This is all mystery, but we must be content to live with mystery.
Now we know in part. Then shall we know even as we are known.
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