I know the Trinity isn’t the most common Christmas theme for preachers to speak on, but, perhaps it should be. Afterall, Christmas is our celebration of the birth of Christ – God incarnate – and the miracle by which God came and lived among us.
There are a couple points that we want to introduce as we begin this lesson:
- “Personhood” is a relational term that brings together one’s identity, will, and activity
- “Being” is a non-relational term that brings together the sum-total of all that someone is
- “Spirit” is a substantive term that describes the non-corporal nature of non-material beings
- Explain the meaning of the Trinity
- Understand the impact of what it means that God took on flesh
- Experience eternal life by knowing God as the One to whom we can relate through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
- When was the last time you worshiped God according to his nature?
- When was the last time you knew God according to his nature?
- When was the last time you were overwhelmed by the beauty of his holiness?
These three questions are key questions that I believe are necessary to experiencing the truth of the Trinity. So, file these questions away in the back of your mind and then we will return to them at the end of this lesson in our lesson conclusion.
Before we can understand the Trinity, we must know what divine being we are describing. The concept of the Trinity describes one divine being: Yahweh.
Yahweh is the holy name by which God reveals himself to Moses in the beginning:
Genesis 2:7 (WEB) — 7 Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
He is One divine being:
Deuteronomy 6:4 (CSB) — 4 “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Mark 12:28–29 (CSB) — 28 One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
He is a spiritual being:
John 4:23–24 (CSB) — 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
John 1:18 (CSB) — 18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed (GK – “ἐξηγήσατο”; NASB – “explained”) him.
Jesus explains God by telling us that God is a spiritual being, and there must be some correspondence between God and those who worship him. This will be central to how we understand the Trinity when we look closer at the incarnation, but for right now, we learn from Jesus that because God’s nature is that of a spiritual being, those who worship him must have a spiritual nature so that they can enter into the presence of God and truly worship him.
Time would fail me if I began to innumerate the divine attributes of Yahweh:
- He is infinite and transcends space
- He is eternal and timeless
- He is the causeless origin of all things
- He is existence, reality, and being
- He is life
Yahweh is the life that fills all living things, sustains our existence, shapes our reality, and gives us our being. He dwells both within and outside of time. He is without cause, and therefore is “the first” and “the last” – “the beginning” and “the end”.
Yahweh-God is the One true mysterious divine being who exists in three persons:
God the Father God the Son God the Holy Spirit
GOD THE FATHER
The nature of Yahweh as God the Father is very rare in the Old Testament, though it is very clearly known, being used only about 15 times. This dramatically changes when God the Son comes in the New Testament, from which point on God the Father becomes the primary means by which we know God in heaven! Jesus refers to God as “Father” over 65 times in the three synoptic gospel, and over 100 times in the gospel of John.
I hope this gives you some glimpse of the nature and purpose of Christ’s Sonship that we will explore later.
The nature God the Father describes Yahweh’s relationship to us as our Creator and Life-Giver, as our Sustainer who shapes our identity and gives us our being, and as the One to whom we owe our gratitude, honor, and respect.
God the Father is the one who gives us life and shapes us:
Isaiah 64:8 (WEB) — 8 But now, Yahweh, you are our Father. We are the clay and you our potter. We all are the work of your hand.
God the Father is our Creator and the One by whom we are all one family:
Malachi 2:10 (CSB) — 10 Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?
Ephesians 3:14–15 (CSB) — 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
One particular note regarding Yahweh’s nature as God the Father that we should pay attention to is that all created beings receive their identity from him:
- God is why I should love my neighbor
- God is why love is necessary to healthy life
- God is why all the moral attributes that we understand as “good” are necessary to healthy life
- God is why murder is wrong
- God is why hate is evil and cannot bring about life or happiness
God created humanity as one human family because God is One. Therefore, our rebellion against God has fractured and divided humanity against itself, turning us against one another because we have forsaken the identity that we received from God our Father.
When Jesus explains God to us, he chooses God’s Fatherhood as the primary means by which we may know and relate to God. And in Luke’s gospel, Jesus gives three parables that explore God as the Father of all people: of the lost, of the outcasts, and the broken.
The parable of the lost son:
Luke 15:11–24 (CSB) — 11 He also said: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate…
This story tells of a son who took everything that belonged to him from his father, becomes estranged from his father, and went to a foreign land where he squandered his inheritance on worthless living. This lost son naturally fell into desperation and became worse off than even those unclean animals that he was tending.
The heartache and tragedy of a child turning their back on their parents, leaving them behind, and setting out into self-ruin is immediately apparent to everyone who has children.
However, the good news comes when the son’s hard heart is finally broken by the consequences of his rebellion and he humbles himself in repentance, recognizing the folly of what he has done, and returns home to his father.
The son’s expectations match the severity of what he has done: at best he could hope to be treated like one of his father’s servants.
The father’s good nature becomes evident when he sees his son, still a long way off, and runs with the speed of compassion to throw his arms around his neck, hug him, and kisses him with the joy and happiness that a father experiences when one of his lost beloved children is returned to him. Here I picture those parents who get their children back after they have been kidnapped. The celebration that ensues is so intense that it might even provoke jealousy in those children who behaved and stayed with their father.
Jesus uses this story to explain how God the Father relates to the lost children of this world: he desires their repentance, that they would leave behind the folly of their ways that has plunged them into darkness, and return to him, where they can experience his love, joy, and happiness.
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Nicene Creed introduces us to the nature of the Holy Spirit:
“We believe … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father, who with Father and Son is worshiped together and glorified together, who spoke through the prophets.”
The term “spirit” might confuse us at first: when Scripture speaks about “spirit”, the main words it uses are “ruach” (OT) and “pneuma” (NT); these words can also mean “breath” and “wind”. Scripture uses the term “spirit” to describe created spirits (i.e. both angels and demons), to describe the spiritual aspect of human beings, and to describe the divine nature of God himself.
Therefore, scripture names the divine Spirit, “Holy”, for two reasons: first, “holy” means “to be separate, distinct, and set apart.” The divine Spirit is holy because he is set apart from all finite, created spirits, and preeminent in all of his spiritual attributes (he is not like them, though they come from him); second, he is called the Holy Spirit because his main work is to sanctify us and make us holy in the ethical sense. Therefore, holiness is his distinctive work. He gives us new life, he gives us divine illumination, and he gives us resurrection-power, all of which is given towards holiness.
The first time we see the Holy Spirit depicted in Scripture is during creation:
Genesis 1:2 (CSB) — 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
The Holy Spirit is the intimate animator of all life.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit should not be thought of as being an impersonal force of God. He is personal, and he is described as possessing identity, purpose, will, and even as suffering sorrow. He is intimately involved in sustaining all life, and in giving life to our relationship with Yahweh.
The Holy Spirit is our divine Counselor:
John 14:16–17 (CSB) — 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.
Romans 8:26–27 (CSB) — 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
By him we receive, learn, and are transformed by the truth that sets our souls free from our spiritual bondage to sin and death. The world doesn’t receive him because they only know things by their sight, and we cannot see “spirit” things by sight. But we receive him because we know his presence since we have been made spiritually alive by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
And receiving the Holy Spirit, he helps us when we are insufficient for spiritual things. So often we reach out to God, but are unable to reach him, and it is the Holy Spirit who picks us up and spiritually lifts us to our Father.
Jesus was careful to show us our need for “truth”, which features strongly in the Christian gospel of salvation since we believe that “deception” cannot cause salvation. Therefore, the Holy Spirit ministers all spiritual truth so that we can know God:
John 16:13–14 (CSB) — 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
One of the chief ministries of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ by bringing his word to us.
In this sense, the Christian conception of “truth” is different than the world, which views truth as an impersonal and abstract principle whenever it acknowledges that there is such a thing as truth. Yet, in the Christian sense, truth is a spiritual principle by which “glory” can be experienced.
Consider how Christians worship God:
- We ascribe what we believe to be “true” about God to him, and in this way we glorify God
- We personally experience this glory with “joy” when we worship God in Spirit and in truth
In a very real sense, therefore, we might conclude that for many people, worship “feels dead” because they are either not worshiping in the Spirit of God or in the Spirit of Truth.
Finally, the God the Spirit establishes the reality of our relationship with God the Father:
Romans 8:15–17 (CSB) — 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” 16 The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, 17 and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
In Jesus’ parable of the lost son, one might understand that the Holy Spirit enables the son to experience the father’s love; he is the One in whom the reality of love is experienced between us and our heavenly Father.
Romans 5:5 (CSB) — 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
The personal Spirit of God is the reality of God-With-Us (Immanuel).
Assuming that there is a God, it therefore follows that “true reality” (i.e. what is really “real”) exists at its core beyond what is physically seen, since we know by scientific deduction that the physical realm can be rolled back to a point in time when it no longer existed.
The physically-unseen nature of reality is what those who cannot know anything beyond what they can see simply cannot understand.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the one who establishes the reality of God and all that God is and wills in absolute truth to his children.
GOD THE SON
God the Son is the entirely unexpected and remarkable gift of Yahweh’s love to the world.
God the Son is the fullness of Yahweh bodily incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ! This one divine spiritual being, who is infinite and transcends space; who is eternal and timeless, the causeless origin of all things; who is existence, reality, and being; and who is “life” itself condescended to take on the form of a crying infant, to live among sinners, and to die at their hands!
What a marvelous being is Yahweh!
Colossians 1:15–20 (CSB) — 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 2:9–10 (CSB) — 9 For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
The One who is the life that fills all living things, sustains our existence, shapes our reality, and gives us our being; who dwells both within and outside of time; who is without cause, and therefore is “the first” and “the last” – “the beginning” and “the end” – he took on flesh and became Jesus, who now dwells in us!
The invisible God is first made known in the person of Jesus Christ, which is why we need him so much.
Athanasius, who was a fourth-century theologian, proclaimed:
Christ became what we are, that we might become what he is. This is the “marvelous exchange.” He enters our life that we might enter his. Behold God the Son, who has become our brother.
Therefore, the incarnation of Christ – who was born in the flesh as a crying infant – is described in holy meekness:
Philippians 2:5–11 (CSB) — 5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Indeed, Jesus became like us so that we might become like him:
1 John 3:2 (CSB) — 2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is.
Yahweh was compelled by no personal need or deficiency to save us. God could have let us continue in the dark in perpetuity, leaving us to our own devices, never to know the glory and joy of our Creator. Or he could have brought condemnation on us as wayward sinners who had stubbornly rebelled against God and went our own way, becoming so estranged from our father that his memory is now completely lost from the human race.
Yahweh took on flesh because he did not consider the privilege of his Godhood as something to be exploited for himself, but being moved exclusively by the overwhelming goodness and love of his nature, God took on flesh and was born Jesus of Nazareth; the poor, cold, screaming infant of Mary and Joseph according to the promise that God made to David long ago.
We might ask, “why did God take on flesh?”
We call the one who was in Mary’s womb “Savior”. He is “God with us”, come to make atonement for our sins. How does he do it? He becomes “at one” with us, taking all that is ours upon himself. And he does this in order to take to himself even that dreaded enemy of sin at the cross. Nothing can stop God’s providential decree to bring us to himself and make us his royal priesthood.
Behold, Immanuel, “God with us”:
Hebrews 4:15 (CSB) — 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
2 Corinthians 8:9 (CSB) — 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (CSB) — 21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 Peter 2:4–5, 9, 21-22 (CSB) — 4 As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God—5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 21 For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth…
Jesus Christ is God taking upon himself our nature so that he can sympathize with our weaknesses.
Jesus Christ is God taking upon himself our sins so that in this glorious exchange we might take upon us his righteousness!
Jesus Christ is God taking upon himself our sufferings so that we might take upon us the joy of his marvelous praises!
Too often the Trinity is viewed as an academic construct by which we can put God in some kind of a Christian box instead of being understood for what it is, as being the means by which we relate to Yahweh-God!
You will recall that I have lamented how often we lose sight of God in the controversy of academic study and apologetic defense. Before we ever attempt to serve God, we must first learn to delight in worshiping him.
So, I return to ask the question we began with:
- When was the last time you talked to God according to who he is?
- When was the last time the beauty of his holiness overwhelmed you?
- When was the last time you worshiped God for who he is?
We worship the One:
Isaiah 43:10–11 (CSB) — 10 “You are my witnesses”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. No god was formed before me, and there will be none after me. 11 I—I am the Lord. Besides me, there is no Savior.
Titus 2:13 (CSB) — 13 while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
John 14:9 (CSB) — 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time and you do not know me, Philip? The one who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Philippians 3:3 (CSB) — 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh—
The idea of “personhood” is inherently a relational term.
When we speak of the three persons of the Trinity, we are speaking about the personal means by which we know God.
Do you know Yahweh?
John 17:3 (CSB) — 3 This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.
Therefore, God has so revealed himself that you can only know Yahweh by your relationship to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.