Article of Faith #1 – “The Triune God”

Article of Faith #1 – The Triune God
Date: Sunday, June 6, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell

Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday is a day in the Christian calendar which is set aside for us to reflect upon the Nature of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I have recently considered preaching a series on the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene, and since the First Article of Faith is entitled “The Triune God,” I thought Trinity Sunday would be an excellent day to begin our journey.  For the next several weeks, we will take up a different Article of Faith, explain it, explore the related scripture texts, and attempt to understand how each doctrine impacts our lives.

It is vitally important that we, as a Community of Faith, know what it is that we believe, why we believe that way, and the difference that those beliefs make in our every day life.  My messages this summer will have a slightly different approach, as we will be guided, not by a single passage of Scripture, but by the doctrines of the Church, and the many scriptures which support them.  We will take each doctrine, explore it, analyze it, find the scriptural supports for it, and see how our belief in the doctrine shapes our life.  I hope that each of us will be challenged by this study, as we deepen our understanding of God’s Word in these matters of faith and belief, so that we can explain them to those who would ask. 

It is important, from time to time, to take a systematic trek through our beliefs—examining our beliefs, seeing why we believe them, and learning how to explain them to others.  If we do not know what we believe, we can easily be tossed about by every wind or wave—instead of being firmly grounded in God’s Word.

On the one hand, it would be easy to simply state: “We believe the Bible.”  On the other hand, we recognize that some folks read the Bible simply as another piece of literature, while others encounter the Living God through its pages.  There are many who “believe the Bible” and yet arrive at different conclusions about the nature of God and His redemptive plan.  We are familiar with great cult leaders who have been able to convince others to commit heinous crimes in the name of “believing the Bible.”

And so, while it is true that we “believe the Bible,” it is important to recognize that we interpret God’s Word within the bounds of the Community of Faith.  We recognize that our reason and experience go far in helping us to understand God’s Word.  We also believe that Church Teaching throughout the ages helps us to understand God’s Word the same way that the writers and original hearers also understood it.

While the Church of the Nazarene has only been in existence for about 100 years, its beliefs stand squarely within the realm of Church Teaching and Christian  Tradition as taught through the last 2000 years.  To remind us of our earliest roots, it is often helpful for us to affirm together one of the oldest Summaries of Christianity—the Apostle’s Creed.  While it was not actually written by the Apostles, it was gradually put together, by the common consent of the Christian  Churches in the First and Second Century, and was used during the conversion and reception of new members.  It reached its present form at about the close of the second century.  It is one of the most ancient summaries of the Christian  Faith , helping us to understand what the early church believed and taught about Jesus .  Incidentally, the Apostle’s Creed predates the Canon of Holy Scripture, which did not come together until the end of the 4th Century.  The Creed is important to us, for it ensures that our interpretation of Holy Scripture never sways far from the earliest teachings of the Church.

I invite you to join me as we affirm our faith together by reciting this ancient summary of the Christian  Faith , which you can find in your bulletin.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

 And in Jesus Christ , His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hades;
The third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

 I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy Church universal,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.  Amen.

Woven in the very structure of the Apostle’s Creed is the doctrine of the Trinity.  Each paragraph introduces one member of the Godhead, and illustrates some of the ways in which that person of the Godhead has revealed Himself to us.

The reality of the Doctrine of the Trinity is that while most of us are familiar with it, few of us could say that we really understand it.  We know that we don’t believe in 3 different Gods, and we know that we don’t believe in 1 God who just puts on different costumes or personalities.  All three persons of the Triune Godhead coexist in eternal relationship with each other.  And yet, while they are distinct persons, they are unified as one God.

Many analogies and pictures have been created in order to attempt to describe the Trinity, and yet most have some inherent weakness which causes them to fall short of their goal.  No matter how we attempt to diagram, explain, or describe the Holy Trinity, we are using mere human constructs and finite limitations which cannot possibly do justice to the Nature of an infinite God. However, despite our human limitations, our task today is to embark upon a journey of discovery and explanation of the ways in which God has revealed Himself to the world.

The Church of the Nazarene states the following:  “We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, Sovereign of the universe; that He only is God, creative and administrative, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose; that He, as God, is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Let’s take a moment and unpack that statement, defining our terms, and making sure that we’re on the same page as to its meaning. 

We believe in One God.  He is not one god among many, but one God.  The ancient Hebrews were set apart from all the other peoples of the world because they alone held to a monotheistic belief in one God.  In the 10 Commandments they were told to worship no other gods, and God gave them one of the earliest Creedal Statements in this affirmation of faith found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

 Deut. 6:4  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD  your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your  strength.  

We believe in one God, who is eternally existent, meaning that He existed before time began and will exist after time concludes.  He is infinite, meaning that He has no beginning or end, and cannot be contained.  He is fully Sovereign—omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere present). 

By very nature, God is creative—not destructive, and administrative—not disorderly or chaotic.  He created the world and gave it life, and that life has an order, structure, and direction to it.  God is pure and perfect—both in His characteristics and His intent and plans.  Finally, He is Triune – three-in-one.  While there are three distinct persons—they are also a unity.  He has revealed this Tri-unity to us as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

You will never find the word “trinity” within the pages of Scripture, in fact the Latin word “trinitas” did not exist until it was coined by the Church Father Tertullian near the end of the second century.  And yet, while there was no word to describe the Nature of God, it is clear from the Bible that God consistently revealed Himself to Creation in a Triune manner.  Jesus Himself refers to all three persons of the Godhead in the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew 28:19–

Matthew 28:19  Therefore  go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father  and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey  everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very  end of the age.”     

Not only does Jesus speak of all three persons of the Trinity, but Scripture continually reveals all three persons to us.  We believe that God is eternally existent, from before the beginning of time to after the end of time.  We believe Him to be the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, without beginning or end.  Indeed, the first words of the Bible tell us that God existed.  Genesis 1 speaks of God and the Spirit of God, and John 1 speaks of the Word of God – Jesus , eternally existent with God in the beginning.  These passages remind us that God was always the Divine Trinity, eternally existing before the creation of the world.  I invite you to hear these passages of Scripture from Genesis 1 and John 1:

 Genesis  1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the  surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  

John 1:1  In  the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He  was with God in the beginning.     

14The  Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the  glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We see from these verses that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all present at the very creation of the world.  Each had a role to play in Creation.  One other place where we see all three persons of the Trinity is at the baptism of Jesus , recorded in Matthew 3:16-17:

 Matthew 3:16  As  soon as   Jesus  was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened,  and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And  a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am  well pleased.”  

I’d like to point out that in each of these instances, all three members of the Trinity were present.  There have been some throughout Church History who have attempted to teach that the three persons are simply different roles or personalities played by one God.  Instead of three distinct persons, these folks attempted to teach that God changed his costume, becoming manifest as a different person.  However, Scripture is clear that all three are present at the same time, not simply different manifestations of the same person.

Let’s be clear on that point.  Belief in the Trinity means that we believe that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead.  God the Father IS NOT God the Son IS NOT God the Holy Spirit.  While all three persons are God, they are fully distinct from one another.  We must not emphasize the unity of the Godhead to the exclusion of its diversity.  In other words, while we affirm that there is only one God, we recognize that there are three distinct persons within the Godhead.

On the other hand we don’t want to emphasize the diversity of the Godhead to the exclusion of its unity.  We don’t believe in three separate Gods.  We were reminded of our earliest monotheistic beliefs as stated in Deuteronomy.  Further, Jesus claims unity with the Father in John 10:30 where He states “I and the Father are One.”  Jesus reveals a bit more of the unified nature of God in the Gospel according to John chapter 14, beginning in verse 15:

John   14:15“If  you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the  Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17the  Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor  knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I  will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long,  the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you  also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my  Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

As you can see from your bulletin, there are many more scriptures listed that lead us to believe in the Nature of God as outlined by this Article of Faith.  Obviously, we don’t have the time to look at each scripture this morning, but I would encourage you to study these scriptures this week, to learn more about the attributes of God, His sovereignty, His holiness, and His Triune nature.

I hope that I have at least made a reasonable case for our understanding of the Nature of God.  The reality is that it is difficult for us to define God, instead being able only to describe Him, as He has revealed Himself to us—through the Bible and through the Person and Work of Jesus.

However, it does seem clear to us that God is eternally existing, sovereign, holy, creative, infinite, and orderly.  Scripture also reveals Him to us as “God in three persons”—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We recognize that we must avoid the heresies of modalism on the one hand—that God the Father puts on a different costume when He wants to be Jesus or the Holy Spirit; and tritheism on the other hand—that there are three separate distinct gods.  Each extreme is outside the teaching of the Bible and of the church.  While we may not understand the mystery of the Trinity—three-in-one—distinct yet unified—we affirm it as the way in which God has revealed Himself to us.

So, I’m sure by now that some of you are sitting here thinking that this is all well and good, and that you believe in a Triune God, even if you don’t understand it.  Some of you have a solid grasp on the concept of the Trinity, and some of you hope that there won’t be a quiz on the Trinity when you get to Heaven.  Frankly, some of you are sitting there wondering what difference it makes.

Here’s the good stuff…here’s why it matters.  There is one quality of God that we have not discussed yet, even though it is one of the most basic descriptions of God that we learn while we are young.  Before we learn that God is omnipotent or omnipresent or omniscient, we are taught that “God is love.”  Indeed, that is one of the simplest descriptions of God’s nature—“God is Love.”

“What does ‘God is Love’ have to do with the Trinity?” you ask. 

Think about this…if God was eternally existent before the beginning of time, and at the same time “God is Love,” then we might have a slight contradiction.  How could God be “love” if there was no object for Him to love?  You can’t love emptiness or nothingness.  You can’t love unless you are in relationship…you can’t be in relationship unless there is another person.  If God were not Triune, He could not be eternal love—for there would be no relationship in which that love could exist.

Do you see how God being Triune shows us that God is Love?  You see, inherent in God’s nature is relationship.  He exists in relationship, because He is Triune.  He is Love…because He is Triune.  He didn’t have to create humanity in order to be fulfilled…He is perfect in His Triune state of loving relationship.  God…eternally existing in three persons…God is love…God is relationship…God is.

In the March edition of Holiness Today, you would have found articles on each of the Articles of Faith.  Roderick  Leupp wrote these words in regard to the Trinity:

 (Roderick T. Leupp)  The heart of   Jesus Christ  is to do His Father’s will in the constant embrace of the Spirit’s  anointing. The Triune God is, as someone has so well expressed it, “no  solitary God.” He is rather a Community-in-Love, where each of the three  Persons pours His life out for the other two and receives His life back from  Them. Our best human analogy, any family that constantly practices  other-regarding love, is only a flickering wick next to the Trinity’s  brilliance.  

God is “no solitary God,” but is a “Community-in-Love.”  Each person of the Trinity pours out himself in love for the other.  God is Love because God is Triune…God is in relationship always—three distinct persons, one God.

When we understand that God—by His very nature—is loving relationship, we understand that we too are to be always in loving relationship.  Indeed, we learn from Genesis 1:26-27 that we were created in the Image of God.  The attributes of God that have been revealed to us are attributes that we also find in ourselves—not because we have designed God after ourselves, but because we were designed in His Image, in His Likeness.  We possess, in some fashion, copies or models of His Divine attributes. 

 Genesis  1:26  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let  them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the  livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the  ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,   in the image of God he created him;   male and female he created them.

Therefore, since God is Triune…and since God is Love…then we too are to be characterized by relationship and love for the other.  His Divine Love is to be stamped upon our hearts, so that we are always living for the other…pouring our lives out into them.  Only then are we being who He has made us to be…people in loving relationships with God and with others.  Christianity is not to be lived in isolation or solitude.  In fact, we cannot even call ourselves Christian unless we are in relationship with God.  The Relational Attributes of God, as revealed in His Triune nature are to permeate every aspect of our Christian experience.  We are to be in right relationship with God and with fellow man.  We are to love one another, even as Christ has loved us.  Only when we are in right relationship with God may we begin to experience a taste of Heaven, where (as John Wesley wrote) “…there will be a deep, an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in him!”

May we come to know Him more, that we may become more like Him—His Image ever renewed in our lives.  Amen.

Benediction:  I invite you to receive this very Trinitarian Benediction written by the Apostle Paul to the believers in Corinth , recorded in 2 Corinthians 13:14:

2  Corinthians 13:14May  the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of  the Holy Spirit be with you all.