Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One author calls the doctrine of the Trinity The Most Important Doctrine You NEVER Think About. Well, I think that is an overstatement for at least some of us, so I have changed it a little for the title of this sermon to The Most Important Doctrine You RARELY Think About.
Let me explain why. That it is a most important doctrine can be seen from the front of our hymnbooks where you will find three creeds, or statements of belief. They are the Athanasian Creed, which we read earlier in the service, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. They are what we call the ECUMENICAL CREEDS; they are the three creeds that the worldwide Christian church has embraced since the early centuries of the NT church. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Reformed; ALL Christian denominations accept these three creeds as faithful summaries of what the Bible teaches. And the most striking and obvious thing about all three creeds is the Trinity; the AC and the NC, for example, divide up into three sections – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the NC and the AthC came into existence because of debates in the wider church about the Trinity. And the AthC, as we saw, is a detailed explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity. So the three creeds of the world-wide Christian church reveal the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity.
But the doctrine of the Trinity is also very important because it speaks powerfully to practical Christian living. And I want you to know that this will be one of the main points of the sermon today. We do need to understand the doctrine of the Trinity correctly, but we also want to see why this matters for everyday Christian living.
So the doctrine of the Trinity is most important. But the reality is, as one author puts it, that “when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in [being able to explain the doctrine], and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life.” Does that sound true of you, perhaps? Are you one of those who thinks that the doctrine of the Trinity is for ministers/theologians, and a topic we have to endure in catechism classes or the odd sermon, but it isn’t really useful for mothers and mechanics and middle-schoolers?
Well, let’s use the remainder of our time to consider three questions then: First, WHAT DOES THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY MEAN? Second, WHERE IS THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY FOUND IN THE BIBLE? And third, WHY DOES THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY MATTER?
I. So first of all, What does the doctrine of the Trinity mean?
A. Well, look again at the WCF. The first line of Art. 1 says, “There is only one living and true God.” So if I ask you How many Gods are there? your answer will be? One. There is only one God. But as we drop down to Art. 3, we are told that “in the unity of the godhead there are three persons.” And then we see that the three persons are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So in its simplest form, the doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God who exists in three persons.
1. And of you’re like me, you are probably already scratching your head a bit and asking yourself how that can be – how can one be three and three be one? Well, two key words that help us understand the doctrine of the Trinity are ‘PERSONS’ and ‘SUBSTANCE.’ You see the word ‘substance’ in the second line of Art. 3 and we read it earlier in the AthC and it is used also in the NC. So ‘persons’ and ‘substance.’
a. ‘Persons’ is the easier to understand of the two. A person is an individual who is distinct from another individual.
(1). In this room, for example, there are about 140 persons – I am not you and you are not the person sitting next to you. We are distinct and particular persons.
(2). Well it is similar with the Trinity – The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three, distinct persons – The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, The Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. If I asked you Who died on the cross of Calvary, it would be a mistake if you replied, “the Father.” That would be to confound or confuse the persons. It was the Son who died on the cross of Calvary’s cross. And it is the Spirit who lives in the believer, not the Son or the Father. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three, distinct persons.
b. And yet, while you and I as persons are completely distinct from one another, that is not the case with the three persons of the Trinity. If they were completely distinct from one another then they would be three Gods. But there is only one God. So this is where the word ‘substance’ becomes very important. This is why we say that they are three persons of one substance. As the AthC puts it, “The Godhead [or the substance] of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal … [So even though we rightly call each of the persons God] they are not three Gods but one God.”
(1). When Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” He was not just referring to agreement or a close relationship between two persons. What He was saying was that He, the Son, and the Father, two distinct persons, were equally and uniquely the one God – Jesus and the Father are of one substance.
2. So has the head-scratching stopped? Or are there now two hands involved? It is hard work for our creaturely minds to grasp and understand the Trinity, isn’t it! One God in three persons; three persons of one substance; One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Throughout the centuries, people have tried to come up with analogies of the Trinity to try and illustrate it in a way we can understand:
a. So you may have heard before about the man who is a husband at home and the mayor of the town and an elder at church. But this analogy is quite wrong because it is one person just doing three different activities.
b. Or you may have heard the analogy of the three leaf clover – one clover leaf with three leaves. But this analogy fails because each leaf is only a part of the clover, while each of the persons of the Trinity is fully God.
c. And it is the same with the three states of H2O, water, steam, and ice, for no set quantity of water can ever exist as water, steam, or ice at the same time, while the One God exists eternally and always as F/S/HSp.
d. And I could work though a much longer list of common analogies but they all fail in one way or another, because of the mystery and uniqueness of the Trinity.
e. So this means, in the minds of some, that because the doctrine of the Trinity is hard to understand, they will not believe it. But I want you to think about this for a moment: Consider this PULPIT. It is a simple construction of wood and glue and some wood screws. But if you start to think of the atoms and the forces that hold the atoms together in this pulpit, this simple pulpit becomes quite complex. And even more complex is the biology and mastery of the laws of physics and the intellectual knowledge of the man who made this pulpit. So it should not surprise us at all that there is complexity and beautiful mystery in the Triune God who created the man who made the pulpit!! But the wonderful thing is that we can know, because He has told us in this book, that He is one God who exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This is the doctrine of the Trinity.
II. Well, we have already referred to John 10:30, where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” But WHERE ELSE IS THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY FOUND IN THE BIBLE?
A. I wonder if anyone could tell us, for example, which verse in the Bible is the go-to proof text to demonstrate that there is only one God? Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” And can anyone tell us either of the two verses in the Bible that are the go-to proof texts to demonstrate that this one God exists in three persons? They are Matthew 3:16-17, the baptism of Jesus, where you have Jesus being baptized, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove – F/S/HSp, and Matthew 28:19 where Jesus says to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” So, Deut. 6:4 and Matt. 3:16-17 & 28:19 are the simplest and most obvious Trinity proof texts.
B. But what I am eager to do today is to help us see that the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible is far more than a matter of a few proof texts here and there. What we want to see is that the Bible is actually full of the doctrine of the Trinity, and not just in the NT!
1. So turn with me again to GENESIS 1, which we read earlier (Your bulletin). For here in the very first chapter of the Bible, we already see the Neon Trinity sign flashing brightly!
a. And we begin with the work of forming the earth in six days as it is described here: (v2) The earth is without form and it is dark and wet.
(1). So first of all, God deals with the darkness by creating light (v3) and setting boundaries to the darkness (vv4-5).
(2). Second, God deals with the formlessness of the earth by separating the waters below from the waters above (vv6-8).
(3). And third, God separates the waters and forms dry land, so that it is no longer entirely wet (v9). So God does one thing; He shapes the earth. But He does this in three ways/steps. So there already is the pattern of unity and diversity.
b. But take note also of HOW God created all things. For here we find another triad.
(1). He creates by direct fiat – He simply speaks a thing into existence – v3.
(2). He works – (v4) He separates light from darkness (v7) God made the expanse and separated the waters under the expanse from the waters above the expanse.” (v27) God created man – male was formed from the dust of the earth and the female from Adam’s side.
(3). He uses the activity of created things – (vv11-12) God commands the earth to “sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed.”. (v24) Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” So God creates – He does one thing, but He does it in a threefold manner – unity and diversity.
c. So now the earth and what we call the sky is formed. But note another triadic pattern in how they are filled:
(1). Day one – God creates/forms light and dark – Day four – God fills that space with the Sun, the moon, and the stars.
(2). Day two – God creates/forms what we call the oceans and the sky – Day five – God fills the oceans and sky with fish and birds.
(3). Day three – God creates/forms the dry land – Day six – God fills the land with animals and human beings. So the 6 days of creation are two matching sets of three.
d. And none of this should surprise us because these triadic patterns are a reflection of God Himself. And the first three verses of Genesis 1 already hint at this:
(1). (v1) God / (v2) The Spirit of God / (v3) The Word of God (John 1)
(2). In addition, the Hebrew name translated as “God” in v1 is Elohim – plural.
(3). And the unity and diversity that is the Triune God comes through in v26 where we read, “And God said, ‘Let US make man in OUR image…’”
e. Now, while some might say that this is all very interesting, it is also very important as we shall see when we come to our third point.
2. But turn now to EPHESIANS 1:3-14 where we see the Trinity, both explicitly and implicitly.
a. Paul presents the Father as the source of all God’s grace (v3)
(1). Father of the LJC
(2). Every spiritual blessing in Christ – F blessing given by the Sp in the Son.
b. The first blessing of the F is election (v4)
(1). “In Him [Christ]”
(2). A blessing that comes by the Spirit (v3)
c. Another blessing of the F is adoption (v5)
(1). “through Jesus Christ.”
(2). Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
d. In Christ we have redemption through His blood (v7)
(1). Christ has made a payment to satisfy the Father and restore us to the Father.
(2). Redemption is applied to us and in us by the Holy Spirit.
e. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit (v13)
(1). At the moment of coming to faith, we are sealed with the Spirit.
(2). In Christ – beginning of verse. And this to is a blessing from the Father.
f. And v14 tells us that the HSp is the guarantor of our eternal inheritance (v14)
g. So while there is a lot more of the Trinity ion these verses, in summary, the plan of salvation is an act of the F/S/HSp together, set in place before the creation of the world. And it is a plan to secure our eternal inheritance. And F/S/HSp are working this plan out through the whole panorama of human history. Now, that is a worldview!!!
III. Well, thirdly and lastly, we want to see WHY THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY MATTERS. How does it affect practical, every-day Christian living? And I trust you can see that we have already answered that question, in part – the world-view. Meaning/purpose… 3 Specifics. Salv/Evang/Relationships
A. From Genesis and Ephesians, we have seen that God is a relational being. Because He is one God in three persons, communion or fellowship or relationship is part of His very being. So a huge part of what it means that humans were created in the image of the Triune God is that we were created to enter into communion or fellowship or relationship with God. And we learn something about communion with God from the pattern of God working for six days and then resting on the seventh. For that pattern reveals that we are to commune with God, first, as we do our work on earth, and then in the fullness and perfection of eternity! Heb. 4 – eternal rest. So for now, we may commune with this Triune God by His Word and Spirit in prayer and in worship. But one day, we may see Him and be with Him face to face!
1. But notice that I have only said that we MAY commune with Him now and in eternity. For not everyone will enjoy eternal life with the Triune God; some will spend eternity in hell, which will be an utter misery of separation and isolation from God and other people.
a. ROMANS 1:18-20 tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
b. Creation screams out to us that there is a Triune Creator with whom we ought to be living in perfect communion. But we are not; we are here and He is not; He is in heaven. And this separation between us and Him is because of sin, which we see everywhere in creation and in ourselves. A perfect God cannot commune with imperfect people. And we all know this, just from creation, which is why we are without excuse now and why we shall be without excuse on Judgment Day. You know this is true. You may not like it; you might choose to suppress it, but you know it is true. So there can be no communion between us and Him until the problem of our sin is dealt with. And we cannot deal with our sin; we just keep on sinning and adding to our guilt.
c. But “God so loved the world,” John 3:16 tells us, “that He have His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus is the solution to the problem of sin. Belief in Jesus is the way to communion with God, now and in eternity.
d. So this is why, when the APOSTLE PAUL WAS IN ATHENS, and he had an opportunity to preach to people who were not Jews so they did not have the Scriptures, he preached about the God who created the world. And he said, This God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”
e. So do you see why the doctrine of the Trinity matters? It is at the heart and soul of salvation. Judgment Day is coming. So I beg you, today, to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. For then you will experience beautiful communion with your Triune God in eternity.
B. Secondly though, in relation to Why the Trinity matters, it follows from what we have just said that the doctrine of the Trinity is vital for EVANGELISM AND CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT.
1. If you know anything at all about the ideas and philosophies that are prominent in the world around us, that are in the news and in the issues of the day and the debates going on in university departments, you should know that the two main rivals to Christianity are ISLAM and POST-MODERNISM. Islam, without getting into detail, is all about unity – one God, one language, one way of living, one culture. Post-modernism, on the other hand, is all about diversity – there is no objective truth, everyone can have their own opinion on anything, and we are all free to live as we please…
2. Well, neither Islam nor Post-modernism reflect what we know and experience to be true, which is that there is unity and diversity. Take an orchestra, for example; would you pay $70 to sit in a concert hall and listen to 50 violins play the note B for 2 hours? That would be unity. I wouldn’t! And similarly, I wouldn’t pay $70 to listen to 50 people play what ever notes they wanted on 50 different instruments for 2 hours, which would be pure diversity. But put a string section with a woodwind section and a timpani section and a brass section, with a conductor, and have them play different notes that combine as proper chords, and you have a diversity that makes a beautiful unity, that reflects a Triune God, that I would gladly pay $70 to listen to for 2 hours. And we could talk about sports and work and art in the same vein. And it is only Christianity that explains unity and diversity, because this world was created by a Triune God who is one God in three persons! Cultural engagement and evangelism.
C. Thirdly and lastly, the Trinity matters for RELATIONSHIPS.
1. Let’s first of all think about the family:
a. Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” God, singular/plural, agreeing to create man, singular, him, singular, as male and female, which is plural, He creates them, plural – unity and diversity.
(1). Not male and male or female and female – just unity, but male and female, diversity. And then, He brings them together in marriage and He says, “A man shall leave His father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” – unity! Proper relationships reflect the trinity – this is why same-sex marriage is impossible and wrong, because it cannot reflect God as He is or how He has created us to be. The doctrine of the Trinity matters!
b. And as you think about MARRIAGE and how husbands and wives are to relate to each other (and for that matter how children and parents, and employers and employees), Ephesians 5-6 explain that this has to do with the Trinity. We are to be filled with the Spirit. We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And submission to husbands, looks to the example of the Son’s submission to the Father, and loving our wives looks to the example of the Son who loved the church and gave Himself up for the church in obedience to the Father’s will and to bring glory and honour to the Father. The doctrine of the Trinity matters!
c. And one of the purposes of marriage is to be fruitful and multiply. So a husband and wife become PARENTS. Well, how do you parent? Where do we turn to look for the perfect example of a Father/Mother? Our Father in heaven. And where do children turn to look for the perfect example of children? The Lord Jesus who was an infant and a toddler and a child and a teenager. And where do we turn to learn how to live with one another as families? The Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The doct of the Trinity matters!
2. But the Trinity matters also for the CHURCH:
a. In 2 Cor. 6, God calls His people to be the church, which in one sense means to be separate from the world. He says, “Come out … [and] I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” The church is God’s family.
b. And to that church God gives ELDERS who teach. And through their teaching, God brings people to a living faith in Jesus Christ and He strengthens their faith in Jesus Christ. And so, we read the Apostle Paul speak of himself as a father of the Corinthian believers through the gospel and of them as his children. So we are to view our elders as ‘father-figures,’ whom God has given us. As parents, you know that there were times when your children think they know what is good for them, but you, as their parent, know better – what time to go to bed, for example. Importance of church membership. Church discipline (Heb. 12) Home visits. Seeking their counsel. Submitting to their admonition when we are delinquent. The doctrine of the Trinity matters!
c. But let me ask you this also, what analogy for the church does the Apostle Paul use when he speaks about the church and what it means to live with your brothers and sisters? The church is one body with many members (Rom. 12/1 Cor. 11) – unity and diversity. And so much that is sad and sinful about issues and arguments in the church is because we do not truly understand or believe this. The doctrine of the Trinity matters!
D. Conclusion – When you are troubled, you may pray to Father in heaven/when temptation is strong, you can cry out to your elder Brother, Jesus, who knows our weakness because He has been tempted in all things, and when you are weak, know that the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are children of God (Rom 8). In all your trouble/distress/loneliness/sorrow/joy/obedience call on a Triune God who is near. Amen.