“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Every year we have this Sabbath we call “Trinity Sabbath,” and the church calendar says that pastors are encouraged to preach on the Trinity on this Sabbath. I asked several pastors what they do on “Trinity Sabbath.” They replied that they mostly ignored it because the concept of the Trinity is so complicated that they do not feel comfortable preaching on it. And I have often done the same—ignored it, but today I thought that I would have a go at it. As they say, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” What is the Trinity?
The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible, but it is a word used to describe what the Bible says about God. The Bible speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Also, the Bible says that there is only one God. Thus, the church developed a word to describe what the Bible says. "Tri" means three, and "Unity" means one. Tri+Unity = Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity acknowledges that the Bible reveals to us that God is three "persons" who have the same essence of deity.
Some have tried to give illustrations of the Trinity. Saint Patrick, when he was in the process of bringing the gospel to Ireland, used a shamrock. A shamrock has three leaves on one stem. Another illustration is H2O. H2O can be water, ice and steam (all different forms of the same molecule; all H2O). Another illustration is an egg, which has a shell, yolk, and white and is still just an egg. If you find these illustrations helpful, then that is well and good, but no illustration actually describes the Trinity.
God the Son is fully and completely God. God the Father is fully and completely God. God the Holy Spirit is fully and completely God. God is not divided. We cannot speak of one person of the Trinity acting one way, and another person acting another way. When one person of the Trinity acts, God acts. Thus it is correct to say, as the Bible says, that Christ created the world, and the Holy Spirit created the world, and God created the world. But having said that, the three persons of the Trinity are not to be muddled together. Christ is not the Holy Spirit; the Father is not Christ. Yet there is only one God. And if you think you understood what I just said, you are ahead of me.
In our world, with our limited human experience, it is difficult to understand the Trinity. But from the beginning of the Bible, we see God as a plurality in unity. Genesis 1:26 reads, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness." Notice the plural pronouns "us" and "our."
But also God is spoken of in the Bible as one. Deuteronomy 6:4 is sometimes called the first creed: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”
But in the New Testament, we have verses that describe God as Trinity. Matthew 3: “Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (16-17). Here we have Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descending, and the voice of the Father speaking.
Again, in John 14, Jesus says, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (16-17)
Jesus prays that the Father will send the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. In the same chapter we read in v23: “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” In the previous verses, in vs16-17, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer. In v23, he speaks of Father and Son dwelling in the believer.
Thus, you can see why, the church concluded, as it studied these same verses, and others, that God can only be described as a Trinity. This conclusion was not reached in a closet. It was not arrived at by a cluster of academics pouring over ancient texts in the secluded halls of a university. It was fought out in local churches, with great emotion and sometimes great bitterness.
The debates became so complicated and muddled that it is difficult to figure out what the opposing parties were saying. But in the early 300’s, Arius was one who taught that Christ was subordinate to the Father, and thus not an equal person in the Trinity, though apparently Arius still taught that Christ was God in some sense. His major opponent was Athanasius who taught what we now call the orthodox version of the Trinity. Incidentally, in one of those twists of history, I have read that Arius had a charming personality, and Athanasius was an arrogant jerk. But in this case, the jerk was right. The crisis came to a head in A.D. 325 at the council of Nicea where the church condemned Arius and affirmed a triune God.
The Nicene Creed we use in church today is a modification of the creed that the church affirmed in 325. Even so, you can see that it is very Trinitarian: “I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.” That is the Trinity. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Answer to Q6).
This is the God we worship. This is the triune God of the Christians. This is not the God of Islam. Well meaning people say something like this: “Christians and Moslems ought to get along because they worship the same God. Allah is the same as the God of the Christians.” That is nonsense. That kind of statement does a disservice to both Christianity and Islam.
Islam originated in the teachings of Muhammad (who died in A.D. 632). By then Christianity had been working at this God thing for 600 years and had concluded that the only possible biblical description of God was a Trinity. Muhammad specifically denounced the Trinity.
Muhammad wrote the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. At least that is what the Moslems say. They cannot prove that Muhammad wrote it, but that is what they say, so let that go.
The Qur'an consists of 114 suras, or chapters. The chapters are not arranged in chronological order. The longest chapters are first, the shortest last, presumably to aid in memorizing. . The longest chapters at the beginning of the Qu’ran represent Muhammad's revelations from his final years, and the shortest chapters at the end represent his first teachings. Each sura is generally known by a name derived from a key word in the text of that chapter.
Muhammad had some scrambled notions about the Triune God of the Christians, and he denied that God. In Sura 5:73-75, we read:
[5.73] Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve.
[5.74] Will they not then turn to Allah and ask His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[5.75] The Messiah, son of Marium is but an apostle; apostles before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food. See how we make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away.
Now the verses are a bit confused. The Qu’ran does not really understand what Christians are saying about the Trinity, but you can see clearly in sura 5 that the Qu’ran is saying that Allah is not a Trinity and that Jesus, the son of Mary, was “but an apostle,” that is only a human being.
Also in the same sura, v77 reads, “Say: O followers of the Book! be not unduly immoderate in your religion, and do not follow the low desires of people who went astray before and led many astray and went astray from the right path.” Who are the “followers of the Book”? Again, this is A.D. 600. By this time, Christians are well known for their book, the New Testament. The Qu’ran speaks of them leading “many astray.”
Skipping down to sura 9 and verse 30 we read, “And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them.” This is a curse upon those who believe that the messiah is “the son of Allah.”
Just to prove to point, let me quote one more sura. Sura 112 is considered to be one of the most important chapters in the Qu’ran. It reads: “Say: He, Allah, is One. Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”
Allah “begets not.” Allah did not have a Son.
Now I am quoting these verses from the Qu’ran not to say that we ought to imitate our Christian ancestors in the Middle Ages and go out hack down Moslems with swords and axes. That was a thousand years ago. Surely, we have learned something about Christian love in the last thousand years. Christ taught us to be good and loving people to our neighbors, even if our neighbors are unbelievers. When it comes to getting along with Moslems, Christians have no problem with that. We are called of God to get along with everyone.
But claiming that Allah is the same God as our triune God is obviously not true, and no relationship can be built upon untruth. As a part of loving others, Christians are commanded to tell others about the triune God who saves us from our sins. This is sometimes called “witnessing,” but a better name would be “loving.” The most loving thing you can do for another person is to tell them about Jesus.
But understand that the Trinity is not an optional part of the gospel. If Jesus were only a human being, like other human beings, then he had his own sins, and could not offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross. The whole point of the gospel is that Christ was God. He proved he was God by his many miracles and ultimately by his resurrection on Easter. Therefore, as God, as the second person of the Trinity, Christ could offer the perfect sacrifice for our sins, a sacrifice that was acceptable to God. And through that sacrifice we become acceptable to God.
That is why in I Cor. 15:17 we read “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” In other words, if Jesus Christ was not God, then your faith is useless, and you are going to die and go to hell. But Corinthians goes on to emphasize that Christ was raised from the dead, proving that Christ was God, and therefore believers in Christ can be assured that their sins are forgiven and they are reconciled to God.
This is the most important thing in the world for people to know. That is why Jesus says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). ,This is addressed to you and me. It is a commandment: “Go.” Do not sit in church twiddling your thumbs. “Go” and do what? Make disciples. Tell people about the Triune God who freely offers salvation to all who believe in the crucified one.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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