Theology Thursday: God’s Nature – The Trinity (part 1)

After some time off, today we finish our mini-series within Theology Thursday on the nature of God.  So far we’ve covered God’s eternal nature, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, and His sovereignty.  Today, we’ll begin to finish by examining the Triune nature of God.

The Trinity is one of the most confusing, but yet one of the most central doctrines in all of Christian thought.  One of the reasons it can be confusing is because it brings to bear the complete uniqueness of God.  As Dr. James White points out repeatedly in his teachings on the Trinity, it is highly dangerous to build an analogy of the Trinity from the world around us because nothing in the created world can compare or illustrate fully the harmony of the Trinity.  All analogies eventually wind up making an inaccurate comparison to God and thus are dangerous because they can lead to a misunderstanding of a point of doctrine that is, ultimately, crucial to properly defining God.

 

The best way to begin with the Trinity is to understand the proper terminology and to commit to being careful as to the use and definitions of one’s terms.  We can best understand it by saying that God is One Nature, One God, and Three Persons.

ONE NATURE

“Nature” speaks to the “make up”, the “composition” of God.  A dog’s nature is of dog things, it is of an animal.  Dog’s have fur, and four legs, a keen sense of smell, and many other qualities.  Individually, those aspects don’t make a dog a dog, but combined together, we understand that thing to be a dog.  Not a human, not a tree.  Of course, we wouldn’t use such base traits even for humans, let alone God.  For example we may speak of some the biological aspects for humans, but inherently a part of nature of mankind is that he has an ability to think, learn, have emotions, make moral decisions, etc.  Those non-biological things are what make mankind a higher form of life than the animals and plants.  When understanding God’s nature, the traits that we observe to compile His nature are far beyond even those highest among humans.  We’ve already studied some of them here: His omnipotence, His sovereignty, etc.

What does this have to do with the Trinity?  To begin with it is to make the point that the Trinity is indivisible when it comes to God’s nature.  We rightly say, for example, that God is omnipresent.  We must then conclude that the Father is omnipresent, the Son is omnipresent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipresent.  This is not a partial omnipresence where the Father is in 1/3 of places, the Son in another third, and the Holy Spirit in the last third.  All three are equally omnipresent.   So then, the Trinity cannot be a God with three natures.  All three persons within the Trinity share in the same nature.

ONE GOD
Many truths are very clear in Scripture.  When it comes to the Trinity, we see very clearly that God is one, not three.  Christianity is premised on Monotheism.  For example, in Deuteronomy, God says He is one in no uncertain terms.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! {Deu 6:4 NASB}

This is the opening line to what the Jews call “The Shema”.  They would teach these verses to their children from a very young age.  Monotheism is ingrained into those who love God and are called to follow Him.

This is repeated again and again throughout Scripture.  In Malachi we find:

“Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? {Mal 2:10 NASB}

Paul affirmed it in his letter to the Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. {Eph 4:4-6 NASB}

And again in his letter to Timothy, interestingly calling Jesus “God” just as He called the Father “God” in Ephesians:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, {1Ti 2:5 NASB}

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As Alistair Begg often reminds us “the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.”  It certainly doesn’t take a genius to understand the plain teaching of Scripture.  God is one.  There is but one God!  We cannot understand the Trinity as teaching polytheism, where there are three separate Gods sharing one nature (or having independent natures).  The three persons of the trinity, having the same nature, are one God.

THREE PERSONS

It would be easy, at this junction in the progression of our thought, to fall into what is called “Modalism”.  Modalism teaches that God is indeed one nature, and there is only one God; but it goes on to say that God manifests Himself in different ways.  Namely, as the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit.  Modalists teach that these manifestations do not coexist with one another but rather are simply the form God chooses to take at a particular time.

Modalism is a heresy.

It is a heresy for the simple fact that we see the Persons of the Trinity exist along side one another and interact with one another.  In John chapter 10, we Jesus illustrate the relationship He has with His sheep by teaching about the relationship He has with the Father.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. {Jhn 10:14-15 NASB}

trinity 1If Jesus were just another “mode” of God, another “manifestation”, then Jesus would not be able to make this comparison.  If God were merely in “Jesus Mode” while saying this, it would only serve to confuse the point He was trying to teach about.  If the knowing between the sheep and the Shepherd is like the knowing between the Father and Son, then in a Modalist model, he would be saying that the Church (the sheep) is just another form of Christ, which (in the Modalist model) is just another form of the Father.  In short, the teaching would be that the church is God.

But that’s NOT what Jesus is saying.  In fact Jesus is presupposing a difference between Him and the Father, and in this instance is highlighting the intimacy and closeness He has with the Father to demonstrate the intimacy and closeness He has with the church.

Moreover, we see the three Persons of the Trinity present at creation.  In Genesis 1, we see the Spirit moving over the waters:

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. {Gen 1:2 NASB}

And in John 1 we see that Jesus was present there too:

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. {Jhn 1:2-3 NASB}

In the Modalist model, this can’t be.  In any model, we must understand that there is a distinction between the Spirt and the Son.  We find a similar circumstance in the Transfiguration:

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” {Mat 17:5 NASB}

We also see all three Persons of the Trinity clearly distinct and independent in personage from One Another at the baptism of Jesus:

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” {Mat 3:16-17 NASB}

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Together in the same place, distinct from one another, and yet of one nature and one God.

Next week, we’ll dive into understanding the divinity of each Person, discuss the Comma Johanneum, and examine some of the prevalent heresies that have come from a misunderstanding of the Trinity.

 

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