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.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness He called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. 14 But John tried to deter Him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, 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. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Today is what is known in the Church as Trinity Sunday. It’s a day when our focus is on the mystery which we call the Holy Trinity – One God in three distinct persons.
The diagram printed in the bulletin this morning is called the scutum fidei, or the Shield of Faith. It dates from at least the 13th century, and it attempts to explain the mystery of the Trinity.
To be honest, I think it does a pretty good job of simplifying a rather complex doctrine.
But why do we need to study the Trinity? Is it really that important?
Yes it is. We live in a confused and confusing world, and that is why it is important for us as Christians to know what we believe, why we believe it, and most importantly, how Christian doctrine should impact our lives.
So, what do we believe about God? Who is God? When God told Moses, “I Am Who I Am,” what did that mean?
Basically it means that God is eternal. God simply is God, and there is nothing or no one like God.
But when we talk about God, what do we really believe about Him? One of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is that we believe in the Holy Trinity, but what is the Trinity?
One of the earliest Church fathers who died in 225AD named Tertullian, is credited with coining the word Trinity to describe the three persons of God.
Three persons in one God - one God in three persons: God the Father our creator, God the Son our Saviour, God the Holy Spirit, our sanctifier.
Though there are three persons in the Trinity there is one God.
This has created much confusion in the Church. And while it is true that the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible, it is consistently taught and referred to.
The opening verses of the Bible point us directly to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The confusion comes when we try to reconcile the doctrine of the Trinity with the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
We answer that by saying that the Trinity is one God, but three persons. God the Father is a person. He spoke to the Son from Heaven and He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden.
He gets angry, He loves. He shows compassion and forgiveness. He is a person who feels, thinks and acts.
God the Son is a person. He wept, He ate food, He thought, He spoke.
The Holy Spirit is a person. The Bible says that we should not grieve the Holy Spirit. Many people don’t think of the Holy Spirit as a person, thinking instead of God the Holy Spirit as a force or something like that. But the Holy Spirit is a person. You can grieve the Holy Spirit, but you can’t grieve a force like gravity.
So we believe in one God, made up of three distinct persons. And we believe it because God’s Word reveals God in that way. These three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.
Not only that, but we are in relationship with each of these persons. We come before God the Father, who created us. We call upon God the Son who delivered us from sin and death, and we have the person of the Holy Spirit, living within us, sanctifying us.
Seeing the three distinct tasks of the persons of the Trinity and the roles each performs may help us to understand, but it is wrong to separate them completely. The Holy Trinity is three persons, but remains at the same time, one person – God.
Our reading from Matthew 3 today draws very clear distinctions between the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
God the Son, Jesus, comes up out of the water. God the Holy Spirit, descends upon Him, in a way similar to a dove (He is not a dove - He merely descended like a dove), and God the Father proclaims that Jesus is His Son, whom He loves.
So here, in this passage, we have the three persons of the Trinity presented to us. There are three persons who are God. When we baptise our children, we baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Why? Because they are God, eternally united together.
But how are they united together? What joins them, and what joins us to them?
Now we’re getting to the important bit…
As we answer that question, we’ll begin to not only understand the doctrine of the Trinity better, but also how we are to live out that truth in our own lives.
1 John 4:8 says that God is love. God’s love was complete, even before creating the world. God the Father loves the Son and the Spirit, God the Son loves the Father and the Spirit, God the Spirit loves the Father and the Son.
Out of their mutual, perfect, full, rich love for one another, came the universe in which we live.
God created the universe as a means of displaying and expressing His glory and His love.
1 John also goes on to say that love comes from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Now that is very interesting. Do you love? Do you know God? If we’re not really familiar with God, if we don’t really know Him, then can we really love?
The world gets love wrong. The world has exchanged love for sex. Love is a one night stand. Love is a thing you do. Love is being close, but only for a time. Love has become a commodity, rather than a Biblical, truthful reflection of the love of God.
John 15:13 paints a very different picture of love. “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay His life down for His friends.”
The greatest love shown was in Christ, who died for us while we were still enemies with God.
But why have we suddenly jumped from trying to grapple with the doctrine of the Trinity to talking about the love of God?
The answer is simple. The always-existing Trinity has always loved, and loving one another is the pattern for us. We love in the same way that the Trinity loves.
In 1 John 4 we’re told that that no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. We love because He first loved us.
The whole point of dwelling on the love of God today is because expressing God’s love towards each other is the best way of making the reality of the Trinity come alive, rather than leaving it in the pages of a book on theology.
Do you want to understand the Trinity? Then live it. Don’t just learn it.
One of our ministers in his weekly blog puts it better than I can. He wrote, “Often the Holy Trinity is taught in confirmation class or in Sunday school, but more as a mathematical problem to be solved, rather than teaching the living reality of the Triune God that we serve, worship and love.”
The love that is displayed in the Trinity is perfectly selfless. It is perfectly giving to others. God gives love perfectly to the Son and the Spirit, the Son gives love perfectly to the Father and the Spirit, and Spirit gives love perfectly to the Son and the Father.
And this Triune God, in the most mysterious yet beautiful way, brings us into the Trinity as His Church. The Bible teaches us that we are united in Christ and with Christ.
This is what brings us into the mystery of the Trinity, and consequently, we too receive love perfectly. The question is, are we loving with the perfect love of the Father, Son and Spirit?
Love is selfless. It is completely focussed on each other, and the best way of expressing the truth of God is by loving as He loves.
We reflect God’s love, which is perfectly, freely given to the members of the Trinity, to one another.
But the most amazing thing is this: The Holy Spirit is in us, and in that, we’re taken up into the Trinity. We experience the Trinity as a reality, not as a theory, as we live out and experience God’s love.
We reflect God’s love.
In God, there is no sin, no jealousy, disrespect, lying or blaming. There is just love, so in us there should be just love.
We can show, and act out love to one another.
Jesus was perfectly humble and perfectly submissive to the will of the Father. And in His prayer for us in John 17, He prayed that we would be one, and that God would be glorified through Him and His Church.
Jesus prayed that we would be one as Christ was one with His Father.
God is glorified through us by His indwelling Spirit as we live out the reality of salvation in Jesus. It’s the Trinity, alive and well and at work in the Church and in His people.
The Holy Trinity is not some complicated theory kind of explained by an even more complicated diagram.
The Holy Trinity is in us, and we are in it.
The Trinity is the example of perfect oneness.
And as believers in the Trinity, we realise that we are to demonstrate the reality of the perfect unity of the Trinity in our living.
Now we’ve already spoken about loving as God loves us. It’s a wonderful principle, but what about the specifics?
How do we actually go about reflecting the Trinity in our lives?
Remember that within the Trinity, the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit and the Spirit is neither the Son nor the Father.
There is diversity. There is a difference of persons in the Trinity. There is also a difference in the function in the persons of the Trinity. God the Father sends the Son to redeem the world. God the Son redeems the world by His death and resurrection. God the Holy Spirit sanctifies believers.
Different functions, but all for one main purpose: The Trinity works together for our salvation.
And how does this play out in our lives? We recognise that there are differences in the Church in who we are and in what we do. We all have different spiritual gifts, but the purpose of the gifts is not just the gifts. The purpose of the gifts is that we would bear fruit.
In Galatians 5 we find a list of what is often mistakenly called the fruits of the Spirit. But that’s not what the Bible says. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit (singular!) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All of these qualities combined are the fruit of what we believe and what we live.
As we use our individual and unique spiritual gifts for God’s glory, we bring unity within the Church as we bear fruit.
In the Trinity there is perfection of unity, and in the Church there is perfection of unity.
That unity must be seen and experienced in the Church. Unity in the Church is not an optional extra. If there is no unity, then we are doing something wrong.
There is no envy or jealousy in the Trinity. The Son doesn’t despise the Father the Father’s glory. The Spirit doesn’t despise the Son His redeeming work. The Father and the Son don’t begrudge the Spirit His sanctifying power.
But as a rule, the Church doesn’t understand the essence of this teaching. Oh, we say we do. We proclaim tolerance as being a Christian attitude. There are people within Churches all over the world and in this congregation too who don’t like each other, but they think they’re doing the right thing by putting up with each other and tolerating one another.
That’s not Christian love.
The Trinity doesn’t speak about tolerance - it speaks about submission. Christ submitted to the Father’s will.
And so must we. We to have to submit to the Father’s will. When we begin to do that, we’ll begin to understand what it really means to love. And then we’ll gain a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Trinity.
Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Last Sunday we looked at how God’s Spirit totally transformed the life and witness of the early Church, and we were challenged to allow His Spirit to continue that work today.
This morning’s challenge is no different. I hope you weren’t expecting to walk out of here today as an expert on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, because if you were, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.
What I do hope and pray for though, is that you will see that through the Father, Son and Spirit you are called to live out the truth of the perfect unity of the Trinity in your life.
That has always been the task of the Church, and nothing has changed.
Learn to love.
Homegroup Study Notes
In the Reformed Christian Church, one of the absolutes and cornerstones of our faith is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, yet this doctrine is almost certainly the most confusing and least understood aspect of the Christian faith.
If you were asked by a non-Christian to describe the Holy Trinity, what would you say?
Read Genesis 1:1-5
This is the first instance we have of the Trinity in the Bible. Discuss how the different aspects of the Trinity are active in these verses.
Which other examples can you think of in the Bible where there is clear evidence of the Holy Trinity?
Unfortunately for many Christians, the Holy Trinity is a complicated doctrine and theory to be wrestled with, rather than a life-changing reality in the Church and in the lives of believers.
How do you think you may have misinterpreted the truth of the Trinity in your own life?
Read Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-26
This prayer is usually (and correctly) referred to as a plea from Jesus to the Father that the Church would united as one, but on closer inspection there is a much deeper and more profound message in this prayer.
Using Jesus’ prayer in John 17, discuss how we are brought into the mystery of the Trinity through the redeeming work of the Son, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit.