Our Triune God
August 19, 2018
We have been looking at for some time now the opening greeting or salutation of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And it is so much more than just a simple hello. There is so much to be said of Paul - who he was back then, who he is right now, and how he was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. There is so much to be said of the saints of God who were set apart for repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. There is so much to be said of the grace that we do not deserve. There is so much to be said of the peace that we cannot lose.
I had originally planned to preach about God our Father this morning and the Lord Jesus Christ the following week. But my sermon research compelled me not to do this right away. I should not talk about what God has done unless I first talk about who God is. I cannot talk about the economic Trinity and God’s activity and work of creation and redemption unless I first talk about the ontological Trinity and God’s being and existence before creation and redemption. I cannot talk about God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit unless I first talk about God the Trinity.
There is but one only, living, and true God. God is infinite in being and perfection. God is a Spirit who is invisible and without a body. God is unchangeable, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free. God works all things according to the counsel of his own unchangeable and righteous will, and he does so for his own glory. God is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth. There is but one only, living, and true God.
But in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons. Three persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father is of none - he is neither begotten nor proceeding. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. And the Holy Spirit is eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
God is one and God is three. And here at Highland, we worship the Triune God. That’s spelled T-R-I-U-N-E. Triune. God is of three persons. God is of one substance. God is both three and one. We do not worship three separate gods who are named the father, the son, and the holy spirit. That would be idolatry (#tri-theism). We do not worship one god who takes on three different modes or aspects. That would be idolatry (#modalism). We do not rank the three persons of the Trinity by degrees of authority or deity. That would be idolatry (#subordinationism). We do not speak in any of these ways. The standard language to use is this. In the unity of the Trinity there are three persons. The three persons of the Triune God are of one substance and power and eternity. The Trinity is both three and one. God is Triune.
The threeness of God does not mean that God is divided in any way. Each person does not make up one-third of the Trinity. The Father is all 100% God, the Son is all 100% God, and the Holy Spirit is all 100% God. God is not a composite of three elements. God is not made up of parts. Whatever each person is singly, the whole Trinity is together. There is a divine simplicity to him. Each person does not have his own will. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have one will. There is a divine simplicity to him.
Words really matter here. So here are a few things to remember. It’s best to describe the three persons of our Triune God as “distinct,” not “different.” And it’s seems better to talk about “order” and “operations” with regard to the three persons of our Triune God instead of “roles” and “relationships,” which can suggest separateness or individuality within God. The order is simply this: the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
The three persons of our Triune God are distinguished by the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And these words don’t come first from the realm of salvation or even creation. These words come first from the realm of God himself. Let me put it to you this way. The Father is not the Father because he sends the Son (though that is true in salvation). The Father is the Father because he is unbegotten (which was true of God before the beginning). The Son is not the Son because he submits to the Father’s will (though that is true in salvation). The Son is the Son because of his begottenness (which was true of God before the beginning). The Spirit is not the Spirit because the Father and the Son sent him. The Spirit is the Spirit because of procession (which was true of God before the beginning). These are not first words of the economic Trinity and God’s activity and work of creation and redemption. These are first words of the ontological Trinity and God’s being and existence before creation and redemption. These are not first salvation words about what God does. These are first eternal words of who God is.
All of this is mind-blowing. The doctrine of the Trinity is not illogical. It is a-logical. When we think about the doctrine of the Trinity, we reach the limits of our human mind and human language. No illustration or analogy or logic can picture or capture or explain the Trinity. We were created by God. We are not God. The best we can do to grasp the truth about our Triune God is to do what one church father said a long time ago: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One” (fourth-century Cappadocian church father Gregory of Nazianzus). We have a tendency to stop at or only hold one or the other. But just remember, our God is not tri. And our God is not une. Our God is Triune. This is true. And this is a mystery to us. But it is so amazing that even though we cannot fully grasp this truth about our God, our God tells it to us anyway. Even though we cannot fully understand God, we can truly know God. And we can truly know God because God tells us who he is in his written word the Bible.
This leads us to awe and worship. There is nothing like our Triune God. The truth about God is not merely an intellectual puzzle to be solved. God is to be adored. He is majestic. He is beyond our imagination and logic and finiteness. Praise be to our Triune God.
But this also leads us to be careful. The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational and historical. As one theologian put it, “The entire Christian belief system, all of special revelation, stands or falls with the confession of God’s Trinity. It is the core of the Christian faith, the root of all its dogmas, the basic content of the new covenant.” The doctrine of the Trinity is fcoundational. And it is historical. Through centuries of time, the church took great care and effort to articulate its position on the Trinity and protect itself from false doctrine. So much is at stake, and so much can be forgotten, if we are not careful with the doctrine of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely relevant to us for one gigantic reason. Our salvation is Trinitarian. The work and the glory and the power of our salvation is absolutely Trinitarian, through and through. It is our Triune God who conceived of the plan of redemption. It is our Triune God who accomplished it in history. It is our Triune God who applies salvation in our personal lives. It is our Triune God who loves us today. And we will worship the Triune God in the new heavens and the new earth. Our salvation is Trinitarian. And our Christian life is Trinitarian. When we worship God, we come before God the Father, in the name of God the Son, by the power of God the Spirit. We have a God who is above us, before us, and within us. And tell me if these words sound familiar: we are blessed by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, now and forevermore (2 Corinthians 13:14). Our salvation and our Christian life is Trinitarian, through and through.
God the Father loved us, and because he loved us, he gave us and sent us his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God the Son became incarnate and he lived and died and rose again for our sake. God the Spirit was given to us by God the Son and God the Father to dwell in us and be our Helper. God the Father has adopted us and welcomed us into his family. God the Son feeds and encourages us through the sacrament of the bread and the cup. God the Spirit renews us and sanctifies us through the preaching and teaching of the written word. We have been reconciled to God the Father. We have a place being prepared for us by God the Son. We have the Bible because of the Holy Spirit. And the list goes on and on. Our salvation and our Christian life is Trinitarian, through and through.
And our salvation was contemplated in eternity. Before the covenant of grace and before the covenant of works, there was a first covenant made in eternity, before space and time. A covenant made in the Triune God, between the three persons of the Trinity. A covenant of redemption. It is a covenant unlike any other that we see in Scripture. Because while the covenant of grace was made between God and us, while the covenant of works was made between God and Adam, and while human beings have made plenty of covenants with each other, the covenant of redemption was made within the Triune God. And it was made between persons who were equal in ontological power and glory. Our salvation was contemplated in eternity. The covenant of redemption was an agreement between the Father and Son and Spirit. The Father promised to redeem an elect people. The Son promised to earn the salvation of his people by becoming incarnate and acting as a surety and mediator of the covenant of grace for the elect. The Spirit promised to apply the Son’s salvation to us. As one theologian put it: The Father wills to send the Son; the Son wills to be sent; the Father and Son will to give the Spirit; and the Spirit wills to be given. Our salvation was set before the creation of the heavens and the earth. Your life was set before Genesis 1:1 happened. In one sense, before the beginning, you were not there. But in another sense, before the beginning, you were there. Your salvation was contemplated in eternity. For Ephesians 1:4 tells us that the Father chose us in the Son before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Our salvation was contemplated in eternity. And our salvation was contemplated in eternity for the glory of our Triune God, to the praise of his glorious grace.
This is all too amazing for us. We are greatly humbled. Why does God love us? The reason or answer is nowhere to be found outside of the Triune God himself. The reason or answer is only to be found in him alone. All three persons of the one Triune God loved us with one infinite and mind-blowing love that we will never fully understand. We will see Christ face to face. But after trillions and trillions of years in the new heavens and the earth, we will never get over this. Nobody told our Triune God to do this for us. God is independent of all things. Nothing influences him or moves him. And there was no weird duty or obligation dynamic going on between the Father, Son and Spirit. But from eternity, God the Trinity contemplated us and our salvation out of his own good pleasure. And we cannot lose our salvation. If it is infinitely true that God makes no mistakes in creation and redemption, then how much more infinitely true must it be that God makes no mistakes in and of himself, before creation and redemption, when there was only the Father, the Son and the Spirit? This is all too amazing for us. As one theologian put it: “In the clear light of eternity, where God alone dwells, the economy of salvation is drawn up for us with pure outlines and not darkened by the assistance of any human hand. It is a creation of the triune One from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.”
Praise be to our God. Praise be to our Triune God. Praise be to God the Father. Praise be to God the Son. Praise be to God the Spirit. Praise be to our God.