THE TRINITY IN UNITY
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 2)
We know that the only one living and true God is. It’s on account of the things God has created and His upkeep of them that we know that the one living and true God is. Our own conscience testifies to us that the living and true God is. We look at the sun, the moon, the stars and we know that the one living and true God is. We look at the blue sky, the blue sea, and the green earth and we know the one living and true God is. We see how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made and we know the one living and true God is.
The one living and true God is – all creation trumpets that in our ears. All creation flashes it before our eyes. Everything that we taste, touch, and smell testifies that the one living and true God is. And if all of that were not enough, the very Word of God, the Holy Scriptures testify that the one living and true God is.
Now then, here’s where it gets difficult. How well do you know the one living and true God? Do you know what He is like in and of Himself? Most of us are able to describe God in relation to the world. But how many of us are able to describe God as He is in relation to Himself? In other words, we‘re asking how many of us actually know what God is.
We tend to think of God in terms of what He does and how He acts. But what is God like before He created the heavens and the earth and all therein, including you and me? Well, that’s what we’re attempting to investigate in the following.
The heavens and the earth and all therein reveal that the one living and true God is. But the Scriptures reveal to us what God is like in nature and in person. Therefore, we need to search the Scriptures to find out about the nature and personhood of God.
The Nature of God
When we carefully search the Scriptures to find out about the nature of God, we discover, to quote the WCF, that “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity…” So, the nature of God is three persons of equal unity, which is to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. And each Person in the Trinity is of equal power. And each Person in the Trinity is eternal. Note, therefore, that God is three Persons in unity.
Let us focus on the unity of God for the moment. Now, it’s no secret that the heavens and the earth and all therein reflect the unity aspect of God. We can see the interconnectedness of it all as we study God’s creation. We can see that we are of the same stuff as the visible universe. We eat fruit and vegetables, and the flesh of birds, animals, and fish. We eat to replace the lost proteins and minerals out of which our bodies are formed.
God made us out of the same material He made the universe out of. But we know that there are also invisible things in God’s creation. We know instinctively and inherently that there is more to us than meets the naked eye. We know that there is a “spiritual” aspect of man. Man has a yearning, an inclination to worship God who is invisible. However, the trouble with man is that he creates a god in his own image. He does this because the General Revelation of God is insufficient for how we are to worship God.
Man, as it were, fills in the blanks when it comes to worshipping the one true and living God. However, God has given us Special Revelation of what and who He is, what and who we are, and how we are to serve and to worship Him. Jesus says in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” And Jesus says in Mark 12:29, “… ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’”
So God is Spirit, and God is one. Therefore there are not three spirits, nor are there three gods. Rather, according to Jesus, there is only one living and true God. Therefore all stick, stone, wooden, plastic, crystal, glass, brass, gold, silver, or anything made of any created material is a false god. As is any god imagined who is contrary to what the one living and true God has revealed about Himself in His Word.
So, thus far we’ve noted that God is one, and that He is Spirit. Therefore we can safely say along with Scripture that God – who is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit – is one Spirit.
The Apostle Paul says the following about God, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen” 1 Tim. 1:17. So we see then that God who is one Spirit is also eternal, immortal, invisible, and alone is wise. God is eternal in that He has no beginning or end. God is the eternal IS. He always was, is, and will be – He is eternal.
And He is immortal – He lives forever, He cannot die. He lives forever, and He cannot die because He is eternal. That’s what eternal means – it means forever. God is from eternity to eternity.
And the eternal God who is Spirit is also invisible. He needs to reveal Himself to you before you will see Him. In other words, He needs to clothe Himself in something visible before you will see Him. In Old Testament times God appeared as the Messenger or Angel of the Lord. He appeared as the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, just to name a couple. But unless God reveals Himself to us He remains out of sight because He is invisible.
Paul says that God alone is wise. What does he mean? Well, he’s at least saying that God does not just have an attribute of wisdom. Rather, God IS wisdom. Therefore all wisdom, wherever it may be found, comes from God who is alone wise. And because God alone is wise, all His counsels, all His plans, are wise. And all the out-workings of His plans in creation work according to His Divine wisdom. Therefore who is able to outsmart the living and true God? Who able to pull the wool over His eyes? No created thing, no one!
God alone is uncreated. Everything other than God has been created by God. God alone is Creator. Everything other than the Creator is a creature. Space, time, matter, have been created by God and are therefore creatures. The heavens and the earth and all therein are creatures. Angels are creatures.
What was there before in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and all therein? From all eternity there was only one living and true God – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The interconnectedness of creation reflects the interconnectedness of the Creator. Or to put it another way, the unity of the universe is a visible expression of the invisible God. Don’t stumble on this point.
The creation is not God. Rather creation is an expression of who God is, albeit a limited expression. But though God transcends His creation, He is present everywhere in His creation. The ocean fills every nook and cranny of the seabed. God fills all of creation. The LORD through His Prophet Jeremiah puts it like this, “‘Am I a God near at hand,’ says the LORD, ‘And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the LORD; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the LORD” Jeremiah 23:23&24.
We’ve seen so far that the one living and true God is indeed one, He is Spirit, eternal, immortal, invisible, alone wise, and He is also immense, i.e., filling heaven and earth. Now, Scripture has revealed to us many more attributes of God than we have space to consider. But for the moment we have seen that the nature of God stands alone, it is unique. God alone is by nature Creator. Everything else is by nature created and is therefore by nature creaturely.
The oneness or unity of creation is in the creaturely-ness of all created things. The oneness or unity of the Godhead is that He is the one only living and true God. And because He alone is Creator, He is able to reveal something of His Divine nature to, by, and through the things He has made.
As creatures made in His own image and likeness, He has given us the capacity of at least a limited understanding of His nature. To be sure, the mind boggles when trying to comprehend all revelation God has given of Himself. But, as the writer to the Hebrews says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.
How many people do you know that are interested in the attributes of God? Shouldn’t all Christians be interested in the nature of the one true and living God? Of course we should! However, when we consider the attributes and nature of God we are looking at what God is. And that’s basically what we’ve just been doing, isn’t it? We’ve been studying WHAT God is. But WHO is God?
The Personhood of God
When we say God is a Trinity in unity we are answering both the what and who is God questions. What is God? God is the Trinity in unity. Who is God? God is the Trinity in unity.
But what do we mean by saying this? And who do we mean? Well, we mean that the three Persons in the Godhead are the one living and true God. So, to answer the who question, we need to consider the three Persons in the Trinity.
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts what the Bible says thus: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity.” WCF 2:3.
Perfect unity calls for equality, yes? Think about it, can a master and a slave have perfect unity? They might have some kind of unity. But it wouldn’t necessarily be perfect unity.
We share a certain unity with birds, animals, and fish. But it’s not a perfect unity. We all are creatures, but man is a special creature. Unlike the animals, birds, and fish man alone was created in the image and likeness of the Creator. So, whatever interconnectedness or unity we have with other creatures, it is imperfect. Why is it an imperfect unity? It’s because we are not all of the same substance, power, and eternity.
Only man is a spiritual being, by which we mean, only man is a spirit-being with a body. This is because only man is made in the image of God who is Spirit and eternal. Whales and dolphins might have a mysterious aura of intelligence. The owl might be wise, the fox cunning, the serpent subtle, but only man images or reflects God’s “Spirit-ness” on a creaturely level.
But, when it comes to the living and true God, the three Persons in the Godhead have perfect unity. The perfect unity is on account of Their perfect equality of substance, power, and eternity. The Father is pure Spirit because He is God. The Son is pure Spirit because He is God. And the Spirit is pure Spirit because He is God. The substance of God, then, is pure Spirit. When we talk about pure water, we mean water that is unpolluted. We mean that the water has nothing mixed with or in it – it is water, pure water, perfect water. Well, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are Spirit, pure Spirit, perfect Spirit.
What about the power of God? Does the Father have more power than the Son or the Spirit? Or does each Person have equal power because each is equally God?
When God manifested Himself to Abraham, He said, “I am Almighty God” Genesis 17:1. In the Book of Revelation the four living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” Revelation 4:8b. Almighty means “all-powerful”, or Omnipotent. The Father is Omnipotent, the Son is equally Omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is equally Omnipotent. But to say that there are three separate Omnipotents is an absurdity of absurdities! There can only ever be one Almighty – one all-powerful. Therefore the Trinity in unity is Almighty God.
Jesus says in Matthew 28:19 that the discipled nations are to be baptised “…in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The three Persons are one in substance, power, and eternity. Therefore, the three Persons of the Godhead share one name. They share one name because God is a trinity in unity. Each Person equally shares the title “God Almighty”.
Now, when we talk about God being the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are talking about three distinct Persons in the Godhead. We are NOT talking about three separate Persons in the Godhead. We are NOT saying that the one God exists in three different forms. NOR are we saying that the Father became the Son, then became the Holy Spirit. No, what we ARE saying is that there are three distinct Persons who are the one God Almighty.
Now, we spoke a little about attributes a little earlier when we spoke about the interconnectedness or unity of things. The birds, animals, and fish share some of our attributes, don’t they? We’ve mentioned that dolphins are intelligent, foxes are cunning, owls are wise, etc. But we know that there are attributes belonging to us alone – not shared with any other creatures. Yet, those attributes that belong to us are also attributes of God – attributes that He shares with us.
God is Spirit. God, for His own glory, has created man as a spiritual being, i.e., a soul spirit with a body, which is another way of saying that we were created in order to worship Him in spirit and truth. But the point I make is that God shares some of His attributes with us.
Now, when we consider each of the three Persons in the Trinity, we can see distinctions. We are able to see that each Person has attributes belonging only to Himself. The Father has the attribute of Fatherhood. Fatherhood does not belong to the Son, but Sonship does. Sonship does not belong to the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has neither Fatherhood nor Sonship. Therefore the Spirit also has a distinctive attribute.
The WCF states it like this: “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
The Father has never been without the Son throughout all eternity. The Son has never been without the Father throughout all eternity. The Father and the Son have never been without the Holy Spirit throughout all eternity. And the Holy Spirit has never been without the Father and the Son throughout all eternity. Simply put, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are eternally God.
But, there is private or personal property that belongs to the Father. And there is private or personal property that belongs to the Son. And there is private or personal property that belongs to the Holy Spirit. The private or personal property is, again, Fatherhood, Sonship, and Holy Spirit-ness. Or, more technically, eternally begetting, eternally begotten, and eternally proceeding.
Now, it’s when you consider these personal distinctions in the Godhead that you begin to see more clearly the Personhood of the one living and true God. In other words, we become personally acquainted with God when we start to understand that He is also Triune in nature. Sure, we might understand something of the nature of God when we read in His Word that He is infinite in Being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute etc. etc. But when we discover by His Spirit through His Word that He is the Trinity in unity it all becomes very personal.
Here is God in communion, in fellowship with Himself. The Father fellowships with the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son from eternity. And the Son loves the Father from eternity. The Holy Spirit eternally shares the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father. But the personal thing is that the Trinity in unity wants to fellowship with me and have me fellowship with Him! This is incredible! Astounding! That the one living and true God would condescend to fellowship with sinners like you and me! “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1.
When you know what God is – when you know who God is – it just boggles the mind to think that God Almighty would build a rapport with a speck of dust like you or me! But that’s the very nature of God, isn’t it? God is Fellowship – He is the Trinity in perfect unity.
To a certain extent we can fellowship with birds and animals, even fish! As a boy I had a pet crow that went everywhere with me, even to school on occasion! We have a pet dog. My daughter, Nina, had a great friendship with a goldfish! We can build rapports with other creatures. But our fellowship is limited by the creature’s lack of spiritual endowment. And we can enjoy more personal fellowship with other persons. But again that fellowship can be limited by the other person’s or persons’ lack of spiritual attributes. Only God can fully satisfy man’s yearning for personal fellowship. To be sure, the relationship between a husband and his wife can come pretty close. However, only the living and true God can satisfy man’s craving for spiritual fellowship.
The atheist tries really hard to suppress the spiritual craving and explain it away. The New Ager tries to satisfy the craving with substitutes for the living and true God. So does all false religion. But when a person, by the grace of God, begins to know what God is, and also begins to understand who God is, then his soul begins to be satisfied. For then he begins to feel the warmth of God as he gazes upon the very being of God. Like a mirror in the sun he reflects the warmth of the fellowship he has with God upon those around.
Above, we’ve briefly considered something of the nature and the personhood of God. We’ve seen, albeit ever so briefly, that the true and living God is the Trinity in unity. And we’ve noted that all of His creation reflects, in some way or other, some of His attributes. Man, especially on account of his being created in the image and likeness of God, has been endowed with certain of God’s attributes on the creaturely level. Another way of saying this is that man shares certain aspects of the nature and personhood of God at the creaturely level.
Now, on account of what we’ve looked at, it should be obvious to us, that God alone is the source of all life, and existence. The sun, the moon, and all the stars, planets, asteroids, everything exists because Almighty God created and sustains it in His wisdom. Every blade of grass on earth, every piece of plankton in the sea, the birds, the bees, the trees, everything that has life in it has been made and is sustained and maintained by God, including the inert things. Therefore all of creation must render to God whatever worship, service, or obedience God requires of each creature. Or to put it another way, all of creation ought to be glorifying God each in its respective sphere.
Birds, fish, and animals glorify God by being what they are. The sun, the moon, and the stars glorify God by being what they are. But what about us? Do we glorify God by being what we are? What are we? And who are we? Well, we cannot fully and accurately know and understand what we are and who we are until and unless we begin to know and understand what God is and who God is.
In the above we’ve seen something of what and who God is. And we’ve summed it up by saying that God is the Trinity in unity.
In light of what we’ve looked at we should be able to understand what Jesus means where He says these words found in John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” And also in John 14:9, “…he who has seen Me has seen the Father…” We might put it like this: The Spirit reveals the Son who reveals the Father; for the Holy Spirit testifies of the Son who testifies of the Father. That’s the nature and personhood of the Trinity.
We need help to see Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture. That’s why Jesus sent the Helper to help us. Therefore the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And He comes to whoever the Father and the Son send Him.
But the place for us to start looking for Jesus is at the cross. For that’s the place where the only one living and true God has revealed clearly what and who He is. It’s at the cross that we see the love of the Triune God manifested most clearly.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” John 3:16-18.