One God – Three Persons

In my post yesterday, I shared with you that there is no adequate human analogy or picture that can capture the Biblical teaching of the Trinity.  The best was to understand it, is to learn a set of easy propositions that capture the Biblical truth.  We covered the first of these proposition yesterday – “There is Only one God.” (Click here if you’d like to read yesterday’s post).  Today we want to move on to a second proposition to see what while the Bible teaches there is one God, it also refers to three different persons as God.

We must give careful attention to how we understand and articulate this aspect of the Christian faith.  The Bible does not teach that there are three different Gods.  This should already be clear from the verses in the earlier section.  But we do acknowledge that the Bible refers to three different persons as God.  Let’s look at each one of these.

A.) The Father is God

 

There is no debate about the deity of the Father.  Nevertheless, it is important to recognize a couple of passages, which directly refer to God the Father as divine.  In the Old Testament, for example, we could point to Isaiah 64:8 which says, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  In the New Testament, Ephesians 4:6 states that there is, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 says, “there is only God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” Any passage that speaks of God without specifically referring to Him as the Son or the Spirit is regarded as a reference to the Father.

B.) The Son is God

The Scripture affirms the deity of Jesus in three ways. First and most obviously, the Scripture directly affirms that Jesus is divine. John 1:1-4, says;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him, was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  (John 1:1-4)

Jesus is called the “Word” (logos) in this verse because Greek philosophers used this word to convey the idea of divine reason.  So, John choose this term to introduce Jesus as God to his readers. Notice that John says Jesus was “with God and was God.”  The phrase “with God” emphasizes that He is distinct from the Father with regards to His personality, while the phrase “was God” is a direct affirmation of His deity. There are many other direct affirmations of the deity of Jesus in the epistles.  One of the clearest is Colossians 2:9 which says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” In Romans 9:5 Paul says, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all…”  Later in Titus 2:13, he refers to Jesus as “our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”  This statement is repeated almost verbatim in 2 Peter 1:1, making it likely that this was a common confession circulating the early church.

The Old Testament also has references to the deity of Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a Child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”  Later in Isaiah 40:3 we find a passage later quoted by John the Baptist about Jesus (see Matt 3:3), “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

            In addition to the direct affirmations of the deity of Christ, the Bible also shows that He possessed several divine attributes. When we refer to the attributes of God, we are talking about those characteristics Jesus shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  John 1:1, for instance, says that Jesus is eternal. We see this attribute also referred to in John 8:58, 17:5, 24. The fact that Jesus is eternal means that He has no beginning and no end. Like the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus has always existed and He always will.

Jesus also displays the divine attribute of omniscience — He is all knowing.  A good place to see this on display is in John 1:43-51, where Nathaniel asked how Jesus knew him and he replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Later in the same Gospel, His disciples said, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”  (16:30) We must note, however, that there were some things Jesus did not know while He was here on earth. The best example of this is His statement in Matthew 24:36 concerning the second coming, “no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  This reflects the fact that Jesus did not make independent use of His divine attributes while He was here on earth.  He only knew and did the things given to Him by His Father while He was here on earth.

Closely related to His omniscience is Jesus’ omnipotence— He is all powerful. There are three primary ways the New Testament affirms the omnipotence of Jesus.  The first, is through the creation of the world.  Passages such as John 1:1-4 and Hebrews 1:2 show the active role Jesus played in the creation of the universe. But Jesus also proved His omnipotence through the miracles He performed.  Not only did Jesus show His power over the forces of nature by calming the storm and healing the sick but he also proved His power over supernatural forces by casting out demons. The greatest display of His omnipotence, however, came when He raised Himself from the grave.  The Apostle Paul specifically cites this fact when he says Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…” (Romans 1:4)

            For me the greatest evidence for the deity of Christ is that He performed the works only God could do.  Let me show you two examples of what I mean. The first is in Mark 2:1-12, where Jesus healed a paralyzed man brought to him by four of his friends.  According to the Bible, this man had to be lowered down through the roof because the crowd was so large they couldn’t get near Jesus any other way.  The image of these four friends digging a hole in their neighbor’s roof in a desperate attempt to get their friend to Jesus is compelling enough.  But what happens next reveals an even greater truth.

In verse 5, Jesus looks at the paralyzed man and says, “Son your sins are forgiven.”  Wait a minute!  Stop right there!  That statement is not what anyone expected Jesus to say.  If Gallup would have polled the people in that room, 10 out 10 people would have said they expected Jesus to say something along the line of “Son, you are healed!” or “Rise and walk.”  But not one of them expected Him to announce the forgiveness of the man’s sins.  Most in the room had already heard that Jesus could heal people.  That was a common expectation of the kind of thing the Messiah would do when He arrived.  But only God could forgive sin!

Everyone in the room knew the implications of this statement. By claiming to be able to forgive sin, Jesus was claiming a prerogative that belonged exclusively to God. This was a serious overstepping of the bounds. As great as the expectations were for the coming messiah, no one believed He would be able to forgive sin.  So, when Jesus made this claim, the immediate response was to charge Him with blasphemy in their hearts. (v.7)

In that day, the charge of blasphemy was no laughing matter.  Blasphemy refers to any “irreverent, profane, impious speech about God.” (Brooks 1991, 59) Leviticus 24:16 prescribes the death penalty for those found guilty of this heinous act, but the proof had to be incontrovertible.  In the case, of Jesus in Mark 2, there were more than enough witnesses to prove what He said, so from a legal standpoint this is an open and shut case.  To see just how serious this moment was, consider the fact that the charge of blasphemy is eventually what condemned Jesus to death. (see Mark 14:61-64) The gravity of the situation makes what happens next even more grand.

Knowing what was in their hearts Jesus asked the crowd, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk?’” (v.9) Everyone in the room knew the answer. There is no tangible way to prove that sins have been forgiven. Or so they thought. What happened next shocked everyone.  Jesus said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”

The scribes now found themselves in a dilemma.  On one hand, they believed only God could forgive sin. But they also “recognized that healing ultimately came from God.” (Keener 1993) Admitting that Jesus healed the paralyzed man, which they could hardly deny since the evidence was standing right in front of them, was also to admit that God had given His blessing.  Something He would obviously not do if Jesus had committed blasphemy. Thus the only logical conclusion they could draw was the Jesus did indeed has the authority to forgive sin and must, therefore, be divine.

As compelling as this evidence is, there is one other work  Jesus performed that does an even better job of demonstrating His divinity — His resurrection.  In Romans 1:4, the Bible says that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…”  At first glance this may not seem to be too radical of a statement.  After all, there are a number of people in the Bible who were resurrected from the dead. In the Old Testament, for instance,  we have the accounts of Elijah raising the widow of Zerephaths son (1 Kg 17:22) and Elisha returning the Shunnamite woman’s son to life (2 Kgs 4).  Later in the New Testament, Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son and Jairus’ daughter to life. (Luke 7, 8)  One of the most dramatic resurrections, took place in John 11 when Lazarus, who had been dead for three days, was called back to life by Jesus.  All of these were raised from the dead, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection differed from all of these in one major way — it was accomplished by His own authority.

In every other case, the person who died played no role in their own resurrection. Death is about as final as it gets.  Once a person is dead, they can’t do anything to remedy the situation.  But Jesus was different.  In John 10:17-18 He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again…”  While anyone can lay down their life on their own accord, no one but Jesus has the authority to take it back up again.

This is the reason Paul could say that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God… by his resurrection from the dead.” Commenting on this passge, Robert Mounce writes, “It is the resurrection that sets him apart and authenticates his claim to be deity.  Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he would be remembered today only as a Jewish moralist who had some inflated ideas about his own relationship to God and made a number of ridiculous demands on those who wanted to be his disciples.  On the other hand, if it is true that He rose from the dead, then his teachings about himself are true and his requirements for discipleship must be taken with all seriousness.”  (Mounce 1995, 61) The resurrection is greatest proof of the divinity of Jesus. With that said, we now turn our attention to the Biblical evidence of the deity of the Holy Spirit.

 

C.) The Spirit if God

 

One of the best places to see the divinity of the Holy Spirit is in Matthew 28:19 which reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Notice that the Holy Spirit is classified on an equal level with the Father and the Son.  Wayne Grudem points out that, “When the ‘Holy spirit’ is put in the same expression and on the same level as the other two persons, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is also viewed as a person and of equal standing with the Father and the Son.”  (Grudem 1994, 230) We see a similar type of construction in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6 and 1 Peter 1:2.  In each of these passages the Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and with the Son.  Since they are both divine, we also must conclude that the Holy Spirit is also divine.

One of the most direct statements of the Holy Spirit’s divinity is in Acts 5:3-4 where Peter confronts Ananias saying, “…why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back a part of the proceeds of the land…. You have not lied to man but to God.”  Notice that lying to the Holy Spirit is equated with lying to God.

Finally, the Holy Spirit also possesses the attributes and carries out the works exclusively reserved for God. In the New Testament, we learn that the Holy Spirit is eternal (Heb 9:14), omniscient (1 Cor 2:10ff), omnipotent (Luke 1:35) and omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10). These are all divine attributes He shares with God the Father and God the Son.  John 3:5 attributes the Holy Spirit with carrying out the work of the new birth, something that 1 John 3:9 says can only be done by God.  To this we could add the works of Creation (Gen 1:2), Regeneration (John 3:5), Inspiration (2 Peter 1:21) and Resurrection (Rom 8:11), all of which are ascribed to the Holy Spirit, but reserved for deity.

All this Biblical evidence adds up to only one logical conclusion — the Holy Spirit is co-equal with God the Father and God the Son.  The Bible, therefore, shows that all three persons of the Trinity have the divine nature or essence, which brings us to the third statement we can use to summarize the doctrine of the Trinity.

 

So far, we have two of the three key statements about the Trinity laid out.  First, the Bible teaches that there is only one God.  But, it also refers to three different persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- as being God.  Tomorrow we will look at the final key statement in understanding the trinity before looking at three heresies concerning this doctrine.

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