By James L. MorrissonHome
Scripture indicates that God is both one and three. There are three separate persons. And yet the three are also one. There is only one God. Christianity is monotheistic.
This is puzzling to many people. It is hard to understand and accept. Sometimes, in an effort to explain it or make it understandable, people say things that Scripture does not support.
It is not surprising that some people find the concept puzzling or difficult. We humans approach any new concept by trying to compare it to something we already know. But God is unique. He cannot be compared to anything we know because he is not like anything we know. "To whom, then, will you compare God?" (Isaiah 40:18; see also Isaiah 40:25, 46:5). (Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New International Version and any emphasis has been added.).
What we need to do, I suggest, is to recognize that we are dealing with something totally unique, and outside of our normal experience, and simply accept whatever Scripture says about the Trinity as true without trying to compare it to, or test it against, anything in our normal experience.
There are profound mysteries in our Christian faith (see, for example, Ephesians 5:32; 1 Corinthians 15:51). There are areas in which God's judgments are unsearchable and his ways past finding out (Romans 11:33). While on this earth we see imperfectly and only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). The Trinity is one of these mysteries of our faith. We cannot fully understand it and we do not have words adequate to describe it. There is much that Scripture tells us about it, and my purpose in this paper is to try to present what Scripture says in as clear and logical a fashion as I can. So far as Scripture goes, we can be quite clear and precise. But beyond the words of Scripture there will always be an element of mystery. I believe we need to accept as true whatever Scripture says, to be careful not to go beyond what is written in Scripture, and to recognize that our human logic and experience is inadequate to give us a full comprehension of this mystery.
II. THE TRINITY IS SCRIPTURAL.
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, the concept of the Trinity is clearly expressed in Scripture. The word "Trinity" is not used, but there are many references in Scripture to the three members of the Trinity, and quite a bit is said about their relationship, as the rest of this paper will show. From the words of Scripture it is possible to know a great deal about the Trinity. The discussion of the Trinity in this paper is based entirely on what Scripture says about it.
Jesus told his disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Paul ended his second letter to the people of Corinth, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14). Paul also wrote, "There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). He wrote, "through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18). Peter speaks of those "who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). Each of these passages speaks of three persons - the Father (God), the Son (Lord), and the Holy Spirit - and treats them as equal in status. This is the basic concept of the Trinity.
We see this even in the Old Testament. Isaiah 61:1 says, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor... " In Luke 4:21 Jesus specifically identified himself with the speaker of this passage. Jesus is the "anointed one" (which is what the word "Messiah" means). So God (the Father) has anointed Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit is upon him. Similarly in Isaiah 48:16 we read, "And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me with his Spirit."
In the rest of this paper I shall discuss many other Scriptures that tell us about the nature, characteristics and relationship of the three persons of the Trinity. Because some have expressed doubt that the Trinity is scriptural I shall refer to quite a few passages of Scripture that relate to it. I make no effort to be exhaustive; there are many more passages that could be mentioned
III. THE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY
I believe that Scripture makes it clear that the three members of the Trinity are separate persons, and that each is God. The three members of the Trinity are not different aspects or facets of God, or different ways of looking at God, or different ways in which God manifests himself. They are spoken of as three separate persons, each of whom is God. Our minds may find this hard to grasp, but this is what Scripture says. As I have already noted, sometimes we see these three separate persons all referred to in the same passage as separate individuals.
A. THE FATHER
(The New Testament often speaks of "God." Jesus typically referred to his Father as "God" - see for example, John 3:16, 13:3, 17:17. Unless the context of the passage indicates otherwise, I shall assume that the word "God" refers to the Father. I shall also, at times, use the word "God", as Jesus did, to refer to the Father.)
God is a person. Scripture always refers to him as "he"; never "it". God is not a Universal Force, a "ground of being", or some other impersonal or non-objective force or substance. He is not in everything (see 1 Kings 19:11-13), as many of today's New Agers would assert. He is separate from his creation. He existed before anything was created and he will exist after the heavens and earth are destroyed. Jesus repeatedly spoke of God as his "Father" (see, for example, John 12:49-50). He taught his disciples to pray to him as "Our Father" (Matthew 6:9). God the Father is a person.
God spoke directly through the prophets. He had conversations, sometimes quite extensive, with many of his followers (see, for example, Genesis 3: 9-19; Genesis 6:13-21; Genesis chapter 18; Exodus chapter 3; Exodus 32:7-14; Job chapters 38-42; I Kings 3:5-15; Jonah, chapter 4; Isaiah 6:8-13; Acts 9:11-16, 10:13-16). It was said of Moses that the Lord knew him "face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). God speaks to people today (see my paper entitled, "Hearing from God"). He acts in people's lives. He hears and answers prayers. God is a person.
God has emotions. He "is love" (1 John 4:16). He "loved the world" (John 3:16). He has "tender mercies" (Psalm 25:6 KJV). His compassion for his people is greater than that of a mother for her child (Isaiah 49:15). He takes delight (Jeremiah 9:24; Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 147:11). He can be pleased (Hebrews 11:6; Psalm 19:14; Leviticus 1:9). Sometimes he rejoices (Psalm 104:31). Sometimes he is grieved and his heart is filled with pain (Genesis 6:6). He can be angry (Psalms 6:1, 7:11, 78:58-59, 90:11). His anger burns (Exodus 32:10). His wrath is fearful (Revelation 6:17). God is a person.
B. THE SON.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is also God. The Word (Jesus Christ) "was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Jesus is "in very nature God" (Philippians 2:6). "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). When Thomas called him "My Lord and my God," Jesus commended him (John 20:28-29).
Scripture refers to Jesus as God. Hebrews 1:8 says, "But about the Son he [God] says, 'Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever." Romans 9:5 speaks of "Christ, who is God over all." Peter speaks of the "righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1). Paul calls him "Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
Jesus has the attributes of God. Like the Father, Jesus has no beginning and no end; he is immortal. He was "with God in the beginning" (John 1:2; see John 8:58; 17:5), and he is "alive for ever and ever" (Revelation 1:18; see Hebrews 7:25; Matthew 28:20). He is "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus took part in the Creation. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3; see Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). He sustains all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1;17). He has brought salvation and eternal life to those who believe in him (John 3:16). He will judge all men (John 5:22-30).
Jesus has "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). He is exalted to the highest place and at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-10). He is "Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only on the present age but in the age to come. And God placed all things under his feet" (Ephesians 1:21-22). In everything he has the supremacy (Colossians 1:18).
Jesus is a person who is separate from the God the Father. This was obviously so when he was here on earth, but let us look at Scriptures dealing with his position in heaven. Jesus "had come from God and was returning to God" (John 13:3). In other words, he was with the Father in heaven; the Father sent him to earth (Jesus often spoke of himself as having been "sent"); and he returned to heaven. In heaven now he is "at the right hand of God" (Romans 8:34; see Acts 7:56; Matthew 26:64; Ephesians 1:20). In Revelation chapter 5 he appears as the Lamb who comes to the throne of God, who takes the scroll with the seven seals from the hand of God, and who then is praised and worshipped together with God the Father. In Daniel's vision Jesus ("one like a son of man") approaches the "Ancient of Days" (God) who is seated on a throne (Daniel 7:13-14). He is with the Father but separate from the Father.
In heaven Jesus intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He will come again to earth with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30-31, 26:64; Luke 17:20-37; Acts 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). A time will come when Jesus, the Word of God, will appear on a white horse as the leader of the armies of heaven (Revelation 19:11-21).
C. THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is a person. He is not just an essence or a quality. Scripture always refers to him as "he." He speaks (Acts 13:2, 20:22, 21:10). The Holy Spirit has gifts, "and he gives them to each one, just as he determines" (1 Corinthians 12:11). "The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (1 Thessalonians 5:19 KJV; Ephesians 4:30).
The Holy Spirit is God. He is referred to as the "Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30; see also Matthew 10:20; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 2:11, 3:16. 6:11; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 3:3), or the "Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:19; see also Romans 8:9; Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6). He comes from God and is sent by God (John 14:16; see Luke 11:13; John 3:34; Acts 2:33,38; 5:32; Romans 5:5). We "worship by the Spirit of God" (Philippians 3:3).
In a number of passages we see an equivalence between the Holy Spirit and the Father or the Son. I shall elaborate the point in some detail because I think passages such as these tell us a good deal about the Trinity
2 Timothy 3:16 says that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (KJV). But 2 Peter 1:21 says that the prophets, "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (see also Hebrews 10:15). Scripture speaks of David as "speaking by the Spirit" (Matthew 22:43; see also Acts 4:25), and says "the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David" (Acts 1:16). Men preach the gospel "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven" (1 Peter 1:12; see also 1 Thessalonians 1:5). The "sword of the Spirit... is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). It is the Holy Spirit who "will tell you what is yet to come" (John 16:12). "The Spirit clearly says" what will happen in later times (1 Timothy 4:1). So the Scriptures are inspired of God and spoken through the Holy Spirit.
We receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). But Scripture also says that the Holy Spirit gives us eternal life. "The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8). Those who "live... according to the Spirit" will have eternal life and those who live according to the sinful nature will die (Romans 8:4-14). "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:11). Jesus said, "no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5). "The Spirit gives life" (John 6:63). We are "made alive by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). (There is no conflict here. There is never a conflict between members of the Trinity. We receive eternal life only by believing in Jesus Christ. But when we believe in Jesus Christ we can receive the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). And it is by sowing to please the Spirit, by living a life controlled by the Spirit, by being born again of the Spirit, that we can appropriate this eternal life.)
We are sanctified by God (John 17:17). But Scripture also speaks of the "sanctifying work of the Spirit" (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2), and says, "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 7:11). Titus 3:5 even says that God "saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."
It is Jesus who has given us access to the Father (Hebrews 4:14-16). He said "no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). But the Holy Spirit also plays a part in that access. Scripture says that "through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18). We are told to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions" (Ephesians 6:18).
Before Pentecost Jesus told his disciples, "You will receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8). In Ephesians Paul talks about the power (dunamis) of God which works in us (Ephesians 1:19, 3:20, 6:10). I believe this is the same power. The Holy Spirit has given to believers the power of God.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied, Peter said, "You have lied to the Holy Spirit" and "you have not lied to men but to God" (Acts 5:3,4). Lying to the holy Spirit is considered the same as lying to God. Indeed, Jesus made the remarkable statement that the one sin that could never be forgiven was the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32).
Hebrews 10:29 says, "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" Trampling the Son under foot and insulting the Holy Spirit are treated as parallel and equal in severity.
D. FURTHER SCRIPTURAL
EXAMPLES OF THE
Several times in Scripture we see the three members of the Trinity as clearly separate individuals. (a) At Jesus' baptism the Son is baptized in the Jordan river; the "Spirit of God" descends on him in the form of a dove; and the voice of the Father from heaven says, "This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all present and all clearly separate. Acts 10:38 is similar; it says that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power." (b) In John 14:16 Jesus says "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth" The whole context of John chapters 14-16 makes it clear that this Counselor is the Holy Spirit. The Son will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. All three persons are present. (c) On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in power, Peter said that Jesus "has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). Again, we see the three members of the Trinity as separate and distinct.
We even see all three members of the Trinity at the Creation. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). But the Son was with the Father at the Creation. "Through him [Jesus] all things were; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). And, at the very beginning, "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:2). It is significant that the word that Genesis chapter 1 uses for God, Elohim, is in the plural. The Creator is plural. He is both one and three.
The following are some additional Scriptures that point to the separateness of different members of the Trinity. Still others will be discussed in the next part of this paper.
John 1:1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The Word (Jesus) was "with God", that is, he was separate from God. Yet he also was (and is) God.
Jesus told his disciples, "Unless I go away the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Jesus had to leave the disciples before he could send the Holy Spirit to them. It was only after Jesus had gone back to heaven that the Father could send the Holy Spirit to live with men and women.
On the Cross Jesus cried out, "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). At that terrible moment he felt a total separation between himself and his Father.
IV. THE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY ARE ONE
One of the striking features of the Judeo-Christian faith is its radical monotheism. Historically this has stood out in sharp contrast to the polytheism of other Near Eastern religions, and the polytheism of Greece, Rome and the Norse religion. Today it stands out in sharp contrast to the polytheism of Hinduism, of the pagan religious revival, and of the many animist religions. And the fact that our God is a personal God stands out in sharp contrast to the pantheism of the New Age Movement.
Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This became a prayer which was recited twice daily by practicing Jews. Jesus repeated these words in Mark 12:29. Throughout Scripture we find a reiteration of this concept that God is one. Moses told the people of Israel, "Acknowledge and take heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other" (Deuteronomy 4:39). David declared, "There is no one like you, O Lord, and there is no God but you" (1 Chronicles 17:20). Solomon declared "that the Lord is God and that there is no other" (1 Kings 8:60). God declared through Isaiah "I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5; see Isaiah 45:21, 46:9). Jesus declared that God the Father is "the only true God" (John 17:3). Paul said the same. "God is one" (Galatians 3:20). He "the only God" (1 Timothy 1:17). "There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6). Writing to the Corinthians about food sacrificed to pagan gods he said, "For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live, and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (1 Corinthians 8:6).
How can we reconcile these statements that there is only one God with the statements that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate persons and each of them is God? Apparently Jesus saw no inconsistency between them, for he spoke them both. So did Paul. I believe the answer that Scripture gives is that the members of the Trinity are three and yet they are also one. If that is what Scripture says, I believe we should accept it even though it does not fit our logic or our earthly conceptions. God is God, and our understanding of who and what he is should be based solely on what he has revealed in Scripture. If what Scripture says about him does not fit our preconceptions, then we need to change our preconceptions.
Jesus declared that the first and greatest commandment was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). In a polytheism men cannot love (or serve, or worship or fear) one "god" with "all" their heart, soul, mind and strength, because their devotion to one takes away from, or conflicts with, their devotion to another. But with the Trinity there is no such conflict. To love the Father is to love the Son and the Holy Spirit. To worship the Father is to worship the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see this in Revelation chapter 5, where both the Father and the Son are worshipped together with no sense of conflict or of one detracting from the other. "To him who sits on the throne (the Father) and to the Lamb (the Son) be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever" (Revelation 5:13). There is no conflict because when we praise the Son we are praising the Father, and when we praise the Father we are praising the Son. We see this expressed in John 5:23, "that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him." 1 John 2:23 tells us, "No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also."
In the polytheisms with which we are somewhat familiar, such as the Greek, Roman and Norse polytheisms, we see different "gods" working at cross-purposes with each other, opposing each other, playing tricks on each other. There is nothing remotely like that in the Trinity. Scripture gives us a historical record covering at least 6,000 years. During all that time, there is no record of any conflict or disagreement among the members of the Trinity. We cannot conceive of such unity. We humans have never experienced anything like it. We have never heard of individuals who are so united that they never disagree, never quarrel, never feel angry or resentful towards each other, never work at cross purposes, never even entertain thoughts that disagree. But with God all things are possible.
To know the Son is to know the Father. Jesus said, "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). "If you knew me you would know my Father also" (John 8:19). "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well" (John 14:7).
We find this unity expressed in various ways. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), While on earth, he did only what he saw the Father doing and spoke only the words that the Father gave him (John 5:19; 8:28, 12:49-50, 15:15). He said, "I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" (John 5:30). "I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). Again, Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (John 16:13-14). Although God is three persons, God is also one.
In the next section I shall discuss another aspect of this unity. I believe that in our dealings with the members of the Trinity they are so much one, so much a unity, that it really doesn't matter which one of the three we may speak of as acting in a given situation.
I want to deal here, however, with one misconception held by some. Scripture says that Jesus Christ forever makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). (It also says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:27). Some picture this as a loving and merciful Jesus pleading with a harsh Father for mercy for us humans. Some might find a suggestion of such a concept in 1 John 2:1, but basically I believe such a concept is contrary to the character of God and contrary to the concept of unity expressed in Scripture. I find little in Scripture to support such a concept, and much that contradicts it. Consider the following:
(1). It is Jesus who will judge all men. The Father "has entrusted all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22; see also Matthew 25:31-46; 13:40-43, 7:23).
(2). There is no difference in character between Jesus and God. Jesus is loving, but so is God. "God is love" (1 John 4:16). God did an extraordinary act of love in sending his Son to die on the Cross (John 3:16). God "wants all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4; see 2 Peter 3:9). On the other hand, Jesus is holy and just, and capable of great wrath (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 6:16-17).
(3). There is no need to beg the Father for salvation for men. The work of salvation was done on the Cross. Those who believe in Jesus are already saved, provided they continue to believe. The righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-24) has already been imputed to those who believe in Jesus. God wants all men to be saved. The problem lies with man, not with God. It is man's unwillingness to believe in and accept Jesus that prevents him from being saved.
(4). Jesus taught us to pray, "[God's] will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). He prayed, "not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). He always sought to do his Father's will. There is no record anywhere of his pleading with the Father to change the Father's will, or to manipulate his Father's actions or decisions. In John chapter 17 Jesus gave us a model of an intercessory prayer. In that great prayer there is no hint of pleading or imploring for mercy. He prays that God will protect and sanctify the disciples and give them joy, and he prays for unity among all believers (John 17:6-26). He prays, not to change the Father's will, but to reinforce what is already the Father's will for us..
I believe that when Jesus is making intercession for "us" - that is, for those who believe in him - he is praying that God's will be done in our lives. He is praying that we will fulfill the purpose God has for us, that we will be sanctified and grow into spiritual maturity, that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we will have the strength to overcome strongholds and obstacles, that we will not turn away or fall away from God, and the like. In other words, by his intercession, he is adding his mighty strength to our feeble strength to enable us to become the people God wants us to be. It is by his intercession that Jesus is imparting to us God's "incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:19).
V. ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY EQUAL?
This is a question that was much debated by the early church councils. I would like to suggest that the answer is both "yes" and "no". In our dealings with them, the three members of the Trinity are equal. All three have the same attributes, qualities and powers. All three are God, while we are created beings. But in their relationship to each other, Scripture indicates a definite priority: First the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit.
A. IN OUR DEALINGS
I have said that each member of the Trinity is God. They have the same attributes, the same characteristics, and the same power.
I believe we see this in passages in which some might find inconsistency as to which member of the Trinity is operating. I believe there is no inconsistency, and that what these passages are saying is that God is at work and it really does not matter whether we speak of him as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or all three.
For example, God the Father is in us. God "works in you to do and to will according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). His power "is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20; see Colossians 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 4:4). The Son is also in us. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Jesus said he would "abide" in us (John 15:4 KJV). Paul said, "I no longer live but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). And the Holy Spirit is in us. He "lives with you and will be in you" (John 14:16,17). Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). We can say, as some Scriptures do, that it is by the Holy Spirit that both the Father and the Son live in us (1 John 3:24, 4:13; Ephesians 2:18, 22), and I believe this is true. But a simpler way of looking at it is to say that God is in us, and it does not really matter whether we see him as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or all three, because all three are God. The point is that God is in us.
In the same way, we speak of God's power in us. We are told to "be strong in the Lord [God] and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). God the Father has "incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:19; see also Ephesians 3:30). But Jesus Christ is also the source of our power, for he said, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). And Acts 1:8 says "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." Again I suggest that it does not really matter whether we think of the power as coming from the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. It is all God's power.
Some Christians disagree as to whether we should pray to the Father or to the Son. I believe a proper understanding of the Trinity indicates that we pray to God, and whether we address our payers to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit makes no difference. They are all prayers to God.
The Father's word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus is "the truth" (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16). "The Spirit is the truth" (1 John 5:6). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the truth.
"We are God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). Yet Jesus Christ tells us to "take my yoke upon you" (Matthew 11:29), in other words, to be his fellow-worker. Again, it does not matter. Whether we are working with the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we are working with God.
When Paul spoke of the God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28 I think the context makes it clear that he was speaking of the Father. In Galatians 2:20 he wrote, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." And in Galatians 5:16 he said, "live by the Spirit." Are these statements inconsistent? I think not. We live and move and have our being in God, and God lives in us, and it does not matter whether we are speaking of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit because all three are God.
In our dealings with them, the three members of the Trinity are equal. All three are God, and they have the same attributes, the same characteristics and the same powers.
B. WITHIN THE TRINITY
When we look at the relationship of the three members of the Trinity among themselves, however, I believe we can see a clear order of precedence. First the Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit. The Spirit points to the Son and the Son points to the Father.
The very names "Father" and "Son" imply a precedence. This is confirmed by Jesus' repeated statements that he was "sent" to earth by his Father (see, for example, John 3:17, 6:38-39, 17:3) In visions or descriptions of heaven the Father is seen as seated on a throne, with Jesus either at his right side, or approaching the throne, that is to say, in a secondary or inferior position.
Repeatedly Scripture says that God (the Father) raised Jesus up to his present position of authority. Jesus obeyed the Father while on earth, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). God the Father "raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion... And God placed all things under his feet." (Ephesians 1:20-22). God "has put everything under [Jesus's] feet" (1 Corinthians 15:27). It was the Father who "entrusted all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). After Jesus has put all his enemies under his feet, a time will come "when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father" and "the Son himself will be made subject to him [the Father]" (1 Corinthians 15:24,28). The Son is submitted to the Father. The Father is first.
The Holy Spirit is often referred to as the "Spirit of God" or the "Spirit of Christ." The Father, or the Son, "sends" or "gives" the Holy Spirit to us (John 14:16, 16:7; Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38, 5:32). Jesus said of him that he will "remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). "He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (John 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit points to Jesus, and Jesus points to the Father.
What Scripture says about the Trinity is quite clear. God is three. He is also one. There are three separate persons. Yet they are one God. We cannot expect fully to understand this mystery, nor do we have anything in our experience with which we can compare it. All we can do is to accept and believe what Scripture so clearly tells us.
2002 by James