It was common in the early church to teach The Doctrine of God as Triune. In my own experience growing up in church, I heard hardly anything about “the Trinity” or the Triune nature of God. I was led to believe it is so mysterious, too mysterious. Instead most teaching was about Jesus. For years, I was utterly confused. In college and graduate studies, I took courses on Christology, Pneumatology, and various other Doctrines; there was no separate course on “The Father,” nor were there any courses on the Trinity, or the Doctrine of God.
One of the most helpful courses was titled “Modern and Contemporary Christian Thought” which introduced me to my love of Philosophical Theology. We traced the pendulum swing in how the church thought about the doctrine of God concerning His transcendence, and His immanence; and how this influenced what the Church taught and how ministry was carried out. And so it is with the Doctrine of God through the ages–sometimes one aspect is emphasized and others left as an appendix; sometimes One Person is emphasized and then heresies arise as we think incorrectly about the other Persons and the relations of the Persons.
As I teach my own children the doctrines of the faith, we talk about how Jesus came in the flesh that we might know God (1 John 5:20; John 17:3). He is the image of the invisible God, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature (see Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1). Jesus Christ does not reveal only who the Son is, He came to reveal the Father, to bring us to the Father; He came in the power of the Spirit, and was sent by the Father; and indeed with the Father would send the Spirit.
The Trinity, the Triune God is always at work as the Three-in-One. Though the persons are distinct, there is always unbroken unity. So to study One must bring you back to the Three, and to ponder the Trinity will have you pondering each Person of the Trinity. We cannot rightly study each Person, unless we do so knowing their relation within the Trinity. And as we ponder the works of God, we see the Trinity at work, even if in distinct ways.
The Father is eternally Father, the Son is eternally Son, the Spirit is eternally Spirit. The Triune God created the world, each Person having a distinct role in that work. When God created, He then became Creator; matter is not eternal, time is not eternal; time, space, and matter have a starting point, namely when God began His work of creation. In the beginning, God created…He already was, as He is uncreated. God is love, and did not ever become love the way He became Creator.
Trinity: Not an Appendix
So to study the Doctrine of God, it is good to begin with the Trinity, and to keep the Trinity in our minds as we then study the distinct Persons. Do not leave the Trinity as an add on doctrine for when someone is much older in the faith. Though we are talking about these things all along as we read Scripture as a family, when they are old enough, I will make available books that not only teach these doctrines, but are engaging. No stuffy text books here! One such book I can highly recommend is Michael Reeves, “Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith.” This book incorporates church history while discussing the broad question of “Who is God?” He explains well why knowing God as Triune is important. I especially appreciate his witty approach to instruct us on how not to think of the Trinity.
Our words fall short of fully explaining the Trinity. We can know, we can apprehend, and we can and must adore Him; even though His ways are higher than our ways.
One of my favorite theology books is The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham. What a gem. In his introduction he says this: The post-Reformation slide into a privatized, individualist religion that neglects the church and world has led many to downplay the ecumenical creeds in favor of the latest insights from biblical studies.
Letham points out the many ways suppositions have supplanted doctrine. I would add, that I’ve known many “evangelicals” to downplay creeds and confessions without ever having read them, in favor of the latest fads that claim to be “authentic” or somehow more real. It is worth your while to spend time pondering each phrase. This particular creed will help us understand the Doctrine of God:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Doctrine of God cannot be succinctly contained in a blog post, so please remember this post serves only a few reminders, or a few key points to get you started on your own theological studies. To answer the question “who is God?” we cannot merely point to a verse, or even a few verses. The whole of Scripture speaks to this. I list here for you a few verses (again, not an exhaustive list) speaking of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After that, you’ll find three catechism questions and the corresponding passages, which I encourage you to journal through and meditate on.
For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. John 5:26-27
No one has seen the Father at any time… No one knows the Father but the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals Him; see John 1:18 & 6:35-46; Matthew 11:27.
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father: but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God,’” John 20:17
From Letham, page 17:
“While the distinctive covenant name of God, YHWH, occurs nearly seven thousand times in the OT, God calls himself Father only just over twenty times…Father usually refers to the covenantal relationship of YHWH to Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1) and points to God’s free choice, not to sexual activity and physical generation…Israel was hereby taught to avoid thinking of God in physical terms, especially anything drawn from human begetting and fertility. Instead, as Father YHWH had freely chosen them in the history of salvation, his unconditional promise put him in an entirely different context, that of a father’s love and of the “intimate closeness” expressed in, for example, Hosea 11:3-4.”
The Son of God came that we might know God, 1 John 5:20
The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:1-3
But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. John 5:17-18
For if by the offense of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many. See all of Romans 5:12-20, quoted here is verse 15.
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5
Luke 4, various verses: Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around [a]by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil… 14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all…17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
20 And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him.
Much of the Upper Room Discourse, found in John 14-17, Jesus taught on the role of the Spirit and the relations of the Trinity. The Spirit of Truth will lead us into all truth… Jesus spoke from the Father, the Spirit will take of what was His and make it plain. The Spirit is our Help and Comfort.
Romans 8, various verses
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is [i]alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [j]through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 for if you are living in accord with the flesh, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God…23 And not only that, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our body.
Larger Catechism Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God? A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God;c but his Word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.d
c. Rom. 1:19–20. Acts 17:28. Ps. 19:1–3.
d. 1 Cor. 2:9–10. 1 Cor. 1:20–21. 2 Tim. 3:15– 17. Isa. 59:21.
Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God? A. The Scriptures make known what God is,p the persons in the Godhead,q his decrees,r and the execution of his decrees.s
p. John 4:24. Ex. 34:6–7. Isa. 40:18, 21–23, 25, 28. Heb. 11:6.
q. Matt. 3:16–17. Deut. 6:4–6. 1 Cor. 8:4, 6. See Matt. 28:19–20; 2 Cor. 13:14.
r. Acts 15:14–15, 18. Isa. 46:9–10.
s. Acts 4:27–28.
Shorter Catechism Q. 4. What is God? A. God is a Spirit,g infinite,h eternal,i and unchangeable,k in his being,l wisdom,m power,n holiness,o justice,p goodness,q and truth.r
g. Deut. 4:15–19. Luke 24:39. John 1:18. John 4:24. Acts 17:29.
h. 1 Kings 8:27. Ps. 139:7–10. Ps. 145:3. Ps. 147:5. Jer. 23:24. Rom. 11:33–36.
i. Deut. 33:27. Ps. 90:2. Ps. 102:12, 24–27. Rev. 1:4, 8.
k. Ps. 33:11. Mal. 3:6. Heb. 1:12. Heb. 6:17– 18. Heb. 13:8. James 1:17.
l. Ex. 3:14. Ps. 115:2–3. 1 Tim. 1:17. 1 Tim. 6:15–16.
m. Ps. 104:24. 11:33–34. Heb. 4:13. 1 John 3:20.
n. Gen. 17:1. Ps. 62:11. Jer. 32:17. Matt. 19:26. Rev. 1:8.
o. Hab. 1:13. 1 Pet. 1:15–16. 1 John 3:3, 5. Rev. 15:4.
p. Gen. 18:25. Ex. 34:6–7. Deut. 32:4. Ps. 96:13. Rom. 3:5, 26.
q. Ps. 103:5. Ps. 107:8. Matt. 19:17. Rom. 2:4.
r. Ex. 34:6. Deut. 32:4. Ps. 86:15. Ps. 117:2. Heb. 6:18.
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