Anthony Carter: God in Three Persons

In 2 Corinthians chapter 13 and verse 14,
we read these words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship
of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen. Here we have, in this text of Scripture here,
an oft-repeated benediction in the church. In fact, if you had been at Eastpoint Church
this past Sunday at the close of the service, you would have heard me recite these words
in a benediction of the congregation there at Eastpoint Church. For the Bible, beloved, is replete as it were
with these, what we call “Trinitarian formulas.” These formulas are succinct statements that
set forth to us the Person and work of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are statements that teach us, these
are statements that remind us that the revelation of the name and the nature of the God we worship
is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We refer to this technically and theologically
as “the Trinity,” the doctrine of the Trinity, of the one God in three Persons. And this doctrine is an important doctrine. It is an essential doctrine. It is ultimately a distinguishing doctrine
of the biblical, historical, and experiential Christian faith which we profess. It is a doctrine both familiar, and it is
a doctrine misunderstood. No other doctrine is so deep, beloved, that
for nearly over two thousand years of study and reflection, we have yet to plunge the
depths of its understanding. And yet, at the same time, no doctrine is
so near and so dear to us and to the church that it establishes all that we are, it establishes
all that we have, it establishes everything that we will ever be. And through the ages, the Trinity has been
the subject of great debate, and it has been the substance of great worship. It could be argued, beloved, that there is
not a more distinguishing doctrine in the history of Christianity than is the belief
that God is one in essence and three in Persons. The religions of this world, from the monotheism
of Islam and Judaism, to the polytheism of Hinduism and Buddhism, to the hybrid and aberrant
teachings of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all find their divergence from biblical Christianity
where Christians affirm that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity, therefore, is a most beloved
doctrine of the church, and therefore it is a most defended doctrine in the church. There are many things, there are many things
that divide us unfortunately, beloved, dividing Christians, believing Christians this morning. The subjects and mode of baptism, the number
and form of the sacraments, the nature of church polity and discipline, the interpretation
of Revelation and eschatology, the number and the continuity of spiritual gifts, and
others and others and others. But the doctrine that all faithful churches,
the doctrine that all faithful communions have confessed through the years is the doctrine
that our God is one in Person…in essence and three in Persons. And through the years, the Trinity has been
confessed, it has been taught, it has been defended, it has been exegeted, and it has
been illustrated. And admittedly these illustrations through
the years, while helpful at points, have often left us ultimately wanting. Popular illustrations like the egg, the one
egg and three parts — the white, the yoke and shell. Or water, water that is coming in three forms
— solid, liquid and a vapor. And while helpful at points, all of these
and others do fail, do fail and fall well short of the Bible’s revealed understanding
of the triune nature of God. We have no words…we have no words that fully
exegete God for us this morning. We know of no language in this world that
can explain or exhaust the depths of the self-revelation and wisdom of God. And so in one sense, I have an impossible
task this morning. I am asked to explain the inexplicable. I am charged with explaining and encouraging
you in the nature of a God you worship, so that you and I can somehow comprehend the
incomprehensible. And while I don’t propose to be exhaustive
this morning, because it seems now I only have thirty minutes left. But I do hope to be clear. I do hope to be biblical, and I hope to be
practical for your edification and mine this morning. And therefore, I want to suggest three points
to you this morning concerning this grand doctrine for your reflection and consideration. And these three points are that the Trinity
is an historical doctrine, the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, and the Trinity is an
experiential doctrine. The Trinity is an historical doctrine. Christianity joins Judaism and Islam as the
prominent monotheistic religion in the world, that is the one God religion. And like Judaism and Islam, Christianity rejects
the idea of multiple gods. When we speak and teach, we don’t say, “gods,”
plural, but rather we say, “God,” singular. And yet, beloved, that God, that God that
we proclaim, that singular God that we proclaim from the very first steps of our Lord Jesus
Christ upon the earth began the revelation that that God is three in Persons. Open up the fullness of that revelation to
the ultimate proclamation of that grand and now speakable name. The early church understood this. The early church, the early stages of the
church, and the church fathers, while always affirming that God is one, the church faithfully
and frequently confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus Christ is God. The early church, the early church had two
agendas beloved, two agendas. One was the proclamation and the spread of
the gospel, and two was the defense of the truth. And this is what we see in the first century,
in the first century as the gospel is being spread and persecution is rising, we see the
expansion of the church. We see the missionary work of the Apostles. We see the conversion of Saul, and we see
the gospel spreading to the ends of the known world. And then comes the second century with the
rise of Gnosticism and all of its various forms. And we see the church fathers, following on
the heels of the Apostles, beginning to defend the truth as the gospel is being spread. And we see that we receive the canon of Scripture
in its fullness. And then in the third century, there becomes
a time of relative peace, as the persecutions are not fully dissolved, but they are beginning
to wane as Christianity is becoming more and more popular. And during this time, the church begins to
flourish again, and Christianity becomes a popular religion. And with prosperity, as usual, comes aberrant
teachings. So in the third century, we begin to see the
rise, the rise of aberrant views of who Jesus is and who God is. Then, when we get to the fourth century, we
see the full blooming of these popular heresies as they spread throughout regions and elements
of the church. But with the rise of heretics comes also the
rise of heroes. And it’s what’s particularly true when it
came to the Trinity, beloved. The church throughout all this time had maintained
that Yahweh God was God, but at the same time confessed also that Jesus Christ is Lord. And for some, this was hard to digest. And thus they proposed views and ideas of
God and Jesus that undermined the biblical witness, men like Sabellius, a third century
priest and theologian, who became known for authoring Sabellianism or modalism. And this basically, it taught that God while
being one, Himself is manifested in three different modes, as Father, Son, and the Holy
Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the
Spirit is God, but only in one such role at any given time. And they emphasized, then, the understanding
of the, quote, unquote, “manifestations of God,” like an actor playing three parts in
a play. Today we see this tradition continued even
in our day in such groups as the Oneness Pentecostals and the United Pentecostal Church. Now there was one even more popular than Sabellius,
and his name was Arius. He was a bishop in Alexandria and became known
for his teaching of Arianism, which proclaimed that Jesus is a highly exalted creature, but
Jesus is not God. Christ is, as an Arian would say, according
to the Scripture, “The first born, the begotten Son of God,” but not God Himself. And Arianism, as a consequence of Arius’ academic
credibility, grew in popularity, so much so, so much so did Arianism grow in its popularity
that a council had to be called to answer it. And today, we see this tradition continued
among groups like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But to answer Arius’ teaching, there had to
be a formal council. And the Emperor Constantine called for a council
in A.D. 325, in what was known then as Nicaea. For by the fourth century, Arius had obtained
this significant following. And in an attempt to bring peace and order
to the church, Constantine called for the bishops and the elders and the deacons to
gather together and hammer it out. And so they met for debate and discussion
in Nicaea in A.D. 325. And in those discussions, some wanted to say
that Jesus was homoiousios, meaning “similar in nature” to God. But the champion, but the hero of this council
was a young man by the name of Athanasius. And Athanasius insisted that Jesus was not
homoiousios, but Jesus was homoousios. He wasn’t “similar” to God,; He was “the same”
as God. Thankfully, beloved, the “homos” won out over
the “homois.” And the Nicene Creed declares, “We believe
in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things invisible
and visible. In one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of
God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from
true God, begotten, not made, of the same essence as the Father.” And so Arianism was condemned, and the language
of Trinitarian orthodoxy was established. Following the success of Nicaea, there was
another council called in Constantinople in A.D. 381. This time in Constantinople, it was necessary
to give further clarification to the doctrine of the Trinity in clarifying the Person of
Holy Spirit. And in Constantinople, the following words
were added to the Nicene Creed, “And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of
life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and
with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” Now again, beloved, the early church understood
the importance of this cardinal doctrine in the Christian faith. And not only did they proclaim it, but they
faithfully defended it. And there is more that could be said, but
the historical nature of the doctrine of the Trinity is well established, well established
within the history of the church. However, I would suggest to you this morning
that more important than the doctrine of the Trinity being historical is that the doctrine
of the Trinity is biblical. So I want to suggest to you this morning that
it is not just historical, but it is also a biblical doctrine, because the church fathers
and the early apologists themselves did just that — establish this doctrine upon the foundation
of the Word of God. And we can too, beloved, for the Bible teaches
us three things about God this morning. One, that God is one. Two, that God is three. And three, that the Three are one. It teaches us that God is one, it teaches
us that God is three, and it teaches us that the Three are one. That God is one, the doctrine of the Trinity
states that, beloved. It states that God is one, that there is one
God. We don’t believe in three gods. And, in this sense, we are monotheists, just
as the Bible declares in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy, in chapter 6, and beginning
in verse four, the shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He is one God, and this is what He declares
to His people in Isaiah chapter 45, beginning in verse 5. God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no
other, besides me there is no God.” There is none besides Me. I am the Lord. There is no other. One, one God, and there is no other God. I recently came across a book entitled, Jennifer
Has Two Daddies. Not really, beloved. Not really. Various men may play the role of daddy in
your life at various stages, but you only have one daddy. You may not know him. You may not have ever seen him, but you only
have one. Here is God telling the world, “There is only
one God.” You may claim that you don’t know Him. You may claim that you have never experienced
Him. You may you say that you have never seen Him,
but there is only one. He is God, the only wise God, the Bible says. He is God alone. There is no one else. And this one God, whom the Bible declares
is one, the Bible also reveals is three. The one true God has revealed Himself in the
mystery and wonder of the Trinity, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is God. The Father is called God. Malachi chapter 2 and verse 10, “Have we not
all one Father? Has not one God created us?” In Ephesians chapter 4 in verse 10, we are
reminded there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is
over all, and through all and in all. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, how
did He teach them to pray but “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The Father is God, but not only is the Father
God, the Bible makes it very clear and plain that the Son is God. There’s no denying the Bible’s equation of
Jesus with God, particularly as we begin to read in the prologue of John’s Gospel, John
1 and 1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh,” the Bible says
in verse 14, “and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory as of the only Son from the
Father, full of grace and truth.” When the Apostle Thomas saw the resurrected
Jesus, He bowed down and said in John 20 and 28, “My Lord and my God.” The Father is God. The Bible says that the Son is God. The Bible says that the Spirit is God. It is clear in reminding us that God is Spirit,
and that the Holy Spirit is called “Spirit of God.” He is an omniscient and omnipresent Spirit. In Psalm 139, the Bible says that there is
no place that you can hide, there is no place that you can go from the presence and from
the gaze of the Spirit. In Hebrews chapter 9 in verse 14, He is called
the eternal Spirit. In 1 John chapter 5 and verse 4 we are told
that we are born of God, and then in John chapter 3 and verse 6, we are told that we
are born of the Spirit, because the Bible over and over again is reminding us that the
Father is God, that the Son is God, that the Spirit is God. And the same Scriptures that remind us that
God is one, and the same Scriptures that remind us that God is three, are the same Scriptures
that reveal to us that the three — Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, one. The Bible tells us that the three are one
in creation. In the Scriptures the Father created, in the
Scriptures the Son created, in the Scriptures the Spirit created. All, all, all, the Bible tells us, were present
at creation, performing and accomplishing the singular will of creating all things good. The one true God created all things. The three are not just one in creation, but
they are one in the resurrection as well. Of one mind, one will, one decree. Jesus, in John chapter 2 verse 19 said, “If
you destroy this temple, I will raise it up in three days.” Galatians chapter 1 and verse 1, tells us
that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. And Romans chapter 8 and verse 11 tells us
that the Spirit of God raised Christ from the dead. Here’s the point, beloved, that Christ was
raised from the dead by the one true God. And that one true God, the Bible reminds us,
is three in Persons with one mind and will, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
grave. They are one in creation. They are one in the resurrection. They are one in confession. This is what we confess. When Jesus sent His disciples on mission,
the mission of building the church, for the very first time, before He sends them on mission,
for the first time Jesus revealed to His disciples and consequently to us, the full now speakable
name of our one true God, wherein Jesus says, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in
the name.” And what is that name? “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” When we say, “We believe in God,” we say we
believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the name given to us as Christians
to confess the one true, living God. The three are one, the Bible makes plain over
and over again. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord. The Bible tells us that the Spirit is Lord,
and yet the Scripture says that there is only one Lord. The one true God is Lord. Now beloved, I don’t claim…I don’t claim
this morning to be able to unravel for you all the mysteries of the eternal counsel and
decree of God. I just know, I just know that our one true
God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures in three Persons, and this is the God that
we worship. This is the God that we proclaim. This is the God that we confess, because this
is the God that we love. Because it is not just an historical doctrine. It is not just a biblical doctrine, but it
is an experiential doctrine. This is the God who not only has revealed
Himself in history, but this is the God whom we experience everyday of our lives. It is biblical and if it is biblical, then
it is experiential. It matters, it matters. It has importance for our everyday walk of
faith. If it is biblical, you should be asking, “Then
what difference does it make in my life?” And I want to suggest to you this morning
that the Trinity makes all the difference in the world. For salvation is Trinitarian. The language of redemption is in the Bible,
is the language of the Trinity. Here is the message of the gospel, beloved. The message of the gospel is this, “God saves.” God saves. He saves sinners. And yet, how God saves reveals to us the nature
and His name. For as Father, He appoints unto salvation. As Son, He accomplishes our salvation. And as Holy Spirit, He applies our salvation. The Father elects us, the Son dies for us,
the Holy Spirit regenerates us. When we speak in terms of the salvation of
sinners, we are speaking in terms of the Trinitarian work of the eternal one God. We are saved because God is one. We are saved because God is three. We are saved because the three are one. Salvation is Trinitarian. Not only is salvation Trinitarian, beloved,
but worship is Trinitarian. Worship is Trinitarian. That for which we were created and that for
which we have been re-created, namely worship, is a uniquely Trinitarian exercise and experience. And Philippians chapter 3 and verse 3, the
Scriptures tell us that we worship God by the Spirit for the glory of Jesus Christ. We worship the Father by the Spirit for the
glory of Jesus Christ. In John chapter 4, Jesus declared that the
will of the Father is for those who would worship Him and worship Him in Spirit and
truth. And Jesus would say, “I am the truth,” which
is why we sing best when we sing, “Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty. God in three Persons, blessed…blessed Trinity.” Salvation is Trinitarian. Our worship is Trinitarian. The prayers that we pray every day, beloved,
are Trinitarian. Like worship, our communication with God takes
on a uniquely Trinitarian expression. As Jesus taught us, we are to pray, “Our Father,
who art in heaven.” And yet, we are reminded that we pray in the
power and under the unction of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we pray also in the name and authority
of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Father, the Son has made the
way for us to pray, and the Spirit empowers and makes up for the prayers, because we lack
the understanding and the will. The One is three, and yet the Three are one. In the Bible and in the history of Christianity,
the blessed Trinity, beloved, is inescapable. From Genesis to Revelation, we see the one
true God revealing Himself in three Persons. You can’t get around it. The more you study the Scriptures, the more
plain and the more important it becomes to your everyday life. Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century theologian
in Constantinople put it this way, “I cannot think of the One without quickly being encircled
by the splendor of the Three. Nor can I discern the Three without being
straightaway carried back to the One.” John Calvin loved that quote. And if John Calvin loved it, then it’s safe
to say that we can love it too. Let’s pray. Heavenly Father we thank You, Lord, this morning
for the revelation of your Person as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lord, we thank You for saving us, we thank
You for giving us Trinitarian worship. We thank You Lord for answering our prayers
according your Trinitarian being. And so now, holy Father, we pray in the power
of the Spirit, in the name of Jesus, for Your eternal glory, our one and only eternal wise
God. Amen.

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  • Irish Home DeeMob says:

    The Spirit that inspired the written Word speaks in the person of God and the person of Christ, but never for himself. Hebrews 1:1, 1 Peter 1:11
    Christ while on earth spoke for himself and spoke for his Father.
    John 8:17-18, John 2:19, acts 2:32

    Can you show anywhere in scripture that the Spirit spoke for himself ? John 16:13

  • Brondena Fanning says:

    Thank you LORD Jesus for this Powerful, Truthful Teaching! And, thank you brother and Ligonier! BLESS THE LORD ALL YOU HIS PEOPLE IN CHRIST, FOR HE IS MORE THAN WORTHY, ALWAYS!

  • Michael Cheng says:

    Thanks for all that you do in teaching the word of God!

  • kathleen Wharton says:

    Jesus is One Person. I have Seen Him. He has His Spirit..just as we have ours..that cannot be Seen..but is Real and communicates. .nevertheless. Jesus Helps me in everything I Do.

  • Marta Ivette says:

    I am really listening to what you are saying and then I listened again just to make sure of what I heard specially at the end of your preaching, really it sounds like another God!! Nevertheless I thank you for the indebt explanation for all those that really are trying to rap their heads around the trinitarian belief and the trinitarian worshiping.

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