SEEING THE TRINITY AS ONE GOD REQUIRES SPIRITUAL VISION
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
11 JUNE 1995
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Probably the hardest aspect of Christianity for most Christians to understand is the Trinity of God.
Even when we read in Scripture about God as three Persons working together with us, most Christians either simply accept it upon faith, or struggle with the concept, such as expressed in our Scripture lesson for this morning, Romans 5:1-6.
1. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2. through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
These verses express the fact that the Father and the Son work together.
3. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
4. and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
5. and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Our strength to live by this faith comes from the Holy Spirit.
The Three in One work together in us for our salvation and hope.
6. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
And remember that Jesus Christ died for the ungodly, in order that they might be redeemed to God the Father.
“Okay!” you say, “but how can God be three Persons all at the same time?”
Let's look further, and remember that this understanding was a problem for the early church as well, and it resulted in the Creed we recited this morning.
Today, we may debate such issues as which came first, the chicken or the egg.
We debate such things because we only see the issue in relation to the earth we live upon, and the time continuum in which we exist.
We find it hard to relate to that which is timeless, or infinite, for we ourselves are physically locked in time.
We find it hard to understand how something that is infinitely from the past can also be infinitely in the future, and at the same time be present at this very moment.
And since God is infinite, in the past, present and future, all at the same time, we find it hard to relate to Him and His way of relating to us.
We find it hard to understand because we view our understanding from an earthly perspective rather than from a heavenly and timeless perspective.
And the way we relate to God becomes even more complex when we try to visualize how God relates to us in the form of His Holy Spirit, or in the form of His Son.
Since the Christians began as a "sect" of the Jewish faith, which carries with it faith in the only One and true God, many saw Jesus as declaring Himself as another god, and not as God the Messiah come to earth in human form, even as being born as a man, but at the same time still being God and still being present as God in heaven.
The concept of God as Spirit was not so difficult for either the Jews or early Christians to understand, for both God and His Spirit were Spirit, and the Spirit of God could be understood more as God's presence with us.
This concept of oneness is relatively easy to understand.
David expresses this in Psalm 51:11, when he cries out in his repentance, "…do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me."
With the Holy Spirit, the problem arose more from the way of expressing Him as a "separate" person.
We need to remember the watch word of the Jewish people as expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4,
4 "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
Anything that even hinted that there was more than One God was considered as counter to their faith.
Thus began the separation of the Christians from the main stream of the Jewish community.
The Jews claimed that the Christians were professing three gods, while the Christians accepted by faith the One God existing at the same time as Father, Son and Spirit.
Perhaps it was part of this very discussion that prompted the writer to the Hebrews to state, "Now faith is the assurance [or substance] of things hoped for, the conviction [or evidence] of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)
One could see the Son in the substance of man.
The evidence pointed to a human and not to God.
It was only by faith that such a concept of God in three forms could be fully understood.
But how can you properly and effectively express such faith in a physical world?
This spiritual concept perplexed the early Christian Church and even many people today.
Some early Christians, like Noetus, saw this Scriptural proclamation of one God and asked, "What evil am I doing in glorifying Christ?"
Others, such as Hilary of Poitiers, stated that such a claim violated the Gospels in which Jesus specifically refers to the Father as being separate from Himself in many areas.
What Hilary failed to see is a verse such as, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30), and to be able to separate the physical being from the Spiritual Unity.
Thus, if one doesn't look at both sets of facts, it appears that we are speaking of two Gods, the problem with which Tertullian wrestled.
He tried to explain this Unity and difference with metaphors, such as referring to the Father as the sun and the Son as the ray of light from the sun, that one cannot exist without the other; but this posed another problem.
Origen said that if the Christ were as the ray, then He would be subordinate to the Father. Origen believed that Christ was equal to the Father, but Tertullian believed Christ was subordinate to the Father.
Their debate was due in most part to trying to equate the physical with the spiritual.
Arius also saw Christ as subordinate to the Father and referred to Jesus as the Word becoming flesh, thus saying that the Father spoke the Word into existence, and even set his words to music, saying, "There was a time when the Son was not,” which made Christ a created being.
Athanasius then stepped into the picture to debate this position by saying that Christ was eternally begotten and not created at some point in time.
This debate between Arius and Athanasius concerned Constantine, for he could not understand what the theological arguments and problems were all about. He feared it would split the Christians, and he wanted them in unity for support of the empire; thus, Constantine called the bishops together in a council at Nicea.
After hearing all of this, you probably don't feel so bad about some of the questions you've had, do you?
The basic conclusion of the Council was to condemn the Arian view about Jesus Christ, and to set forth the basics of Christian faith, the Nicene Creed.
They placed in this Creed the clarification of the differences between the Arian perspective, and that of Athanasius.
They stated that Jesus Christ was begotten, not made, and even emphasized it further by saying that He was begotten of the Father before all worlds, or as the New Methodist Hymnal says, “eternally begotten.”
They clarified the point that Jesus is "the only-begotten Son of God" and of "one substance" with Him and by Him all things were made.
Their view was from a spiritual perspective, for the one substance is the Spirit of God, not the body in which the Spirit was housed.
God as Spirit is eternal, whether manifested as Father or Son or Holy Spirit.
They expressed the divinity of Jesus Christ as "God of God, Light of Light."
They also brought out the special humanity of Jesus, in that He "came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man…"
If we specifically look at the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we have a totally different form of conception.
Jesus was born of woman, and not of man.
Today we are beginning to understand a great deal about genes and genetic structure.
The people of that day knew nothing of such things, except for the visible things, such as a child having the same features as the parent.
This is what is so remarkable about Scripture, for it tells us the way it happened, but not the specific scientific reasons which brought it about, for the people of that day would not have understood.
If for a moment we consider the possibility that the "original sin" of Eve and Adam brought about a genetic change in Adam's reproductive system, just as chemical substances such as agent orange have done, and changes genetic engineering can bring about.
Then, we can begin to understand how the knowledge of good and evil, or the sinful nature of man, would be passed on to all future generations, men and women alike.
There is also a more subtle refinement of my theory:
If everyone had this gene, then Jesus would have been born of sin, and He was not; thus, the "sin" gene must be carried only by males, and passed on to everyone in that manner, but that specific "gene code" is not present in the egg of the female.
This is not a farfetched theory either, for it is common knowledge that color-blindness is a trait of males, but the gene deficiency is passed on by females to alternating generations of males.
My mother passed it on to me, and my daughter could pass it on to her sons.
Thus, Jesus Christ, born of woman and not of man, was born without sin, and was born of one substance with the Father (Spirit), was the perfect and innocent "sacrificial Lamb" to pay the price of our sins through His suffering and death, in order that He might save us from the death caused by sin.
But then we come to another question: Why would God need a physical body to accomplish this?
Because with a body there is also a soul, as we are told in Genesis 2:7.
7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the understanding of the sacrificial system is that the soul of the innocent, pays the price or atonement for the soul of the guilty.
And since Jesus Christ is God, His sacrifice paid the price of our sin for all time, unlike the animal sacrifice that had to be offered over and over again each time a person sinned.
Once again forgiveness was by grace and not a new sacrifice and the shedding of blood.
This also beat the devil at his own "game".
There is now no "need" to ever shed blood again, for any reason.
Let's go back and continue our discussion of the Trinity.
This oneness of the Father and the Son was also expressed in the Holy Spirit: “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…" (from The Nicene Creed)
As expressed earlier in this discussion, it was always understood among the Hebrews that the Spirit of God was of one substance with God and proceeded from Him; but now the Church was clearly expressing the fact of this Tri-unity by indicating that the Holy Spirit also comes forth from the Son.
The one substance of the Trinity is the Spirit, the One and only Spirit of God.
The form in which the Spirit is perceived is only secondary to the unity.
Are not water vapor, water, and ice all of the same substance, even though they are perceived differently as three things?
So it is with God. He manifests Himself in the different Persons of His being, that we can visualize Him as either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, and either as one at a time or as all three at the same time, but always One God.
Remember also that Jesus Christ now has a spiritual body. The Son is all spirit, too, just as is the Father and the Holy Spirit.
And in this light, is not His Person also clearly manifested in the words and lifestyle of His servants, and is not His Person clearly seen in His creation?
The Trinity is only difficult to understand when we try to explain it in worldly or physical terms.
Spiritually it can be plainly understood, for God is Spirit; but for some reason God has not given us the ability to fully speak of heavenly things here on earth.
Perhaps He simply wants us to learn to live by faith.
Your Comments are welcome
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