Why We Believe What We Believe: The Doctrine of the Trinity (Ep 3)

A series on theology: Why We Believe What We Believe about God. Originally given to the students and faculty at Moody Bible Institute.

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All the things that pull our hearts; all the things that turn our heads; all the things that tug at our spiritual loins; all the things that cause us to doubt and to believe, are nothing more and nothing less than little gods, little idols, that are calling to you and promising you things they can never deliver. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, your God is One.

Introduction: If you’re a news junky like I am, it’s interesting when religion finds it’s way into the media. We use a lot of terms: we talk about faith based initiatives; we talk about many faiths; we talk about one nation under God, and so we have these by lines and these idioms that we used to talk about Christianity in a very broad umbrella. In fact, we might use a quote mark “Christian” closed quote mark, when we used the word “Christian” because there are so many groups that call themselves Christians, one has to wonder well what is a true believer? Do you have to belong to a certain denomination? Do you have to go to a certain church? Are there certain rituals? Ordinances? Are there religious things that go along that go along with being “Christian?” As you form your belief system, “why you believe what you believe,” we all grew up with some experience, whether we went to church or never went to church. We create this picture of God; we create this picture of Christianity maybe, and invariably we are going to come to this discussion whether it’s in high school in college, with someone that says, “All roads lead to god; or you can be a Buddhist; you can be Hindu; you can be Muslim; you can be Christian; you can be Catholic; you can be Baptist; you can be, as one of my professors used to say, a “mental bapterian,” or are they all the same? As we continue thinking of “why we believe what we believe,” today on the broadcast, we’re going to introduce the doctrine of the Trinity. Now remember these broadcasts were originally given to the Moody Bible Institute, faculty,staff and student body, as we were rethinking our doctrinal statement. what the institute believed, what it held to. And these were messages, that I gave, to remind us if you will, “this is the football,” to remind us this is “why we believe and what we teach here at Moody. Of course, your church, or your experience, may be a little different doctrinally, but I invite you to think critically. So join us today on the broadcast, as we continue thinking about, “why we believe, what we believe.”

Last week we began a series on doctrine that I’ve called “why we believe what we believe. “Why we believe, what we believe” is not important. “Why we believe what we believe” is crucial. When you begin to think about theology, and doctrine, and systematic theology, and Biblical theology, it’s sort of a strange notion. If you look at the average Bible, this one perhaps that can fit in our hand; it’s a one volume kind of small in all reality, and you weigh it against eight volumes of Chafer, twenty-two volumes of Owen, just take any stack of Systematic Theology books and ask yourself “What’s wrong here?” We have all these words and all these pages and all this sort of verbosity to try to explain God. It’s really quite comical if you think about it. Go to the library and look at the Theological Journals, or the  abstracts, or the commentaries, and look at the volumes that have been written; and those that are coming out; and those that will be written to explain one book. It’s quite delightful in one respect;It’s quite maddening in another. Never seems like you could get your arms around it. How can you explain God? The study of doctrine, and dogma, and  theology is just that: it’s trying to understand this collection, this corpus of material, that teaches us what we would call a Biblical Theology. You might think of this as sort of theology in a vacuum. “It’s sort of boring, Michael, why are we doing this? All of your Theology professors love me and the rest are bored to tears.” But “why you believe what you believe” is crucial in many ways. For example, if you are part of a local church, that church has a statement of faith, or a doctrinal statement; if you join a missions organizations, they’re going to have a doctrinal statement or statement of faith; if you’re part of a parachurch ministry; if you attend a local church or you align yourself with some group, they have a doctrinal statement, a statement of faith: this is what we believe why we believe it, and therefore our practice should follow from this.

Fifty years ago perhaps, the issue was liberalism: it had horns on it; it looked evil; it came out of the dark German corners; and it attacked the Bible; it attacked the notion of inerrancy; it attacked the truth was God’s truth. It became humanism run amuck so what we would call evangelical fundamental bowed up and rewrote their doctrinal statements to clarify issues that were being attacked. Because theology is seldom hammered out in a vacuum; it’s almost always forged in a fight.

So we think of our current context: A few years ago, a church that I served, we rewrote our statement of faith. Now we didn’t change any doctrine. We took out some fun language, where it talked about the Bible being inerrant without admixture. I like the word admixture. I had a admixture on my neck once. (laughter) They cut it off because it was bad. What’s admixture? So we cleaned up the language so that it communicated today without changing the basic theology of what we believed. But we added a paragraph. The paragraph we added into our doctrinal statement was a statement on the family,because we’re in a context where the family is being attacked by gender issues, by civil issues, by legal issues, by equality issues, and we said you know, “We have to write theology in a context and we better put it in the statement that this church believes this about the family, because that’s God’s Word teaches about the family.” So every context bares forth a statement. See what I’m getting at? The issues you are battling today may seem sort of pa se because those are the current issues. There will be new ones in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. There will always be new teachings fighting you, so your doctrinal statement you come back to. “Why we believe what we believe” is crucial.

Today, I want to think about the Trinity with you a little bit. One of the professors here, very wisely asked me, “Michael, do you think all the doctrines are the same in importance?” I said, “Well, yes and no.” Because in certain context some of those doctrines, are going to mean more than they will in other context, right? We’re not going to worry so much about certain issues that we do in different time spans, but when I first started laying this series out, I said, “The Trinity, ahh, not that important.” Then I started studying it, and I said, “Oh, it’s pretty important.” We need to remind ourselves why we hold to a  Trinitarian Godhead. What difference does it make in practical theology? What difference does it make in the way I live as a believer in Christ? What difference does it make as I serve in a church? Some of you know the names; Phillips, Craig, and Dean; others know the names T.D. Jakes; some may be aware of Gwen Shamblin, who started weigh down workshops. Those are just three fairly recent names who have come under great scrutiny for their view of the doctrine of the Trinity; and what they hold and teach and believe; and whether that makes a difference or not in their music in their teaching; in the books that they sell. So you have to scratch your head and ask, “Is this a line that I draw in the sand?” and say, “because they are modalist, or because they are oneness, or Jesus only, that I no longer fellowship with them.” The way you make that decision is through a Biblical Theology of the Trinity. Modalism is simply that concept that looks at God as three modes: Father, Son and Spirit. We might say the old illustration: water, liquid, ice, steam or vapor. It’s a very poor illustration because it reeks of modalities: one substance, three forms, ahhh, not really. “Jesus only,” the oneness movements,and there’s lots of iterations of these, but largely attributed to the Pentecostal oneness, “Jesus only.” So we’re going to baptize someone. We’re going to baptize them in “Jesus name” only.  Do you draw a line of fellowship there? Do you say, “Oh,I can’t play ball with you anymore because you hold to a belief I don’t hold to?” And the way you wade through these questions of course is: a Biblical Theology.

We have extremes like Jehovah’s Witness, their Tract society, the WatchTower Bible and Tract Society. They printed a brochure called “Reconciliation.” That says this: “Never was there a more deceptive doctrine advance, than that of the Trinity. It could have originated only in one mind, and that the mind of satan, the devil.” So the WatchTower is pretty clear what they think about the Trinity. There’s no warm fuzzy, tolerant language here. It’s of the devil and the Universalist Church of America Unitarians have all discounted the doctrines of the Trinity and we have, are we splitting theological hairs? Does it make a difference?

In the Moody Doctrinal Statement, one student proudly displayed the catalog as they came in. Good for them!  Article one reads: “God is a person who has revealed Himself as a Trinity in unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons and yet one God.” Then our statement has three verses, I wanted to unpack briefly;Deuteronomy 6:4, The Great Shema. You might turn in your Bible to Deuteronomy, chapter 6:4. Many of you have it memorized. Let’s look at it again. Deuteronomy chapter 6:4, Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is one. In fact, read it with me. Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.The Shema is the first word in the Hebrew text, Listen or hear. Some of the fragments, the targums, there’s no capital and lowercase letters in Hebrew, but they make them very big, SHEMA The idea is: Listen up! Pay attention, Israel! You know the context very well. The failure at kadesh barnea which was to be an eleven day journey, turns into a forty year wondering. The majority report of the spies won the day. The majority won and the majority will spend forty years dying in the wilderness. The land of Canaan was right in front of them. Now they have to wait. Now this cusp of the land; the very word of God, to His very servant, Moses. No one talk to God like Moses. He speaks to Israel and says, “Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

Now three quick observations about what I call a confession of faith; a statement of faith. Why is this important? Why do we make a lot out of this little phrase? Listen, Israel. Number one: it teaches monotheism; He alone is God. Some translate the last word from the Hebrew there, One in your English Bible as “unique” and that has some merit. The Lord your God is “unique.” But the idea of One, harkens to a more Systematic Theology. The only begotten Son, your God is one. Why is this important to have a monotheistic God? I mean after all, can’t God be tolerant of all the little idols? Can’t God just get along with all the wanna be’s? Well, number one, He is, of course the only true God, but more importantly, when they’re going into a polytheistic culture, writhe with idolatry; writhe with all the Canaanites sexualized gods and activities that are going to pull them away from the One true Yahweh-Elohim, He’s trying to say, “Listen to me, when you go into that land, there are going to be many voices calling your heart away from me, but you have One God; you have One God, not many.

Now if you studied Egyptian History, or Greek mythology or polytheism, you know that polytheism is really a lot of fun to study, because seldom do they get along. In fact a polytheistic culture is always in competition and in consort one with another to get their own agenda or to manipulate mankind and you’re never quite sure if that God is going to be your friend or foe on a given day. And that was the case with the Canaanite rituals, as well as Greek, and Egyptian Gods. They’re capricious; they’re self-serving; they can do stuff at their whim. Israel, our God, is One.

What an easy application for you and me. All the things that pull our hearts; all the things that turn our heads; all the things that tug at our spiritual loins; all the things that cause us to doubt and to believe, are nothing more and nothing less than little gods, little idols, that are calling to you and promising things that they can never deliver. A believer in Jesus Christ? Your God is One, and He’s good, and He’s loving. Secondly, He’s personal. Note: Israel, Our God. Don’t miss it! It’s so obvious, we miss it. Why is it important, that He is our God? Why is it important that He’s personal? He’s available to us? He’s not hiding at bay, waiting for some whimsical sacrifice of a certain number of fruits, and vegetables, and animal fat in a certain way and then He’ll say, “Ok, now we can be friends.” He shows us a sacrificial system that shows the breakdown between sin and holiness, but His goal is always to love His own; to care for His own; to protect His own; to give His own good things; to bring them into the promise land. He is our God. Why is it important? Because He created you, men and women, for fellowship. He did not create you to be subservient serfs, who worked in a field and threw fruit into a fire. He made you to relate to you. He wants to be your Father.

We have one God, He is our God and thirdly, He is plural. Now stay with me just a moment. I use the word “plural” with quotations, open and close quotations around the word plural. The word, Elohim. The “im” ending is plural, generally speaking in Hebrew. We say goyim, referring to the nations. Of course you know the word El, Beth-El, the house of God, right? Elohim, the “im” ending in this case a plural nature. Some say, “Well that means, because He’s big and vast, and large.” Possibly,I think there’s a telling hand here of a Trinitarian Godhead. He’s one, but He’s many. He’s one, but He’s three. We get the first tip of this. Now we could go back in time a little bit to Genesis one. In fact, turn there if you would. Genesis 1:26 and 27, and you’ll see this plural language used in a different way, but with the same point. You all know these verses. I’m not showing you anything new. This is a reminder; this is a refresher of “why we believe, what we believe” about the Trinity. Look at Genesis one, verses 26-27: Then God said, “Let Us-there it is, first person, plural pronoun- Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness.” Who’s He talking to? Is God schizophrenic here? Like the t-shirt that said, “I used to be schizophrenic, but now we’re ok.” No, there is a Trinitarian dialogue going on at the beginning of time and creation. “Let Us make man in Our image, in the image of God.” By the way, man is the only image bearer. Animals do not bear God’s image. Creation does not bear God’s image in the same kind and way, that man does. I’ve shared with you before, I have a sanctified picture in my mind of Jesus Christ on his hand and knee with adom , forming adom,the perfect sandman, if you will, ever made. When He’s finally finished with this, what would make a Michelangelo -David look like child’s play, He breathes life into it. Jesus made a man in His image, the text says. Continue: look at the verse again. Let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them. So we have the great Shema. The great Shema tells us at least three things: He is monotheistic, there’s one God; Personal, secondly, He’s personal. He’s our God. He wants a relationship with us; and thirdly, He’s plural, in the sense that their is a tip of the hand of the Trinitarian doctrine, that God is the Son and the Spirit right from the beginning. That’s the Great Shema.

Now our doctrinal statement also uses the second passage: the Great Commission passage. Matthew chapter 28:19. Flip over there to your New Testament to Matthew 28. Look again at a very familiar verse. Perhaps you’ve not looked at it in this way before. First book of your New Testament, Matthew chapter 28:19. Why don’t you read with me? Whatever your version is, read it well. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We talk a lot about the Great Commission. We, tongue and cheek,  talk about the Great Omission. Let’s look at it for a moment. Now you all know the imperative verb is not “go.” Many missions conferences “go” is the first big giant word on the banner during missions week. And…that’s ok. (laughter)

One of my former professors says he’s, “Going to write a book one day called, “Misapplied Verses God has greatly blessed.” So there you have it. The primary verbal force here is “make disciples.” and you all know this. Some look at go, baptize and teach, as the participial forms that modify, make disciples. If that’s true, make disciples as you go, and baptize and teach them.

Let’s talk about making disciples for just a moment. We often compartmentalize evangelism and discipleship. There’s some good discussion for that, good dialogue for that. I think in Jesus mouth right now, it’s one and the same. To make a disciple is to help someone come to faith in Christ and to become a follower of Jesus Christ. I think he say’s one in the same. Make a disciple, make a follower of mine and you do it with three things. You go; you have to take the message to them; you baptize them, and you teach them. Baptism is of course a fascinating subject for a mini part series, whenever you talk about this.

Let’s look at this for just a moment here. The purpose we’re thinking about is the Trinitarian doctrine with identification. There are three distinct persons mentioned in the passage. Look at the verse again: The Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some observations: there’s unity and plurality here. The Name: the word “name” is singular. It’s the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so there’s some unity and connection here. The Father, we often observe sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit; and the Spirit indwells the believer in Jesus Christ to give her or him a relationship with the Son, with the Father. So we see this sort of  complete Trinitarian Doctrine unfolding.

Every time I go back to the Great Commision, we all have heard the expression, “The Great Commission is the Great Omission” for most of us. We call it the Great Commission because these were the last words of Christ to His disciples. So we say His last words maybe ought to be our first importance. Now what Christ is doing here in this “Great Commission” and it rounds out the doctrine of the Trinity in our thinking, is that God is One. Now of course we’re never going to resolve this entirely in our brains. We can’t figure out how there’s a Trinitarian doctrine three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet one God. But that’s also part of doing theology, if you will. What Scripture teaches, we have to align ourselves with, not just our opinion about something. Again, this whole series about “why you, why I believe what we believe” is critical, because we draw conclusions about these things. When it comes to matters of doctrine, and faith and belief, I want you to know for sure, “why you believe what you believe.” The person and the work of Christ is the central hope. It’s the key to Scripture: that he lived; that he died; that He was buried; and that He came back from the dead; that any at all that trust in Christ, and Christ alone are promised a free gift of eternal life. Perhaps you haven’t heard in a while, but God loves you. It doesn’t’ matter your situation in life; it doesn’t matter what you’ve done; how bad you may feel shame or guilt, he loves you. He loves you so much that Christ died in your place, on your behalf, instead of you. There’s nothing more important in life, there’s no greater decision in life, than coming to terms in knowing HIm. You know, you could pray a prayer as simple as this; it’s not praying a prayer to me, or to some person, it’s praying a prayer to God; that you just acknowledge, “Father,I’m a sinner. I realize maybe for the first time that I’m in desperate need; that you love me; that Christ died for me; in my place instead of me; on my behalf. He was so good to do for me, what I could never do for myself. I put my faith in you. I trust you. I believe in you. And by that faith, you promised me a gift called eternal life.” If you’ve prayed that prayer, and maybe it’s the first time you’ve ever come to that acknowledgement, we would love to hear from you. You can reach us simply at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you and join us tomorrow on inContext as we continue thinking about the Trinity: this doctrine of One in Three. This is Michael Easley inContext.

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, pastor to Fellowship Bible Church, and host of Michael Easley inContext.

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