Have you heard of the idea that God is a Trinity? Can you explain it?
The Trinity is how we Christians view God. The word Trinity is a combination of two words: Tri-unity, meaning that God is Three, but One. Because that math doesn’t add up, three doesn’t equal one, people have used illustrations or analogies to teach the concept of God as Trinity.
An apple has three parts: a skin or peel, fruit or flesh, and the core. All three parts are apple, but each is different. In the same way God is Father, Son and Spirit.
CS Lewis’ illustration of the Trinity is my favorite. He said the Trinity is like the three dimensions: Height, Length, Depth. All three dimensions are equal, but each also has a different direction.
There are many such illustrations of the Trinity, and while none is a perfect analogy, they can help us at least begin to understand the mystery of the Trinity.
I’m talking about the Trinity because our current sermon series on Identity follows our Christian understanding of God as Trinitarian. Not all Christians agree on the concept of the Trinity. You may have heard of Unitarians. They believe differently from Trinitarians. Unitarians believe there is God, and that is all. Trinitarians, however, believe not in three gods, but in God as three persons, coequal and yet distinct: God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit.
We look to numerous Scripture passages to support our belief in the Trinity. Jesus often talked about how he and the father are one, such as in John 14. There he also equated the Spirit with himself and with the Father. Paul talked about all three persons of the Trinity indwelling the Christians in an equal way in his grand prayer in Ephesians 3. So, while it is a mysterious doctrine, we believe the Bible teaches God as three-in-one.
Last week we talked about our Identity as adopted children of God. In the coming weeks we’ll look at our identity as temples of the Holy Spirit, and then we’ll conclude the series studying our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. So let’s begin to investigate our identity in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, God the Son.
When it comes to Jesus’ role in the Trinity, though we refer to him as God the Son, is he actually a son? Yes, and no.
At Jesus’ baptism and at his transfiguration, the Gospel writers tell us that a voice spoke from the clouds, both times talking about Jesus: “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.” Considering the Trinity, we read that God the Spirit descended on God the Son at Jesus’ baptism and God the Father spoke over him. It is normal, then, for us to call Jesus, “the Son of God”.
He isn’t actually God’s son, however, in the sense that he had not previously existed and then was conceived and born just like a human son. God uses the label “son” to describe Jesus because, though sonship is a human concept, it helps us understand certain things about Jesus. But let’s be clear, Jesus existed eternally before he was born as a human. He himself said this, such as in John 8:58, when he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” equating himself with the eternal, pre-existent God. Paul said the same thing about Jesus in in in numerous places, such as in Philippians 2:6-8, where he talks about Jesus giving up the exalted position he could have held onto as God, but instead Jesus emptied himself of that right and privilege, and was willing to become a human. Also Paul says in Colossians 1:15-20 that Jesus is the image of God, that through him all things were created, and the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. Jesus was fully God before he became human.
But Jesus did give up his exalted place as God, and he became a human, as Paul taught in Philippians 2. This is the miraculous astounding truth that God took on human flesh, which John wrote about in John 1:14, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This act of God becoming human we call “the incarnation” from the Latin word carne which means “flesh or meat.” God took on flesh in the person of Jesus who was born as a human son. It is amazing and surprising, and why we make such a big deal of Christmas. In addition to God the Father calling Jesus his beloved son, Jesus’ incarnation also gives us reason to call him God the Son, because he was born as a human son, of Mary. Though he is God the Son, let us never consider him as lower than God. He is equal with God; always has been and always will be.
Think about the significance of Jesus as a human son. When Jesus submitted himself to become one of us, he not only showed us how much he loved us, but he also brought a significant update to the way the Trinity related to one another. One of them took on human flesh! This is why Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” as we hear so frequently through the Advent and Christmas season. When he was born, God was with us in a whole new way, as one of us.
The next important question we should ask is, “Why?” Why would God do this? Check back in tomorrow as we attempt to answer that.