Three In One

His_Baptism017More often than not, I think of God as One. I mean, He is. But in some mysterious way, He is also three, without subdividing. He exists as Father, Son, and Spirit and yet the three are one. The theological term for God’s triune being is Trinity, and it may be the hardest concept for someone not schooled in Christianity to grasp.

The Jews of Jesus’s day seemed to have some knowledge of the oneness of God because they understood Jesus’s claims to be God’s Son as declarations of equality with God:

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 5:18)

Recently I heard a sermon about Jesus, co-equal with the Father, submitting to His will.

I also read the Scripture passage not too long ago about Jesus answering the question concerning when the end of all things will take place and He will set up His kingdom, by saying that no one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son—only the Father:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matt. 24:36)

These kinds of clear differences between Jesus and the Father indicate that they each have a role to play, in the same way that Jesus died on the cross, not the Father.

In fact, at Jesus’s baptism, all three Persons manifest their presence: Jesus as the One undergoing baptism, the Father proclaiming Jesus to be His Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove alighting on Jesus.

The thing I find so interesting is that within their unity they exhibit submission. Jesus clearly submits His will to the Father when He prays in the Garden before His crucifixion. In a perhaps more understated way, the Spirit also submits because He waited until Jesus ascended to heaven before taking His place in the life of the believers.

Jesus told His followers about the Holy Spirit, explaining that when He left, the Spirit would come, and that it was actually better that way. You could say, Jesus was telling them that the Spirit was “better” than He was.

But regardless how we look at this remarkable prophecy, it’s clear there was unity within their difference. Jesus came to show people the Father and the Spirit came to guide them into all truth.

So the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One, though they manifest as three. They are actually He, since God introduced Himself to Moses by saying, I AM THAT I AM. Tell the people I AM sent you.

And yet in Genesis, God begins creation by saying, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. This use of the plural pronouns shouldn’t be misunderstood as a suggestion that God is plural, however. Scripture is peppered with statements about God’s uniqueness as the only God. The pivotal passage for religious Jews is the statement in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). But there are other sections of Scripture that declare God to be One, often by emphasizing His uniqueness:

Take Isaiah 44:6 for instance.

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me.’

It appears that this passage declares the King and the Redeemer to be the same person, the God besides whom is no one else.

Jeremiah echoes this same idea:

But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King. (10:10a)

Certainly Scripture recognizes the claims of other gods, but reiterates that God is over them as the only true God:

* “I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God. (Isaiah 45:5a)

* “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

* “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the LORD your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.” (Joel 2:27)

So God is One.

John makes a clear statement of Jesus’s place in the Godhead:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1)

And in case anyone is in doubt that “the Word” refers to Jesus, John clarifies that as well:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (1:14-18)

The uniqueness of God as a Trinity is amazing in itself, but the fact that we can learn so much by looking at His example is also important. I could wax eloquent about the unity of the Godhead, the agreed purpose of each Person with the other two Persons, or I could expound on the role each fills and the overlap that reiterates the nature of God’s oneness.

But I want to come back to the fact of Christ’s submission to the Father. Without breaking the unity of the triune God, without becoming less than God or lower in importance, Christ accepted His place as the One who would ask the Father for permission while accepting the Father’s authority to deny His request.

Clearly there is no shame in accepting the role God intended, even for Himself. He is King, Lord over principalities and powers, over those in the heavens and on earth, and yet He took on flesh, came to earth as a baby, and submitted to His human parents as He grew to manhood. This is the humility Paul says we are to emulate: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant” (Phil. 2:5-6).

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One Comment

  1. Great post, Becky. I sometimes think of how limited our human brains really are. In the world right now we’re struggling just to define gender. The trinity becomes even more of a struggle, our brains demand plural or singular, but never both at the same time. Paradoxes do not compute well in our minds and sometimes I think God places them in our path just to help make us aware of how limited our capacity for understanding really is.

    Again marriage comes to mind, we are two but we are really one flesh, except God is in that relationship too, so now there are three that have become one. It is an imperfect example, and yet it speaks to how God repeats His design, provides us numerous and ample ways to understand His ways, as best we can.

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