Tethered To the Trinity
June 15, 2003
Have you ever met anybody that you consider to be a namedropper — someone who likes to drop out names to impress you? We all know namedroppers. They are pretty humorous. If you will forgive me, I want to name drop. We are in church, so you can forgive me for this. [Ed begins to talk sarcastically about how he “knows” George Bush.] I know President George W. Bush. I mean, I really know the guy. I’ve read some stuff written about him. I’ve talked to some people who know him really well. When I was a kid, I visited the White House. I took a tour of the place where he hangs out now. Several years ago, I even shook his hand and had a quick conversation with him. I know President George Bush. Aren’t you impressed? I really know him. I do. [Ed laughs to show that he was being sarcastic.] No, I don’t. I know about him, but I don’t know George Bush. I don’t know the essence of who he is. I don’t really know him.
We often talk about God in the same terms. “Oh, I know God. I know God. I’ve read some stuff he has written down. I’ve visited his house, occasionally — especially during Christmas Eve and Easter. I know some people who are really connected to him. I know God.”
No, you don’t. You know about God, but you don’t really know God. That’s precisely why we are beginning a series called TRI-GOD. We want this series to be a series that doesn’t just tell you about God but helps you me to really get to know God on an intimate level. God has revealed himself to us as Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s the foundation of Christianity. The deepest questions of life are, “What is God like? Who is God? Who is he?” He’s all about the Trinity.
Over the last several weeks, while I’ve been studying for this topic, I have talked to a lot of people who have been Christians for a long time about the Trinity. I’ve asked them two simple questions. I asked, “Hey, have you ever heard a series of messages on the Trinity?” They said, “No.” I asked, “Have you ever heard just one sermon on the Trinity?” They said, “No.” When you think about it, that’s sad. It’s pitiful, because the Trinity is what Christianity is all about. It’s the foundation of Christianity. God is one in essence and three in persons.
This study is paramount for all of us because Trinitarian implications loom large. For example, how do you know that you are going to heaven? The answer is the Trinity. How do you know that your sins have been forgiven and forgotten? The answer is the Trinity. How can you have an incredible marriage, deep intimacy and communication? How? The answer is the Trinity. How can your family operate from the same page? The answer is the Trinity. How can you have the power to overcome that hurtful habit, that substance abuse or that relational hang-up? The answer is the Trinity. Why do you have a desire for unity? The trinity. Diversity? The Trinity. Equality? The Trinity.
This series, friends, I believe, will change the course of our lives. We are answering the question, “What is God like and how does that affect and play out in my existence as well?” In this introductory talk, I’m going to lob two questions your way and talk about the answers. The first question is, “What is the Trinity?” The second question is, “Why does the Trinity matter?” We have helped you out by providing a message map in your worship guide. So, follow along, fill in the blanks and use it as a resource because each message builds to the next.
What is the Trinity? The Trinity is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We know that. But, specifically, the word “Trinity” means, “tri-unity” or, “three in oneness.” I’m going to talk about three statements right now, and I will go back to these statements throughout our series together.
Here’s the first one: God is three persons.
Here’s the second one: each is fully God.
Here’s the third one: there is one God.
Some of you are saying, “Ed, wait a minute. That’s a contradiction. Let me look at my message map here. God’s three persons. Okay. Each is fully God and there is one God. That’s a contradiction.” No, that’s not a contradiction. A contradiction is, “There is one God – there is not one God.” That’s a contradiction. The Trinity is a mystery. This is something so vast, so broad, and so infinite that we can’t totally download everything. That’s how big, that’s how mighty God is. So, we have to own that and understand that right up front. Repeat this phrase with me… God is one in essence and three in persons. Are you ready? One, two, three… God is one in essence and three in persons. He is one in essence and three in persons. I promise you at the end of our series together, you and I will understand as much as we can in our finiteness. Not only will we understand it intellectually, but we will also be able to apply it in our lives here on Earth.
When we look at the Trinity, we have to understand our own limitations. Write that down as big as Dallas. We have to understand our limitations. We are limited. We are the creatures and God is the creator. We are just limited. We don’t have it all figured out. We have to check our pride and ego at the door — not our intellect, because God wants thinking people. But, we have to check our pride at the door. Now, if you are a seeker, if you are not a Christ-follower, or if you are kind of testing the waters of Christianity, then this is a great series for you. You can discover, through this series, who it is you are seeking. You will know the personality of the Lord himself.
What is so interesting about the Trinity is that a lot of us are experiencing Trinitarian blessings without even realizing it. If you have become a Christian, then you have experienced the Trinity. If you have been baptized, then you have experienced the Trinity. If you read God’s Word, the Bible, then you experience the Trinity. If you are married, then you are experiencing the Trinity. It’s all about the Trinity.
What are we limited by? We are limited by our humanity. We are human beings. We are the creatures and God is the creator. We are sinners. We can never, ever, fully understand the Trinity. I’ll say it again. We can never, ever, fully understand the Trinity. Even when we get to heaven, there will be a mystery surrounding the Trinity; a mystery surrounding God. But we shouldn’t say, “Well, I’ll never understand it so I’m just not going to study, and I’m not going to know as much as I can know.” That would not be smart. We need to have understanding, because the more understanding we have, the greater our intimacy becomes. The greater our intimacy becomes, the greater our life change will be. But, we are never, ever, going to fully grasp this stuff. We are limited by our humanity.
Read Isaiah 55:8-9. “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says God. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Listen to what author James White says. “The Trinity is a truth that tests our dedication to the principle that God is smarter than we are.” Study the major world religions and you will see that most of them have a whacked view of the Trinity. Do you know why? You can trace it back to the founders. Their founders were not willing to admit that God is wider, bigger, broader and more mysterious than they ever imagined. Thus, you have whacked theology and whacked beliefs. We will talk more about that next weekend.
So, we are limited by our humanity. When it comes to the Trinity, we are also limited by our language, because our language is based on time — past, present and future. The Trinity, however, is timeless. There is no beginning and no end to the Trinity. Think about that for a second. The Trinity has existed forever. Just think about that — forever. Talk about sensory overload! It will fry out brains. We can’t comprehend that — forever? Everything we know of has a beginning and an ending. Forever? The Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit are co-existent and co-eternal. People say, sometimes, that God is omniscient. That means he is all knowing. He is omnipresent. That means he is everywhere. He is omnipotent. That means he is all-powerful. When I say those terms, we think about God the Father. But, don’t just think about God the Father. Those terms, those attributes, are true with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well. They have always existed together in perfect unity, in perfect harmony, and in perfect uniqueness. We are limited by our language.
I remember when LeeBeth was born, 16 years ago. I was in the delivery room and the doctor handed me this baby. Parents, you know what I’m talking about. I couldn’t even articulate my emotions. I simply started crying. I can’t tell you how I feel about my kids, nor can you, moms and dads. This is especially true for dads on this Father’s Day. We can’t describe how we feel.
I love to use illustrations when I talk — analogies. Why do I do that? Do I do it just to do it? No. I do it because Jesus did it. That was Christ’s teaching model. 70% of his words were words of application, words of word pictures. The other 30% were information. That’s why I teach the way I teach. But, I am going to tell you something. When I try to illustrate the Trinity, every single illustration I use will break down at some point. Why? Because that’s how broad, that’s how vast, and that’s how mysterious the Trinity really is.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12, compares our understanding to that of a child. “When I was a child, I talked like child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Get this one down. Our limitations — we know we are limited by humanity and language — should not deter our explorations. Once again, we shouldn’t say, “This is just too much for me, man. This is over my head.” Don’t let that scare you, because you don’t have to really understand something to really experience it.
Let me take you to Matthew 28:19. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Trinity is implicit in scripture. It is not explicit. You will not find the word “Trinity” in the Bible. You can search from Genesis all the way to the maps. (They have maps in the back.) It’s not in there. You will not see in scripture where it says, “Here is the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” It’s implicit. The deity of Christ, Jesus being fully God and fully man, is implicit, not explicit, in scripture. It’s there, and for two thousand years, it’s been recognized. But, you will not find the word. Christ used the word “disciple” in Matthew 28. Do you know what the word “disciple” means? It means learner. If you are a disciple, then you are a learner. Being a disciple, though, is a decision followed by a process. The decision that we make is a Trinitarian decision. We believe that God the Father sent God the Son to die on the cross for our sins and rise again. We believe that God the Son ascended back to the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. Once we receive that, we receive the total package. We are tethered to the Trinity. That’s the decision. The process occurs as we get to know God better, deeper and richer. That’s what “disciple” means.
It’s kind of funny to look around the world, because the world has a lot of things that are illustrations and shadows of the Trinity. There are a lot of Trinitarian shadows here on earth. Today is Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers. Being a father is a Trinitarian shadow because we are dads, we are husbands and we are sons. Think about time. Time is a Trinitarian shadow. You have got past, present and future. Think about space. You have height, length and width — a Trinitarian shadow. Think about music. You have got Earth, Wind and Fire. As you look at earth, you see a lot of things that are analogous to things in heaven. Think about the family. You have a husband, wife and offspring. You can on and on with Trinitarian type shadows.
I’ll say it again; you don’t have to understand something to experience it. Do you agree with that? You don’t have to understand it fully. My mother bought me an MP3 player. It has hundreds of songs on it. When I run five to six days a week, I listen to that MP3 player. I don’t understand it because I am technologically challenged, but I experience it. Last night I channel surfed. I don’t understand the intricacies of television but I experienced it. Right now, I am experiencing gravity; yet, I don’t understand everything about the law of gravity. I feel and experience the love I have for my wife. I don’t understand it all, but I experience it. So, we need to realize that.
Again, don’t say, “I’m not going to try to understand anything about it.” If you have a friendship with someone that you want to grow deeper, then you find out more about that person. You try to gain knowledge about that person. The more you do this, the deeper your relationship becomes. You don’t say, “No, don’t tell me anymore about yourself. Don’t tell me how you feel about this. Don’t tell me about your hobbies or your likes and dislikes. I don’t want to know anything. Don’t tell me.” If you do, then your relationship will never grow. You will never have a rich friendship. The same is true with God. You shouldn’t say, “No, Trinity, no. I don’t want to hear it. Just let me keep you at a distance, God.” If you say that, then you are never going to discover Trinitarian truths.
I would love to diesel on and talk to you about how the Godhead is co-existent and co-eternal. I would love to talk about how the Godhead voluntarily subordinates itself to one another, but that is for a later time. God is one in essence and three in persons.
Now, let’s do the why question, because many of you might be like me. You may be a “why” person. You are probably asking right now, “Okay, Ed, why does this matter? I understand that God is three persons, that each is fully God and that there is one God, but why does this matter to me?”
I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you three quick reasons the why of the Trinity, or you could say the whys of the Trinity, matter.
Number one — the Trinity refines our relationship with God. That’s what the Trinity does. It refines our relationship with God. While I was growing up in church, I learned a song. You have probably heard it before. It was probably my favorite song as a kid. It’s called, “Deep and Wide.”
[Ed begins to sing the song, “Deep and Wide.”]
“Deep and Wide. Deep and Wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.” I love that song. There are blanks you know. “_________ and wide. ___________ and wide. There’s a fountain flowing ____________ and wide.”
I think a lot of us are _________ and wide, spiritually speaking. God doesn’t want us to be _________ and wide. He wants us to be deep and wide. The Trinity will help us grow deep and wide.
In Jeremiah 9:23-24, the Lord says, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me.”
“Knows me.” This is God speaking. So, the number one goal in life, our number one agenda, should be to know God. If we are going to know God, we have got to understand something about his personality — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — and how he reveals himself to us.
Look at what the Apostle Paul prayed for as he talked to the Christians in Ephesus. He said, “My prayer is that these people would know God through the Trinity.” Check this out. In Ephesians 1:17, Paul said, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
During this series, many of us are going to be dropped to silence; maybe through a song like the one we did today, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” maybe through God’s word, or maybe through prayer. That’s cool. It’s wonderful to just sit back and say, “God, I worship you. You are so vast. You are so mighty. You are so awesome. I can just comprehend some of you. And I worship you because of that.”
Deep and wide. So, it refines, or it deepens, our relationship with God.
Number two — it centers our understanding of the Gospel. You could say — it aligns our understanding of the Gospel. Let’s talk about alignment for a second. Here is something that can happen in your life and mine. If we are not careful in this me-istic culture, we can think that we are the center of the Gospel. Do you know what the Gospel is? The Gospel is the Good News. We can think that we are the center. We can actually tell ourselves, “It’s all about me. God needs me. That’s right. God needs me. God created me because he was lonely, and there was a hole in his heart. So, weak and pitiful God created me. I am the center of the Gospel.”
That line of thinking is wrong. It will not hold biblical water. God does not need you or me. Within the Trinity, God had, has and will have perfect fellowship, perfect relationship, perfect harmony, perfect unity, and perfect individuality. He does not need you or me. He created us because of His love, His grace and His mercy. But, God does not need us. A lot of people are running around and thinking, “Wow, God needs me on his team. I bet God is saying, ‘Man, I’m lucky to have her,’ or, ‘I’m lucky to have him.’”
Listen to the words of John Piper. “Unless we begin with God in this way,” in other words, God being the center of the Gospel, “when the Gospel comes to us, we will inevitably put ourselves at the center of the Gospel. We will feel that our value, rather than God’s value, is the driving force of the Gospel. We’ll trace the Gospel back to God’s need for us instead of tracing it back to the sovereign grace that rescues sinners in need of God.”
God doesn’t exist for us. We exist for God. The greatest thing we can do is to know God and to realize that it is all about God. That’s why I said several weeks ago that salvation is outside of ourselves. We are in rubble trouble. We can’t build anything to reach God. God has built everything to reach us through the Trinity. It’s by God’s grace, mercy and power that everything happens. So, God is at the center of the Gospel. We must have alignment.
So, the Trinity refines our relationship with God. It aligns our understanding of the Gospel. Number three — it defines the uniqueness of Christianity. It defines the uniqueness of Christianity. You can throw every major world religion into one four-dimensional box — height, length, width and time. Christianity, though, blows the doors off the box, because of the Trinity.
Whenever you hear someone say, “You know, all religions are pretty much the same,” do you know what these people are telling you? They are saying, “I am ignorant and I have never studied the world religions.” Whenever you hear someone say that, just remember that they are advertising their ignorance, because it’s true. They have never studied the religions, because the Trinity is so unique, and it’s so one-of-a-kind, that there is nothing even close to it in the other major world religions.
Einstein said he thought that there are something like 11 different dimensions. Some people think there might be 14 different dimensions. We only operate in four dimensions — only four. Next weekend, I am going to show you the uniqueness of the Trinity and how the Trinity is just about Christianity. I am going to show you how Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, and other -isms have a whacked view of the Trinity. That’s next weekend. That’s important for us because we need to understand who we are in Christ and who we are as Christians, so that we will not fall prey to people who have a whacked view of the foundation of our faith.
Sadly, we have not received any teaching on the Trinity. As a result, Christians have suffered. But, we are going to change that course with this series. I believe that this series is going to revolutionize how we live our lives.
1 Corinthians 1:20,25 say, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
We must worship God as he has revealed himself to us, and not just in ways that we, in our finiteness, can understand.
The first time I saw her, she had on an orange dress. I got her phone number and called her. Several months later, we began to date, if you can call it that. I am talking about my wife, Lisa. It was about 27 years ago. Can you believe that? Twenty-seven years ago I fell in love with her. The more I understand her, the more my love has grown for her, and the greater our intimacy and communication have grown. It’s been a great thing.
That’s been my prayer for you over the last several weeks as I prepared for this series. It’s been my prayer that all of us fall passionately and madly in love with the Trinity. People say, “I love God’s grace. I love God’s mercy. I love the church. I love the Bible.” But, you never hear anyone say, “I love the Trinity.” We should. It’s my prayer that we fall madly in love with the Trinity. It’s my prayer that we understand the Trinity in a deeper and wider realm. It’s my prayer that we understand the personality of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, because that is what it truly means to Tri-God.