The Tri-Unity Of GodErwin W. Lutzer | October 25, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Trinity points us toward the love of God and is crucial to salvation. Without the Trinity, we could not be redeemed because only God Himself could be the suitable sacrifice for our sins. So the Son, empowered by the Spirit, was given by the Father to bridge the gap between sinful humanity and a holy God.
I have sung that song, "The Love of God," many times in my life, but I don’t think I have ever sung it with the depth of meaning that I did today when we sang it together. My subject today is the Trinity. We’re in a series entitled "The Mysteries of God," and many people think that the Trinity is a problem to be solved. They do not understand that it leads us into the depths of God’s love in such a way that not only do we know God better, but we worship Him better with gladness and joy. That’s where this message is leading – gladness and joy! No matter how hard your week has been we’re on our way to great blessing. Thanks for joining me on the journey.
When I was in Istanbul many years ago, a devout Muslim guide said to me, “Even apart from religion and all of the differences that we have, the Trinity makes no sense to me at all because really what you are saying is, ‘One plus one plus one equals one.’” I want to say to the Muslim friends who may be with us today, you are very welcome, and I’d love to have some feedback after this message today. And we are glad that you are here, and I hope that hundreds of Muslims, ideally thousands, would listen to this message to help the Muslim neighbors of ours to distinguish between Christianity and Islam. And because Islam has such a great emphasis on a one-person god, I’m going to be making that comparison from time to time in this message.
In Christianity, what is very clear is, number one, there is only one God. “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God is one,” and the word one there in Hebrew means already a plurality. For example, it says – same word – “Adam and Eve became one flesh.” So you can see here that even in the Old Testament there were hints about the plurality of the Godhead.
So there’s only one God, but it’s also clear that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Father and the Spirit is not the Son. They have distinctiveness, and that’s why we use the word personality. It may not be the best term, but it’s the best we have to contemplate as far as we can the hiddenness of who God is.
Now what about the charge that we believe in a contradiction? You know, one plus one plus one equals one. Of course we don’t believe that. Nobody can believe a contradiction. If I had to believe a contradiction to accept Christianity, I’d have to reject Christianity because it would be irrational.
Let me help you here by an illustration. We have one government in the United States – we have one government here, and yet the government does exist in three branches. You have the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch, and you have all that, and nobody would say, “Well, you know you really have three governments here.” No, we don’t. In the very same way we don’t have three Gods either. We’re not saying that God exists as fully God in three different kinds of Gods. We are saying that God is one. Maybe this will help you. God exists with three centers of consciousness so that even though there is one God, they exist in three persons – three centers of consciousness.
Now as we begin this, I do want to say that I’m going to be referring to John 17 from time to time and you may turn there if you wish. And I’ll be commenting on the last part of the chapter perhaps through this message and particularly when we get to the end so you can open your Bibles to John 17. I want to say also that a couple of weeks ago a person gave me an idea to read the little book entitled The Good God by Michael Reeves. I read that book. It’s an exposition really of the Trinity, and I have to say that many of his ideas are in this message today, ideas that I’ve always known, but he said them more clearly than I had ever heard them before.
So with that intro, let’s plunge in. Let’s ask God to keep us focused because remember that the goal is to know God as far as He can be known in this life, and then that will continue for all eternity. “This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” So we are on a quest, and we’re on that quest together.
First of all, let me make a couple of comments regarding God the Father. Now I want to ask you a question. How long has God been a Father? Was this a new idea to Him? Well, the answer, of course, from the Scripture is no, He has been a Father from all eternity. He has been a Father for as long as He existed because the Son is eternal, and so throughout all eternity, the Father has loved the Son. Love is not some new idea. It is part of who God is. What this means is that God’s primary identity is not power. Now He has power. He’s known as the Almighty God, but His primary identity is love. He has always loved. He has always been a Father.
Now if you believe in a one-person god, then you could say that throughout all the ages before creation, this one-person god was loving no one; perhaps himself, but basically loving no one. And therefore when He appears on the scene and chooses to create, His primary identity is one of power and might: “You had better obey Me or I’ll send you to hell.” That’s the kind of god in a one-person god who never knew love or loved throughout all of eternity. The Father’s primary chief identity is love, and also this Father, who has loved the Son, is going to create other sons and daughters. And we come into the picture at that point.
But let’s move on to God the Son. Well, we’ve already said that He’s an eternal Son. The folks who show up at your door and say that Jesus was created, they miss it. Yes, He is spoken of as a Son, but that does not mean that He is indeed limited by time or that He had a beginning. It’s the imagery that is used to help us to understand the relationship of the two members of the Trinity, so it’s very important to realize that He is the eternal Son, having existed as long as God. If there was a time when the Son didn’t exist, there’d be a time when God wasn’t loving, and no such time ever existed because He is eternal.
Now at this point we have to help our Muslim friends understand something – that when we call Jesus the Son of God, we certainly do not mean that God had a sexual relationship with Mary and the result was Jesus. That would be as abhorrent to us as it would be to anyone in any religion. That is not at all what we believe. That would be distinctly pagan.
What we believe is that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem this divine nature of the eternal Son was joined to humanity so that He could redeem us. I am so excited about the next message in this series, I don’t know. Along the way I might tell you about it. It’s just blowing me away, but I want you to concentrate on the Trinity for a few moments here.
Now the point is that Mary, therefore, gave birth to a child who has a divine nature and a human nature. And by the way, He still has that human nature. That’s why in glory we shall someday see Jesus. And I have no doubt that we’re actually going to be seeing the nail prints in His hands. He will be a man throughout all of eternity, but He’ll also be divine.
So the Son’s chief identity is what? The Son’s chief identity is to do the Father’s will. The delight of Jesus when He was here on earth… Repeatedly He says, “I delight to do Thy will, oh God.” If we had time we’d turn to the last verse of the fourteenth chapter of John where Jesus said, “I always do whatever the Father wants,” and when Jesus did what the Father wanted, when the Father was pleased, the Son was pleased. That was His greatest delight – to please the Father.
So the Father is the one who loves, and the Son is the Beloved One. When Jesus was baptized, the words were, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” What a wonderful way to describe this relationship. He is the One who is beloved of the Father. Remember the Father’s chief identity is to love, and God loved the world and sent His Son. I’ll comment on that in a moment.
What about the Holy Spirit? Well, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to the Son, and this happened, as you know, at the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus goes forth in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to do miracles, so what you always have is members of the Trinity in love, in honor and pleasing one another for as long as God existed, and that’s a very long time.
Now, having said that and having introduced you all too briefly to the Trinity, I feel that I am walking through a garden, and we’re just walking, and I would love to point out all of the nuances, and all of the flowers along the way, but we have to get to the end of the garden. And today the end of the garden is where untold blessings lie, so we are on our way.
So let’s say a word about creation. Now it’s interesting that in creation all three members of the Trinity were involved. God has spoken as creator, but He creates through the Son. Therefore the Bible says, “Through Him (the Son) all things were created,” and the Spirit hovers above the waters, also being involved in the creation story. But let me ask you a question. Why did God create anything anyway? Your Sunday school teacher probably said, “Well, you know, God was up there, and He was kind of lonely, and He said to Himself, ‘I’d like to have some people to love and to have fellowship with, and who will worship Me, because there’s a part of Me that really needs this.’” Well, I don’t think so. Paul said in Acts 17, God had need of nothing. He didn’t need any one of us. He was totally fulfilled throughout all of eternity. But He did decide to create and that was an overflow of His love. He says, “I have so much love I am going to create, and I’m going to beget other sons and daughters.” And that’s exactly what He did.
The first creation, of course, was filled with unity and what shall we say? Unity, harmony, beauty! And by the way, have you ever noticed this about Christianity? Christianity has a love affair with music. You look at some of the great music that we have been singing this morning, and you look at the great cantatas of a man like Johann Sebastian Bach. And I mention him because we have a whole row of Germans here today so we want to honor them by mentioning Bach. Yes, you can give them a hand. (applause)
Bach believed that when he wrote those cantatas he was like a mirror of the Trinity, the harmony that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He believed that all of the notes were created by God and they could be put together in such a way that music would have grandeur, it would have gravitas, it would inspire people, and it would enable us to worship God better.
Now go throughout the world and look at all the other religions and find out whether or not you can find one that has the kind of music Christianity has. Those do not exist. They may have chants, but not music because Christians believe that the unity of God, and the beauty of the universe were created so that all the notes fit and harmonize in a way that are of God. So that’s the creation.
Now what do we say about salvation? Well, as you know, Adam and Eve really blew it, and they blew it big time. I once wrote a book entitled Making the Best of a Bad Decision. Nobody knows about it. I have the gift of writing. Few people have the gift of reading (laughter) apparently. But the first chapter is about Adam and Eve, and I say nobody has ever blown it as bad as they have. Tell me your story. It’s not as bad as theirs. A perfect garden, and they blow it and sin enters. Now Adam and Eve were created to obey God, yes, but to worship God and to love God. When they sinned and everything went horribly wrong (and we see that horribly wrong all throughout the whole world today), they didn’t stop loving. It’s just that they stopped loving God and they started to love themselves because they were lovers of self. And now you have selfishness entering into the world, and self-protection and anger and “I need my rights,” and “These rights impinge upon your rights,” and the whole history of the human race with its war is very evident.
So the Bible says in John 3:16, the most famous of all the verses in the Bible, “For God so loved the world (Remember, the Father’s chief identity is love.) that He gave His only begotten Son (So the Son is sent.), that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Why was the Son sent? Well, you say, “To forgive our sins.” Yes, that’s true, but that’s not the ultimate reason. The forgiveness of sins was necessary so that we might worship God and love God. The greatest commandment is not that thy sin shall be forgiven. The greatest commandment is, “Thou shall love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” So that’s the commandment. What God was saying is, “It isn’t just a matter of forgiveness. It is a matter of restoring the broken fellowship so that man and God can love, and our love goes to Him.
Listen to what the Bible says in 1 John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love God does not know God, because God is love. And in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” The primary identity of the Father is love. And so He sends the Son to redeem us.
Now, I hope that you understand this, and I’m going to emphasize this again in the next sermon because the next sermon is going to be answering this question: “Jesus is God?” Yeah, He’s God. “He dies? You mean God died?” If you are thinking that, that’s good to think, but be sure to come back next time for the message on that topic.
Now, the point is this. In pagan religions, and I may mention this again, what you have is (and Christianity is sometimes criticized), “Oh, look at this religion. They offered sacrifices. You know the sacrifices of blood are found in all religions, and Christianity is just the same.” No, it’s not. In all the other religions what you have is people bringing sacrifices. In Christianity, God becomes the sacrifice. Wow! And God demands a payment for sin, and He supplies what He demands, so that redemption is of God. You can’t find that in any other religion.
Now, if you believe in a one-person God, such as Islam, God might let bygones be bygones, and forgive you. But He has no just basis upon which to do so except to let bygones be bygones. And more likely, He’s going to ask you to suffer for your own sin and make your own payment. So in redemption we have a redeeming God that you need a Trinity for. No other god can be a redeeming god without the Trinity.
Now how do we bring this down so that our lives are changed and we understand the profound implications? First of all, I’ve emphasized this. God has always been a Father. He’s always been a Father. Since the beginning of time He loved the Son. He’s always been a Father. The distinctive mark of Christianity is that God is the Father.
Now there is a book written by a woman whose name I’m probably going to mispronounce, but it’s Bilquis Sheikh. That’s the best I can do. She wrote a book entitled I Dared to Call Him Father. She was in a deeply Muslim family in Pakistan. Somebody gave her a Bible, and she began to read the Bible, and suddenly the whole idea of love began to grip her. And she says in her book (and the book is entitled, as I mentioned, I Dared to Call Him Father) that it is when she called God “Father,” she knew that she was no longer praying to Allah because in Islam it would be a great mistake to call God Father. But the distinguishing mark of Christianity is that God is Father. Jesus said, “In this way pray, ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’” And it’s mentioned also in the Old Testament that God is Father because God’s primary identity is love.
I remember praying with a woman years ago who used to come to me. She struggled deeply with alcoholism, and she’d go a couple of weeks, and then she’d fall again and feel so terrible over what she did, so she’d say, “Pastor, pray with me.” Here’s an interesting thing. She was a believer in Jesus Christ. There was no doubt about it, but I always smiled within my heart with great joy because every time she began to pray, this was her opening line: “Father, you know that I love You, and I want You to forgive me for what I’ve done.” Now who told her to pray that way? Did I tell her, “Hey, now when you pray your opening line is, ‘Father, I love You?’” Of course not! I didn’t have to. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit of God is given to us, and we learn a lot of things by that Spirit, but the Holy Spirit of God is given to us by which we call and we say, “Abba, Father,” Abba being a term of endearment for God. Some people say it’s something like Daddy. Abba Father! Where does that come from? It is birthed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And if you are here today and you just pray to God, and you don’t pray to God as your Father, almost certainly you are not a Christian; you are not redeemed.
Now, how do people who believe that God is their Father handle the adversities of life? Shouldn’t a father bail them out whenever he can? Well, the Father loves us more than our earthly fathers, but He does have a different agenda.
But let me give you an example of what they do. Carolina Sandal Berg was a woman who lived in Sweden and she was on a boat with her father, and the boat lurched. I think that this was probably in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds, so they didn’t have a way in which to rescue him. So there she is. She’s watching her father drown. How does a Christian process this business of being a child of God and tragedy comes? Well, she wrote the words of a hymn, which Rebecca and I heard this past week because we attended a funeral.
Children of the heavnly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth
Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne’er forsaketh
His, the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy
Christians trust the Father to the very end because they know that this isn’t the only life, and He will be our Father throughout eternity.
So, the first thing we learn is that God always has been a loving Father, and that’s why when we were singing The Love of God I could sing it with such depth of meaning:
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
and were the sky of parchment made,
were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade.
I didn’t know that I could quote that. I was a little nervous getting into it thinking I might have to add some extra words and have it come out right.
The second lesson that we can learn is that the only way to the Father is through the Son. The only way to the Father is through the Son. And this makes sense. He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. He did the will of the Father. He came to redeem humanity. No prophet has ever done that. No teacher has ever done that. No guru is able to do that. There is only one person qualified to that, to redeem us, and that’s Jesus. And it’s only Jesus that gets us to God the Father. Do I have an amen here today? (applause)
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by Me.” And by the way, since we have some Germans here today, I’ve never done this in the 36 years that I’ve been here at the Moody Church, but for them I’m going to quote that verse in German. (Quotes verse in German) Did I do okay back there? (applause) I know three verses in German and I just shared one of them. (laughter)
So if you are listening to this today, and you are investigating Christianity, understand more about Jesus. Understand His beauty. Understand who He is and what He did. You say, “Well, you know, that’s a very narrow view that you only get to God through Jesus.” Of course, it’s narrow, but it’s open to everyone. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to. It doesn’t matter what spectrum you are on in terms of your past life. It is open to everyone, so while it is narrow, it is narrow for a good reason, but it is open to all who humble themselves and receive Him.
And by the way, what does the text say? John 1:12: “For as many as received Him to them He gave the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on His name.” Amazing promise!
Third, it’s very important to realize that those who believe in the Son are invited to participate in the relationship of the Trinity. They are invited to participate and enjoy the relationship of the Trinity.
And now at last we do come to John 17. Now this is the prayer of Jesus to the Father, and He is praying to the Father and it opens the door to an understanding of the Trinity, the likes of which is just incredible. No wonder John 17 is one of the favorite chapters of many Christians. You have many favorite chapters but this certainly is one of them.
Notice what Jesus says in John 17, verse 20 and 21: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus is saying that relationship that exists between the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and they never have an argument, is the relationship that should exist among us as believers. Well, if you know anything about living with believers, you now that we’re a long way from that, but that’s the ideal. That’s why racism is such a sin. It’s because the unity into which Jesus Christ brings us is a unity of fellowship, is a unity of oneness, and such distinctions are sinful. “Well, you know, to live above with the saints I love, oh that will be glory. But to live below with the saints I know, that’s another story.” But that’s the ideal.
So He prays that we may be one, and then this blows you away, but this is in God’s Word. Verse 22: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them.” And we say, “Wait a moment. The Old Testament says that God says, ‘I will not share my glory with another.’” Well look at the text. Always keep your finger on the text. The Father gives the Son glory, but it is now the Son’s prerogative to give that glory to us. I’m just reading the text: “The glory that you have given me I am giving to them.”
So, do you deserve that? I don’t. I can’t speak on your behalf but I think your wife would be glad to. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me.” The world should look at us and say, “Why do those folks love each other so much? And why do they love beyond the church and love others?” That’s what the world should be saying. Unfortunately, not all the time does the world see that. But that’s the prayer of Jesus.
And then you get to love. I’m in the last part of verse 23: “You have loved them even as you have loved me.” Really? The Son is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased, and he’s been well pleased with him from all of eternity, and Jesus said, “You love them the same way.”
You say, “I sure don’t feel that love.” Your feelings are lying to you if you’re a believer.
And then if you wonder, “Well, how did the Father love the Son?” Well, now I’m in the last part of verse 24: “You have loved me from before the foundation of the world.” So how long ago did God love you, dear believer? From before the foundation of the world! If you’ve been following this series of messages you know that when I spoke on the decrees of God last time you were in God’s mind for as long as God existed. And what this means is God doesn’t play games with us and say, “Well, you know, I love him today because he had a warm time in his devotions, but you know, he didn’t, and now I don’t love him so much because look at sin in his life. And my love, you know, kind of depends on his response.” No! The love depends on the fact that Jesus paid it all. We are seen as being in Him and therefore He can say, “I love you from before the foundation of the world.” All of that!
You know, the Bible says that we inherit all things. Jesus inherits all things. Alright? That’s a pretty good inheritance, wouldn’t you say, Larry, to inherit all things? That’s beautiful! We could sign up for that.
Romans 8: “He who spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” If Jesus died for you to redeem you, why is He going to withhold anything else in eternity to come? The fact is He won’t. And so you and I get to enjoy the relationship of the Trinity. And of course, we enjoy it so imperfectly now, but the day is coming when we will understand that this prayer will be fully and totally answered. You’ll notice what Jesus ends by praying. He says, “Oh righteous Father (in verse 25), even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I’ve made known to them your name and will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.”
The passage actually I wanted to emphasize is where Jesus said here, “I desire that they be with me (That’s verse 24), that they whom you have given me may be with me where I am that they may behold your glory.”
Heaven isn’t the golden streets. It isn’t the magnificent stream where God is going to have His throne. It isn’t even so much us meeting each other up there, though the Bible invites us to be excited about the fact that we’re going to be reunited with those who have gone before. Ultimately heaven is that we are with Him, and with Him throughout all of eternity.
I heard a hallelujah out there. Could we give God a hand please? (applause)
Paul Gibson was, I think, the president of Cambridge at one time, and they commissioned that a painting of him be made, and when it was unveiled, he said something that was a tremendous compliment to the artist. He said, “When people look at this painting they aren’t going to ask the question, ‘Who is it that is painted?’ They are going to look at it and they are going to say, ‘Who was that painter?’”
Throughout all of eternity, the angels in heaven, and anyone else who happens to be looking on, are not going to say, “Wow, who are those redeemed people?” No, they are going to say, “Who is their redeemer that they should be so exalted?” (applause)
And so if you’ve never trusted Christ as your Savior, if you don’t call God Father, come to Him through Jesus. Admit your sinfulness and the Spirit of God within you will bubble up as it were, figuratively speaking, and you’ll call Him Father. What a blessed thing to call our God!
Well, I don’t think I can do any better in this message, which I’m going to end in a moment by quoting 2 Corinthians, chapter (I’m seeing it in my mind’s eye now) 13, verse 14. People ask, “Do you have a photographic memory?” I must because it’s always working in the dark (laughter), but I’m seeing it now in my Bible. It says this: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” What a blessed way to end a letter. The Trinity right there! The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – may it be with you!
Now Father, I ask in the name of Jesus that Your Holy Spirit would enliven our worship. Help us to know that You are entirely worthy of all of our worship. And for those who have never believed on Jesus, we pray, Lord, may they see Him as the way to the Father – the only way to the Father. We thank You that He has loved us from all of eternity, and we thank You that we shall someday see the fulfillment of His prayers, that we shall be with Him where He is forever. We ask now, Lord, that there may be those who are believing on Christ right now, reaching out and saying, “I can’t call God Father, but I want to. I will dare to call Him my Father because I’ve received His Son.” We can’t do that, Lord. That’s up to Your Spirit, and the work that You do in people’s hearts. For those whose hearts are prompted, cause them to believe. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.