Updated: Apr 29, 2022
A group of Italians are awaiting our return to Verona to start a church. Until then, we have a Bible study each Thursday in Italian through video conferencing (Zoom). Recently I was asked by an apostolic pentecostal man who attends our Bible study to explain the Trinity. It has been a particular point of contention given his beliefs on modalism; which is the false view on the nature of God that claims the Father, Son and Spirit are simply different forms, or modes, of the same divine Person. According to modalism, God can switch among three different manifestations and somehow the Son must be His own Father, send Himself, love Himself, pray to Himself and seat Himself at His own right hand.
The Trinity is the biblical revelation that God is triune; that is, He has revealed Himself to be one God in three coequal and coeternal Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What is meant by the word “person” in regards to the three “Persons” of the Trinity? The word “person” helps us to describe the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each have personhood or personality. Each Person of the Trinity are distinct from one another. For example, in John 14:16-17, Jesus (God the Son) prays to the Father about sending a Comforter (the Holy Spirit). Jesus was not speaking to Himself. He was talking to the Father about the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each have distinct centers of intellect, emotion and volition and yet each are the one true God. In mathematical terms, the Trinity is not 1+1+1=3 (three gods) but rather 1x1x1=1 (one God). Although, in discussing this with an Italian friend (one of the first I led to Christ in Italy), he pointed out his disdain for trying to explain God with such examples. He said, for him, it is totally comprehensible that God is beyond comprehension, including His triune nature; the prophet Isaiah would agree with him (55:8,9).
So all three Persons of the Trinity comprise the one perfect God. They share the same nature and essence, they are all the same God, but each individual Person of the Trinity is distinct and unique. Why is this important? Among other things, it explains how God loves. A pastor whose church we will be visiting soon in Cincinnati was aware of our group Italian Bible study and our discussions on the Trinity, and he recommended I read a book titled "Delighting in the Trinity” by Michael Reeves. The author discusses quite extensively the importance of the Trinity in regards to the nature of God’s love, not only within the Godhead but also how it is directed towards us. I would like to share a few of his thoughts that I found impactful (and I highly recommend his book)…
In regards to the eternal love within the Trinity:
In John 17:24, Jesus prays to the Father and says, “thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Before He ever created, before anything else, God was a Father loving His Son
The Father, the Son and the Spirit must be three real and distinct persons – there could be no true love between them if they were just different aspects of one single divine personality.
Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for God at all; it is at the very core of who He is.
In regards to how this eternal love is then directed towards us:
After stating that God is love (1 John 4:8), the Apostle John then writes, “in this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son.” The God who is love is the Father who sends His Son. The Father, in His very essence, is love, and He shows forth this love in giving out life, that is, in begetting the Son, when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
God’s aim in creating the world was Himself; that is, God’s very self is found in giving, not taking.
The Father so delighted in His Son that His love for Him overflowed, so that the Son might be the firstborn among many sons (Romans 8:29). He has always enjoyed showering His love on His Son, and in creating He rejoices to shower it on children He loves through His Son.
Jesus delights to echo His Father’s love back to Him. We have been created that, knowing His love, we might love the Lord our God.
In regards to how sin is selfish rebellion against His love:
Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God. And this is just what we see in the original sin of Adam and Eve. Eve takes and eats the forbidden fruit because a love for herself – and gaining wisdom for herself – has overcome any love she might have had for God.
Eve’s sin was merely the manifestation of the inward turn of her heart: she now desired the fruit more than she desired God.
Eve reflects the desire of the fallen “anointed cherub,” Lucifer, when his gaze as well turned in on himself (Ezekiel 28:17).
As God the Father has always looked outward to the Son and vice versa, so Adam and Eve were created to look outward, to enjoy God as the source of all goodness and life. But they were turning inward to love only themselves. And thus, they were turning from the image of God into the image of the devil.
Finally, in regards to our salvation:
Without the cross, we could never have imagined the depth and seriousness of what it means to say that God is love. 1 John 3:16 says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”
The Father sent His Son to make Himself known – not merely information about Himself – but that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in Him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has. His love for the world (John 3:16) is the overflow of His almighty love for His Son.
The Father so loves that He desires to catch us up into that loving fellowship He enjoys with the Son. And that means we can know God as He truly is: as Father.
Since our problem is with our hearts, the Spirit gives us new birth into a new life. The tool He uses is Scripture (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18), but through Scripture He opens our blinded eyes to see who the Lord truly and beautifully is and so He wins our hearts back to Him. And that is life – to know Him (John 17:3).
The Spirit is as real a person as Jesus Christ, and He comes to live in us! The life that the Spirit gives us is not some abstract thing. This Spirit gives us His very self. The Spirit’s personal presence in us means we are brought to enjoy the Spirit’s own intimate communion with the Father and the Son.
Reeves concludes that if God is a single Person, and has always been alone, why should He speak? In the loneliness of eternity before creation, who would He have spoken to? And why would He start now? The habit of keeping himself to himself would run deep. Such a God would be far more likely to remain unknown. However, the triune God gives us His Word (John 1:14), He gives us His very self, for the Son is the Word of God (John 1:1), the perfect revelation of His Father (Jn. 1:18). The Son makes the Father known; the Spirit makes the Son known (John 16:13-14). Because God is Father, Son, and Spirit, we can know Him, and know Him with an intimacy no other God could allow. Oneness for the single-person God would mean sameness. Oneness for the triune God means unity. As the Father is absolutely one with His Son, and yet is not His Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same. The outgoing Father, the original fountain of all life and love, is the head of an outgoing family. His life and being is one of manifesting His love, and that is the life His children are brought to share.
The Puritan Richard Sibbes once said that a Christian singing God’s praises to the world is like a bird singing. Birds sing loudest, he said, when the sun rises and warms them; and so it is with Christians: when they are warmed by the Light of the world, by the love of God in Christ, that is when they sing loudest.
May we all with admiration, Roll the cheering truth along,
Three in One be all the chorus, Three in One be all the song.
Come thou triune God and Saviour, Now descend in purest love,
Sing we then with holy ardour, Sing our way to realms above.