The One we Long For
An introduction: “In the beginning God.” So begins the whole Christian story—a story about God, which he gives us through the Scriptures so we can know who He is and what it means to be His people. It is essential in becoming mature disciples that we are not simply people-centered, justice-centered, doctrine-centered, community-centered, mission-centered, or anything-else-centered. To grow into a passionate disciple is to be thoroughly God- centered. Understanding who God is, worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and learning to enjoy Him is at the heart of a life centered on God, which is a life that glorifes Him and brings us profound joy. But how do we learn what God is actually like? Our modern culture, along with thousands of years of false religion and idolatry can distort our understanding of who He is. And our own personal experience, our family of origin, our education, our religious upbringing (or lack of it) and our own perceptions can shape our view of God. So the starting point of any journey of discipleship has to be with God Himself. We need to learn what He is like and learn to love Him for who He is.
A. W. Tozer articulates the importance of this so well. He writes:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the church.
… Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on his character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness.
Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.
Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true. Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. …
The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.”¹
So what does come into your mind when you think of God?
Who is this God called Father?
What wells up in your heart when you hear that word?
Joy? Fear? Awe? Love? Shame?
The need to perform for Him or the desire to hide from Him?
Is He glorious or grim?
Is He even a He?
And what about Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Does the thought of Jesus bring you comfort or condemnation?
What does it mean for Him to be the Messiah and our Lord?
Did He really rise from the dead?
Do you want to worship Him?
Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force — something like electricity, somewhat effective, but not easily moved?
Does the Holy Spirit seem distant or weird?
Are you even a little bit afraid of the Holy Spirit?
What these answers convey have massive implications for how we live, love, worship, study, pray, share, work, and rest.
In this new collection of talks we are going to explore and behold who God is.
When it comes to understanding God, the Christian faith has historically taught that the Christian God is the Trinity, one God in three persons. It is important to note that this word is not actually found in the Bible, but is used to describe what is taught in the Scriptures about the divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father is God (1 Cor. 8:6, 1 Pet. 1:3). The Son is God (1 Tim. 6:15, John 8:58, Heb. 1:8). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3– 4, John 3:5–8). This view of God actually sets us apart from all other views of God in the world.
Millard Erickson writes, “In the doctrine of the Trinity, we encounter one of the truly distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Among the religions of the world, the Christian faith is unique in making the claim that God is one and yet there are three who are God.”²
But what does this really mean, and why is it so important that we understand this mystery?
The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths:
1. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.
2. Each Person is fully God.
3. There is only one God.
Matt Perman writes:
“The Trinity is not a belief in three gods. There is only one God, and we must never move away from this. This one God exists as three Persons. The three Persons are not each part of God, but are each fully God and equally God. Within God’s one undivided being there is an “unfolding” into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three Persons. The distinctions within the Godhead are not distinctions of his essence and neither are they something added onto his essence, but they are the unfolding of God’s one, undivided being into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three real Persons. God is not one person who took three consecutive roles. That is the heresy of modalism. The Father did not become the Son and then the Holy Spirit. Instead, there have always been and always will be three distinct persons in the Godhead.”³
The church fathers were instrumental in articulating core doctrine as they carried the gospel to generations of Christians.
While their words are not Scripture, their writing, especially the Creeds, helped unify the church around the core theology of our faith. They articulated their early understanding of the Trinity this way:
Origen (185-245): “For in the Trinity alone, which is the author of all things, does goodness exist in virtue of essential being; while others possess it as an accidental and perishable quality, and only then enjoy blessedness, when they participate in holiness and wisdom, and in divinity itself.”⁴
D i o n y s i u s, B i s h o p o f Alexandria (200-265): “Thus, indeed, we expand the indivisible Unity into a Trinity; and again we contract the Trinity, which cannot be diminished, into a Unity.”5
And when the doctrine of the Trinity was articulated in the official councils of the church, it took on further shape. The Athanasian Creed, as translated in the Book of Common Prayer, reads:
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.”⁶
And the Apostles Creed, as translated in the Book of Common Prayer, reads:
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”⁷
At this point, a lot of this might sound like theological and technical jargon, but the implications of a Trinitarian God are real and important. The Trinity matters for several reasons.
- First, the Trinity is the revelation God gives us about Himself from His word. The Scriptures reveal that this is what God is like. He has shown us the glory of the Father in the power of creation and His ruling of the world; the glory of the Son in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension; and the glory of the Spirit in the coming of Pentecost, indwelling of His people, and movement throughout history.
- Second, the Trinity reveals God as a relational being. There is a lot of talk in our culture about “unity in diversity” and “community” which are good things, but their actual source is found in God Himself.
Michael Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity highlights this well: “Such are the problems with non-triune gods and creation. Si ng le -per son god s, hav i ng spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction for the god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? Creating just looks like a deeply unnatural thing for such a god to do. And if such gods do create, they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification. Everything changes when it comes to the Father, Son, and Spirit. 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 this God at all; it is at the root of who he is.”⁸
- Lastly the Trinity matters in our relationship with God. We have a Father who has chosen us and loves us deeply. He has worked out a plan for our redemption and salvation. We have a savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth to identify with us, live and die in our place, and triumph over sin, Satan, death, and hell. And we have the Spirit, who gives us life, bears witness that we are God’s children, bears beautiful fruit, and empowers us to live for Him. \
In this series we will study the beauty, wonder, majesty, and love of God revealed in Scripture. During Lent we will look at the Father, During Eastertide we will look at Jesus the Son, and during Pentecost the Holy Spirit. We hope that as you grow in the knowledge of God that this won’t just become information that enlightens you, but truth that sets your heart on fire; that you will love God more fully and passionately for who He is and what He has done for you.