Leader Guide

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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
  3.  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.