God's Threeness

Preaching and Worship Resources about God's Threeness

God's threeness is personal. God the Holy Trinity consists of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The glory of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is its declaration that ultimate reality consists of three persons united as one holy God, each of them God only with the other two.

In Scripture

Divinity and Distinctness of God the Father "At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, `I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will'" (Luke 10:21). "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:7). "Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:5, 6). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all consolation" (2 Cor. 1:3). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3).

Divinity and Distinctness of Jesus Christ "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:20-22). "Thomas answered him, `My Lord and my God!'" (John 20:28). "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:6). "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself" (Phil. 2:5-7). "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority" (Col. 2:9, 10). "He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3).

Divinity and Distinctness of the Holy Spirit (or Advocate or Paraclete) "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:29). "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). "When [the Advocate] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). "When we cry, `Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:15, 16).

Triadic Formulas "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). "Peter said to them, `Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him'" (Acts 2:38-39). "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone" (1 Cor. 12:4-6). "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor. 13:14).

Points to Ponder

One God, Three Divine Persons Scripture identifies three divine persons while distinguishing them and while also insisting on "one God." "One God" does not mean there is only one person in God (one thinker, speaker, lover, doer). "One person" is standard modalist heresy — i.e., the heresy that there are three "modes of being" in one person.

Not Masks or Roles And, no, "person" in early Latin Christianity (Tertullian, Novatian) did not mean "masks" or "roles" as in dramatis personae. Tertullian's analogy is that Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons in God as, for example, several monarchs such as a father and a son may administer a single monarchy. Novatian observes that the Father and the Son are as plainly two persons as are Paul and Apollos.

Scripture and Classical Christianity "One God" in Scripture and classical Christianity may mean (1) one Father, as in 1 Corinthians 8:6; (2) Johannine oneness exhibited by the Son and Father, who are "in" each other and "one" with each other, united by their common will, work, word, knowledge, love, and glory. This is roughly the meaning in later centuries of one "substance" or "essence" in God. It's the sum of those properties shared in common by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that constitute them as divine persons. (3) One holy Trinity.

Tensions So the tension within the Christian doctrine of the Trinity consists in honoring the distinctness of three persons, each divine by the same attributes as the other two, while also worshipping one God.

Implications of God's Threeness In theological anthropology, how shall we construe the image of God in humanity? Where is a place in it for harmony, inter-subjectivity, mutuality, reciprocity, fellowship? Human with-ness and in-ness can reflect the three-personed unity within God. It is striking, for example, that the "restoration of the image" texts in the New Testament (Eph. 4:24-32; Col. 3:9-17) are in wonderfully communal contexts. The overcoming of estrangement and alienation from God and humanity that is the heart of righteousness is, in Pauline perspective, both the graceful accomplishment and goal of the Christian community. In our fellowship and koinonia, in such seemingly homely endeavors as telling each other the truth and doing such "honest work" as will help "those in need" — above all in that love that "binds everything together in perfect harmony" — we not only demonstrate that we are "members one of another" but also that we as community, we-in-the-plural, constitute the restored image of God.

In ecclesiology we note that in John 17:20-26 Jesus offers a rudimentary social analogy of the Trinity in the new community, of whom Jesus prays that "they may be one as we are one." Or, to move to Pauline ground, our "membership one with another" is a pale reflection of the superlative intra-trinitarian membership (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4). The social God calls out a people to be his witness, agent, and model to the nations. The Christian community that is established by the self-giving events of Christ and under the sponsorship of the Spirit is called once more to be witness, agent, and model of the divine life-giving. Old and new people of God, old and new covenants, are called and constituted by the self-giving of God. For just as the missions of the divine persons extend the intra-trinitarian relations into the sphere of broken human life and habitat, so the people of God are called in turn to do the work and minister the love that is at "the inner heart" of the trinitarian mystery.

Thus the summit of church membership is being membered with others, not only by common love or loyalty for the same Lord but also by having the divine mind — the servant mind, the deferring-to-others mind. Membership in the church implies the high goal of imitating the divine life by glorifying and exalting others and so doing by "taking on the form of a servant." What Augustine says of the physical body of Christ may then be properly extended to the church: even the communal body of Christ is a sort of sacrament — a visible sign of an invisible reality.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.