The Trinity Explained through Real-Life Relationships
When we look at the world around us we see a lot of brokenness. I often feel a desperation to change the world, to make a difference, to somehow say to everybody all at once, “Wait! Stop! There’s a better way!” And to have them actually listen to me. The power of Facebook and the Internet is that It gives you the illusion of being able to talk to everybody at once and be known by them, the belief that you can be heard and change the world. Unfortunately, this is just a trick of software that is designed to draw you in, make you addicted through the continual hope for instant gratification, and deceive you into thinking you are doing anything more productive than contributing to the company’s bottom line. Every once in a while it does make some difference, which just serves to get you even more hooked, more connected, your life consumed by the corporations who run it.
Tech companies (and others) manipulate you because they know you are vulnerable. They have hit on your deepest desires of being noticed, valued, heard, and loved. It is my recommendation that you protect yourself by abstaining as much as possible from using these companies’ services, purchasing products through their marketplaces, and communicating through their platforms, instead discovering local and small businesses, and in-person relationships. Where has the joy gone of saying, “Hey! I found this awesome place to go get such and such. And they are so friendly there!” rather than, “I got this on Amazon”, or “I spend too much time reading the news online,” or “I spend too much time on Facebook”?
But my intention today is not to focus on the very real ways in which technology and monopolistic corporations are devouring our lives, which they are. Let’s instead turn our minds to the God who created these desires in the first place.
Returning to the original thought, it is so easy to see our culture sliding into the abyss, not just of technology, but of moral failure, self-focus, mistaken identity, racism, hatred of foreigners, sexual confusion, baby-murder, and so many other problems, and to ask, “Why is all this happening?” Why, for all the effort the Church has made to reach out, have we been unable to connect? Things are getting worse and worse, not better.
Some have sought to answer this question by changing church and making it more seeker-sensitive. The focus shifted from “this is the truth, whether you like it or not” to “Come hang out with us! We have great music, a great kids program, free stuff, coffee, and snacks!“
Others say, “If I just ask my friends to come to church enough times, eventually I’ll wear down their disinterest and they’ll suddenly come completely willingly, and then they’ll magically understand everything and completely change their lives, and then there will never be any problems ever again.”
But I have a different solution. What if, rather than forcing them into the kingdom or bribing them into the kingdom, we instead live such naturally supernatural lives full of faith, hope, and love that people become desperate to come and see what is making our lives so amazing?
We can do this, and many people have come to faith through similar examples.
How can we do this? By understanding who we are and living abundant lives. In order to understand who we are, we must understand who God is.
What is this important? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And then, after having created everything else, He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” We were designed to reflect God and be like Him. As a consequence, the better we understand God, the better we understand who we are designed to be, and the better we understand what we are like without sin, the better we can understand what God is like.
I think that one of the problems the Church has had is focusing too heavily on certain aspects of God at the expense of other aspects. One way this is done is in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity.
For generations, the Church was focused on preserving a right understanding the Trinity. “Trinity” is word used to label a reality described in the Bible. A combination of the prefix “tri”, meaning “three”, and the word “unity”, meaning “one in identity”, the “Trinity” refers to God’s existence as three persons sharing a common single identity. There is only one God, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are unique persons of the one God.
In more modern times we see a divergence from Trinitarian emphasis into choosing pieces of the Trinity to focus on. For example, many Protestant churches talk about Jesus and the great importance of Jesus, and having a relationship with Jesus, etc. This is all excellent, but incomplete. Similarly, Pentecostal churches tend to focus on the Holy Spirit, seeking powerful encounters and miraculous experiences. These things are also excellent, but incomplete. Other churches, such as the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, tend to focus more on honoring the Father, lifting up His holiness and righteousness. This, too, is excellent, but incomplete.
There are problems with all of these approaches. Some Jesus-only Protestants study the Bible intensively and often try to reason people into heaven, disbelieving in God’s miraculous power. Some Holy Spirit-only Pentecostals only want experience, and they seek experience over truth and love. Some Father-only Orthodox and Catholic churches prioritize ancestry and the patriarchs of the faith, trusting in hierarchical church structure and getting distracted with too much emphasis on Saints and Mary, who are not God.
I propose that if we can return to a balanced, Trinitarian approach to Christianity, we will have a much better understanding of God, His will, who we are, and what we should do, and be much healthier over all. I also think that understanding God more fully will help us to identify with Him more fully, and through knowing our identity we will naturally pursue a supernatural life that will draw many people to the faith.
Over the years the Church has developed a number of creeds. A creed is a “doctrinal statement of correct belief or orthodoxy” (Wikipedia). Famous creeds include the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. The Athanasian Creed is one which describes the Trinity, and these words have been summarized through an image known as the Shield of the Trinity. The image may have been put on actual battle shields, but the point is that it is shaped like a shield, hence the name.
The Shield of the Trinity simply says this: The Father is God, Jesus the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, The Father is not Jesus, and Jesus is not the Father. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not Jesus. The Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
I think we have a general abstract understanding of who God is, but the persons of the Trinity each relate to us in particular ways which help us to understand God better.
What does it mean to be a father? Note that many of these characteristics will also apply to mothers. A father is a man who has a child. A father takes care of that child, teaches that child, and provides for that child. A father is the leader of the family, and always defends the family. A father is responsible to protect the family. A father must make wise decisions that benefit his family. A father also disciplines his children, not allowing them to fall astray, but training them to stand firm against temptation.
It is also interesting to think about fathers and their status in families. From the Bible to present day we see how children are identified by their fathers in name. My last name is Parks because my father’s last name is Parks. In fact, my full name is Robert Matthew Parks, Jr, because I am named after my father Robert Matthew Parks. We see all sorts of last names like Jacobson, Robertson, and Jackson, which originated from people saying, “I’m Jacob’s son,” or “Robert’s son,” or “Jack’s son.” The Jewish people call themselves children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Fathers pass on their names, and anyone who interacts with their families knows by name who they come from.
As children, we often look up to our parents, especially boys to fathers and girls to mothers. A child wants to be exactly like his or her parent, will say the same things even not knowing the words they are saying, and will follow a parent around and do the things the parent does. For much of our childhood lives we are focused on being just like Dad and Mom.
In essence, our fathers impart to us our identities. Who we are and how we feel about ourselves, what our skills and interests are, what accomplishments we have when we are young, what activities we have been involved in, etc, are all heavily shaped by our fathers and mothers. It is absolutely vital for parents, especially fathers, to speak encouraging and uplifting words to their children and to call out their strengths, help them grow through their weaknesses, and confront and bring healing, grace, and mercy to their failures.
God our Father is just like this and so much more. Every good fatherly attribute is one He invented. If we want to know who we are, we need to be re-fathered by God the Father. We need to take His identity upon us as His children.
Jesus, the Son, the Logos of God
Jesus is the Son of God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col 1:15).
What does it mean to be a son? (These things also apply to daughters.) A son is someone who has been raised by his father. A son is loved by his father and has learned who he is through his father’s attention, love, example, teaching, and leadership. A son has taken on the identity his father has given him and is ready to go out into the world and do what he is designed to do.
A son represents his father. A son is his father’s right-hand man, often taking up the family business, working reliably and honorably. A son honors his father and mother and shows them great respect. The son knows what his father and mother have taught him, and he has learned to make wise decisions. He is bold in stepping out in his father’s authority, and making decisions without needing to get his father’s advice on every little thing. But he also has great reverence for his parents’ depth of experience and understanding, and he frequently turns to his parents for knowledge, advice, and counsel. When working alongside his father, he always seeks his father’s interests. A son obeys his father and follows his commands. A son also knows his father trusts him, and he will act as an ambassador for his father with diligence and steadfastness.
A son has learned a great deal from his father, and he knows everything his father has taught him. He carries out the will of his father and has the same mind and mission as his father.
Furthermore, a son is an excellent example to his siblings of proper action and how to obey his parents; instruction. As a brother he will defends his siblings, standing up for them against their enemies. He will look after them and guard them against dangerous friends, and protect them from harm. He will sacrifice himself for them, demonstrating a life of service, putting others above himself. He will even lay down his life for them. A son is the great defender of his family, just as his father is.
Jesus is all of these things, and more. Jesus is the Son, and he is the firstborn Son. We are adopted in His family, and He shows us how to be like the Father. He said, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19). We are supposed to be like Him, just as He is like the Father. Paul says to the Corinthians “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” This is the essence of what it means to be a brother or sister.
Jesus is also described in John 1 as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In word translated Word in English is the Greek word Logos which means word, logic, or reason.
As I mentioned earlier, the Early Church felt it very important to clarify through creeds, councils, and writings exactly who God is. They emphasized that Jesus is not the Father, but that He has the same essence as the Father. Four elements, earth wind, water, and fire, were thought by the Greeks to be the basic building blocks of all things in the universe. The Church expressed that God is distinct: perhaps everything else was made of these four, but God is entirely of His own, unique divine essence not shared by anyone else. In stating that Jesus is God, they were careful to clarify that He shared the same essence as God the Father. Many Early Church writers explain it this way:
Jesus, the Logos, is God’s own mind within Himself. Just as we each exist and can have conversations with ourselves in our minds, so God can have conversations with Himself. For all eternity past, God has kept Himself company through His Logos. Just as you are not only your mind, God is not only His Logos. However, you would both call your whole being, body and mind, etc, “me”, and you would also refer to your thoughts and statements and speaking as “me”. So God and His Logos. Your mind isn’t all of you, but it is 100% you. So Jesus, the Logos, is 100% God. You are greater than your mind, and so Jesus says, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Jesus was not made, but He was begotten. Jesus, the Logos, has always existed within God. God decided to emanate out His Logos, speak His Word, create powerfully through His Word: nothing that has been made has been made without Jesus. So Jesus, the Logos, the Word, is begotten as the Son from God the Father.
It is interesting, then, that we can see in our own beings an image of the Father and the Son. We each have a “me” that encompasses all of us and a “me” that refers to our logos, our mind, which we can use to make things happen: issue commands, make plans, speak encouraging words, and influence the lives of the people and creatures around us in profound ways. We can apply our reason to many tasks, and we can even write papers and books, and send emails, that we send away from us conveying our words, words which will be identified with us, even spoken as if we were there.
As the Church, we are the body of Christ. Christ is the head, which is not to say necessarily that He is the eyes, ears, nose mouth, face, skull, etc, all together. Rather, Jesus is the reason, the mind, the Logos. He leads, directs, guides, and makes function Church. Physically, I suppose He is more the brain than any other part. All this to say that the idea of Logos fits very well with this analogy.
The Holy Spirit, the Ruach
Marriage is an analogy of the Trinity. Just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, so a man and woman are united as one in marriage.
Interestingly, the Holy Spirit is called our helper or companion, and so is woman. Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26). And in Genesis 2, “the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’”
In your marriage, your spouse represents the Holy Spirit. This is why marriage can be viewed as an image of the Trinity. God has designed you so that you in your one flesh can see the Trinity:
- You are the image and likeness of God the Father
- Your inner being, your mind, your logos, is an image of Jesus the Son, the Logos of God
- Your husband or wife, your closest companion and helper, is an image of the Holy Spirit.
If we want to understand the Holy Spirit, then we should look at marriage. And if we want to understand marriage, we should look at the Holy Spirit.
As the Church we are the bride of Christ. But we are not yet married: the wedding comes at the end of the age. In the meantime, we are betrothed. But thinking in human terms, who is it that you decide to marry? Isn't it the person you enjoy most, the person you can't bear to live without, your best friend, your confidant, the person you trust above everything, the person with whom you find the most joy, the person who helps you to feel complete? This is the relationship between Jesus and the Church.
Now this is where the LGBTQ community has got things backwards: they are viewing intimate relationship as primarily sexual in nature. And this is the fault of the Church: we are the example to the world of what a healthy relationship ought to look like. But when we have weak marriages and weak friendships, when we think of marriage primarily as an opportunity to explore physical intimacy and friendship as a means of finding "the one" for that purpose, and we focus dating on "saving yourself (physically) for the person you will marry", then the major concepts of spiritual intimacy, experiential intimacy, emotional intimacy, and intellectual intimacy are lost. A world which looks to the Church for guidance sees marriage as we demonstrate: all about sexuality. And they logically extend that to apply to all relationships and even to core identity. Could it be that the LGBTQ issue is entirely the creation of the Church's bad relationships?
But God created the physical to be an image of the spiritual. God created us with the desire for physical intimacy so that in that closeness we can better understand what it means to be spiritually intimate. Spiritual intimacy includes emotional, intellectual, and experiential intimacy, which are subsets of our spirituality. The Church is called the bride of Christ not to suggest that the Church will be sexually connected with God, but that the Church will be spiritually intimate with God.
God has no need of physical procreation, but He commands us to be fruitful and multiply, not just physically, but spiritually. The very first description God gives of Himself is Creator. We are designed to create so that we can identify with Him in His creativity. God created the world as an artist, craftsman, and engineer, and He created us in His image. He intends to raise us and grow us into perfect reflections of Himself.
In a similar way, we create many things through our words, our study, our work, and our art, and through physical birth we create other humans, our children, in our image. It is our job to take our children who are physically like us and raise and grow them to be spiritually like us, a reflection of us, and ultimately a reflection of God. We also experience this type of spiritual creation through discipleship, which includes the whole process of spiritual conception, from birth, to growth, to maturity in the Kingdom. The Great Commission does not instruct us to make converts but to make disciples of the entire world, including individuals, groups, communities, governments, societies, and nations. This is all an act of spiritual art, beginning with God's creation in the beginning.
In all of this creation, our work is the most beneficial and the most wonderful when we do it through spiritual intimacy with others, and our children are the most healthy when raised by spiritually intimate parents. This is why it is important to be equally yoked: believers should only marry fellow believers, and it is even better if they are similar in spiritual maturity as believers. Thankfully, God our Father has not abandoned our children to the whims of our own spiritual intimacy, but adopts them into His family to be raised by Him!
We are created in the image of God, but we are not God. The Trinity experiences perfect, continual, complete unity and intimacy. When the kingdom of heaven is fully realized and we are freed from sin and death, we may also experience this unity and intimacy. In the meantime, it is impossible for any one human being, or any number of human beings, to give us perfect, continual, complete unity and intimacy. As Pastor Billy Kent of the Vineyard Church of Greenville told Autumn and me during premarital counseling, “You, not your spouse, are responsible for your own happiness.” No person other than God Himself can fill all our desires. It is for this reason that God does not limit our experience of spiritual intimacy only to marriage. Physical, sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, which is one man and one woman committed to each other and only to each other for life. But in the Church we are immersed in a community through which we may develop many friendships, and some may become very close friendships.
A brief warning: beware close opposite-gender, non-family friendships. Many wise men and women have chosen to protect themselves by refusing to be alone with non-family members of the opposite gender. There is secular research to back this up. One survey of almost 6000 men and women found that, in regard to their closest opposite-gender friend, more than half had sexual fantasies about them, 40% had actually had sex with them, and two-thirds would have sex with them if given the opportunity.
Research on actual friendships, where both the man and the woman were interviewed, also shows that a man nearly always assumes that a woman is attracted to him if he finds her attractive, which is almost always, and this gets worse many times over as men get older. As a consequence, men almost always significantly over-estimate their female friends' attraction to them. On the other hand, a woman nearly always assumes that a man is a genuinely platonic friend if she feels that way about him, which women almost always feel, and she is almost always totally wrong about that. As a consequence, women almost always significantly under-estimate their male friends' attraction to them.
A woman should always assume that a man is attracted to her, even sometimes if told otherwise, and that any attentive interaction with him will likely increase that. It is also unlikely that telling him she is not attracted to him will have any influence on his thoughts at all.
A man should assume that a woman is not attracted to him and wants to be merely friends, unless she directly tells him otherwise. Nevertheless, he should avoid one-on-one interaction with any unrelated woman he is not in the position to marry.
To sum up, avoid close man-woman friendships except when seeking to marry, and limit all cross-gender friendships to public, community settings and public conversations as best as you are able. It is wise to have other men and women around, most definitely your spouse if you are married.
All that said, friendships are a great thing. A close friendship can be as good as marriage when it comes to spiritual intimacy, and such same-gender friendships are highly recommended. The Bible has a number of examples of these close friendships, such as between David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy, Paul, Barnabas and Mark, Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, Abraham and Lot, Moses and Aaron, Jesus and Peter, and Jesus and John.
To close this section, here are the main points: make great friends, be spiritually intimate with your same-gender friends, your family, and your spouse, and disciple the world by being an example of what healthy relationships are supposed to be like.
A close, spiritually intimate friend, especially your spouse, can be a great help to you in all areas of your life. The Bible says that God created Eve as a helper comparable to Adam. And Jesus told His disciples that the Father would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to them in Jesus' name. If Adam was the prototype of the second Adam, Jesus, then in a similar way Eve was the prototype of a second Helper, the Holy Spirit.
So what does this mean for us?
If you are spiritually intimate with someone, you share their heart and desires. You agree with them on many very important things. You always seek their best. You always want them to thrive. You make it your goal to help them succeed in all of their endeavors.
As a husband to Autumn, I have to know what she desires. If she wants to create art or go on an adventure, I arrange our time, location, and finances to make it happen. If she wants to pray for someone, I turn the car around to go find them, and I do everything I can to make that encounter a success. Whatever her mission, whatever God has called her to, it is my job to help her make it happen, and to be the driving force behind all of her efforts, as far as that is useful to her.
Similarly, as a wife to me, Autumn has to know my desires and my calling. She trusts me when I believe God is calling us to a certain place. She guides me when I am looking for a church. She helps me make new friends by overcoming my fears in approaching new people. She follows me around the world to different jobs. She encourages me to be bold, to lead, to pursue ministry, and to follow Jesus in every area of my life.
The Holy Spirit acts like this. He was always there to help Jesus in every way. He raised Jesus from the dead. He proclaimed Jesus’ divinity to the world at His baptism. He filled the apostles with Jesus’ words. He performed and continues to perform miracles through Christians of all generations. The Holy Spirit is your best friend in ministry and is ready to make it happen.
The Holy Spirit is called the Wind or Breath, in Hebrew, “Ruach”, of God. As Jesus, the Logos, is the Word, so the Holy Spirit is the Breath on which the Word rides. He is the Breath of Life, even as Jesus is the Life. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). The Spirit is the driving force behind all of God’s action. He is the action of God as Jesus is the Word of God. This is why Acts 14:3 says, “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” Wherever the Logos speaks, the Holy Spirit is there, ready to move, ready to confirm the spoken Word not merely through peace in the hearts of the hearers, but in demonstrations of His power.
The acts of the Holy Spirit, the miraculous gifts he bestows, and a deeper understanding of who He is as our constant support and closest friend are beyond the scope of this sermon. You would do well to spend some time learning about Him, experiencing Him, and learning to work alongside Him. Suffice it to say that He is amazing, the best friend you will ever have, He likes you, and He wants to do stuff with you all the time.
So there we have it. A brief overview of the Trinity. I believe that as we get to know God more, understanding the Father and our identity given by Him, understanding Jesus and the relationship with God we gain through Him, and understanding the Holy Spirit and the purpose-filled, action-packed, powerful destiny He wishes to unleash through us, our lives will be transformed into His image, and our church will never be the same. Our problems with evangelism and discipleship will be solved, and the world will be changed as the power and presence of God moves through our community as He brings us into His kingdom.
Abba Father. Come Holy Spirit. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.