In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.
Section 2. The True God
"We believe that there is one living and true God. He is the creator and ruler of heaven and earth. He is inexpressibly glorious in holiness and worthy of all honor, trust, and love. He exists eternally as three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are equal in essence, but distinct in their roles in the work of salvation."
If someone asked you, “how is Christianity different from other beliefs?” or “What makes your religion unique?”, how would you answer? One of the foundational distinctions of the Christian faith is that we believe God to be Trinity. That is, we believe God to be three equal and yet distinct eternal Persons. The Trinity has staggered even the greatest minds the human race has ever produced, but that does not mean it should be avoided or feared. Rather, as we will discover in today’s article, the Scriptures proclaim the wonder of the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit to be the heart of biblical Christianity.
"We believe that there is one living and true God."
A common error is to think that those who believe in the Trinity believe in three different gods or deities. This is not so. All scripture is explicit on this issue; God has always revealed himself to his people, whether in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4) or the New Testament (Galatians 3:20), as one Being, decisively denying polytheism (the belief in more than one god). There is no other “living” God; that is, all others are as if “dead” for the Triune God alone exists. By “true” is meant that all other gods are false. This reality, that there are not many different gods, is so certain that even the demons know that God is one (James 2:19)!
"He is the creator and ruler of heaven and earth."
Each member of the Trinity is involved in the work of creating and sustaining (or ruling over) heaven and earth. Though the Father is often mentioned, we are told that the Son is he by whom and for whom the Father created all things (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), the Word spoken from the Father (John 1); and that the Spirit was intimately involved (Genesis 1:2). God did not make all things to then abandon them to chaos, but is actively engaged in “upholding” the universe (Hebrews 1:3). This sustaining is evidence of God’s great grace to us; if not upheld by His power, all things would instantly come to nothing.
"He is inexpressibly glorious in holiness and worthy of all honor, trust, and love."
“God is holy, holy, holy” the Scriptures declare (Isaiah 6:3). If we’re honest, does hearing that cause “honor, trust, and love” to well up inside? or, does something prickly and prudish come to mind? The second would indeed be the case if we worshipped a single-person god. The holiness of that deity would be devoid of fellowship and love because he has spent eternity alone, perpetually navel-gazing. But did you know holiness is beautiful (Psalm 96:9)? Because we believe in the Father, Son, and Spirit, the Christian’s conception of holiness must be defined by their relationship. The love between the Father and the Son is devoid of all filthiness—it is absolute perfection, beauty and purity, and thus God is holy.
"He exists eternally as three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are equal in essence."
There are two extremes to be avoided when we consider the Trinity. First, an emphasis on the diversity (or distinctiveness) of the Persons to the exclusion of their unity as one Being. Second, an emphasis on the unity of the Persons to the exclusion of their diversity. Here we find a guardrail against the first extreme; that the “three are equal in essence” means that they each share equally in the divine nature. Therefore, we do not worship three gods.
"But distinct in their roles in the work of salvation."
After reading the paragraph above, someone may infer that the Trinity is one God who manifests himself in three different forms. No! That is why the other extreme to be avoided is an emphasis on the unity of the Persons to the exclusion of their diversity. God is not made up of parts (i.e. 1/3 the Father, 1/3 the Son, and 1/3 the Spirit). Neither do we worship a God who puts on the “mask” of the Son when He comes to earth, then identifies as the Spirit when the Son ascends back to heaven. We worship one God in three coequal and eternal Persons.
We believe that each Person of the Trinity works distinctly and harmoniously with the others, which is particularly clear in redemption. The Father and Son join together in their plan for the salvation of those who believe: the Father elects and sends the Son; the Son atones for the sins of those chosen and given to him by the Father. The same unity is evident between the Son and the Spirit. Jesus did not die for the sins of all people, only to have the Holy Spirit apply the benefits of his work merely to some. Rather, the Holy Spirit regenerates precisely the people for whom Jesus offered His atoning death, so that the work of the second and third persons of the Trinity harmonizes perfectly. This is manifest especially in Ephesians 1:3-14.
John Calvin once wrote that if we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son, and Spirit, then “only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.” Only in the Trinity, in the loving relationship of Father and Son, with the bond of the Spirit proceeding from both, is found the warmth, delight, and soul-satisfying beauty of the Gospel.
“Who is like the LORD our God?” (Psalm 113:5).
Take a moment
- When was the last time you considered the Trinity when you prayed? Scripture tells us that prayer is to be directed to the Father (Matthew 6:9), by the mediation of our High Priest the Son (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14), through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). In creation, redemption, and even prayer we are compelled to stand amazed at the work of each Person in the Trinity on our behalf.
- Read through John 17 sometime this week and witness the love of the Father and Son for one another.
Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity