Theology in a nutshell
God, the three in one
By Ken Horn
Editor’s note: This fourth article in the series “Theology in a nutshell” is on theology proper.
Theology proper is the study of God himself, the Supreme Being, with an emphasis on God the Father. The name rightly belongs to only the God of the Bible, but there are many false “gods.”
There is no formal definition of God in the Bible. But there is ample description. The Hebrews were functional in their writing, describing persons or things by what they did.
What is God like, according to the Bible?
God is our Father … a good Father.
Chaplain Kelly Sexton was passing out religious literature in the special housing unit (solitary confinement) of a Florida prison. One inmate, a big, heavily tattooed biker who had rebuffed all previous attempts, reluctantly agreed to take a Pentecostal Evangel. A short time later he started yelling and kicking the door of his cell. The chaplain rushed back. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
The man held the magazine up to the window. “Do you see what this says? ‘God is our Father.’ Let me tell you about the father that I know.” He tore off his T-shirt revealing a badly scarred back. He said, “This is the only father I ever knew.”
Sexton felt helpless, but later this inmate would open the magazine and begin reading about the one perfect Father. One day, he passed his big, beefy hands through the hatch to Chaplain Sexton and prayed the sinner’s prayer. “Heavenly Father,” Sexton began. The inmate repeated it, but there was also an echo up and down the cell block. They continued, “I’m a sinner.” The words echoed, “I’m a sinner.” Other men had been listening from their cells and wanted to receive Christ as well. Jesus saved several that day who professed faith to the chaplain when he walked back down the corridor.
God is also:
Spirit. He is an invisible, personal Being (John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17).
Self-existent. He depends on nothing; everything depends on Him (Exodus 3:14; John 5:26; Colossians 1:16,17).
Eternal. He has always and will always exist, independent of time (1 Timothy 1:17).
Omnipresent. He is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12). He is limitless, infinite. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose center is everywhere, and circumference nowhere.
Unchangeable. He can’t be improved upon. His nature, character, purposes and promises never change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).
All-knowing. His knowledge is perfect and complete (Psalm 139; John 21:17; Hebrews 4:13). This includes knowledge of the future, or foreknowledge.
All-powerful. He is the Almighty who can do anything (Jeremiah 32:17; Mark 10:27). The sham question “Can God make a rock so big that He couldn’t pick it up?” is just a word game, showing man’s limited reasoning rather than any shortfall in God.
Holy. He is the source and standard for what is good and right. He is set apart as the only perfect One (Romans 3:10,23; 1 Peter 1:16).
Truth. He is the source and embodiment of all truth — the only true God and reliable in all He reveals (John 14:6; Romans 3:4).
Just. God acts fairly and correctly in all His dealings with mankind. This requires a penalty for sin, but it also allows for mercy and a substitute payment (Psalm 96:11-13).
Love. (1 John 4:8) It was this love that caused Him to sacrifice His Son to satisfy justice (John 3:16,17).
The names of God
Much is learned about God from the many names He is given in Scripture. Here are a few:
Adonai. Translated “Lord” or “Master,” it could be understood as “Lord of all” or even “Lord par excellence,” that is, without equal.
El Shaddai. God Almighty.
El Elyon. God Most High.
El Olam. Everlasting God.
Jehovah. Some of the best-known names of God are the compound names beginning with “Jehovah.” This is the primary name of God, revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. This word, which is often translated as “LORD” (in all capital letters, to differentiate from Adonai) is really spelled YHWH. (The Old Testament was written in Hebrew without vowels.) Because of this, as well as the fact that the Jews would not pronounce the name of God, no one is sure how it was pronounced. “Jehovah” is a guess … and probably not a very good one. “Yahweh” is more often the translation today.
The meaning is significant. It is the covenant name God gave to Moses. It means something like “I am” or “I am that I am,” emphasizing that God exists without dependence on anyone or anything but himself.
Some of the significant compound names of Yahweh include:
Yahweh Nissi. The Lord my banner (Exodus 17:15).
Yahweh Ropheka. The Lord your physician (Exodus 15:26).
Yahweh Sabbaoth. The Lord of hosts (1 Samuel 1:3).
Yahweh Jireh. The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14).
Yahweh Shalom. The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24).
Yahweh Shammah. The Lord is there (an always-present God, Ezekiel 48:35).
Yahweh Tsidkenu. The Lord our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6).
A special name: Abba (Mark 14:36). Though modern Jews use Abba for “Daddy,” it was a term of respect in New Testament times.
As loving Heavenly Father, God deserves our praise and respect. That’s what “God fearing” means, to stand in awe and respect.
The Trinity is a first-rate mystery. Augustine said that anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing his mind. It is not fully explained in Scripture.
It is true that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. But by the late second century the church was using it to describe a biblical concept — literally, tri-unity, or “three in one.”
This does not mean three Gods … though Christians have been accused of being polytheists by other world religions. Instead Christians have a unique view of God, one that comes about because they believe both the Old and New Testaments.
There are six basic biblical steps to understanding the Trinity:
1. There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4).
2. The Father is God (2 Peter 1:17).
3. The Son is God (John 8:58).
4. The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3,4).
5. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct individuals (John 14:26).
6. Therefore, there are three Persons in the one Godhead.
Assemblies of God fundamental truth no. 2 says it well: “WE BELIEVE ... There is only one God — revealed in three persons ... Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (commonly known as the Trinity).”
Since the Trinity is completely unique, no analogy really fits. The Trinity is not really “like” anything.
But attempts have been made. An analogy that looks at the Trinity as three parts that make up a whole (for example, eggshell, egg white and yolk) really falls short. A better example is the three phases of H2O — liquid water, ice, vapor — but this also falls short since any given molecule of H2O exists as only one of these at a time. That picture leads to a heresy (modalism) that says the Trinity is really only one Person who takes on one of three modes at any given time. This belief is problematic for those who hold it: Just what was going on in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was praying to the Father? Was He talking to himself?
The best illustration I have seen is C.S. Lewis’s: The three dimensions of space — length, width and height. All coincide in the same place, yet are distinct.
The New Testament concept of the Trinity enlarges the concept of God found in the Old Testament, and makes certain Old Testament passages more understandable. For example, some 2,500 times, the word for God is Elohim, plural, instead of El, singular. There are plural pronouns used to describe the one God: “Let us make man” (Genesis 1:26); “Man is become as one of us” (Genesis 3:22); “Remember thy Creator[s]” (Ecclesiastes 12:1); “Rejoice in his Maker[s]” (Psalm 149:2).
And, in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (NKJV), the word for “name” is singular, yet representing three Persons.
God is sovereign.
This means He has supreme power in every realm to do as He so chooses. Yet He has given mankind and the angels free will to choose to obey Him or not. He has also chosen to give us influence with Him through prayer.
Prayer is not cajoling a reluctant God. It is communicating with a loving and willing Father. It is coming into agreement with His will.
Conclusion: There is one God, in three Persons, who deserves our praise and enjoys our company. All people are invited to know Him and spend time in His presence.
Ken Horn is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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