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Ephesians 4:1-6: I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
This section of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus has been the focus of our study for several months. It constitutes an apostolic call for unity among God’s people, the church. We have noticed the attitudes that maintain unity (v. 2), the call for unity (v. 3), and the specific elements of unity (v. 4-6). Seven times Paul uses the word “one” to describe these essential realities.
It has been noticed that these 7 “ones” are built around the 3 persons of God – One Spirit (Holy Spirit); One Lord (Jesus); and in v. 6 One God (the Father). The individual identity of each of these is certainly implied in their appearance here. If the one baptism is distinct from the one hope, then the one Spirit must be distinct from the one Lord, and the one Father. There is an implied singularity to each element listed. Therefore 3 distinct persons: One Spirit; One Lord; One Father (1+1+1=3, right?)
This raises the question; What is the nature of God? Is there One God, or are there 3? It is not possible for us to fully understand or explain the nature of God. I can only know what God Himself has revealed in scripture. Although we struggle to understand the nature of God (He is far above us) we must never doubt what God’s word reveals to us. We need to study and pray for wisdom.
I firmly believe that God is one. God is alone and there is none else like Him.
I also believe that God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. This unity of three into one has been described by the use of the word “trinity“. It is noted that the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible. It was first used by Tertullian in the last decade of the 2nd century, and was not used extensively until the 4th century. (New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas & F. F. Bruce, Trinity, p 1298) The word is a compound three (tri) and one (unity), and when used to describe God simply means that God exists as one, yet in three distinct persons.
It is important to use biblical terms, but it is not illegitimate to use non-biblical terms as long as they accurately reflect what is found in the Bible. The word “Bible” is not found in the scriptures, but is accurately describes the scriptures. (i.e. “omnipotent,” “omnipresent,” and “omniscient”) I do not especially like the word “trinity”. I do not think it means the same thing to everyone and may lead to misunderstanding in teaching. We must allow the scriptures to define our terminology and not the other way around. There may be many who use the word trinity, but do not hold to a biblical view of God.
I. The Oneness of God: How does God describe Himself? Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Throughout the scriptures God is proclaimed to be one God. Ps 86:10 – For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Isaiah 45:21-22 – Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. 22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. In Mark 12:29 we read, “Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” James 2:19 – You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!
A. It seems clear that the oneness of God was prominently proclaimed in the O.T. to Israel as an answer to the threat of polytheism (belief in many gods) that permeated the Gentiles nations. It was the one true God as opposed to the many false gods of the pagans.
B. God’s oneness describes not just his singularity, but also His transcendence and power. There is none like Him. He is unique. This connection can be seen in the use of the familiar term “godhead” (KJV). The term “Godhead” is found three times in the King James Version of the Bible (Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:20 and Col. 2:9).
1. In Acts 17:29 – Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.(KJV). the Greek term (theion)is used with the definite article and signifies “divinity” or “the Deity” (divine nature – NKJV).This use expresses the concept of the true God as opposed to the false gods of Greek paganism.
2. Rom 1:20-23 – For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. The kindred word in Romans 1 refers to the Creator’s “Divine nature or essence that sets Him apart from the gods devised by men. This Godness (deity) is demonstrated by the marvelous works of his creation. There is none like Him. He is One God. Interestingly this same term is used a third time to refer to Jesus in Colossians 2:9 – “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;”
C. The Hebrew word for one is Echad. The Theological Wordbook of the O.T. states that this word “stresses unity while recognizing diversity with that oneness.” This same word is used in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one (Echad) flesh.” Therefore, God says that two individuals, Adam and Eve, were one flesh. Exodus 24:3 states ” . . . All the people answered with one (Echad) voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.” Note that all the people replied with one voice. There is another Hebrew word that means “one” which is “Yahad.” This word is always singular and can only mean one without any plurality. God could have used this word in Deuteronomy 6:4, but He did not. The Hebrew word used of God allows for plurality within oneness.<
II. Plurality with God: From the beginning the scriptures reveal that there was more than one person in the Godhead. Gen 1:1 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew word for God is el. But the Hebrew text utilizes the plural form here, elohim.
A. This plurality is also seen in our English translation of Gen 1:26 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;” If there were only one person, then these words do not make sense. Later in Gen 3:22 the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” It does not say the man has become like Me, but us. When the tower of Babel was being built, we read God saying, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (NKJV This is important to notice as many (Jews) will suggest that the idea of a plurality within God is a New Testament concept and not in the OT scriptures.
III. One God in Three Persons: The Bible teaches that there are 3 persons who are represented as one God. They all share in the same essence of deity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By “person we do not mean they are or ever have been human. This is the best word to describe a separate essence with a center of intelligence that is distinct from the other.
A. All three persons are equally God. The Bible teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all divine. Some conclude that Son and Holy Spirit are not equally God.
1. Arianism– This false view is named for a man named Arius, from the early fourth century. According to this view, God is so transcendent He needs a mediator for every relationship. Thus, He created the Son or Logos as a kind of semi-divine being to act as His agent in creation. Afterwards, the Logos became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth and was honored further by being given the title of Son of God. Thus Jesus is not eternal but he is a creature who had a beginning, The essential equality of Father and Son is denied. Jesus is not God, nor is Jesus merely man. This view is most commonly found among the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
a. The Father is God – Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This brings very little disagreement.
b. Jesus, the Son is God – John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
c. The Holy Spirit is God – Acts 5:3-4 – Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, which Peter says is lying to God.; 9:14 says the Holy Spirit is eternal.
d. The unity of these three in our salvation is in view in the 1 Peter 1:2 – …elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Jesus commanded baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ( 28:19)
B. All Three are distinct persons. Some allege that “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are but three “manifestations” of a solitary Divine Person.
1. Modalism – This is the view that God in his external relationships with his creatures assumes different modes in which to make himself known and accomplish his purposes. This view essential teaches that in the Old Testament God revealed himself as Father, then became incarnate as the Son, and finally after Jesus’ resurrection, relates to his creatures as the Holy Spirit. Thus, these modes of relationship are successive, not simultaneous. With this view, God is one person who reveals himself in three different ways to various people during different times in history. The most common group that holds to this view is the Oneness Pentecostals and United Pentecostal Church. It should also be noted that many from the Restoration held this view, including Alexander and Thomas Campbell and Barton W. Stone. This view has also made a great resurgence today among Christians. The Bible shows us all three acting as separate persons.
a. The Father is not the Son ( 13:32 – 32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.)
b. the Son is not the Spirit(John 14:16– And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever) John 16:13-15 – The Holy Spirit would not speak from Himself (His own initiative), but would speak what the Father and Son provided for Him to declare. This distinguishes both the Father and Son from the Spirit – they must be different “selves.”
c. the Spirit is not the Father ( 4:6 – God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”)
d. All three are listed in Ephesians 4:4-6 – One Spirit, One Lord, One God, the Father
e. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” If God is merely one person then Jesus was in favor with Himself.
f. Matthew 3:16-17 says, “Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” There are three distinct persons that are seen in this event. How can this be understood as only one person of God in this event?
g. Acts 10:38 says, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” In this passage we again see three distinct entities acting separately from one another. God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power.
h. John 8:14, 17-18 “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bear witness of Me.” Jesus is arguing that He has two witnesses; Himself and the Father. If they are the same person, He is mistaken.
2. Dangers for us: I believe that the doctrine of the “trinity”, through emphasis on individuality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may have led to almost a polytheistic view of three distinct gods, rather than a clear proclamation of the oneness of God.
IV. The Nature of God: How do we explain plurality in Oneness?
A. Illustrations often used: A number of illustrations have been suggested. They all are useful as long as you remember they are only illustrations.
1. water can exist as solid, liquid, or steam. Usually not at the same time.
2. An egg is made up of a shell, the egg white, and the yolk. All three are needed for an egg to be complete.
3. Roles of a person: I am a father, a son and a husband at one and the same time.
4. Pretzel – one piece of dough with three holes. (It is said that the pretzel was actually invented in Europe several hundred years ago by a monk who wanted to illustrate the Trinity to the children.)
5. Scientist Dr. Henry Morris notes that the entire universe is trinitarian by design. The universe consists of three things: matter, space, and time. Take away any one of those three and the universe would cease to exist. But each one of those is itself a trinity. Matter = mass + energy + motion; Space= length + height + breadth; Time = past + present + future. Thus the whole universe witnesses to the character of the God who made it (cf. Psalm 19:1).
B. Biblical images in view:
1. Genesis 2:24 – “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” How is it possible for a man and a woman to live as one flesh? No physical merging into one person. What did God mean? This unity would be of one mind, one purpose, and one goal that would exist in marriage. Complete harmony.
2. John 17:20-22 – I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” This unity of mind and purpose was exactly what Jesus prayed would happen to all those who were His believers – just as He and the Father are one. How did Jesus expect us to be one? By being united in purpose, united in thought, united in goals, and united in decisions. complete harmony.
3. Voluntary submission in God: Jesus, as God, declared his oneness with the Father. But He also, as a man demonstrated His oneness with the Father through complete submission to the will of the Father. There was complete harmony. John 7:16, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.”
a. John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
b. John 5:19, “Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, 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.”
c. The nature of God, as one God in 3 persons, reflects the unity to which God calls us as His people.
d. In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul emphasized the submission of Jesus and commanded the same unity among us. We must be like God – One mind.
Conclusion: We must be careful how we describe God. We can allow illustrations or charts to take us too far and distort what the Bible teaches. It should not shock us or surprise us that we have difficulty understanding the nature of God. How could it be any other way? We must be careful we do not force Him into our box of reasoning. Ps 113:5 – Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high,