What separates Christianity from all other religions? We could name dozens of things, but there is one main distinction: the doctrine of God. That shouldn’t be surprising, but what about the God of the Bible sets him apart from all others (besides that little part of him actually existing)?
This is one reason among many the doctrine of the Trinity is the inner core of the planet of Christianity. Without the Trinity, we lose Christianity entirely. That’s because the Trinity is the Christian doctrine of God.
The Confession immediately states that “In this divine and infinite Being there are three substances, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence.”
The Trinity is not three co-equal gods or three parts of one god. The Trinity is made up of three persons, or substances, who share the same essence. Why is this hard to visualize? Because in humanity, one person is one essence. You cannot share your essence or your substance with another. Yet in God, the mystery of the Trinity lays in this truth.
Those familiar with the doctrine of the Trinity might take for granted the three persons are the Father, Son, and Spirit. But that is also a critically important point. Early church councils were held to establish exactly who God was and whether or not Christ or the Spirit were divine. At the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, bishops gathered to fight against Arianism, which taught that Christ is not divine but created. From this Council came the creed of Nicaea, which clearly states that the Son is of the same substance of the Father and therefore equal to him. Later in A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople was gathered to solidify the doctrine of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Contemporary sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses reject historic Trinitarianism. They believe that Christ was created by the Father, and the Spirit is just how the Bible refers to God’s “hands” or work.
We read earlier that the Confession teaches the simplicity of God, or that God is not made up of parts. He simply is what he is. In the paragraph on the Trinity, it says, “Yet the essence is undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding form the Father and the Son.”
Here begin to see that while all three persons of the Trinity are God, they are not without distinctions. Classically, these are called distinctions of origin. Again, language fails us. “Origin” sounds like “beginning”, but what the church means is relation to each other. But when you’re dealing with the mystery of the Trinity, you come to realize that once you answer one question, twenty more pop up.
The purpose of identifying these distinctions is simply an attempt to be faithful to the biblical witness. You would never look to the stars or the trees and come to believe, “God must be three persons who are each co-eternal who subsist in eternal relations of origin of equal ultimacy.”
What the Confession teaches as a summary of Scripture is that the Father does not originate in any of the other persons or come from anyone/anything else. The Son is begotten from the Father. “Begotten” comes from the Greek “monogenes”, which does not mean born but of a singular kind. All that means is that the Son is distinct from the Father and the Spirit, he relates to the Father as a Son, and there are no other sons. The Spirit “proceeds” or “spirates” from the Father and the Son. When the Spirit falls on a person, the Father and the Son send him.
While we note these distinctions based on Scriptural authority, we must also note that they are “all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations.”
There are three persons of the Godhead, but each share the same properties or essence. Even if the Son relates to the Father as a Son, he is eternal. Even if the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, he is eternal. They each share the same divine components, meaning each of them are all-wise, all-loving, all-just, all-merciful, etc. But the differences come ad intra, or by their relation to each other. God has been in perfect communion within himself for all eternity.
Lastly, what is the significance of knowing that the Son is begotten of the Father and the Spirit spirates from both Father and Son? Does it all seem so esoteric?
The Confession ends with “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.”
Why do we have peace with God? Is it just because of what Jesus did? Well, yes, of course it’s because of what Jesus did.
But what Jesus did was ordained by the Father in eternity past, accomplished in obedience by the Son, and applied to us in time by the Holy Spirit. Because of the three persons of God working together throughout eternity, our salvation is secure. The church calls this the “covenant of redemption” within the Godhead. They are in covenant together to redeem mankind and reverse the curse brought about by sin.
Next week, we’ll turn our attention to God’s will.
Here are some passages that teach us about the Godhead:
1 Corinthians 8:4, 6; Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10; Isaiah 48:12; Exodus 3:14; John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:15, 16; Malachi 3:6; 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23; Psalms 90:2; Genesis 17:1; Isaiah 6:3; Psalms 115:3; Isaiah 46:10; Proverbs 16:4; Romans 11:36; Exodus 34:6, 7; Hebrews 11:6; Nehemiah 9:32, 33; Psalms 5:5, 6; Exodus 34:7; Nahum 1:2, 3; John 5:26; Psalms 148:13; Psalms 119:68; Job 22:2, 3; Romans 11:34-36; Daniel 4:25, 34, 35; Hebrews 4:13; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 15:18; Psalms 145:17; Revelation 5:12-14; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6.