Understanding the Trinity

Pastor Kim Gilliland
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15
All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.
John 12: 15 (NIV)


Every now and then, we talk about a more theological topic on Sunday morning. This is one of those mornings. On our calendars today is Fathers Day but in the Church year, today happens to be Trinity Sunday, a day on which we celebrate the trinity. That’s important because the trinity is probably one of the least understood concepts in Christian theology. But it is also foundational to what we believe. It is central doctrine of the Christian faith. So today, we are going explore this trinity and why it is important.

So what is the trinity? A classic definition goes something like this: “While there is only one God, that one God has revealed himself as three distinct persons – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit – who are both coeternal and consubstantial.” But what does that mean? It says that the one God consists of three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those are the ways that God has revealed himself to us.

But then it goes on to say a couple of other things. First if all it says that these three persons are all coeternal. What that means is that three persons of the trinity have always been there. They are eternal. God didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to split himself into three persons just to make it easier to communicate with us. It’s not as though the trinity did not exist and then God did something to make it exist. Rather, the notion of the trinity is essential to the very essence and nature of God and therefore has always existed. The only thing that changed was our ability to experience it.

It also says that the trinity is consubstantial. What that means is that all three persons of the trinity have the same characteristics. For example, all of them are not only eternal, they are also all knowing, all loving and all powerful. Those, of course, are only some of characteristics of God. We could sit here and name a whole lot more characteristics as well. But for our purposes, we just need to understand all three persons of the trinity have the same characteristics because they are all equally God.

The other thing that the trinity says is that while God’s trinitarian nature consist of three persons – in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – these three persons are also distinct. So the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not Son. While each of these persons is part of the Godhead, each is also distinct from the anothers.

Here is an illustration that I hope give us a visual image of what I’m saying. It indicates that God is the Father and God is the Son and God is the Holy Spirit. It also shows that the three persons are distinct; the Father is not the Son and that the Son is not the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is not the Father. While they are part all part of the same Godhead, they are also distinct persons.

A lot of people find that hard to understand. To be honest, it’s never seemed that difficult to me. And while no image really does this justice I think of the different roles that we as fathers take in the world. I am only one man but I have various personalities. I am a father. I am also a husband. And I am a pastor. I am all of those things all of time. I don’t stop being a husband when I start being a father or a pastor. All three are with me all of the time. But at the same time, those three things are separate. When I’m with Ruth, I am a husband. when I am with the kids, I am a father. When I am at church, I am a pastor. And while I am only one man, those three roles are very different.


It’s interesting that the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. But that does not mean that we don’t take it seriously. There are all sorts of other Christian terms that we use all the time that also are not in the Bible. Here are a few examples: Easter, Christmas, sacraments, communion, inerrancy, infallibility and incarnation. Those are all words that are common in the Christian language but none of them are found in the Bible and yet we believe in all of those under one definition or another. So the fact that the word trinity does not appear in the Bible does not mean that ignore it

But if the words does not exist in the Bible, why do we use it? The word trinity first appeared in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch in the second century perhaps as early as 160 AD. He was one of the early church fathers who laid the foundation upon which future Christian theology developed. He and others saw things in the Christian writings that they needed some sort of explanation. They all knew that God was divine but what about Jesus? What did he mean when he said in John 10:30 that, “I and the Father are one”? What did that mean? If he is one with the Father, then is he also God? Good question. And what about when Jesus said in John 14:9, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Is Jesus saying that he is on par with our Heavenly Father? It certainly seems that way. And what did Jesus mean when, In John 14:16-17a (NIV), he said this: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” Who is this Holy Spirit person and how does the Holy Spirit relate to Jesus the Son and the Father?

Those were all really good questions and so the early church fathers, including Theophilus of Antioch tried to study the Scriptures to see what God might reveal to them. That’s how they came up with the first primitive notions of the trinity.

This idea developed over time. It was discussed at various early Christian Councils such as Nicaea in 325 AD and Constantinople in 381 AD. So much discussion happened that by the end of the fourth century, the doctrine of the trinity had essentially reached the form in which we now have it. It took a while and it took some pretty smart and faithful people to figure it out. But led by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, figure it out they did.

But while they figured it out, the Church has not always been very good at teaching it. And perhaps I’m as guilty of that as others. I remember sitting at the kitchen table having supper with the family like we always did before the kids left home. The boys would have been in their late teens, early twenties. For some reason we started talking about the trinity. In case you were wondering, ministry families often have weird conversations at the dinner table.

We were discussing the trinity and how it tried to explain how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could all be God. And Andrew said, “You mean that Jesus is God?” To which I said, “Yes.” To which Andrew replied, “I thought he was the Son of God.” Then I explained that he was both. And Andrew looked at me like he’d never heard of such a thing before in his whole life. And I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m a minister and this young man across the kitchen table has been sitting under my teaching for the past twenty years. How did he miss that?”

What Andrew was doing was making the mistake that God the Father is really the only God we need to worry about. He saw Jesus as a completely separate person from God. Maybe Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit in special way. Maybe Jesus had a direct line to God that the rest of us don’t have. Maybe Jesus was special but if you had asked Andrew is Jesus is God, he would have said that, no, Jesus is the Son of God.

Emphasizing that God is Father is not necessarily a bad thing especially on a day like today when we celebrate fatherhood. It reminds us that God give us the perfect example of what a good father should be like. God is loving. God is strong. God is compassionate, caring and merciful. God supplies all of our needs and wants only the very best for us. At the same time, God is a God who values justice and disciplines us when necessary. So if you want to know what a good father should be like, then look to God the Father.

But we can’t stop there. We also need to realize that Jesus the Son is also God. Again, on Fathers Day that give us a good example of how children should be with their fathers. What kind of a relationship did Jesus have with the Father? He loved the Father as the Father loved him. He listened for the Father voice and obeyed when his Father showed him the way to go. He accepted the good things that the Father had to offer and shared them with others. And he respected the Father in all things. So just as God the Father is the best example we can have about what a Father should be like, so too Jesus the Son offered us the best example we can have about what a son or daughter for that matter should be like.

All that about fathers and son being said, what I’ve since discovered is that Andrew was not alone. Many Christians don’t really have a clear understanding the trinity. The tend to think of God as only God the Father and don’t realize that Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are also part of the Godhead. They are also divine. And that’s unfortunate because, as I already said, the trinity is really foundational to what we believe as Christians.


But to be important, it also has to be biblical. And if the word trinity does not appear in the Bible where we get the concept? The most obvious place is in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) where Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus told them to go out and baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that formula is there by accident. It is there because it not only tells us what we are supposed to do, it also tells us something about God. It says that God is equally Father and equally Son and equally Holy Spirit.

That’s why when we baptize someone, a baby or an adult, we use that same formula that Jesus used. We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we don’t mess around with it. Some churches have tried to mess around with that. They’ve experimented with other trinitarian formulas like Creator, Redeemer and Sustain or Parent, Child and Spirit. We don’t do that. We use the words that Jesus used because he told the disciples to use them.

So we see the trinity in the Great Commission. We also see it in this reading from John 16:12-15 (NIV): He was approaching the end of his life when he said this to the disciples: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Here we have another example of the trinity. Jesus is speaking to the disciples. He tells them that the Holy Spirit is coming to be with them. He also says that the Holy Spirit will not talk about just anything. Rather he will speak the truth. But this truth will not be the Spirit’s own truth. It will a truth that he hears from Jesus. The Spirit will speak Jesus’ truth. So Jesus links himself with the Holy Spirit and then he says that, “All that belongs to the Father is mine.” So he links himself to the Father as well by saying that what one has, the other has too. Once again, we see that while the word trinity does not appear in the Bible, the concept is all over the place.


So, why is this important? It’s important for a number of reason but I’m going to talk about two of them. The first one is that it separates Christianity from other religions that look like Christianity but really aren’t. The three major ones are Unitarianism, Mormonism and the Jehovah Witnesses. Like I said, on the surface, they all look something like Christianity but they aren’t.

The roots of Unitarianism surfaced in in the late 18th century at Harvard Divinity School. It became increasingly liberal to the point that 1805 the majority of the professors  and, in fact, the dean of the divinity school, no longer believed in the traditional Christian teachings such as the trinity. Rather they believed that people are basically good and that the only thing people needed to achieve a moral and social utopia is a good education. So far it hasn’t worked out. As you may know there is a Unitarian Church not far from here in Olinda across the street from the Graceland Cemetery.

Mormonism was developed by Joseph Smith in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Mormonism teaches that the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to a cave where he found a bunch of gold plates which contained the true teachings of Jesus who had visited Central America after his ascension to correct what the Christians were teaching in the Holy Land. Miraculously Joseph Smith was inspired to translate these writings into English. When he had finished this work the gold plates disappeared and were never seen by another living soul other than Joseph Smith. One of the things that these tablets corrected what the notion of the trinity.

The Jehovah Witness movement began in the 1870’s in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania under the leadership of Charles Russell. Russell, who began as a Christian, disputed many traditional Christian teachings such as the immortality of the soul, the physical second coming Christ and, of course, the trinity. There are quite a few JW Kingdom Halls in the area and many of us personally know people who are Jehovah Witnesses.

What all of these three religions have one thing in common is that none of them believes in the divinity of Jesus. They all believe that Jesus was a good man, that he was an inspired teacher and healer but that he that he was simply human and that was it.

So why am I telling you this. I’m not in any way trying to put down these other religions down but to emphasize that there significant differences between what we as Christians believe and what they believe. A lot of people think that Unitarians, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are Christian but they really aren’t. We as Christians need to be aware of that. Often one of the dividing lines is the trinity.

The other reason why it’s important to understand the trinity is a whole lot less complicated. It’s because it tells us who Jesus is. Jesus is not just a good guy. He is not just a healer, a teacher and prophet. There is something special about Jesus that is truly unique. It is that, of all of the people who ever walked the earth, he is the only one who was not only fully human, he was also fully God. Only God could be perfect. Only God could give himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins on Calvary. only God could rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. All of these things are possible because of Jesus’ divinity. That’s why it is such a key element of our faith and why we need to understand it as part of what we believe.


God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts.

Thank You for loving us as only you can. Even though there times when others may not treat us as valuable and, indeed, we may not feel valuable within ourselves, you come and touch our lives renewing our moments and our days. We know that you are faithful to do everything that you have promised. We choose to trust you completely in every area of life.

We give thanks today for father who do their best to raise their children to be good responsible Christian adults. May we, as your Church, do our best to support them in this important work in cooperation with families and friends. Shower your blessings upon them, O God.

We continue to pray for Canadian soldiers, sailors and air men who make up the Canadian Forces. Many of those people are in places where they are in danger.

We have been saddened these past few weeks by the number of accidents and deaths that have occurred on area highways. We know, too, that the major problems are related to driver error, impatience and lack of concentration. Give us the patience and wisdom to not worry about the time, to pay attention to the road and to put our cell phones away that our roads may be safer for all people.

We pray for the sick of our congregation and community. We pray, especially, for Sharon and Mary as they continue to trust in you in the face of ongoing illnesses and medical conditions. Bless their families also we pray.

Come to us, Lord Jesus, and renew us by the power of your love. Fill our hearts with gladness that we may walk in your light. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


June 16, 2019 / Trinity Sunday


Psalm 8; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; John 16:12-15; Romans 5:1-5


ONE:   The glory of your name, O God, reaches to the heavens;

ALL:   All creation praises your name.

ONE:   We come to worship your majesty;

ALL:   And sing with joy of your love.

            Come, Lord Jesus, come.


The pressure is on, O God. The time has come to stand and declare our faith in you. Enable us to stand strong and firm for the Gospel, always ready to share your Good News with anyone who may challenge our trust in you. We come in worship seeking your presence and your grace in every moment of our lives. Remind us that, as you promised, you will show us your love and compassion in our journeys through life. We call upon your name for you are our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.


Merciful God, we know that you have compassion on us when we sin. You have made the wonderful provision for us to confess our sins and be forgiven without continuing condemnation or guilt. Help us never to take that promise for granted, or harden our hearts to your love. Keep us from the wrongs that we do, either intentionally or by accident. May we always be tender toward you and be willing to quickly confess our sins and receive your forgiveness, which is freely given without condition or limit. Amen.


God is here in our midst. We have no reason to be afraid. When we are filled with fears or anxieties and feel as though the rest of the world has abandoned us, we know that You are WITH US Lord. Your love for us is stronger than any problems we may face. When we seek You GOD, we have the assurance that You are there, always faithful to fulfill Your promises of blessings and wholeness.


All that we have, GOD, comes from You. You have given us so much. Accept our gifts to be used within Your Kingdom to help those who are not as fortunate. Amen.


Our worship has ended and it is time for us to go out and face the world. Let our words and our actions be a shining light for others to see. Let us be ever faithful as Jesus Christ reigns in our hearts.

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