In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Thomas Jefferson once wrote:
“When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples.”
Jefferson is not alone. Many Christians consider the Trinity to be a mathematical problem, an artificial scaffolding and an obscurity that masks the simple teaching of Jesus. Yet to think this way is to deny the very Person and teaching of Jesus.
Trinity and the Person of Jesus
It denies the Person of Jesus because He is, most fundamentally, “the Christ, the Son of God.” Both Mark’s Gospel and John’s Gospel are structured around that full name of Jesus – “the Christ, the Son of God.” This means that He is the One anointed (Christed) without measure by the Spirit and the One eternally begotten of the Father. To know Jesus is to be introduced to His Spirit and His Father. In short, to understand Jesus is already to be drawn into a knowledge of the Three Persons. And to know the Spirit and Father in the Son, is to know the Three as Persons united together in love.
This is the doctrine of the Trinity: God is three Persons united in love. There is no mathematical conundrum here. It’s clear how God is Three – there are Three distinct Persons. It’s also clear how God is One – the Three Persons are united in love. That’s how one-ness happens in the Bible. Adam and Eve are one because they are united in love. The Church is meant to be one by being united in love (John 17:21-22). And the Father, Son and Spirit are one through love. In fact they are so one that they cannot be without each other. The Father is Father of the Son – without whom He would cease to be who He is. Likewise, the Son is Son of the Father – without whom He would cease to be who He is, etc, etc.
The Three are so much One that they are ‘in’ one another. This loving, mutual in-dwelling is the unity of the three. And that’s where we get the word “trinity” from. It’s the “tri-unity” – the loving unity of the three. This is who our God is.
Trinity and the Teaching of Jesus
Not only is the Trinity simply the explication of the Person of Jesus. Contrary to Jefferson’s assertion, the Trinity is the teaching of Jesus too.
Just before He ascended to heaven, He commanded His disciples:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19)
Notice that there are not three names here. There is only one name – but that one name is constituted by these three Persons – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
What we have here is, essentially, the Aaronic blessing brought into the New Testament. In Numbers 6, the High Priest was meant to put the name of God onto the people. And that name involved three different divine movements:
“Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:23-27)
The first movement is blessing and keeping. The second movement is the revelation of God’s radiant Face to shine in grace. The third movement is turning that light personally upon the people to give them peace.
And now Jesus tells His followers – You are all priestly. But now it’s a priesthood to the nations. Bring them in and put God’s name on them. The Father is the Fountain of all blessing. The Son is the shining Face, radiating God’s grace. The Spirit turns the world to that Radiance to give them peace.
When we put these truths together, what do we have?
Well a disciple of ‘the Christ, the Son of God’ is filled with His Spirit and adopted by His Father. Such a person is a little christ, a little son or daughter of God. And the sign of this reality is baptism into the Triune Name where a person is brought into the sphere of the Triune blessing. Here the Spirit ever turns us to the Son, in whose face we see the Source of all blessing, the Glorious Father.
Christ’s “Great Commission” is the mission of the Triune God, extended through His people, reaching the world. As little christs in The Christ – we are sent to the nations, presenting God’s Face to the world: Jesus. In Him, they too can be made a disciple. They too can be baptised into the loving unity of Father, Son and Spirit.
The Trinity is not incomprehensible arithmetic. “The Father, Son and Holy Ghost” is not a problem to be solved. The Trinity is the very name and nature of God. And in the loving unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find our place – united to Jesus, anointed with the Spirit and calling on our Abba, Father.
Jefferson could not be more wrong. The Trinity is not the scaffolding – it is the very centre of our faith. There is nothing purer, simpler or more worthy in all the doctrines of Christ!
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