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Getting to Know Your God

God is a community of love; you can enter into that community.


Well, here it is, a Sunday morning in the lazy heat of summer, and you could be sleeping in, working on your golf game, biking on the Prairie Path, or reading the Tribune. But you're here, in church.

So I think it's a pretty safe assumption that you have some interest in getting to know God. In getting to know God even better than you do now. If that's true, this morning could be very important for you, because our Bible readings and songs focus on one of the most important Christian contributions to the understanding of God. It's called "the Trinity."

The Trinity is one of the most unique and distinctive teachings of Christianity. But it's also one of the least understood. Theologian J. I. Packer says that Christians " … don't talk about the Trinity, and pastors don't teach their people about the Trinity."

The Trinity is not optional. It's not a doctrine you can be foggy on. Because if you're going to know God better—if you're going to go deeper in your relationship with God—you need to understand the Trinity. And not just understand it—you need to experience the Trinity.

So to help you better understand and experience God the Holy Trinity, this morning I'm going to cover (drum roll, please) Seven Frequently Asked Questions about the Trinity.

Question 1: What exactly is the Trinity?

Answer: Trinity is the Christian name for God. I can teach you the doctrine of the Trinity with 4 words. If you understand these 4 words, you'll know the core of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The first word is ONE. There is only one God. The Bible was written in a world in which every country and even every household had its god or gods. So there were plenty of gods to choose from. But the writers of the Bible say consistently, from beginning to end, that there is only one God.

Deuteronomy: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is One, and you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4). To believe in the Trinity, you have to believe that there is only ONE God.

The second word you need is THREE. This one God is not a lonely king. This God, in his very nature, always has been, and always will be, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You see this in the Bible in many places, but let's take Matthew 28 as an example. "Then Jesus came to [his disciples] and said, 'All authority in heaven and on Earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"

Notice that when Jesus sends out his disciples, he says: Baptize them into the name of God, which is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Bring people into the same Community of love that I live in. That's what it means to be my disciple.

The third and fourth words you need to describe the Trinity are COMMUNITY and UNITY. God is a Community in Unity. God is a COMMUNITY in that God exists as three persons, and those persons are distinct. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Spirit.

But, fourth word, this community always lives in UNITY. They share the same nature. Each one is God, each one is majestic and glorious, yet there's no infighting. They live together, forever, in love. No one has an ego problem. No one's going to get mad and walk out on the relationship. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in unity as one God, forever.

Those are your words: ONE, THREE, COMMUNITY, UNITY. You'll know you're starting to grasp the doctrine of the Trinity if your mind and heart are set on fire, and you say to yourself, "Wow! This God I worship is more personal, more loving, more amazing than I could ever have imagined."

Next question:

Question 2: The Trinity's kind of a weird doctrine. What difference does it make?

Answer: I used to think, "No one can understand the Trinity, so I'm not going to worry about it. I'll let the theologians handle it since they need to publish in order to get tenure."

But I now believe the Trinity changes everything. The Trinity tells us what is at the core of reality and keeps us from many wrong ideas we might have about God. Brian McLaren puts it this way:

"If … there's only one God but not three Persons within the one God, then we would expect that the ultimate reality behind the universe could be silence. It could be power. It could be peace. It could be domination. It could be any of those things. But there's one thing that it could not be. The ultimate reality could not be love. Because for love to exist, there has to be a sharing, and there has to be a communication, and there has to be a self-giving. But if there's only one, there's nothing to give the self to."

The Trinity says that at the heart of all reality is a Community of Love. A Community of Love you were created by and invited to experience. Throughout history, whenever people get the Trinity wrong, they get life wrong.

Usually, they start by getting Jesus wrong—like The Da Vinci Code does, saying he's only human or less than God. Or they get God wrong by saying God is like one actor putting on three different masks. Either way, they end up with a god who is not a Community of Love. So in their attempt to follow God, they don't live their lives in community and in love.

So the Trinity is not a small, minor issue. The Trinity shapes your daily life. Let's say I'm struggling with temptation. I've given in. I'm mad at myself and feeling ashamed. I still need a God who gives and upholds the moral law. I will not be helped by a God who says, "Don't worry about it—go ahead and plunge into addiction and mess up your life."

But I also need a God who understands how hard it is down here on Earth—who has been tempted as I have been, overcome it, and who out of that understanding forgives me. And I also need a God who will not give up on me, who will live inside me and give me the power to change.

Well, what I need, and what I've just described, is the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible describes this reality in Romans 8:9–10: "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."

Christianity's answer to my struggles with temptation is to give me the very presence and power of God inside me, to help me. In this short passage, that presence and power are named as: The Spirit, The Spirit of God, and The Spirit of Christ. Paul is saying: As you are being made more holy, little by little every day, it's the Father, Son, and Spirit working together in your life.

So is the Trinity just for theologians? I hope not.

Next Question:

Question 3: The Trinity is hard to understand, especially the part about 3 persons in 1 God.
Can you explain that better?

Answer: No. My goal for you is NOT that you would understand the Trinity. You and I can't understand the Trinity. After this sermon, I don't want the Trinity to be any less amazing and mysterious than it already is and always will be. I don't want God to be less mysterious, because a god I can totally understand is by definition not very much of a god. If God can fit inside my tiny head, it's not a God worth worshiping.

But here's the beautiful thing: You don't need to fully understand the Trinity to worship the Trinity, pray to the Trinity, and enter into the life of the Trinity.

They tell me that deep within the core of the sun, the temperature is 27 million degrees. The pressure is 340 billion times what it is here on Earth. And in the sun's core, that insanely hot temperature and unthinkable pressure combine to create nuclear reactions. In each reaction, 4 protons fuse together to create 1 alpha particle, which is .7 percent less massive than the 4 protons. The difference in mass is expelled as energy, and after one million years, through a process called convection, this energy from the core of the sun finally reaches the surface, where it's expelled as heat and light.

Now that was all kind of interesting, but you know what? I didn't need to know all that in order to get a tan.

Question 4: Still, even if you can't explain the Trinity, can you at least give me an analogy?

Answer: maybe. It's interesting to me that, when you read the Bible, you find many, many analogies about the Kingdom of God. And you find many analogies for the church. And some analogies for the Holy Spirit. But I don't think you find one analogy or metaphor for the Trinity.

The Trinity is just quietly accepted and assumed throughout the New Testament, like in 2 Corinthians 13:4: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." So since the Bible doesn't give us lots of metaphors or analogies to describe the Trinity, maybe we shouldn't bother.

Still, someone has to teach Sunday school, so over the years Christians have come up with various analogies. You've probably heard that the Trinity is like water, which can come in 3 forms: ice, water, and steam. Or maybe you've heard that St. Patrick taught the Irish people about the Trinity using the cloverleaf, where you have 3 leaves in 1 clover.

If these analogies help you—great. But the problem with analogies like these is that they're all impersonal. They use inanimate objects, while the Trinity is personal. It's Super-personal. It's a community of love among three persons.

So a better analogy for the Trinity is a time when you experienced a community of love. Maybe a family when it was at its most healthy and loving. A sports team when people stopped worrying about their own egos. A support group where you felt cared for in spite of your brokenness. A music group when you finally got lost in the music. Because to experience the Trinity is to experience a community of love.

So when I think of analogies of the Trinity, I think of Mike Yearley's apartment. When I came to Wheaton, I moved 700 miles from family. Back then, there was no email, no instant messages, no cell phone. My college roommate hung out by himself. My first winter, it snowed 90 inches. I felt like I was living in the Arctic. So I was lonely and, literally, out in the cold.

Then a senior guy named Mike Yearley invited me to his apartment for dinner and a Bible study. I got there, and the first thing I noticed was that his apartment had real walls made out of dry wall, not cinder blocks painted over too many times.

His wife, Lin, was cooking a home-cooked meal—I could smell it as soon as I walked in the door—and it tasted way better than anything from the college cafeteria. There were other people there, too—A guy named Dave, and another named Dan, who were upperclassmen and popular. They would never have spent time with me, or even known who I was, but because I'd been invited in to Mike's apartment, they talked with me. We all talked and laughed and played games and listened to music and drank coffee and hung out till super late. And as I walked home with Dan, I thought: Wow. No one's got a huge, bloated ego. They just care about each other.

That apartment became my home and my sanity. Whenever I had a question or problem about dating, I would head to Mike's apartment. Whenever I had a question or problem about my spiritual life, I would head to Mike's apartment. At the time, I was trying to live my Christian life in a legalistic way, in my own power, which is a really stinky way to do it. But I didn't know any other way.

So Mike and Dan began teaching me how to live by the power of the Holy Spirit within. What I found in Mike's apartment was this community of love. What I felt there was a little picture of what Jesus talked about when he said: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

To be a Christian is to get an invitation to Mike's apartment. To be a Christian is to be invited into the Community of Love we call the Trinity. In the Trinity, you never find one Person who's grumpy. Never find a Person who is taking love but not giving it out. No one's critical or cynical or jaded.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit live in absolute unity of love. The Father glorifies the Son. The Son gives glory to the Father. The Spirit knows the thoughts of God and prays to God for our sake. The Father has all authority, yet he gives that authority to the Son, and the Spirit speaks on God's authority. Meanwhile, the Son lives in absolute obedience to the Father, for the Son does only what he sees the Father doing. And the Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of Jesus.

Do you see that in the Trinity there's no jealousy, no politics, no power plays? The reason we can't find many good analogies for the Trinity is that we constantly live in such broken relationships that it's hard for us to imagine a Community in which there's constant joy and creativity and each Person pouring himself out for the others. It sounds crazy, but I think it would be theologically accurate to say: "God is a party, and you're invited."

Question 5: Do we have to believe the doctrine of the Trinity? The word's not even in the Bible.

Answer: The word grandfather isn't in the Bible, either, yet presumably you believe in such a thing as a grandfather. But here's why Christians have so strongly believed in the Trinity and written it into their creeds. People met Jesus. And people received the Holy Spirit. And their lives were changed, and they tried to understand what had happened and to talk about this God who had changed their lives. And the only possible solution is the Trinity.

As my friend Matt Woodley says, "Christians did not start talking about the Trinity because they liked the number three; they did so to make sense out of the way God had come to them as Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

When people met Jesus, he said things like, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:31). And when people believed in Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, and they found this indwelling power of God inside themselves, a Holy Spirit that comforted them, taught them, convicted them when they fell into sin. So then these people said: How do we explain the fact there is only 1 God, yet Jesus and the Holy Spirit also are God?

Suppose I locked you in a room and gave you nothing but a Bible and food. After a while, you'd say, "Well, there's no cable here; I guess I'll read it." And you would find verses that said, "For in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." And you would read verses that said, "How is it that you have lied to the Holy Spirit? … You have not lied to men but to God."

So when I opened the door and let you out and asked you, "What did you learn about God?" You would say: "Well, I must have come up with the wrong answer, because the Bible's really clear that there is only one God, but it also teaches that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. It's like there's one God made up of God called the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit."

And when you said that, you would have said exactly what every other Christian has said for 2,000 years. Roger Olson puts it this way: "While it is true that no passage of Scripture spells out the doctrine of the Trinity, it is also true that the whole of Scripture's witness to who God is and who Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are makes no sense at all without the model of the Trinity. And that all alternative concepts end up doing violence to some essential aspect of revelation, Christian experience, and possibly even reason itself" (The Mosaic of Christian Belief, p.139).

Question 6: Is it okay to pray to any one Person in the Trinity?

Answer: yes. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God. They are equal in glory, majesty, and power. So you can pray to Jesus. You can pray, like the criminal who was executed next to Jesus, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Or you can pray what's called the Jesus Prayer: "Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

You can also pray to the Holy Spirit. One of the most beautiful prayers you can pray is, "Come, Holy Spirit," and open yourself to the Spirit of the Living God.

But having said all that, when we gather for worship, we generally pray to the Father, in Jesus' name, by the power of the Spirit. The vast majority of our prayers in the Book of Common Prayer are shaped this way, and they are shaped this way in order to keep us in a full and healthy relationship with all persons of the Holy Trinity.

Final Question: So what? If God is a Trinity, what do I do differently, starting this week?

Answer: Let me offer three pastoral suggestions, and you can select the ones that would be most helpful to you right now. My first suggestion is, "Show up for worship." Today in American Christianity, we know next to nothing about the Trinity, but thankfully, we have the prayers of Christians from throughout the centuries right inside our worship service to teach us.

We begin the service how? "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." In the Gloria, we sing, "You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen." Then we say the Nicene Creed, which is divided into three parts: One about the Father, one about the Son, and one about the Holy Spirit.

I could go on about the many hymns that conclude with the Trinity in their final verse. I could talk about many other prayers. But the point is, it's in worship that we learn to pray to and with the Trinity. That's where we're given the words we need to approach God. So if you want to get to know the Trinity better, come to worship.

My second pastoral suggestion to help you get to know God better is to get in community and stay in community. Since God is a Community of Love, it's awfully hard to draw closer to God without some kind of community in your life. Hanging out with other Christians in community is hard. People are, uh, how shall we say this? Annoying.

But only in community can we learn how to yield the right of way, to honor others, to love other people, and in doing the hard work of staying in Community, we actually learn a lot about the humility and self-sacrificing nature of God. We discover the Trinity.

My final pastoral suggestion is to open yourself to the full Trinity. God the Father stands ready to embrace you; God the Son stands ready to cleanse and forgive you; God the Spirit stands ready to fill and empower you. But sometimes we have a misshapen Trinity in our hearts. And we cut off part of how God wants to work in our lives.

A woman who grew up with an abusive dad once said to me: "I realize I do fine with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but I have trouble with the Father. There's no Father in my Trinity." It was a major part of her growth and healing when she opened herself to God the Father in a deeper way. She actually prayed: "Jesus, take me to the Father. Introduce me to the Father."

Or maybe you had some bad teachings or experiences around the Holy Spirit, and so you're gun shy about allowing the Spirit to fully move in your life. So open yourself to the full Trinity.

If you want to do that, I've got a prayer for you by Elizabeth of the Trinity: "O my God, Trinity whom I adore … May each minute carry me further into the depths of your mystery." Are you willing to pray that? "May each minute carry me further into the depths of your mystery."

If so, close your eyes, open yourself to God, and let's pray that together.

© 2006 Kevin Miller
A resource of Christianity Today International

Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,

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Sermon Outline:


If you're going to know God better—if you're going to go deeper in your relationship with God—you need to understand and experience the Trinity.

I. Question 1

What exactly is the Trinity?

II. Question 2

The Trinity's kind of a weird doctrine. What difference does it make?

III. Question 3

The Trinity is hard to understand, especially the part about 3 persons in 1 God. Can you explain that better?

IV. Question 4

Still, even if you can't explain the Trinity, can you at least give me an analogy?

V. Question 5

Do we have to believe the doctrine of the Trinity? The word's not even in the Bible.

VI. Question 6

Is it okay to pray to any one Person in the Trinity?

VII. Final Question

So what? If God is a Trinity, what do I do differently, starting this week?