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God: Three in One


How can God be three in one?

Steve Answers:

Let me just go on record saying, “I don’t know!”

I really don’t know, but I have a few ideas. There are parts of Scripture that give some clues. But I need to admit right up front that Ihave difficulty understanding God. Explaining God as three in one is another step beyond my comprehension. But here’s my attempt at trying to explain something we call the Trinity.

Some people point out common examples of three in one, such as a traffic light. We call it a traffic light (singular) even though there areactually three lights—green, yellow, and red. All three work together as a unit. One isn’t better than an-other—actually, I usually prefer green—yet each light serves a function. Together they serve a more comprehensive function.

Another example is the properties of water. In its liquid state we know it as water, and we use it for drinking, cleaning, and recreational activities, such as wakeboarding, water balloon fights, rafting, etc.. But it also comes in a solid state known as ice. We also use water in this form for cooling, recreation, refreshment, etc. But water can also come in a gaseous state that we call vapor or steam. We use it for heat, energy, etc. That’s a “three in one” that you don’t always think of, unless you’re in chemistry class.

An example that makes more sense to me is the cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich that my wife makes. I like cheese sandwiches. I sometimes will eat a sandwich with only tomatoes. I haven’t tried a lettuce sandwich yet. But there’s something special about all three coming together in one sandwich! That’s a “three in one” that’s making me hungry right now!

What does the Bible have to say about God being three in one?

I think that whenever something is bigger or stronger or smarter than we are, we tend to give it godlike status. Kids would classify these as superheroes. In athletics they are called superstars. And, yes, in modeling they are called supermodels.

When kings went to war in Bible times, people often turned to gods to help them overcome their enemy. People have always had gods, such asthe sun, rain, earth, rivers, oceans, mountains, even the moon, because they realized that many things in nature were bigger and more powerful than they were. Not surprisingly, when a king overcame another kingdom, the idea came to him that he was a superking and probably more of a god than the gods of the defeated people.

God’s people were given a very different presentation when it came to the whole god thing. Instead of having lots of gods (and peoplethought that more was better—sort of like more toys or more money or more food, etc.), the God of the Israelites said, “I’m the only God you need.” It was– and is— God’s number one message in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:3).

When you read the Old Testament and come across LORD, all capital letters, that’s actually the name “Yahweh.” Also, the word “Elohim”gets translated as “God” or “god,” depending on whether it’s referring to Yahweh (God) or some other small supposed deity (god). The lead-in to the first commandment reads like this: “Then God instructed the people as follows: ‘I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. Do not worship any other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:1-3, NLT).*

Yet Yahweh’s people repeatedly worshipped other gods. Sometimes they just followed other people—and their gods—instead of Yahweh, andthe results were bad.

God in the flesh

When Jesus came as the Messiah, the whole idea of one God named Yahweh got challenged, because Jesus claimed to be Yahweh (John 8:58, 59; 10:33). When Jesus said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30, NLT), He was claiming that the one God, Yahweh, was actually two in one—Father and Son. It was a Father-Son relationship in terms of closeness, not in terms of one starting before the other.

John made this concept clear at the beginning of his Gospel. He wrote: “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and hewas God. He was in the beginning with God. He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone” (John 1:1-4, NLT). In John 1:14 we read that “the Word” was Jesus.

Paul later wrote, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1:15, NLT). So, after finally getting it right that there is only one God (Yahweh), there were all of a sudden two! But the two were one!

People often think of an ideal husband and wife as two being one. God explained it this way at Creation: “Then God said, ‘And now we [plural] will make human beings [plural]; they [plural] will be like us [plural] and resemble us [plural]. They will have power over the fish, thebirds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.’ So God created human beings [plural], making them to be like himself [singular]. He [singular] created them [plural] male and female” (Genesis 1:26, 27, TEV).t God seems to be able to understand two being one much better than we ever have!

But God stretches us even more. Before Jesus left earth, He tried to tell His disciples that there was another part of the Godhead. Afterpointing out that Jesus and God the Father are interchangeable, because the two are like one (John 14:8-11), Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandonyou as orphans—I will come to you. In just a little while the world will not see me again, but you will. For I will live again, and you will, too. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me,and I am in you” (verses 16-20, NLT).

If you can understand that, you’ve got it! I get lost in the “I in you, you in Me, I in the Father, the Father in Me, the Father and I in you, and the Spirit is Me.”

Paul seems to use the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit quite easily to-gether. In Romans 5:1-5 Paul wrote about the benefits of trusting God. Among other things he mentions peace with God because of what Jesus has done (verse 1). In addition to the gift of Jesus, God also gives usthe Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love (verse 5). Paul also points out that God’s love for us also shone through Jesus’ death for us while we were sinners (verse 8).

Romans 8 also uses God (the Father), Christ, and the Holy Spirit throughout the chapter. Paul explains that the Godhead went all out torestore the relationship with us that was broken by sin. God is the initiator. And since He is the one and only God, any sub-god or anti-god is essentially a nonfactor (verses 31, 38, 39).

Perhaps when it comes to trying to understand how God can be three in one, we’d get a better idea by first being overwhelmed with God’s lovefor us. With all three demonstrating love in so many ways, it’s pretty incredible that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do so much for you and me!

Here’s what Paul—and I—wish for you when it comes to understanding God as three in one: “When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love ofChrist, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:14-19, NLT).


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