Editor’s Note: On October 13, 2012, I will go before a council of pastors and attempt to pass an ordination exam. As a way of preparing for the examination I wanted to sharpen my articulation of major Christian doctrine and be able to clearly, succinctly state what I believe and why. I’m self imposing a five-hundred word limit and not allowing myself to reference any outside material except for the Scriptures. As a way of helping me in this endeavor I’d appreciate your questions regarding my positions, feedback, pushback, etc. Thank you.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question “Are there more Gods than one?” and then as a follow-up “How many persons are there in the Godhead.” The way one answers these two questions will reveal whether one stands concretely in the line of orthodox Christian faith or if one will diverge off into stratosphere or weak, false or heretical doctrine. What do we believe about the nature of God in regard to his unity and distinctiveness?
Let me answer Biblically the first question, “Are there more Gods than one?” Scripture clearly affirms that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 stands as the daily confession of the people of Israel regarding the nature of God. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (emphasis mine).” This text is utterly plain that there is only one true and living God. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was he verbatim quoted this text (Mark 12:29). Paul affirms to Timothy that “there is one God” (1 Timothy 2:5). Christians of every stripe and denomination are unified that there is only one God.
But we are not permitted to stop there, because the Scriptures do not stop there. The Bible reveals for us that there is one God and that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead. We are introduced, at least initially, to the concept of several persons within the Godhead in Genesis 1:26 where God speaks and says “let us make man in our image (emphasis mine). While there are many attempts to round this out and say that God is speaking in a Divine-Third-Person or that he is speaking alongside and with the angels these interpretations are nonsensical to the straightforward meaning of the text itself. That God, as one nature, exists in distinct persons. This is further displayed throughout Scripture as we see that the Son, Jesus, is attributed as the one who made all things (Colossians 1:16). We see three distinct persons at the baptism of Jesus where the Father speaks his affirming word of the Son as the Holy Spirit descends upon the Son (Matthew 3:13–17).
This then must form the paradigm for our understanding of the Godhead. One God. Three distinct persons. Father. Son. Spirit.
Furthermore we must declare that each person of the Trinity is equal in nature as God and yet distinct in person. The way we speak of this is that the Father is God (John 1:1), The Son is God (John 1:1) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts ). Yet, The Father is not the Son , the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and The Holy Spirit is not the Son or the Father.
Ephesians 1 stands as a beautiful demonstration of Trinitarian doctrine as we see that believers are chosen by the Father before the foundation of the earth (1:3–4), adopted as son through the work of Jesus (1:5), and sealed for glory by the promised Holy Spirit (1:13). The Scriptures are helpful, and I believe clear in demonstrating for us the soundness of the doctrine of one God existing eternally in three persons.