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The Revelation of God’s Triune Nature and Work

God’s Triune Nature: Who God Is

The attributes of God’s simplicity and complexity in Scripture reveal his mysterious, triune nature–what is traditionally called the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Bible teaches that God is one God (Deut 6:4, 1 Cor 8:4). But, in many places, the Scriptures also ascribe divine attributes and actions to three divine entities which the church has historically called “persons”, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian orthodoxy affirms throughout the ages that each of these three is the one true God.

Although the Scriptures teach that God’s being is one, this does not mean that God is only one person who can be described in three ways or forms. The ancient heresy of Modalism (sometimes called Sabellianism) teaches that God is one person who reveals himself in three ways (modes, forms, or manifestations), e.g. the belief that sometimes God reveals himself as Father, at other times the same person reveals himself as Son, and at other times he reveals himself as Holy Spirit.

In the Bible, the three “persons” are always distinct from one another and not interchangeable. The Father sends the Son (John 3:16); the Son prays to the Father (John 17); the Son obeys the Father (John 5:19); the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world (John 14:26, 15:26); the Spirit speaks on the authority of the Father and Son, not on his own authority (John 16:13).

God’s Triune Work: What God Does

In Scripture, each member of the Trinity reveals unique aspects of his person and work in the history of God’s unfolding plan for the world. For example, in Ephesians 1, the Apostle Paul refers to the Father’s will before creation (1-5), the Son’s accomplishment of God’s will in redemption (6-10), and the Spirit’s application of God’s will in sealing believers (11-14).

In this series, we’ll explore what the Bible reveals to us about who God is as Triune Lord (his attributes) and what God does as Triune Lord (his work, his plan) in creation, redemption, and the restoration of all things. Here’s a brief survey:

The Father Establishes God’s Plan for Creation

It is the Father, not the Son or Spirit, whose knowledge establishes God’s plan for the world and authorizes the tasks that the Son and the Spirit will carry out in his plan. In creation, God the Father reveals his supreme authority as Lord over all things, by wisely establishing his eternal plan to rule over all humanity and the world he creates for his glory.

Humanity Rejects God’s Plan in the Fall

But humanity rebels against God’s rule, sinning against him. As a result of the Fall, all humanity and creation come under God’s just curse. Although the Fall resulted in humanity’s condemnation and the corruption and distortion of God’s good creation, it did not destroy it. And by his grace, God determined to redeem and restore all things lost in the Fall.

The Son Accomplishes God’s Plan in Redemption

It is the Son, not the Father or Spirit, whose power accomplishes God’s plan for the world by executing it through his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. In redemption, God the Son reveals his sovereign control as Lord of all things, by mightily accomplishing God’s eternal plan to redeem all of fallen humanity and creation.

The Spirit Applies God’s Plan in Restoration

It is the Spirit, not the Father or the Son, whose presence fulfills God’s plan for the world by applying Christ’s redemptive work to all things lost in the Fall. In restoration, God the Spirit reveals his transforming presence as Lord in all things, by graciously applying God’s eternal plan to restore all of fallen humanity and creation for his glory.

God’s Triune Gospel: Who God Is and What God Does

The gospel is the revelation of who God is and what God does in creation and redemption. The gospel story begins with the person and work of God the Father in creation. After the fall of humanity into sin, it’s the story of the person and work of God the Son in redemption. And it reaches its climax in the person and work of God the Holy Spirit restoring the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth.

While no single definition of the gospel can do it justice, the gospel can be summed up as the good news that the Father’s creation, ruined by the Fall, is being redeemed by Christ and restored by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God. In the gospel we see the nature and work of the Triune God reestablishing his kingdom on the earth after the Fall.

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The Revelation of God’s Attributes

God’s revelation is through analogy

The good news is that our infinite creator God has graciously adapted his revelation of himself to our finite created capabilities, by using analogies and making comparisons with things he created. Calvin describes this as a nurse talking in baby-talk to a child she’s caring for, stooping to the child’s level to be understood.

Examples include the Bible’s descriptions of God as a rock, a light, a fire, an eagle, a father, a king, a judge, a warrior, a shepherd, and many other analogies. It is good for us to understand God’s being in all these ways. So we can and should draw strong and true similarities from these comparisons and analogies God has revealed about himself.

But, in doing so, we must realize that all biblical analogies, and descriptions, and words ultimately fall short, because it’s not possible to use analogies and words drawn from God’s finite creation to fully reveal the infinite, uncreated God.

For example, it is good for you to see God as a father, but not exactly the way you think of your earthly father. God is infinitely greater than that. He is the Father who is the standard for all fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15). And, it is good for you to see God as a judge, but God is more than that.

When you see in Scripture that God is joyful, you should know that God’s joy is beyond the realm of human joy. And when you read in the Bible that God is angry, you should not think of God’s anger being exactly the same as human anger because it’s not. And when we read in Scripture that God repents or changes his mind, we should not think of God changing his mind like we would.

God’s revelation of his knowledge, power, and presence

To gain a deeper understanding of God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, it can be helpful to focus on three of his attributes: 1) his knowledge (omniscience), 2) his power (omnipotence), and 3) his presence (omnipresence):

  • God’s knowledge: He is omniscient. His unlimited knowledge includes knowing everything about everything, past, present, and future, and it includes not just knowing all facts and ideas, but knowing them from every possible perspective.
  • God’s power: He is omnipotent. His infinite power is being constantly exerted over every area of the universe, holding everything together, from the smallest atom to the largest planet and bringing about every event.
  • God’s presence: He is omnipresent. His presence is not limited by space and time. He is everywhere at once in the fullness of his being, in every square inch of the entire cosmos and for every second of the temporal sequence of life.

Although it can be helpful to focus on any one of these three attributes of God, they should not be seen as separate, compartmental aspects of God’s being, but as integrated, complementary views of God as one. Each of these communicable attributes (knowledge, power, and presence) should also be seen in light of not only God’s incommunicable attributes (infinity, eternality, immutability) but also in light of each other.

For example, God’s knowledge should be seen as being not only infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, but also a lens through which we gain a deeper understanding of God’s power and presence. Practically speaking, this means that:

  • God’s knowledge (omniscience) also reveals God’s power (omnipotence) above everything (omnipresence),
  • God’s power (omnipotence) also reveals God’s knowledge (omniscience) over everything (omnipresence), and
  • God’s presence (omnipresence) also reveals God’s knowledge (omniscience) in everything (omnipotence).

God’s simplicity and complexity

The relationship of God’s attributes to each other reveal that he is both simple and complex. Because God reveals himself as one being, his attributes must not be understood as being parts of his nature. Instead, God’s attributes should be seen as inseparable from his nature.

For example, God’s attributes of love, mercy, justice, wisdom, and power, etc. are not parts of him that can somehow be separated from the others. It’s not possible to separate God’s mercy from his justice or any other of his attributes. This description of God is often referred to as God’s simplicity.

Even if it were possible to separate any attribute of God from him, and it’s not, he would no longer be the God of the Bible. So when the Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), it’s not denying that God is also merciful, just, wise, and powerful. Practically speaking, this means God’s love is a merciful love, a just love, a wise love, and a powerful love, etc. Likewise, God’s justice is a loving justice, a merciful justice, a wise justice, and a powerful justice, etc.

We can summarize this complex integration of God’s attributes by saying that all God’s attributes include all the divine attributes. Some theologians think that to speak of God’s “complexity” violates our belief in his simplicity. But Scripture frequently emphasizes the vast multiplicity of God’s thoughts (Ps. 40:5, 139:17), his works (Job 37:14-16, Ps. 104:24, 106:7), his judgments and ways (Rom. 11:36).

When we consider God’s revelation in creation, we cannot help being amazed at the vast number of objects and relationships (indeed, the “all things” of Rom. 8:28 and Eph. 1:11) that God has coordinated to work together under his direction. That all these work as one reflects God’s simplicity; but that simplicity coordinates a vast complexity.

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Read the Transcript

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Is God like a Father or a Judge?
A Warrior or a Shepherd?
A Light or a Fire?

Our infinite God has graciously revealed himself to our finite capabilities by making comparisons (analogies) about himself in the Bible as a light, a fire, an eagle, a father, a king, a judge, a warrior, a shepherd, etc. 

John Calvin describes this as a nurse talking in baby-talk to a child she’s caring for, stooping to the child’s level to be understood.

In this video we’ll deepen our knowledge of God by examining analogies he’s given us about himself. Then, we’ll take a closer look at God’s knowledge (omniscience), power (omnipotence), and presence (omnipresence). Come join us.

In this NEW Applied Theology Project Course, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Explain why both the religious and non-religious have faith
  • Understand how God has broken through to reveal himself
  • Describe how God uses analogies to reveal his personal attributes
  • Articulate how God reveals in Scripture his Triune nature and work
  • Describe how the Father’s kingdom on earth is overthrown by the fall
  • See how Jesus’ redemption and Spirit’s restoration restore the kingdom
  • Learn how to see all life through the revelation of God’s Triune Lordship

This brief video (7:16) will help you deepen your knowledge and worship of God by studying the revelation of his attributes in the Bible.

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