This post is part of a multipart teaching that is used with discipleship students. The series is called “Christians Growing Christians- Practical Christian Living and Discipleship”. It is intended to help foster a biblical worldview in new or growing Christians.
Lesson 5 – “To Know God”- Trinitarian Godhead and Attributes of God, Doctrine of Salvation and Freedom from Penalty and Power of Sin
Slide 1- Title Slide- To Know God (Slides shown at link)
In June of 1997 our first grandchild was due. We had waited eagerly for this big event. When our son and daughter in law had called to tell us they were expecting, I had begun praying for our first grandchild- to- be for pleasant and strong physical attributes, for mental acuity, for emotional balance, for the influences in her life, and on and on. I told a friend of mine about the burden I felt to pray for all aspects of this child’s life. She, a recent first time grandmother herself, offered wise advice. She told me to ask the Lord what I should pray for the grandchild. So I did. And within 24 hours I knew exactly what I was to pray for- that this child would know God! That was it. As I meditated on that and read scriptures about ‘knowing God’, I became more and more convinced that there was no more important prayer that I could offer on behalf of a child, or anyone for that matter, than to “know God”.
A decade later I was in Atlanta for conference on The Truth Project for a weekend. It is a biblical worldview study that I was being trained to teach, sponsored by Focus on the Family. As Dr. Del Tackett was ending the session on Friday night on “What is Truth?”, he was leading us through the Biblical answers to these questions:
1.) Why was Jesus born? John 18:37…. to testify to the truth.
2.) What is the name of the one the Father would send who would be with us forever?
John 14:16-17 ……the spirit of truth
3.) What is eternal life? In John 17:1- Jesus, in his priestly prayer for his disciples before his death, he said, ”And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…”
I had an understanding that in praying for our first grandchild (Catie Byrd) and all of our subsequent grandchildren (Haley, Liam, Riley, and Brady), to know God, that I was praying for their salvation. As Del Tackett read those scriptures tears came to my eyes.
Just as Jesus prayed for all of those whom God had given to him in John 17:2-3 to know God, I, too, had been given the special privilege of praying the same prayer for my grandchildren…. to know God.
It made me weak in the knees to realize that, in my own intellect, I had been asking for all the wrong things. But when I asked for God to give me the prayer for my grandchild, He gave me the same prayer Jesus had prayed….. the perfect prayer, prayer for the only thing that matters, prayer for the most precious gift- truth- to know God, which is eternal life!
Having realized that “to know God” is the most important thing for each of us, I began to ponder….how will that happen for my grandchild? How did it happen for me? I realized that my journey to know God had taken a lot of detours and had had a lot of rough stretches. I did not want my grandchild to have to learn all of her lessons the hard way. So, I asked God, how is that going to happen? What can I do to help her know you? God made that clear, too.
A. W. Tozer begins his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, with this sentence: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”….. “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”
If Tozer was right, then Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a giant of a preacher in the 50s and 60s in Great Britain, was also right when he said, “Our supreme need is to know God” (God’s Ultimate Purpose [Baker], p. 342 To know God well, to know Him deeply, to know Him truly, as He is revealed in His Word.
If you have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, you have come to know God. And yet there is another sense in which we need to know God far more deeply than we do.
Even after 25 years as a believer, the apostle Paul said that he had not yet attained to knowing Christ as he ought, but he pressed on toward that goal (Phil. 3:8-14). In letter after letter to various churches Paul prayed that people would know the fullness of God in Christ.
“..thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”[2 Corinthians 2:14–16]
“….ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” [Ephesians 1:15]
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” [Ephesians 3: 14-19]
“…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God..” [Colossians 1:9-10]
Also, the prophet Hosea wrote (6:3), “let us press on to know the Lord.”
As believers we pray any number of things. We pray, “Lord, heal me of this illness. Give me this job. Help me to do well in school. Bless my friends. Protect my family.” While there is nothing wrong with such prayers, they are rather superficial. We should also be praying, “Lord, give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know You. Grant the same for my mate and my children, and for all of those among my community of faith. ”
It is often said that Christianity is not a religion; it is a personal relationship with the living God. Personal relationships do not run on autopilot. It’s easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When one first comes to Christ, it’s new and exciting. But, it’s easy to lose that first love for Christ and to grow distant in our relationship with Him, just as Christ said of the church in Ephesus. It becomes a routine or ritual. We can become complacent. We need to pray for ourselves and for other believers, that God “may give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17).
As I have studied to know God better, and sought God’s wisdom on how to help my grandchildren and others do the same, God has shown me several principles:
1.) God has created us with a desire to know him. Jeremiah 24:7
2.) God has created us in his image with the capacity to know and experience his Spirit in our spirit. Genesis 1:27
3.) God has made himself known through his creation by general revelation and his glory is evident in the beauty, order, and majesty of the natural realm. Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 2:14-15
4.) God has given us his Word as a self-revelation of himself. John 1
5.) God has given us Christ as flesh, mind, heart, and hands to know the Father’s character and love for us. Hebrews 1: 1-2, Matthew 11:27
6.) God has given us families in which we are to grow into knowing him. Genesis story of
Creation and promises to Abraham
7.) God has equipped me, and in some small ways I helped equip my children in much the same way that I was equipped- taking them to church, talking to them about my experiences of God, praying for them, setting an example of faith, etc. Prov. 22:6, Deut 11:19.
8.) God has given us his own Spirit through faith in Christ and his Spirit guides us into Truth and knowledge of the Lord. John 16:13, Acts 20:21, 27
9.) God has given us his church where he inhabits his people and makes himself known.
Ex. 29:45-46, Zechariah 2:11, Matthew 28:19-20
Slide 2- Group Exercise- What Do We Know?
On back of handout- Take the next a minute and write down what you know about God, brief 1 or 2 word descriptions of the nature, character, titles, or attributes of God. Write down the list on the white board. How many have we come up with? (Write on a white board.)
Ancient Jews had 3000 names for God that describe his nature-
Muslims have 99 holy names for God that describe his nature-
(Review exercise with group of women about 10 years ago.) Approx 150
Experiencing God list from Blackaby curriculum- Approx 550, divided into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with scripture references.
Priscilla Shirer’s “Who’s Your Daddy?” (Show video)
How do we come to know and experience the character of God?
How many self-revelations of himself has God provided in our Bible?
Slide 3- In our human way of trying to understand complex concepts, we often break them down into general categories, or “profiles” and unfortunately, we tend to do that with the attributes and character of God. Some people view God essentially in one of 3 ways:
– Transcendent- “high view”, distant, mighty, fearsome, judging, deserving reverent awe. Ineffable- beyond understanding or identification with the limitations of our humanity- i.e., “eternal” “Creator”, ineffable- incapable of being understood- i.e., “my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways”. (May lead one to hold God at a distance due to fear of personal destruction or simple inability to grasp what God is like.)
(My description of my friend Angie, raised among “hell, fire, and brimstone” congregation. She preferred to keep some distance between herself and God out of fear of his anger and judgement.)
– Immanent- “close view”, present among us, like a “friend” or “brother”, gracious and loving, merciful, and kind, servant-hearted. (May lead one into such familiar “chumminess” with Jesus that there is little respect or reverence for him as God.)
(My own childhood view of God, having come from a grace and love tradition. So sure of God’s love and forgiveness that I had little fear, even willful and defiant in my security of his love.) Paul addresses this danger when he says, “Because of this abounding grace, should we sin all the more so as to have more and more? Heavens, no!”
– Intimate- “Fused view” – God as the Beloved One who understands us at deepest level, present within our hearts, One whom we strive to be with, love and please at least to the degree of how much we feel his love for us. One is willing to sacrifice for the other. Unique to this particular relationship and not shared with anyone else. (May lead to an idealized relationship, which although God is capable of that kind of perfection in love, we generally find such selflessness and purity of motive and goodness/kindness/faithfulness/etc. hard to achieve. Such an intimate, beloved view of God may also neglect aspects of God’s character- like discipline and the demand for obedience and righteousness- and may also lead to familiarity that fails to revere and obey as needed and may lead one to feel superior to others, whom God also loves, because of enjoying a “special” status with God, failing to understand the impartiality of God in loving his creation and his desire to have this kind of relationship with each of us.
(I heard a Christian woman, in tears, talking to a mutual friend. She said, “No one has the kind of relationship I have with the Lord.” I was puzzled and a bit shocked. I felt slighted, jealous, and wondered, “Who does she think she is, Mary the Mother of Jesus reincarnate?” How arrogant and haughty I thought it was for her to think such a thing! Years later, as I grew in my own relationship with Christ, I realized just how special EACH person’s relationship with Christ is! )
Each of these human ways of thinking about relationships and of describing our view of God shows us more about our ability to grasp the character and nature of God than it does about God himself. None of these three ways of thinking about God fully expresses all of the character of God, but all of together begin to approach the reality. The problem is that because the Trinity is such a complex concept, we tend to pick and choose the aspects of God’s character that feel comfortable to us or to which we prefer to relate or which we have been taught. We tend to relate to the attributes of God in the same way we relate to humans- like a the example of a loving but disciplining Father, a kind and gracious Grandparent, a loyal and selfless brother, etc. and we may overlook or neglect to consider other aspects of God that are foreign in our own way of thinking or our relationship experiences.
Slide 4- Christian doctrine of the Trinity
What does it say? One God, Three Persons
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person which co-exist together. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God. This is a mystery of God’s existence that can be a stumbling block for us.
The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Philippians 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or simply ways of referring to three different roles that God plays? The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.
For example, since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), he cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.
In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father speaking from heaven and the Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove as Jesus comes out of the water (Mark 1:10–11). John 1:1 affirms that Jesus is God and, at the same time, that he was “with God,” thereby indicating that Jesus is a distinct Person from God the Father (see also John 1:18). And in John 16:13–15, we see that although there is a close unity between the three persons, the Holy Spirit is also distinct from the Father and the Son.
The fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons means, in other words, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Jesus is God, but he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but he is not the Son or the Father. They are different Persons, not three different ways of looking at God, as we human beings sometimes try to understand God.
The personhood of each member of the Trinity means that each Person has a distinct center of consciousness. Thus, they relate to each other personally — the Father regards himself as “I” while he regards the Son and Holy Spirit as “you.” Likewise, the Son regards himself as “I,” but the Father and the Holy Spirit as “you.”
Often it is objected, “If Jesus is God, then he must have prayed to himself while he was on earth.” But the answer to this objection lies in simply applying what we have already seen. While Jesus and the Father are both God, they are different Persons. Thus, Jesus prayed to God the Father without praying to himself. In fact, it is precisely the continuing dialogue between the Father and the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 5:19; 11:41–42; 17:1ff) that furnishes the best evidence that they are distinct Persons with distinct centers of consciousness.
Sometimes the Personhood of the Father and Son is appreciated, but the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is neglected. Sometimes the Spirit is treated more like a “force” than a Person. But the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but a “he” (see John 14:26; 16:7–15; Acts 8:16). The fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not an impersonal force (like gravity), is also shown by the fact that he speaks (Hebrews 3:7), reasons (Acts 15:28), thinks and understands (1 Corinthians 2:10–11), wills (1 Corinthians 12:11), feels (Ephesians 4:30), and gives personal fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14). These are all qualities of personhood.
These and other biblical texts make clear that the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Personhood of the Son and the Father. They are three real persons, not three roles God plays.
Another serious error people have made is to think that the Father became the Son, who then became the Holy Spirit. Contrary to this, the passages we have seen imply that God always was and always will be three Persons. There was never a time when one of the Persons of the Godhead did not exist. They are all co-eternal.
While the three members of the Trinity are distinctly defined Persons, this does not mean that any is inferior to the other. They are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.
Each Person is fully God. The doctrine of the Trinity does not divide God into three parts. The Bible is clear that all three Persons are each one-hundred-percent God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God. For example, Colossians 2:9 says of Christ, “in him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” We should not think of God as a “pie” cut into three pieces, each piece representing a Person. This would make each Person less than fully God and thus not God at all. Rather, “the being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1994, page 255). The divine essence is not something that is divided between the three persons, but is fully in all three persons without being divided into “parts.”
As Wayne Grudem, a noted Methodist theologian, writes, “When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together we are not speaking of any greater being than when we speak of the Father alone, the Son alone, or the Holy Spirit alone” (Ibid., 252).
There is only one God. If each Person of the Trinity is distinct and yet fully God, then should we conclude that there is more than one God? Obviously we cannot, for Scripture is clear that there is only one God: “There is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21–22; see also Isaiah 44:6–8; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4–5; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Kings 8:60).
Having seen that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, that they are each fully God, and that there is nonetheless only one God, we must conclude that all three Persons are the same God. In other words, there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons.
If there is one passage which most clearly brings all of this together, it is Matthew 28:19: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” First, notice that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished as distinct Persons. We baptize into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Second, notice that each Person must be deity because they are all placed on the same level. Notice that although the three divine Persons are distinct, we are baptized into their name (singular), not names (plural). The three Persons are distinct, yet only constitute one name. This can only be if they share one essence.
Throughout my Christian life I have heard different people try describe this mystery of the Trinitarian nature of God through various metaphors. How do we attempt to describe and understand it?
Egg shell, white, yolk- not best choice….different and distinct and even disposable parts.
3 leaf clover- Three parts, same substance…Each identical to the other and related to one another in common connectedness. An elementary way to view the Trinity
Ice, water, vapor- close…..H2O in substance is always the same substance- one’s experience and understanding of it is a function of the different circumstances that cause a difference in how it is experienced in the moment.
Three blind men describing an elephant- body (wall), trunk (hose), leg (tree) – None can see or conceptualize the entire elephant except by exploring all of the elephant at various points of encounter. The elephant is simply the elephant. The difference is how one approaches it and experiences it.
Prism- The prism is a single entity, it is uniformly of one substance, but how we see it is as a function of one’s position. Multitude of colors reflected that are a function of the way something external to the prism (light) hits it and the position from which one is viewing it as the light is refracted by reflection or shining through the prism. The more of the facets of the prism one can see, the more variety of colors emanating from it we can see, the more we will see the reason for the prism…..to magnify and cast the light coming through it or reflecting off it as it exists in its specific component parts.
Does any one of these seem to give us a better representation of the reality of the Trinity than another or do all of them leave some mystery still to be discovered?
Slide 5- God meets us where we are…….what does that mean?
Paradigm shift: Understanding the Trinity is not so much about HOW God exists or reveals himself in 3 persons and remains one God, but WHY God reveals himself in so many diverse ways. Is it because the concept of God is so difficult for the human mind to grasp? It is because God is ineffable, incapable of being fully understood by man? Is it because the notion of “spirit” as “person” with a personality is so hard to relate to for us as people bound by our physical realm existence that God had to provide other ways of relating- Father God, and Incarnate Jesus?
Have you ever felt misunderstood? Have you ever longed to be known for who you genuinely and authentically are? Have you ever yearned for intimate relationship with someone who knows everything about you and still loves you? Perhaps it is in your marriage relationship? That is how it is supposed to be. Do we think that God has the same need? Does God have ANY need? ………………… No, God does not have a need for us that we would know him, but God desired us. He created us and it is God’s desire that we would know him for OUR BENEFIT, to be able to fully bless us with all that he has to offer. He created us for himself and for one another, to know and enjoy fellowship, to live in community.
View the Trinity not from the standpoint of God’s need to be known, but from our need and desire to be known, loved, and accepted.
Have you ever wondered why, when God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and when Moses asked him “Whom shall I say has sent me to Pharoah?” God said, “Tell them I AM has sent you.” “I AM” is a curious name….but it expresses the fullness of God, the sufficiency of God, God’s ability to be all of whatever we need. Do you need comfort? He is the Comforter. Do you need provision? He is the Provider. Do you need health? He is the One Who Heals. Do you feel insignificant, abandoned and forgotten? He is the One Who Sees and Embraces You as a Loving Father. Do you feel humiliated and dejected? God is the One Who Lifts Our Head. Are you in bondage? God is the Savior, the Redeemer. God created us. He knows us. He understands our needs and desires. And He is available and able and willing to meet all of them….according to his will and purpose for our lives.
Slide 6- What does it mean that “God meets us where we are?” . God is an all-sufficient God.
When God refers to Himself as “I AM” he says, I am whatever you need in this moment, even though you may not know what that is, God does. He is sufficient for every need. And he is present in the midst of every need.
The Trinity provides humankind with a way of thinking about the all-sufficiency of God to meet every need. God presents himself in different persons, according to our need in the moment for the one with whom we can most readily identify.
Do you need the loving, reassuring, firm discipling character of Father. God is that.
Do you need the companionable, best friend who understands what you experience and who helps you be your best self? One who is willing to lay down his own will and desires to assure that your best interests are met? Jesus is that.
Do you need confidential counsel and someone to cry out to in your private pain? Do you need someone to help guide you through difficult times and teach you how to understand new experiences as you meet them in life? God’s Holy Spirit within you is that.
Each is a way that God makes himself available to meet our need, to give us a way of relating to his vast all-sufficient, otherwise ineffable self.
Slide 7- Doctrine of Salvation
The simplest definition of salvation is the gift of God’s grace, by which He provides forgiveness for our sins. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s faithful people brought animal sacrifices to His altar in order to atone for their sins. These blood offerings foreshadowed the once-for-all sacrifice that was to come. Jesus Christ, whom John the Baptist called the Lamb of God, died on a cross as a substitute for us. That is, at the time of the Savior’s death, God the Father placed all the sin of mankind—past, present, and future—upon Him. So our debt was paid in absolute fullness. That provided the means for us to be sealed in the Holy Spirit and eternally secure.
Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ ; it is not something we receive based on our behavior. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Good works are not a means of salvation. Good works are an outcome of our salvation, they are a reflection of the change in our nature and our gratitude for the salvation we have received. People who are saved do good works as an extension of their changed nature.
The Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). However, God gave mankind freewill—we have a choice to receive the gift of grace or to reject Jesus Christ. No matter what we believe about God or how good we try to be, if we reject Jesus, we have chosen not to receive the gift of God’s salvation.
Slide 8- Salvation is Freedom from Sin
From sin’s Penalty of death- Justified by the gift of grace through Christ’s sacrifice at the Cross so that we may have eternal life. This is accomplished immediately upon our profession of faith in Christ. It is as if God places upon us the cloak of Christ’s righteousness when we accept the gift of his work at the Cross. This is called “imputed righteousness” It is put upon us. It covers us all at once. We are “saved”.
From sin’s Power over our lives- Sanctified, made holy, by the gift of grace through the Holy Spirit’s refining work in our heart, soul, mind, and strength and in giving us the power to love God and others with love like God’s. This is a process that is called in the Bible the “working out of our salvation”….While justifying grace occurs from the outside, sanctifying grace occurs from the inside. This is called “imparted righteousness”. It is the work of the Holy Spirit within our spirit and soul- in our mind, emotions, will, and conscience.
I want to give you a scripture in which I see God revealing this all the way back in Isaiah 1:18
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are as scarlet, (imputed righteousness, justification, as in a covering
They will be as white as snow; over the stain of our sin; freedom from the penalty of sin)
Though they are red like crimson, (imparted righteousness, sanctification, made wholly
They will be like wool. white through and through,free from the power of sin)
“If you consent and obey, (conditions and promise of blessing)
You will eat the best of the land;
“But if you refuse and rebel, (conditions and warning of destruction)
You will be devoured by the sword.”
Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
From sin’s Presence forever- Glorified in our death as we are received into the eternal presence of God
Slide 9- Diagram of how prevenient, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying grace progress across the timeline of our lives. Also, how an inadequate sense of assurance of our justification leads to one being at risk of being “bolo” paddled back and forth between FEELING saved or unsaved by satan’s ploys….most of which play on our emotions. . We have to move beyond feelings to confident knowledge of our salvation. Living an abundant life of joy in Christ demands a solid assurance of salvation and knowledge of how to move forward into the fullness of one’s purpose as created by God! In talking to many people in times of emotional emergency that becomes a crisis of faith,, these are many of the topics that have to be explored to transform the situation into spiritual emergence.