Can 1 equal 3?

30 May 2021 by Neil Menger in: Sermons

As we all know, life can be complex.  We are constantly being confronted with issues and problems to resolve.  It could be something to do with our health, our security, our income and so on.

Sometimes those issues can be simple.
For example, “What colour top should I wear?” or “Should I take out private health insurance?”

Other times, they can be quite complicated or difficult.
For example, “How much money do I need to live on during retirement?” orn“Where is God when it hurts?” or “How can we worship a God who seems unwilling or unable to prevent the current Covid pandemic?” or "Why doesn’t God act over climate change?”

Sometimes we call these hard questions “conundrums”.  Now, a conundrum is a confusing or difficult problem or question.  Often, it is a question that is impossible or almost impossible to solve; where there is no clear, right answer.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the people at Jerusalem.  It was a powerful demonstration of God’s power that is largely beyond our human comprehension.

How do we understand Pentecost?
How do we process Pentecost?

If we can’t understand Pentecost, if we can’t put a human rationalisation on it, do we just ignore it?  Pretend it doesn’t happen?  Pretend it doesn’t matter to me?  And yet, the evidence is there, right before us.  Something happened!

This week we experience similarly difficult questions.

Today is Trinity Sunday, as we are reminded of this with the Trinity banner on the front wall, with its Borromean rings.

Now, by way of introduction, I might surprise you by saying that the concept of the Trinity is interesting, if for no other reason, because the word “Trinity” is not used in the Bible.  So, if it is not used, how could it assume such importance in the lives of Christians?

As you know, there are different times of the year when we refer to the Trinity and even declare we believe in the Trinity, particularly when we recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

We are familiar with the words describing the Trinity, being:

God the Father;
God the Son; and
God the Holy Spirit.

But what do we mean?  How can God be three separate and distinct entities – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

Do we just take it for granted without giving it much thought?  Do we just glaze over it?  Do we dismiss thinking about it because it seems all too hard?

I want to try to address two questions today.

What do we mean by the Trinity?  How do we explain, or describe, the Trinity?; and

What do we understand by the doctrine of the Trinity?

Let’s take them one at a time.  Firstly, what is the Trinity?

Well, the Trinity is a description of the unique relationship of three manifestations of God that we experience as Christians.  Note that this experience is predominantly relevant to Christians, for if you are not open to the movement of God, then how can you be receptive to God’s calling?  But in saying that, I also acknowledge that there are times when miracles occur such as in the life of John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”.  And for that matter, each and every one of us when we were confronted by the claims of Jesus Christ on our lives.

Perhaps the most familiar use comes, as mentioned earlier, when we recite the Apostle’s Creed (most usually at baptisms) and the Nicene Creed (most often at the celebration of Holy Communion).

But in the Bible we find these three manifestations of God being used together on only two, possibly three, occasions.  And they are all in the New Testament.  We shall come to them shortly.  Suffice to say, they are rare, only three times in all the Bible.  And yet, the Trinity is a key belief of all Christians.

Our reading of the Scriptures usually only identifies one manifestation at a time.  Let me explain:

Throughout the Old Testament we only ever hear of God the Father.  If I can state the obvious, Jesus didn’t exist yet, nor had the Holy Spirit made its entrance yet. So, for example, consider these words from the first two verses of Psalm 29, read to us earlier by Darrell:

Psalm 29

The Voice of God in a Great Storm

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendour.

And so on through the following nine verses.  God is seen as a singular construct; it is just “the Lord”.  No Jesus, no Holy Spirit.

When we look at the Gospels, it is obvious that the focus is on Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Whether it be the miracles, the teachings, the human interactions – the representation of God is in the person of Jesus, the Son.  Again, it is a singular construct.  Just Jesus.  Not God the Father; just Jesus.  And not God the Holy Spirit; just Jesus.

And thirdly, the third manifestation of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit.  As we read the books of the New Testament, particularly those following the Gospels, such as Acts and various letters of Paul to regional churches, we see many actions and events in which the Holy Spirit is the primary manifestation of the Trinity.  God the Father is not identified, nor is Jesus, the Son.  In the case of the latter, again, to state the obvious, Jesus had now completed His work.  He had returned to His heavenly realm.

I said a short while ago that there were only three occasions where the three manifestations of the Trinity are recorded at the same event, or time.  The first time we get close to the three manifestations working together in the one event is in Mark 1:10- 11, at the baptism of Jesus, where the Scriptures tell us:

10 And just as he (Jesus) was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Obviously, this event occurred at the start of Jesus’ ministry.  For the second occasion, we have to wait until the end of His ministry to read in Matthew
28: 19:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

And the third occasion is the last verse of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he says:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

I am sure this third example will be familiar to you as it provides the words of the most commonly used benediction; words you hear almost every Sunday at the end of the service.

These are the three times, I understand, the potential concurrent concept of the Trinity are identified in the Scriptures.

We have spent some time describing the members of the Trinity.  Now, let us turn to our second question: the Doctrine of the Trinity.  Clearly, the Bible does not enunciate a Doctrine of the Trinity; remember, the word Trinity cannot even be found in the Scriptures!  However, our forefathers thought it sufficiently important to draw these three concepts together into one canon. 

Is it hard to understand?  Yes, it can be difficult. One God, yet three persons.  But let me try to explain it a bit.  Let me take you back to your Sunday School or Youth Group devotions. 

Think of the Trinity as water:

Glass of water;
Ice cube; and

Three distinct parts, but they are all water!


Think of the Trinity as me:

I can be Me as me; (individual; husband)
I can be Me as a father;
I can be Me as a grandfather.

Three distinct roles, but they are all me!

And so we come to the Trinity.

In its most simplistic form, we can say:

God reveals Himself to us as one God, BUT in three distinct ways:

God as Father
God as Son
God as Holy Spirit.

They are all distinct, but inseparable ways God makes Himself known to us.

We need to note that one observation we can make is that God’s oneness and His Threeness cannot be located in the person or personality.  God cannot be both three persons and one person.  To put it another way, however we meet God, whether it be with the Creator, the incarnate Son, or the Holy Spirit, we do not meet with a fraction, or part, of God.  Rather, we meet with God in all His fullness and unity.

Further, we gather from Luke 24 that following the resurrection of Jesus, [by which He returned to His Father,] it was this action that enabled the Holy Spirit to become pre-eminent in the life of the community.  By this we can see that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. 

What do we mean by “no hierarchy”?  Well, each person of the Trinity gives place to the other.   There is no Boss; no Chairman of the Board – they are all equal.  God the Father steps back to leave Jesus to be the manifestation of God after His baptism; just as the risen Christ gives way to the Holy Spirit as the principle manifestation of God.

But, together, as one, they provide the platform for the central doctrine of our faith and the root of many others.

As I have said earlier, there is no suggestion of the revelation of a multi-faceted God in the form of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  In like manner, it can be argued that there is no Doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.  What I am saying is: you cannot go to a particular chapter or stanza of verses to read a succinct explanation or description.  Rather, It is the outcome of centuries of Bible studies by theologians across the world.

And in saying this, Gordon Dicker, in his book, Faith with Understanding, reminds us that “there is no doctrine of anything in the New Testament.  What the New Testament does is to provide some of the data from which doctrine is formulated.”

So, despite the various Scripture references relating events involving God as Father, or as Son, or as Holy Spirit, there is no clear statement of how Father, Son and Holy Spirit are related.

In fact, as I said earlier, the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible.  It was almost 150 years after the death of Jesus before the word was used.  That is, around 180AD.

So, how do we understand the Doctrine today?

Is God “one”, or “three”?

Mathematically, one is one.  Remember the old camp song “Green Grow the Rushes, O”: one is one and all alone and never more will be so

By mathematical definition, it cannot be three.

So, if we can’t reconcile the doctrine mathematically, we need to resort to the concept of an organic or biological entity.

Scientifically, this means that virtually every part of the world we know - even the smallest, the minutest thing we can think of - consists of multiple parts.  For example, take the hydrogen atom, one of the simplest atomic structures, with only one proton (Positive) and one electron (negative) and no neutrons.  Take one component out (be it the positive proton or the negative electron) and it is no longer hydrogen.  It needs all components to be its real self – a hydrogen atom.

Consider the human being.  Put simply, and overlooking all the anatomical and physiological parts that we can name, we consist of a body and a mind, which in turn controls such things as our feelings and thinking.  All these components interact with each other to function as an individual human being.

And if it is not irrational to think of the unity of the human being as a unity constituted of many parts, then why should it be difficult to think of God’s unity as a unity constituted by its Threeness?

So, since almost everything consists of multiple parts, why can’t we think of God’s unity as a unity constituted by three parts that link together as one – like our Booromean rings?  Sometimes, just possibly, (just possibly), we may need to let go of our natural curiosity to understand, to rationalise everything into something we think we understand at a human level, just for the moment.

Now, if we do not want to be too intellectual about this, there is a way we can all follow.  Based on the experience of God in our lives, we can, by faith, yes by faith, accept the conundrum of the Trinity as true and then praise God for each and every one of these components that He reveals to us.  Just like the other principles that underpin our belief systems – like the Virgin Birth, many of the miracles and the Resurrection, for example.  We cannot understand these events with our human minds, but that does not mean we reject, or question, them.  No, we accept them in faith.

Sometimes, in the absence of full understanding and an inability to truly understand this God-mystery, the only thing we can do is stop trying to reason with facts and concepts, and just decide to accept it by acts of praise to our triune God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For example:

we can praise God the Father because He is, amongst other things, our Creator; King; Lord; Judge and Redeemer.

We can praise Jesus the Son for being, amongst other things, “God in the flesh”; obedient; living as a servant; suffering and dying on the Cross; and rising from the dead.

We can praise the Holy Spirit because, amongst other things, His presence with us never ends; He reveals the Word of God to us; and He encourages our growth as Christians and witnesses.

Being Trinity Sunday, it is a fabulous opportunity to open ourselves to all aspects of the Trinity.  And this is my prayer for us all.


As we finish this section of our worship this morning, I invite you to stand, as you are able, and share in reciting the Apostle’s Creed.

The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.