Trinity - Unified yet Distinct. Is it safe to smudge the distinction

(Yeddu Prasad) #1

Hi All, I was born into a Christian family and all my life I grew up with the below beliefs that

  1. There is only one God and he exists in the form of Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit)
  2. The three are divine & eternal. They are distinct yet ONE.
  3. Each has a distinct role in our lives and salvation.
    a. God (Father) - The creator of all
    b. Jesus(Son) - The sinless lamb that needed to be sacrificed to restore us to God
    c. Holy Spirit - The guide who teaches us about God, Jesus & his plan for us.
  4. Because of our sinful nature, we could never get to God directly and hence Jesus had to shed his blood for us on the cross and bridge the gap that existed between us and a pure & holly God.
  5. Jesus never claimed that he is God but that he is sent by God to do his will.

While reading commentaries on the Bible & watching videos, I see pastors interchange the names Jesus & God when quoting the scripture.

For example “Why did Jesus ask Abraham to sacrifice his son?”, “It was Jesus who talked to Moses in the burning bush”, “It was Jesus who was the pillar of fire by night & the cloud by day during Exodus of Jews from Egypt”…

My Questions :

  1. Is it right to interchange the names of Jesus & God this way?
  2. Is it blasphemy to attribute things the Bible Says God did to Jesus.
  3. Should we not maintain the distinction between the three forms of God.
  4. Do I pray to God or pray to Jesus and not refer to God at all? (I have always prayed to God and believed that Jesus intercedes for me)

This has been bothering me for a few month now that not having this distinction may result in me neglecting giving the due regard to God who is always known to be zealous for his name.

(SeanO) #2

@yeddu Good question. I think the first think I would say is that Jesus is God, the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God - God is one and yet three Persons. So while we may pray to the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, if we just say God it could refer to all three or to any one Person of the Trinity.

I would avoid using the word ‘forms’ - rather say that God is three Persons. There is a classic misunderstanding of God called modalism that says that the persons of the Trinity represent only three modes or aspects of the divine revelation, not distinct and coexisting persons in the divine nature. We, however, affirm that God is three Persons - separate and distinct yet one.

We can see this truth clearly if we look at 2 facts: Jesus both said that He was the same as the Father and yet Jesus prayed to the Father as a distinct Person.

John 10:30 - The Father and I are one.

Colossians 2:9 - For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ

Matthew 6:9 - This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

In fact, Jesus is also Creator - if we look at John 1, as well as a number of other passages, this fact becomes clear. Nothing has been created without Jesus being involved.

John 1:1-3 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

So Jesus is God and the Father is God - there is nothing wrong with interchanging their names in prayer or interchanging their names when referring to God. However, we should understand that each Person of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - has a unique role in the Gospel story and in our lives. The Father sent His Son to become our Great High Priest and King and it is the Spirit who empowers us and also intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27).

Praying to Jesus

There is nothing wrong with praying to Jesus - people in the Bible both pray to Jesus and equate Jesus with God the Father. Jesus Himself, as noted earlier, said “I and my Father are one”. The article below makes a good point - there is nothing wrong with praying to Jesus, but the reason we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name by the power of the Spirit is to remember the beauty of the Gospel - the Father who sent His Son empowered by the Spirit - and the very nature of God Himself.

John 20:28-29 - Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Acts 7:59 - While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

We see two important truths, then, in prayer to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. First, Christian praying is Trinitarian praying. This is deeply important, for much Christian praying in my experience is Unitarian: “Dear God. . . . Amen.” Unitarian praying makes it hard to see why there’s any real difference in praying to the God of the Bible as opposed to praying to the God of, say, the Qur’an. Second, Christian praying exhibits the very structure of the gospel. Jesus stands at the center as the mediator, the Father as the addressee, and the Spirit as the enabler.

So can you pray to Jesus? Of course you can. But let me suggest if this is the predominant way we pray we may lose something of enormous importance. We may lose sight of the glorious gospel with the Father as the architect of our salvation, the Son as the achiever, and the Spirit as the applier.

Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus Himself is clear that the Scriptures, which in this case would have been the Old Testament, refer directly to Himself.

John 5:39-40 - You study[a] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

If we read the New Testament carefully, we will discover that Jesus is equated with the One who accompanied the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament - He is the King, Messiah, Lord and Savior - Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

The New Testament claims that Christ fulfills the Old Testament in many ways. Just to name a few, Christ is:

Resources on the Trinity

God is not one person who took three consecutive roles. That is the heresy of modalism. The Father did not become the Son and then the Holy Spirit. Instead, there have always been and always will be three distinct persons in the Godhead.
The Trinity is not a contradiction because God is not three in the same way that He is one. God is one in essence, three in Person.

Hope that is helpful :slight_smile: The Lord Jesus grant you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge of Him. Please do push back against anything that is unclear and keep the discussion rolling.

Why did God reveal Himself as Father? And why is the relationship between God (the Father) and Jesus described as a Father-Son relationship?
(Lakshmi Mehta) #3

@yeddu, Great to have you join Connect and thanks for starting this thread. I will start with some initial thoughts on the fourth question and move up from there.

When it comes to prayer, I am reminded of three verses:

  • Matt 6:9 This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name"
  • John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask (me) anything in my name, I will do it.
  • John 14:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

In all of these verses, I see that the model given is to address the prayer to God the Father in Jesus’s name in Spirit and truth. What this means is that the Spirit of God aids us to pray in God’s will (truth) in the confidence of Jesus’s righteousness to God the Father. As Jesus lived perfectly in God’s will, we are able to access God in Jesus through His Spirit, to bring His will in earth. So in prayer, there are different roles for the three persons of God in Trinity, although they have one mind. So I do think it is appropriate to pray to God the Father as you already do. Yet, I do not think it is wrong to address Jesus or the Holy Spirit in prayer as they are part of the Trinitarian God. For example: I might address Jesus directly when I thank him for His sacrifice, I seek the Spirit’s help in prayer, I might repent of grieving the Spirit with my attitude or words. Also some bible translations of John 14:14, include the word ‘me’ suggesting praying to Jesus directly.

When Jesus was on earth, Jesus did claim of being one in essence with the Father/ God. John 8: 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.The phrase ‘I am’ to the jews meant ‘God’- Jesus was claiming to be God and that was the reason He was stoned.

Also in John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “ Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

When Jesus was on earth, He prayed to the Father showing some distinction of trinitarian roles, but also said the Father in Him did the works blurring the distinction ( John 14). Could Jesus have referred to the Spirit when He said the Father works in me? The ministry of Jesus starts after the baptism by Spirit and water. Also the Spirit of God raised Christ from dead ( Eph 1:20).

So, I dont think we can say we are blaspheming if we attribute something that God the Father did to Jesus in our present lives. However, when it comes to biblical history, I think we should be careful to convey the biblical text with the different roles of God as stated in the text clearly. If not, we cant truly appreciate the text for what it is and leave room for misinterpretation. The sin of blasphemy is contempt of God, attributing work done by God ( Father, Jesus, Spirit) to someone else. As all three persons of Trinity are always working together and are in essence one, if we misunderstand the roles but are still thankful to God, I don’t think we are being blasphemous.

I look forward to what others may have to say on this. Thanks for the question!

(Yeddu Prasad) #4

Sean, Thank you for your response. This is very helpful and I will go through the references you shared. I used the word “forms” instead of “persons” it is a slip on my part.

Your response helps me. Thank you.

(Yeddu Prasad) #5

Thank you Lakshmi for your response. Very helpful and puts my question to rest. I have read a few more articles on the trinity today and believe that while I have my fundamentals right, the trinity is quite deep for us to understand it all and so will keep reading more prayerfully.

I am at a phase in my life where I am hungry for answers to so many questions about my life purpose and what I can do to be closer to God and do his will for me.

Will post some more questions that I am seeking answers for soon.

I thank you for taking time to respond to my question. God bless you.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #6

@yeddu, Glad you found it helpful. Yes, indeed trinity is very deep and difficult topic. Your hunger for understanding and closer relationship with God is I am sure inspiring to many. I look forward to your questions and learning with you as members in this community post responses.

(SeanO) #7

@yeddu Glad you found it helpful. Blessings on the journey :slight_smile: