Rev Kuruvilla Chandy is the Emeritus Pastor of Grace Bible Church, Lucknow in North India. Kuru, as he is popularly known, started his pastoral work in Lucknow from September 1974. After 23 years as the pastor of Lalbagh Methodist Church, in 1997 Kuru was ordained as the founding pastor of Grace Bible Church. He is an expository preacher who ministers widely in conferences and camps. His articles are featured regularly in Christian Trends and Light of Life. He is also the author of several books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you nurture a lazy faith? Lots of people say, “I’m just a simple follower of Christ. I don’t bother with doctrines. I just follow the Ten Commandments. I love the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospels.”
When probed, it will be discovered that they really don’t know all of the Ten Commandments. They don’t love all the psalms (certainly not 119), just the “feel good psalms”, i.e., 23, 91, 103, 121. As for the book of Proverbs, they’ve heard it’s got some good advice, but haven’t bothered to find out what it is. The Sermon on the Mount, that’s where all those statements beginning with “blessed” are. That’s all they think and that’s all they are interested in. They don’t know it says that one can’t serve God and Mammon and they would rather ignore that sort of thing. They haven’t read any gospel completely. In the end, it is clear that they don’t want to come to grips with the Christian faith. They don’t want to give time to it. All they want is a free ticket to heaven.
If you ask, “Who is Jesus”, their answer will be that he was a good man who taught some good stuff, like turning your cheek and loving enemies. They think that what Jesus taught was brilliant and it’s what the world needs today. Ask them if they follow His teaching about loving enemies, and their response is, “No, it’s just not practical”, but they feel that it would make sense to practise it between nations and end all wars.
The question is, in what sense are such people followers of Jesus. You see Jesus was a historical figure, and one has to heed His unique and specific claims and teachings. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (14: 23). One just cannot be a follower of Christ if he or she doesn’t follow His teaching. That is why no one who follows Christ Jesus can ignore the doctrines of the Christian faith.
Jesus, Father and Holy Spirit
One of the things Jesus said with reference to Himself was, “Before Abraham was, I am”. That sounds like a bit of bad grammar, but the Jews understood that He was claiming divinity. God had identified Himself as “I am who I am” when Moses had asked God for a name. For making such a claim, the Jews got ready to stone Him to death (Jn. 8:58-59). Not only did He claim divinity, but He also talked of the Father and Him being one (10:30) and again the Jews wanted to stone Him (v.31).
Later on, announcing that He was going away, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be “another Paraclete” in the lives of the disciples. Describing the Holy Spirit as “another Paraclete” meant that Jesus was saying that He Himself had been the first Paraclete in their lives, and that the Spirit would replace Him in the same capacity (14:16-17). What this implied was that the Holy Spirit and Jesus were equal—equally persons, equally divine.
At the same time Jesus affirmed the Old Testament teaching that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Mk. 12:29). When He gave a baptismal formula to follow, He said that people were to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Those who had witnessed the baptism of Jesus recalled that when Jesus was baptized, the Heavenly Voice had said, “This is my Beloved Son” and the Holy Spirit had descended on Jesus (3:13-17).
On account of all the events and teachings of Jesus, the Church concluded that God is triune: three persons in one God, one God in three persons. There could be no other “explanation” for Jesus saying that there is only one God and at the same time talking about the Father and of being one with the Father and talking of the Spirit as His replacement and also saying that there was such a thing as blasphemy against the Spirit (Mk. 3:29).
One is three, three are one—is not something that either old or new maths can explain. We can try to explain the doctrine using earthly examples. For instance, H2O can exist as liquid (water), vapour (steam) or solid (ice). It helps up to a point, except that the same molecules of H2O cannot be liquid, vapour and solid all at once. They can exist as liquid or as vapour or as solid at any point in time.
Another earthly object to explain the Trinity would be electricity. It can produce light and generate heat and cause motion. It comes into our homes in either single phase or three-phase connections. In single phase we get less power. In three-phase supply we get more power capable of running heavy duty appliances like air conditioners. In single phase there is a single active wire bringing power and in a three-phase connection there are three active lines. It’s the same electricity that is supplied in either single phase or three-phase connections. Good example? Except that other than single active wire or three active wires, there is also one negative wire in both phases of electricity, and the negative wire doesn’t fit in with Trinity.
How do we then make sense of the Trinity in a world that has no parallels or examples for the Trinity? First of all why should we be surprised that we can’t make sense of Infinite God? If we can explain God, we should in fact be suspicious of our explanation. If God is God, then He should be too big to contain within the small dimensions of human brains. The singularity of God is so simple a notion that anyone and everyone can contain that idea within the confines of their small brains. The idea that there are many gods is also a simple idea that is comprehensible to human minds. Instead of one, there are many—like multiple choices in a supermarket. However belief in many gods fragments God: there is one god for love, another for wealth, and another for knowledge, and so on and on. Still as an idea it is simple enough to be totally comprehended by human brains. On the other hand, the reason no one can really grasp the concept of Trinity is that it is not product of a human mind or a figment of human imagination.
God is Love
The best known and most accepted defining statement about God is that “God is love”. Though it is from the Bible, people all over the world accept that definition without knowing that the Bible is the source of it (1 Jn. 4:8). Love is a relational word. It is about relationships. It would be ridiculous for a hermit who has cut himself off from all living creatures to sit in the recess of some cave in the Himalayas and announce that he is in love or say that he knows what constitutes love. So if we accept the notion that God is love, we would have to conclude that God had to be a “multiple personality” in eternity.
When God created Adam, He said that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 3:18). If God had been one lonely self in eternity He would not have said that. After all He had made man in His image (1: 26-27). It was because God was/is in relationship that when He made humans in His image He said it was not good for man to be alone.
God was never a lonely self or a self-centred Spirit. God is the first and foremost example of relationship. When God created, He was expressing Himself, and so He created a creature to mirror His Spirit, a creature of love and relationships.
Even though there is no true parallel between a three-phase power connection and the Trinity we could say that through the Trinity we do have a three-phase outpouring of love into our lives.
Loved by the Father
Even though it was scanty, the idea that God is our Father was there in the Old Testament period. “But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isa. 63:16). “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Isaiah pleaded for God’s mercy on this basis that God is the Father of His people: Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD? Do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people” (v.9).
God said that the love He has for His people is greater than the love of a mother for her baby: “Can a woman forget the baby she nurses? Can she feel no kindness for the child to which she gave birth? Even if she could forget her children, I will not forget you. See, I have written your name on my hand” (49:15-16, Voice).
It isn’t normal for parents to abandon their children. David said that even if his parents should forsake him, he knew that God would not turn His back on him: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me” (Ps.27:10).
“Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children” (1 Jn. 3:1, Voice).
Loved by Jesus
Jesus said, “There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends” (Jn.15:13, Voice). Love that is sacrificial was characteristic of Jesus. Describing Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (10: 10-11, 14-15, 17-18).
His was a love that was forgiving. Jesus preached love for enemies and showed it till the end when He forgave those who abused Him and condemned Him to death unjustly. He prayed for them on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He reached out to Judas by confronting Him about the enormity of betraying Him with a kiss that symbolized the relationship of love between the Master and disciple (22:48). He forgave Peter for denying Him and gave Peter an opportunity to reaffirm his love for Jesus as many times as he had denied Jesus (Jn. 21:15-17). When He came back to life, Jesus returned to the very people who had turned tail and fled from Him, and spoke peace to their grieving hearts (20:19-21).
Because Jesus included everyone, they called Him “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19). That’s what His love was like and that’s how He still loves people. Those who come to Him, He never turns away or rejects (Jn. 6:37).
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?... No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39, NLT)
Loved by the Holy Spirit
Jesus said that He and the Father would come to live in people who followed Jesus. He said that He and the Father would make their home in people’s lives. “You will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:20-23, NLT). The promise of Jesus and the Father living in people was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to make His abode in people’s lives. The Holy Spirit is the one who mediates all that the Father and Jesus have promised. “We know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Rom. 5:5, NLT).
Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit: we need this Triune God, whose love is so lavish and so powerful, so redemptive and uplifting.
Published in Light of Life, October 2016, pp.38-44