October 29, 2018 • Life for Leaders
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
As Paul gets to the end of his list of the “ones” that provide a foundation for our unity as God’s people, he concludes with: “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6). Today, I’ll reflect on the oneness of God. Tomorrow, we’ll consider God’s allness.
The oneness of God stands at the center of Judeo-Christian belief, in contrast to the multiple gods of most non-Christian religions. In the ancient Near East, all the nations surrounding Israel believed in a plethora of gods, some of which were good, some of which were evil, and most of which were a combination of the two. By contrast, the people of Israel affirmed the existence of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who was wholly good. The unity of God is captured in the classic Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”) of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Yet, in light of God’s work in Jesus Christ, the Christian understanding of God’s oneness becomes more complex. In Ephesians 4:4, Paul refers to “one Spirit,” who is the “Holy Spirit of God” (4:30). Then, in verse 5, Paul mentions “one Lord.” This Lord is the one Paul identifies eight times throughout Ephesians as “the Lord Jesus Christ” (for example, 1:2-3). And then, in verse 6, we have “one God and Father of all.” So, in three short verses we have “one Spirit [of God],” “one Lord [Jesus Christ],” and “one God and Father.” This can feel a little confusing.
Ephesians 4:4-6 clearly lines up with the Jewish confession of one God. Yet, at the same time, the passage speaks of the Spirit, the Lord, and the Father as if the three were all divine, all in some way one true God. This is not easy to understand. You can see why the early Christians took several centuries to agree on what ultimately became known as the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons. Ephesians 4:4-6 does not exposit explicit Trinitarian doctrine, but the seeds of this doctrine are planted in this passage.
In today’s world, belief in the oneness and threeness of God is often assailed. Atheists accuse Christians of fundamental irrationality. Muslims see Trinitarian belief as denying the oneness of God. Christians are sometimes tempted to simplify matters by rejecting the Trinitarian character of God. Yet, even though the three-in-one nature of God is complex, and even though it is something we can never fully comprehend, we Christians remain steadfast in affirming that God is truly one, even as God is also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the one God whom we confess, serve, and love.
Something to Think About:
How do you understand the oneness of God?
In what ways does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense to you?
How would you explain this doctrine to someone who didn’t understand it, or who challenged its reasonableness?
Something to Do:
Try taking on the last question with someone. How would you explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Could be a Christian friend. Could be someone at work who is not a Christian. That person might ask interesting questions. Set it up not as a time for persuasion but as an exercise in explaining something you believe in that is tricky.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen. Amen.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.