The Unity in the Trinity

A reader writes: 

“I have a question that involves the trinity and prayer. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus teaches His disciples to pray and to address God as “Our Father, which art in heaven.” The Lord’s prayer is a complete model prayer. We believe that when we do this we address not the first person of the trinity, but the triune God. How must we understand that, seeing God is one in essence, yet three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Creator, the Son is our Savior, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. All three are co-eternal and co-essential. They are all equal and eternal. There is neither first nor last. We read concerning the Son in Colossians 1:18, ‘And He is the head of the body; the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.’ And in Philippians 2:6, ‘Who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God.’ Seeing Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all God, why did Jesus teach us to pray ‘Our Father?’ Why can we not pray to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who always prays for us, and to the Holy Spirit? We always pray ‘for Jesus’ sake.’ This is important and necessary. Why isn’t this mentioned in the Lord’s prayer?” 

There are actually three questions here, which will have to be treated separately. In regard to the first: This question is very important, since there is much misunderstanding in regard to the unity of the three persons in the trinity and in their work. This misunderstanding actually dates back to a lack of clarity in our Confessions on this subject. In our Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 8, to which the reader refers, we read, “‘God the Father, and our creation; . . . God the Son and our redemption, . . . God the Holy Ghost and our sanctification.” The same distinction is made in the second paragraph of our Baptism Form. 

Many attempts are made to defend this separation of the work of each person of the divine three. Some have said that the Father appears on the foreground in the work of creation, the Son in the work of redemption, and the Spirit in the work of sanctification. Others have said that it appears to us as if each person stands on the foreground in each particular work. The fact remains that this distinction is incorrect, for it separates the three persons and destroys their unity. We end up with three God’s instead of one. 

It must be maintained that all three persons are active in all of God’s works. A comparison of Genesis 1:1-3 withJohn 1:1-3 shows us that all three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were active in creation. Also in the work of redemption the Father gave His Son as a sacrifice for us, the Son laid down His life, and the Holy Spirit, with whom Christ was anointed, sustained Him in His suffering. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Likewise in the work of sanctification, God gives the Holy Spirit to Christ upon His exaltation, whom He, in turn, pours out into the church to perform all the work of our salvation in us and through us. 

When Jesus teaches us to address God as our Father in heaven, He includes all three persons of the trinity. For the triune God is the God and Father of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, when Christ addresses God as His Father He is praying, not to the first person in distinction from the other two, but is addressing the triune God. For example, the first word spoken on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was addressed to God triune in heaven, who also heard Him and laid our sins upon Him, so that this prayer was also answered, as was evident on Pentecost when three thousand were brought to repentance (Acts 2:39). 

In this same sense the triune God is our Father in Christ Jesus. All the blessings of salvation come to us from Him in the Beloved, that is, through our Mediator Jesus Christ, by His indwelling Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that dwells in the church. 

In close connection with the foregoing the reader asks, “Why can we not pray to Jesus, our Lord and Savior who always prays for us, and to the Holy Spirit?” There is, to the best of my knowledge, only one prayer in the New Testament addressed to Jesus as our exalted Lord in heaven. That is the well-known prayer ofRevelation 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.” And again in verse 20: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” The very fact that, with this exception, we have no special prayers to the separate persons of the trinity must point out that we pray to God as triune God, whose works are eternally one in Him. Personally, I consider it very wrong to stress Jesus to children, as is so often done, leaving the impression that God is an austere Being to be feared, but Jesus is kind and gentle. 

The third question reads, “We always pray ‘for Jesus’ sake’; this is important and necessary. Why isn’t this mentioned in the Lord’s prayer?” 

This is possibly a bit more difficult, but must have passed through the minds of many of us. One reason why this is not included in the model prayer is probably because Jesus wanted to keep this prayer as brief and simple as possible. A weightier reason is that this was spoken earlier in Jesus’ ministry, actually still in the old dispensation, before Jesus was exalted in heaven. At that early time the disciples could not have understood what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It was only at the time of Jesus’ departure from the earth to ascend to the Father’s right hand, that He spoke to them of the coming of the Holy Spirit and of His intercession in heaven. At that time Jesus emphasized this very strongly. In John 14:13, 14, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask anything in My name, I will do it.” In John 15:7, 10, there is a similar reference to asking in Jesus’ name. And in John 16:23, 24 we are told, “And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing. Verily, verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” That this refers to Jesus’ mediatorial intercession in the heavens is evident from Hebrews 4:15, 16: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in time of need.” Likewise in Ephesians 2:18, “For in Him (Christ Jesus) we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”