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What is the difference between God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Thank you for this great question about what is called the 'Trinity' - that God is one, but has three persons within that oneness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
1600 years ago the Christian Church discussed this very question in great depth and answered it most fully with a statement at what we now call 'The Athanasian Statement'. It remains what all Christian Churches accept as a biblically correct summary of the Trinity. It states that 'we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity'.
There are two special challenges when it comes to the Trinity: about three being one at all, and about how Jesus was God the Son come in the flesh, both divine and human.
The first challenge is to try to grasp how God can be three and one at the same time. The traditional way is to talk of God's 'substance' or essential nature, and His 'Persons' - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We struggle to understand how one being can have more than one way of existing because that is how we are ourselves. However, that should not prevent us thinking 'bigger thoughts' about the nature of the Divine Being who has created everything. The only way to know about Him is if He reveals Himself, which indeed He has in the Bible.
There we find that there is indeed only one God. Yet we find also that, to quote the Athanasian Declaration, article 5: 'there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.' How is that shown in the Bible? Because not only the Father is revealed with divine authority and rights, but also the Son and the Holy Spirit. For example, the early Christians worshipped the risen Jesus and obeyed the divine authority of the Holy Spirit. John's Gospel is especially helpful to see this if you make a note of each reference to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is, of course, a mystery.
Some people will sneer at that as 'the usual excuse' of Christians to believe something irrational. We can only answer that it is not a failure of thought or intelligence but a serious grappling with what the Bible teaches: there is only One God, and that God has revealed Himself to us as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some people a long time before even Athanasius suggested that these were not three persons but only three phases in God's relationship with the world He made - first He was the Father, then He became the God-Man Jesus, and then He became the Holy Spirit after Jesus died and rose. The problem with that is that all three persons appear alongside each other sometimes. Take Jesus' baptism for example:
The Father spoke from heaven and called Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:9-11). And if there are three divine persons in the one God, that means they are each real 'individuals' and have been throughout eternity. Neither the Son nor the Spirit are 'creations' of the Father but THIS IS WHO GOD IS, WAS AND EVER SHALL BE!
The second challenge has to do with Jesus being both God and human. The New Testament certainly teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was God the Son come in the flesh. For example, in Philippians 2:1-11 we are told that Jesus as Son of God WAS RICH - that's his eternal pre-existence, AND BECAME POOR - that's his life on earth, and was then EXALTED IN HEAVEN - that's the Son returning to heaven after the resurrection. But remember that the human being Jesus was conceived; He began. It was the divine Son who came from heaven, not the human being who was named by his parents as a baby. So what happened? God the Son took into His BEING the new human BEING Jesus. There was only ONE BEING, one we can call Jesus AND God the Son in the flesh. Yet this one being had, and still has, a human and a divine nature. Again, we face the mystery of the divine being existing entirely in a different order from ourselves. We cannot have two natures, but He can.
Let's look briefly at these three phases - the Son before Bethlehem, the Son on earth, and the Son returned to glory.
1. In eternity 'past' so to speak, the Son did not have a human nature.
2. In time he took one upon himself, and lived a fully human life without an 'escape clause' because of his divinity. Jesus slept because he could be tired. He could be sad. He grew in knowledge and understanding rather than calling upon Divine knowledge. His miracles were done in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than simply because He was God the Son. That is so wonderful about Jesus on earth. Most dramatically, he died on the cross fully and completely as a human being. God cannot die, yet as God he was there and then suffering the agony of God's judgement in himself, so that God himself bore the weight of our sins in order to destroy it on our behalf. It is amazing and wonderful.
Jesus was fully human! That means something more: we can see what a human life lived totally with God is like. We cannot do it ourselves, but we can reach towards it by the fact that as Christians we have a new, as well as old, nature: the new one promising future perfection when death is abolished.
3. He returned to heaven. The third phase of Jesus the God-Man is his resurrection and exaltation in heaven. Now he sits at God's right hand as He did before Bethlehem. But now he is someone we will recognise physically - Jesus of Nazareth!
In summary, the Athanasian Creed explains both the Trinity and the nature of Jesus.
Of the Trinity it says it is
The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
Of Jesus it says he is
God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:
- Genesis 1-3
- Matthew 3:13-17
- Matthew 28:16-19
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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