There are more false teachings about who God is than we could ever address directly. From the concept of idols, to the new age idea that everything is part of God, many people invent their own ideas of who God is. When speaking of the God of the Bible, there are also false teachings about who He is. There is the idea that God is only one person with different roles that He fulfills. We want to look at the clear teaching of the scriptures regarding who God is and how God works.
What does it mean that there is one God?
One of the most fundamental teachings of the Old and New Testaments is that God is one. But what does that mean? Deuteronomy 6:4 says:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (ESV)
James 2:19 repeats this idea:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (ESV)
So what does this mean that God is one? Does it mean that God is one person? No it does not. If it meant that, there are many scriptures that would make not sense at all. John 17:20-23 explains what it means.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)
Jesus prays for all believers in Him to be one in the same way that He and the Father are one. Does that mean that all believers are to be one person? Of course not. It is talking about unity. We must have one purpose and understanding just as the Father and Jesus have one purpose and understanding. If Jesus and the Father were one person, it would make no sense for Jesus to praying to the Father either.
But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. We haven’t proven yet that Jesus is God. We will look at that in just a moment. First let’s look at two more scriptures that make it clear that God includes more than one person. Malachi 2:17-3:1 –
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (ESV)
Do you notice how God switches from first person to third person in the middle of what He is saying here? They are asking where God is. He answers that He will send His messenger to prepare the way before Him (“me”). John the Baptist is that messenger. But then He talks about the Lord coming into “his” temple. He switches from “me” to “his.” This is because both the Father and the Son are involved in what is being said here. God is speaking with a unified voice, but God is not only one person.
Then we can go back to the very beginning in creation. Genesis 1:26 says:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (ESV)
Who is God talking to when He says, “us” and “our”? The actual word for “God” here is “Elohim” which is a plural word. We are made in the image of God. That includes all of the persons who make up the one God.
Who Are Included in the One God?
Now that we can see clearly that God is one but more than one person, we can determine who make up that one God. We will look at each one the Bible speaks of and see some scripture that clearly shows that they are God.
John 8:54 -
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ (ESV)
Jesus says that the one whom the Jews called God was His Father. He is certainly not denying that His Father is God. He is confirming it.
The Son (Jesus)
John 8:55-59 -
But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)
Just after Jesus talks about the Father being God, He says that “before Abraham was, I am.” Why did they try to kill for saying that? Because He was claiming to be God. This was clear to the Jews. Not only was claiming that “He was” before Abraham, but he claimed “I am” before Abraham. This a claim of being God. God is not bound by time. He is eternal. When Moses asked in Exodus 3:14 who to tell the Israelites God was, God answered:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (ESV)
When Jesus claimed, “I am,” this was clear to the Jews that he was claiming to be God.
John 1:1-3, 14-18 -
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (ESV)
In these verses, the apostle, John, clearly claims that Jesus is God. He has always been. He is the Creator. He is the only God, who is at the Father’s side. He has made known God the Father.
Hebrews 1:1-3 -
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (ESV)
Again, this is a clear claim that Jesus is the Creator. We read here that Jesus (the Son) has the Father’s exact nature. He has all the qualities of the Father that make the Father God. He is also part of the one God. Back to the idea of God only being one person, it says here that He “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He cannot sit down at His own right hand.
Hebrews 1:8-9 -
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (ESV)
Here was see something very interesting. Although the Son is clearly called God, we read here that He also has a God (“therefore God, your God, has anointed…”). The Father is the God of Jesus. We can clearly see that in His life on earth in how Jesus submitted in every way to the Father’s will. He offered worship to the Father. Jesus is God, but the Father is His God.
Hebrews 1:10-12 -
And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (ESV)
Here the writer says that this is speaking “of the Son.” Again, it makes it clear that He is the Creator.
The Holy Spirit
Matthew 28:19 -
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (ESV)
Here He is listed as having the same level of authority as the Father and the Son. Since they are God, this has to mean the He is God as well. We are not told to baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the angels. They do not have the kind of authority that the Father and Son have. But the Holy Spirit does.
2 Corinthians 13:14 -
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (ESV)
Again, the Holy Spirit is listed as an equal with Lord Jesus Christ and God (who would be the Father in this context).
2 Timothy 3:16-17 -
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
Who inspired all the scriptures? God did.
Acts 1:16 -
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. (ESV)
Who spoke through the mouth of David in the scriptures? The Holy Spirit did. God inspired the authors. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors. The Holy Spirit is God.
Acts 5:2-4 -
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (ESV)
Here we read that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. This is because the Holy Spirit is God.
So How Are These Three Persons Organized Into One God?
The Father is over the Son
Matthew 15:34 -
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV)
Jesus calls the Father, “My God.” This shows that the Father has authority over the Son. This is something Jesus made clear on many occasions.
John 20:17 -
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (ESV)
After His resurrection, Jesus talks about the Father being His God as well as our God.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 -
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (ESV)
At the end of time, Jesus will turn everything back over to the Father. It says that the Father placed everything in subjection under Him, but that means that the Father is not in subjection to the Son. Because the Father is head, even of Jesus, often the word “God” is used in the New Testament to speak of Him specifically, but it depends on the context. Other times the word “God” is used to refer to all three of those who make up the one God.
The Son is over the Holy Spirit
John 14:24 -
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (ESV)
Here Jesus says that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in His name. That means the Holy Spirit would be operating under the authority of Jesus.
John 16:13-15 -
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (ESV)
Here Jesus makes it even clearer that everything the Holy Spirit would speak would be from Jesus. He was operating under Jesus’ authority.
What is Their work?
When we talk about God’s work, I don’t think we could ever cover all of it, especially since God has not revealed all that He is doing. I just want to look a couple of specific roles each member of the one God has.
The Son is our Advocate and Mediator with the Father
1 John 2:1-2 -
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)
Jesus is our advocate with the Father. When we sin, the Father is righteously angry, but Jesus stands for us and uses his own sacrifice (He is the propitiation for our sins) to justify us in the sight of God. He does this for those who keep His commandments, as it says in the next verse.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 -
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (ESV)
If this was the only verse we looked at, we could get the idea that Jesus is not God, but we have already seen clearly that He is. However, this passage is speaking of His ability to be our mediator because He became a man and gave Himself as a ransom. Since He has experienced humanity as well as being God, He can be the perfect mediator between man and the Father. His life given as ransom is the way in which He can mediate for us and have our sins forgiven.
The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers
We have already seen the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the writers of the scriptures, but what does He still do today? One of the things we see that He does today is intercede for us in our prayers.
Romans 8:26-27 -
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (ESV)
The Holy Spirit knows what we want to express to God much better than we do and takes what we want to express to God (the Father) in the perfect way. This is very comforting when we are praying to the almighty God and realize that we really do not know what to say.
Ultimately, everything is the glory of the Father
While we worship the Son and the Holy Spirit because they are part of the one God, their goal is ultimately to glorify the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11 -
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)
When we confess Jesus as Lord, it glorifies the Father. This is because it is the Father who made Jesus Lord. When we accept and rejoice in the way the Father set things up, it glorifies Him.
Revelation 1:4-6 -
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
Christ has made us priests to His God and Father. Our worship is to be ultimately directed toward the Father. This does not mean ignoring Jesus and the Holy Spirit–the Father wants us to worship them as well. But the Father is God over all, even over the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our lives and worship must ultimately glorify Him.
God is one, but not one person. God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, each doing their part perfectly in perfect unity. We worship God and ultimately glorify the Father through our worshiping the Son as Lord and following the word of the Holy Spirit.
To Whom Can We Pray?
We have seen that there are three members that make up the one God. They all are God over us, but within themselves the Father has authority over the Son and the Son has authority over the Holy Spirit (at least now that He has been exalted to the right hand of the Father). They do not all have the same work, although they all work together in perfect unity. But what does the Bible say about who we must pray to?
In the Old Testament, prayers were offered to “the LORD” (Jehovah or Yahweh). All three members of the one God make up Yahweh. We could argue from that, that we can pray to all three today. However, Jesus gave us some specific teaching about who we should pray to.
We all know Jesus’ example prayer in Matthew 6:9 -
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (ESV)
Whenever Jesus talked about prayer, He talked about praying to the Father. One may say that this was because Jesus was still on earth at the time. But He even talks about praying to the Father after he has returned to heaven.
John 16:23-24 -
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (ESV)
Jesus indicates here that praying to the Father in Jesus’ name is a new thing. It is a blessing that we now have that they did not have previously. We have the authority of God’s own Son to pray to Him and we have His teaching about how to pray and for what to pray.
A couple of verses later in John 16:26-27, Jesus says:
In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (ESV)
We are able to speak directly to the Father in Jesus name. We are not asking Jesus to ask the Father for us. We are to speak directly to the Father.
So, I believe it is clear that at least in general, we are to pray specifically to the Father in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in those prayers, so we do not pray to Him either.
There are a few scriptures that may indicate that in some cases, it is right to pray to Jesus as well. Unfortunately, these are not that clear to make a strong case. I will share them just so you can examine them for yourself.
1 John 5:13-15 -
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (ESV)
Who is doing the hearing here? He has just been talking about the Son of God. However if look a little farther back in the context, it is talking about the Father and we could argue that John has returned to speaking about the Father when He talks about Him hearing our prayers. It is unclear who John is speaking about here.
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. (ESV)
This is probably the clearest passage because He says, “If you ask me….” Unfortunately, the word “me” is not found in all the manuscripts. The word is not found in the KJV. However, most modern translations include it, which means that they think the evidence is good for it being what John did originally write. As such, this may be as scripture that endorses praying to Jesus.
Ephesians 5:18-20 -
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (ESV)
The argument here is that we can sing to the Lord and many of our songs are prayers. The counter argument is that just after that, he specifies that our thanks should be given in the name of Jesus to the Father.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 -
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (ESV)
Who did Paul implore (pray to)? He prayed to the Lord. This does not necessarily mean Jesus though. The term “Lord” is applied to the Father several times in the New Testament. The context here looks to me like this is talking about Jesus, but it would be difficult to prove.
Acts 7:59-60 -
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (ESV)
Here is a clear case of a Christian speaking directly to Jesus. The only difficulty here is that in this case, he could actually see Jesus standing at the right hand of God when he said it. That makes it difficult to apply to our normal prayers, especially when it is stressed over and over throughout the New Testament that we are to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus.
I will leave it to you make up your own mind about that.