What Is the Trinity: Systematic Theology Part 2

This is part 2 of a 10 part series on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. I prepared this series for my family. The content is based on Bruce Ware’s Big Truths for Small Hearts. This article explains the precious doctrine of the trinity.

What Is the Trinity?

The concept of the Trinity is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith.

Some people think Christians believe in three gods. This is tritheism which is untrue. Others think Christians believe in a contradiction, the idea that one can also be three (1=3). This is not true either.

Simply put, the trinity is affirming that God is one in essence and three in person.

There is only one God

From the very beginning in Genesis 1:1, the Bible teaches us that there is only one God (monotheism).

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

  • There is one and only one God.
  • This one God made absolutely everything.
  • Because God has made everything, He alone has rightful rulership over everything that exists.

The one and only God is the creator of the universe, and He has the title of Creator and Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible speaks that our creator God is only one God. There is no other.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. (1 King 8:60)

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

The Bible is clear. There is one and only one God.

One God in three persons

This is one of the hardest Christian doctrines to understand. But it is important to understand this for two reasons.

  • This is who God really is.
  • Seeing God as one in essence and three in persons allows us to understand the ways in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another and do their work.

We do not encounter the complete teaching of God’s triune nature in Genesis. There are hints of it early in the Old Testament. But we do not have the full disclosure of the trinitarian character of God until the New Testament.

The Bible speaks that God is three persons.

  • The Father is God
  • The Son is God
  • The Holy Spirit is God.

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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The word “name” in Matthew 28:19 is singular, not plural. There is only one God, and one essence of God as indicated by His one “name.” God’s name, however, has three parts: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

Paul knows there is only one God, but he uses the language of three in this blessing that he offers from the one God.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)

All who trust in Christ Jesus and His work are able to come to the Father through the Spirit. So Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all involved in the way a person approaches God.

All examples, analogies, and illustrations are inadequate to help us understand how God is both one and three.

The Bible teaches that there is one God, and the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God – not three gods but three Persons, each of whom expresses fully that one God.

We must believe this even though we may not understand it completely.

The Father is God

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

The Father planned our salvation and sent His Son to save us from our sin.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

The Son (not the Father) became a man to live a perfect life and die on the cross. The Holy Spirit worked to help Jesus during His life (see Luke 4:14-21).

The Bible teaches that the Father planned everything that takes place in all of creation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Ephesians 1:3,11)

The final praise for salvation is directed to the Father. Paul praises the Father for our blessings. These blessings are made possible through the work of the Son.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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. (Philippians 2:8-11)

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. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28)

The Father is described as the One highest in charge. This helps us in how we pray. Jesus instructed us to pray to the Father. We pray to the Father because He has the highest authority of all.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

Even Jesus is sitting to the right hand of God the Father, indicating that the Father is highest of all.

That he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:20)

We can come to the Father because of what Christ has done for us through His death and resurrection. So our prayers are to the Father in the name and authority of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)

The Son is God

Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father who came down from heaven to take on full human nature. He is fully God and fully man.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 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 1:1,14)

There are many places in the New Testament that refer to Jesus as God.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:5)

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Philippians 2:6)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13)

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. (Hebrews 1:8)

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1)

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Jesus can do things that only God can do.

  • Jesus created the universe. (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16)
  • Jesus forgives sins. (Mark 2:1-12)
  • Jesus is eternal, and He never changes. (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Hebrews 1:10-12; 13:8; Revelation 1:8)
  • Jesus is worshipped as God. (John 20:28; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:8-14) The Bible is clear that only God can be worshipped. (Exodus 20:1-5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:13)
  • Jesus declared that He is God. (John 8:58; Exodus 8:14)

The Holy Spirit is God

God is spirit. (see John 4:24) And the third person of the Trinity is called the “Spirit” or “Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is a real, genuine person. The Holy Spirit can be lied to and insulted and outraged.

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?” (Acts 5:3)

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)

The Holy Spirit has a mind, a will and emotions.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

The Holy Spirit is God

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. (Acts 5:3-4)

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

The Holy Spirit can do things only God can do.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6)

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

The Holy Spirit has qualities that are only true of God.

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10)

The Holy Spirit is equal to God the Father and God the Son.

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. (Matthew 28:19)

How the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Relate

The one God does most everything through all three Persons of the Trinity. Each person does his own distinctive work. They work in harmony with each other as each person fulfills that part of the overall work that is right and good for him to do.

The Father stands atop this work as the One who designs and plans what the work shall be. The Father plans the work that should take place. He determines how the Son and Spirit should join him in carrying out this work.

The Son is completely committed to doing the will of the Father.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29)

As the Son of the Father, Jesus lives always under the authority of his Father — in eternity past and now and in eternity future. When all things are put under the authority of the Son, the Son will put himself under the Father’s authority along with all of creation, in order for God the Father to be shown as supreme.

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. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28)

The Spirit is under the authority of the Father and the Son. The Spirit delights in showing Jesus off, shining the spotlight on Jesus, and helping people see just how wonderful Jesus is.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. (John 16:13-14)

Final Thoughts

The relation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then, is one of glorious harmony. Each has his work to contribute, and each does this in recognition of the authority and submission order that is true among these Persons. The Father, Son, and Spirit are fully equal as God, yet they live gladly within lines of authority.

The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the Christian gospel. To know “what is the trinity” is to understand our great God for who He really is, one in essence and three in persons.

 

Basic Christian Beliefs Series

Part 1Who Is God?
Part 2What Is the Trinity?
Part 3God the Sovereign Creator
Part 4Our Human Nature and Sin
Part 5Person of Jesus Christ
Part 6Works of Jesus Christ
Part 7Holy Spirit
Part 8Our Salvation
Part 9Church of Jesus Christ
Part 10Second Coming of Jesus Christ

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