One of the more complicated doctrines in the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity. Put simply by Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology, the doctrine of the Trinity is:
God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.
Why is it important for Christians to understand, at least on a base-level, the doctrine of the Trinity?
It’s important because it is who God is. The Trinity is not an unimportant fact about God, it is who he is. God has always existed in a Trinitarian form, and when we understand this, it helps to understand other aspects of God’s character and nature.
While it’s important that we have a baseline understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, we must remember that our human minds can never fully understand the Trinity. Because it is who God is, parts of the truth of the Trinity will remain incomprehensible to us. This is a good thing. God, in his infinite wisdom, power, majesty, and goodness shouldn’t be completely understandable to us. While there are mysterious aspects to the Trinity, and the entire truth of God’s nature is not available to us, this does not mean that it is contradictory, or that it must be untrue simply because we couldn’t understand it.
So, we know we cannot fully understand God’s triune nature. However, there are things we can – and should – know. There are things that the Trinity isn’t, and there are things that the Trinity is. For the purposes of this resource, we are going to cover a few of these in hopes to gain a better understanding of God’s nature.
What the Trinity isn’t:
It is not three gods in one.
Instead, we believe that there is one God and one God only. The Bible consistently and constantly teaches that there is one God and one God alone (Deut. 4:35; 1 Chron. 17:20; Isa. 45:5; John 5:44; 1 Cor. 8:4).
It is not that God the Father created the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Instead, it maintains that all three persons have existed eternally. This is consistently taught in scripture, though much clearer in the New Testament than the Old. In John 1:1-3, John teaches us that the second person of the Trinity – the Son – has always existed. In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul teaches us the same thing. We can gather that the Holy Spirit is also eternal because he is identified as part of the triunity of God in texts like Matthew 28:19 but also in texts like John 15:26 and Psalm 104:30.
It is not three persons who each represent a portion of God.
Instead, it teaches that each person is fully God, and thus all the persons are God. They are not components of God, but the whole picture, as they are completely unified. This is evidenced in John 1:1-2 and Colossians 1:15-20.
What the Trinity is:
It is a truth taught in the Bible.
Interestingly, the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. In fact, it isn’t used when discussing Christian doctrine until the 3rd century. Does this mean that it isn’t a biblical teaching? Of course, not. The reason for the development of certain doctrines – like the Trinity – was primarily because of heretical teachings that were spread through the church. You’ve most likely heard of one of the creeds (The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed)but what you may not know is that these creeds were developed in response to heretical teachings that needed to be dealt with. In the case of the doctrine of the Trinity, the church fathers developed the doctrine as a response to a few different heresies. These false teachings would either deny the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. In order to formally combat these false teachings, the church would convene at a council and spell out, in clear terms, what the Scriptures actually taught. Theologians make the case that though the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible, it is clearly taught in the Bible, and this is backed up in the creedal confessions.
It is proof that God values relationships
The three persons of the godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – have eternally existed and comprise a perfect relationship in every sense of the word. God did not create humans so that he could satisfy a craving for relationship. No, among a few other reasons, God created humans so that he could share the love that the three persons have with his creatures. As John writes in 1 John 4:8, “God is love.”
It is completely unique.
There is nothing on earth that the Trinity compares to, and rightly so since it is the very nature of God. Sometimes, in order to help explain the Trinity, we might try to provide a helpful analogy. You may have heard one or more of these. We might say that God is like an egg; a three-leaf clover; water; or a man who is a husband, father, and son. While these might seem helpful in illustrating the Trinity, at best, they fall short of describing God and even worse, they teach something entirely different. For instance, when we say the Trinity is like an egg, in that it is one thing composed of three parts (shell, white, and yolk) we are committing the error of tri-theism. The shell, egg white, and egg yolk are not of the same substance (as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are) instead, this would be like three gods, which is not the case with the Trinity. It is best, since the Trinity is not like anything on this earth, that we do not try to analogize it since it will lead into a false teaching of the Trinity.
However, there is a way to illustrate the basic truths of the Trinity through a simple drawing.
Based on this drawing, we can see that God exists as one being in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is distinct in that he is not the other. Each person is also fully God. This is the essential teaching of the Trinity and one that we – as Christ-followers – should cling to as it is the very nature of the God we worship.