The Trinity of God is a concept that is mysterious and difficult to comprehend, yet vitally important on several levels.More specifically, how do we understand the Lord Jesus’ references to The Father and the Holy Spirit? If God is not a triune being then Jesus is not divine and nor is the Holy Spirit.
This is not simply an academic exercise. Belief in and a reasonable understanding of the triune nature of God has a strong bearing on our theology, and our theology largely determines how we live as Christians in the world.
I wrote about the Mystery of the Trinity in 2010, but in this article, I want to go into a little more depth and also approach the subject from some different perspectives.
A Real Problem for Some
In the early days of my pastoral ministry, I preached a sermon on the Trinity and the next day received a telephone call from a young man who had been visiting the church that Sunday. He said that he would like to discuss the Trinity with me to clarify some issues he had with it. I assumed that he wanted me to explain the Trinty in greater depth and so when he arrived for the meeting, I launched into a bit of a lecture. About five minutes in, he interrupted me to say that he knew what my position was and that I should rather listen to his rebuttal of the doctrine. It turned out that he was an ardent acolyte of the late William Branham, an Americal bible teacher who espoused a mixture of dispensational end-time and church-denouncing rhetoric that included anti-trinitarianism. He, and the young man, now lecturing me, claimed that the trinity was pagan and that all churches and ministers who taught it were of the devil. The meeting did not end well.
Confusion in the Ranks
Mormonism, Branhamism, and Oneness Pentecostalism hold extreme views, yet while most Christians accept the doctrine of the Trinity, many display obvious confusion regarding it. For instance, I have often heard church members and preachers alike referring to ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ in one sentence in a way that insinuates that Jesus is not God, for example, “God said that divorce was allowed but Jesus taught that it is not acceptable.”
Many years ago I led a Lay Witness mission to a church up-country. We sang a song that had the chorus line of ‘Praise the Father, Praise the Son, Praise the Spirit, three in one’, but the minister of that church rushed forward, stopped the singing, and said that we needed to change the words to, “Praise the Father, praise the Son, in the spirit everyone.”
“This doctrine of the Trinity in Unity seems to be the place of standing or falling with public teachers and private believers.” Charles Spurgeon
Why is the Doctrine Important?
Why be dogmatic on something like this? Even the best theological minds can barely understand the concept let alone explain it! Why not just agree to disagree?
Well, for starters, there is strong biblical evidence for the Holy Trinity. There are several triune formulas in the New Testament such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Also, many biblical texts are hard, if not impossible to understand without the concept of trinity. For those of you who would like a reasonably comprehensive biblical exposition of the doctrine then click HERE.
Not only what he said concerning his relationship with Father and Spirit, but how he presented himself as God. For instance, in his response to Phillip when the disciple asked him to show them the Father, he said:
“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
If Jesus is not God then there is no salvation, no assurance of eternal life, and no comprehensive revelation of the nature, character, and purpose of the Godhead. Moreover, if Jesus is God then the idea of Trinty must be valid or else we would need to embrace the biblically and logically unsustainable view that while the Father was the manifestation of God in Old Testament times, Jesus was that manifestation 2,000 years ago, and the Holy Spirit is the current manifestation of divinity. This misguided belief is called Modalism and if you want a summary of what that is, then go HERE.
It is nigh on impossible for us to adequately conceive of a tri-unity. We are limited beings living in a four-dimensional reality (Length, height, width, and time) so how can we grasp the nature of a multi-dimensional being? To hold that God is three and yet one at the same time seems to us much like saying that circles are square. So we usually default to either/or reasoning and conceive of either three gods or one god only.
- God the Father is spirit and directly inaccessible to us (1 Timothy 6:16).
- God the Holy Spirit is a being of pure spiritual energy, unseeable and incomparable to us.
- God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the physical embodiment of divinity.
They are not separate in being but different in substance. An analogy that I find helpful is Light.
Light is one ‘thing’ yet it has three parts, each of which interacts with the others in unity.
Light is simultaneously a particle of matter (Quantum) and an energy wave. However, there is a third aspect of light that you will not find in conventional science books, and that is that it is also a vortex. The Vortex Form gives light its direction and motion through space. The Energy Wave provides its power for momentum at a speed of approximately 300,000,000 metres per second. The Particle is its physical presence. In this analogy, we can loosely equate the Vortex Form to God the Father, the Energy Wave to God the Holy Spirit, and the Particle of Matter to God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another way of comprehending something of the complexity and interaction of The Godhead is to understand The Lord Jesus as the revelation of the Godhead to humanity, the Holy Spirit as the revealer, and the Father as the revealed.
The Lord Jesus is the revelation of God (Hebrews 1:3 Colossians 1:15), the one who lived among humans and said: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If it were not for Jesus, we would not know what God is truly like. The Holy Spirit is the revealer and Jesus said that he, the Spirit, would guide us into all truth and take what is his and make it known to us (John 16:13-14). The Father is the revealed one in that Jesus embodies him and the Spirit reveals him.
The Practical Application
I said at the get-go that acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity has a profound effect on what we say and do, what we are in this world, and where we go when we die physically.
Let me put things even more bluntly. Belief in ‘God’ without belief in Jesus yields only dead religion. Belief in God without acceptance of the divine person and work of the Holy Spirit yields powerless Christianity. Belief in God without an appreciation of the fundamental nature of God the Father as Love and Light yields legalism.
“There is no subject where error is more dangerous, research more laborious, and discovery more fruitful than the oneness of the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Augustine of Hippo