The nature of the trinity is a mystery, one of the most difficult things to understand in the Christian faith. The simple fact of the matter is that no one can explain it because it defies our comprehension. The best that we can hope for is some sort of analogy that helps us to understand. Even in analogy, however, there is the danger of communicating what is not true about God along with what is helpful in the picture.
What we do know is that the Bible teaches both that there is one God and that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all that God. We cannot fully comprehend how these things work together, but orthodox Christians typically attach the phrase “one God in three persons” or say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “of the same substance.” What all this means is that we believe that there is one God, but that He is revealed in three distinct persons.
The fact that God is one is revealed throughout Scripture. In a passage that was foundational to the Israelites, Moses told them, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus quoted this passage in response to a question from the scribes (Mark 12:29), and James affirmed the truth of this teaching, going so far as to point out that even the demons believe it (James 2:19).
Yet the Scriptures also recognize the Son and the Spirit as God alongside the Father. John’s gospel begins with this revealing declaration: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with 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 1:1-2, 14). Paul referred to Jesus as God in numerous places, such as Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13. Peter also acknowledged Jesus as God in the greeting of his second letter: “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).
Similarly, the Holy Spirit is depicted as God. When Ananias and Sapphira lied about the money they brought to the leaders of the early church, Peter asked, “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?...You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). The nature and work of the Spirit is that of God, and the Bible often recognizes the Spirit alongside the Father and the Son when it says things like, “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; see also Matthew 28:19, 1 Peter 1:2, and Jude 20-21). Theologian Wayne Grudem rightly points out “how unthinkable it would have been for Jesus to say something like, ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the archangel Michael’--this would give to a created being a status entirely inappropriate even to an archangel” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine, 109).
All of this bears great significance for our lives. When we recognize the fullness of the triune God, we begin to see that He is not a God who is apathetic toward His creation; rather, He is involved in everything from the grandest vistas of the cosmos to the gritty minutiae of our individual lives. He is the God who created the universe through the power of His spoken will. He sustains all things and guides all activity to the end that He has planned. He thwarts the designs of evil while allowing us to exercise the freedom of our own wills. He became human and dwelt among us for the purpose of bearing the penalty for our sin, and He overcame death itself when He rose from the grave. He lives within our hearts. He comforts us. He guides us, pulls on our consciences, refuses to allow us to continue to wallow in our own sinful desires. He makes us more like Him, and He will return to finish what He started, both in us as individuals and in the redemption of all of creation. When He is finished, all things will be set right. He gives us reason to trust Him, even when we cannot fully understand Him.
Do you trust Him? Does knowing who He is inspire worship in your heart? Comments and questions are welcome on Facebook!