4. Three in One
It is essential for us to understand from the outset that our one great God exists in three persons. Admittedly, the typical nonbeliever views the doctrine of the trinity as one of the most ridiculous things he has ever heard. He is convinced that Christians must be out of their minds to accept it. God is one yet God is three? That’s absurd! One plus one plus one equals one? That’s nonsense—a blatant contradiction of simple, self-evident arithmetic. It stretches the credulity of reasonable people. “Three-in-One” may be a good name for sewing machine oil, but as a description of God the unbeliever sees it as sheer, unmitigated gibberish.
Where did such an idea ever come from? It is so utterly outlandish by human standards, it would seem unlikely that any man would have ever thought it up. That leads us to suspect that God Himself might have revealed it, and that is exactly what we find in Scripture. While the word trinity nowhere appears in the Bible, the idea is found there from beginning to end. There is no question about it—the doctrine of the trinity is divinely revealed Biblical truth. Our one God exists in three persons.
That is not to say that the authors of Scripture understood it clearly at first. When Peter, John, and the other disciples first saw Jesus they did not say, “Oh look, there goes God in flesh, the second person of the holy trinity.” Yet as they heard Him claim to be the revelation of the Father with the prerogatives of deity, and as they watched Him perform the supernatural works of deity, they came to the convinced persuasion that He was God the Son.
Likewise, they probably gave very little thought at first to the Holy Spirit being the third person of the eternal Godhead. But when the events of the day of Pentecost had ended, it was obvious to them that the power they had witnessed working in them and through them was not their own. It was the power of God. The Spirit who indwelled them was none other than God Himself. So then, led by that same divine Spirit they revealed to us in their writings the triunity of the eternal God.
Men may object to it, but their objections arise primarily because they seek to understand the Creator in terms of the creature, to see God as merely a bigger and better version of man when in reality He is a totally different kind of being, an infinite being whom our finite minds cannot fully comprehend. We believe the doctrine of the trinity not because we understand it, but because God has revealed it. It is not incidental or unimportant. It is the very essence of His being, the way He is. And it is necessary for us to know it if we hope to grow in our understanding of His nature and perfections. What then does it mean that God exists in triunity?
An Explanation of the Triune God
It is a basic tenet of our Biblical faith that there is but one God. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The unity of the Godhead cannot be questioned. God does not consist of parts so He cannot be divided into parts. He is one. Polytheism is sinful man’s feeble attempt to break God down into lesser gods and so weaken Him, to get rid of that one supreme, sovereign ruler whose will is absolute and who demands our total allegiance. But it cannot be done. There is one God, undivided and indivisible, who has one mind, one plan, one purpose, and one ultimate goal. We can be thankful for that. Trying to please many gods would only lead to mental confusion and turmoil. Missionaries testify to the utter relief expressed by animistic and polytheistic peoples when they discover that there is but one God. Submitting to the will of one God brings wholeness and unity of purpose to life.
But Scripture reveals that there are, in that one divine essence, three eternal distinctions. Those distinctions seem best described as persons, known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three have identical attributes, however, and therefore they are one—not merely one in purpose, but one in substance. To possess all the exact same attributes is to be one in essential nature. Three persons with identical sovereignty, for example, would be one sovereign. Three persons with identical omnipotence would be one omnipotent being. We humans may have characteristics similar to others, but not identical to them. If we were absolutely identical to another person in every way, the two of us would actually be one. The three persons of the Godhead possess identical attributes. They are one in substance and one in essence, and therefore they are one God.
Many attempts have been made to illustrate the doctrine of the trinity: a three-leaf clover; an egg with its yolk, white, and shell; H2O which can be either water, ice, or steam; the sun which embodies heat, light, and time; a man who is at one time a father, a son, and a brother; the space in a cube which is one entity, yet composed of length, breadth, and heighth, each equal to the other and part of the other. But in the final analysis every illustration breaks down somehow. We cannot find any finite analogy which fully explains the doctrine of the trinity. We simply believe it because God has revealed it. Our one God exists in three persons.
It seems to have been a man named Theophilus of Antioch who first applied the term trinity to this Biblical concept as early as 181 A.D. But it was the Anathasian Creed, completed some time in the fifth century, which stated it most clearly: “We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons, nor separating the substance.”
Some Evidence for the Triune God
It is one thing to say that God is three in one, but something altogether different to prove it. What is the Biblical testimony to the doctrine of the trinity? While the primary emphasis of the Old Testament is on the unity of God, the indications of His triunity are clearly seen even there. We need not read very far to find the first one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). While the verb create is singular and thus should have a singular subject, Elohim, the Hebrew name for God in this verse, is plural. That may not prove the Trinity, but it definitely points to plurality of persons in the Godhead. There was no other logical reason to choose a plural name. Some have maintained that it is a plural of majesty, but that projects something to ancient Hebrew minds that they never considered. They addressed their kings in the singular. So, as startling as it may seem, the first time we meet God in the Old Testament there is evidence of plural personal distinctions in Him.
We are not surprised, then, to hear Him say a short time later, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). The plural pronouns could not refer to angels because they were never associated with God in His creative activity. Consequently, more than one divine person was evidently involved. The plural pronouns make no sense otherwise (cf. Genesis 3:22; 11:7).
There are other Old Testament indications of plurality in the Godhead, such as references to the Angel of Jehovah, who is sometimes identified with Jehovah and yet at other times distinguished from Him. But one of the clearest statements was recorded by the prophet Isaiah. The Lord is speaking, the one who calls Himself the first and the last, the one who created the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 48:12-13). Here is what He says:
Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit (verse 16).
Do you see the implication of that? The Lord said that the Lord God and His Spirit sent Him. It looks very much like our one God exists in three persons.
But the unanswerable Biblical testimony to the Trinity is simply that all three persons are referred to as divine. First, the Father is called God. For instance, He is referred to as “God the Father” (Galatians 1:1), or “God our Father” (Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2), or “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). His deity is unquestioned.
But the Son is likewise referred to as God. He possesses the attributes of deity such as eternity, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. He bears the names of deity such as Jehovah, Lord, Immanuel, and the Word. He even permitted Thomas to call Him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). He exercises the prerogatives of deity such as forgiving sins, raising the dead, and judging all men. And He accepts worship reserved only for God.
Nobody can deny that He was claiming equality with the Father when He said, “In order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). He insisted that He deserved the very same reverence that was reserved for God the Father. He did not seem to be the kind of man who was a lunatic. He must have been who He claimed to be—God the Son, equal with the Father and worthy of the same honor as the Father. The Father Himself addressed His Son as God: “But of the Son He says, THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER” (Hebrews 1:8).
The prologue to John’s Gospel tells us one reason Christ came to earth: to make the Father known, to reveal God to men (John 1:18). We can know more of what God is like by examining the person of Jesus Christ. He was God in flesh. As we explore Scripture and seek to discover who God is, we cannot neglect the earthly life of Jesus Christ. He is God the Son.
But the Holy Spirit is also called God. His name is “the Spirit of God” (Genesis 1:2). He too possesses the attributes of deity and performs the works of deity. While He is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), He is at the same time called “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). He is coequal with both the Father and the Son. The Apostle Peter clearly viewed Him as God when he said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have not lied to men, but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).
If the Father, the Son, and the Spirit all bear the names of God, possess the attributes of God, and perform the works of God, then there is no alternative but to acknowledge that our one God exists in three persons.
The Ministry of the Triune God
Scripture links these three persons of the Godhead together so closely in so many divine activities that it would be foolish to deny that any one of them is God. Observe some of those activities.
Creating the World. All three were involved in creation: the Father (Genesis 1:1); the Son (John 1:3,10; Colossians 1:16); and the Spirit (Genesis 1:2, Psalm 104:30). If all three created, then God the Creator must exist in three persons.
Sending the Son. All three members of the Trinity were active in the incarnation. When Mary questioned the angel about the possibility of a virgin birth, the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The power of the Father, ministered through the agency of the Spirit, resulted in the birth of the Son into the world. This close association in the birth of the Saviour is further indication of their oneness.
Identifying the Messiah. At precisely the proper moment, Jesus Christ was revealed to Israel as her Messiah. John the Baptist was the chosen instrument and the act of baptism was the chosen means. “After being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). As the Spirit came upon the Son, the Father’s voice was heard from Heaven expressing His approval. It was another powerful testimony to the eternal triune Godhead.
Providing Redemption. Two central passages bring the three members of the Godhead together in providing for man’s eternal salvation. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14) It was the offering of the Son to the Father by the power of the Spirit. The Apostle Peter taught, furthermore, that God the Father chose us to salvation, God the Son paid for it by shedding His blood, and God the Spirit set us apart unto the obedience of faith (1 Peter 1:1-2). Without each person of the Trinity doing His part we would yet be in our sins.
Proclaiming Salvation. In the early years of the Church God did some spectacular things to verify the gospel message which the apostles were preaching. The writer to the Hebrews tells us: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Hebrews 2:3-4). It was the same message that was first spoken by the Son Himself. When the apostles proclaimed it, the Father bore witness to its truthfulness by bestowing miraculous gifts through the Spirit. It was not only a powerful witness to the truth of the message, but another demonstration of the triune God at work.
Sending the Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity are so interwoven in sending the Spirit into the world that it is difficult to distinguish between them. In one passage it is stated that the Father would send Him in Christ’s name and that He would testify concerning Christ (John 14:26). In another it is said that the Son would send Him from the Father (John 15:26). In yet another the Father sends Him and calls Him the Spirit of His Son (Galatians 4:6). What a picture of unity—such perfect unity that the actions of one are considered to be the actions of the other. Orthodox Christian doctrine has long taught that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. But all three are vitally involved in His coming.
Indwelling Believers. Jesus taught His disciples that both He and His Father would make Their abode with them (John 14:23). But their indwelling would be in the person of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). As the Spirit of both the Father and the Son His indwelling is the indwelling of the triune God. That would not be possible unless the three were one.
Baptizing Believers. In our Lord’s commission to His disciples He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The unity of the Godhead is declared by combining them in one name (singular). Yet the distinctiveness of the persons is maintained by listing them separately. It is another link in the long chain of evidence that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God.
Entering God’s Presence. All three members of the Godhead are intimately involved in the believer’s access into the presence of God. Speaking of Christ, the Apostle Paul taught, “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Both Jews and Gentiles can approach the Father through the merits of the Son with the help of the Spirit.
Blessing Believers. In Paul’s final remarks to the Corinthian Christians he linked the three members of the Godhead together in a beautiful benediction: “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). Unless the three are one, eternally and equally supreme, there would be little reason to put them together on an equal basis like this in a divine blessing. The apostle certainly considered them to be one.
The Bible Proclaims the Trinity
People who oppose the doctrine of the trinity like to say that it is nowhere found in the Bible. As we have seen, nothing could be further from the truth. How thankful we can be that it is there. We have a loving Father who has given us His eternal life, who provides our needs, and trains us in productive and satisfying living. We have a gracious Saviour who became a man like us, who paid the eternal debt of our sin, who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, who feels with us in our sorrows, and who intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand. We have the Holy Spirit who indwells us, who binds us together in one body, who comforts us, teaches us, guides us, and makes available to us all the resources of the eternal, omnipotent Godhead.
How could we live the Christian life if any one of them were less than God? We would be far poorer, and our lives would be less than complete. As it is, He is all that we need—an almighty triune God in the heavens, who rules and controls all things; a gracious triune God in our hearts, who loves us, cares for us, and ministers to our needs. What more can we ask?
Action To Take
Express to God your desire to get to know Him in the fullness of His triunity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Remind yourself regularly through the day that the triune God dwells in your body in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Related Topics: Trinity