Christians do a lot in relation to God. We come to God, worship God, pray to God, repent to God, call on God, love God, glorify God, lead others to God, and more. But, who is it we mean when we use the name “God”? Put differently: How are we to think about “God”? God is, in a word, Triune—both one and three. There is perhaps no more neglected doctrine of Christian teaching than that of the Trinity. There are at least two reasons for this:
- It seems confusing. Trinitarian theology isn’t the most effective conversation starter, to put it mildly. We feel ill-equipped for the task of explaining how God can be both one and three.
- It seems unimportant. Having a deeper understanding of the Trinity sounds nice, but it doesn’t sound relevant. It can be hard to discern any practical benefits from this teaching.
Both of these reasons are understandable, but we need to push past them. Our God really is Triune, and yes, it really matters.
Why we believe in the Trinity:
Christianity is monotheistic in every sense of the word. The Bible consistently affirms from beginning to end that God is one. The Hebrew Shema begins this way: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4). And yet, the same Bible reveals that Jesus is God in the flesh. “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 …” (John 1:1-2, 14) The disciples worshipped Jesus as God from the beginning of the church. (see Matt. 28:17) Further still, the promised Holy Spirit came at Pentecost as another distinct person of God who regenerates hearts and indwells Christian—something only God himself could accomplish and do. (see Acts 1:4-5 and 2:1-13)
To say that God is one and three may appear to be a contradiction, but it is not. God is not one and three in the same way. God is one in essence (God-ness) and three in persons. This reality is not a result of theological or philosophical speculation, but of historical revelation. In Matt. 3:13-17, we see God the Father speak from heaven, God the Spirit descend like a dove, and God the Son being baptized in the Jordan River. God does not appear in different forms or modes, but exists as different persons. Jesus himself commissioned his disciples to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As reformer Richard Baxter said, “God is one infinite, undivided Spirit; and yet that he is Father, Son and Holy Ghost must be believed.” We believe in God’s Triune nature because that is how he has revealed himself in Scripture.
Why the Trinity matters:
All this is great, but you’re probably wondering what this really changes. The answer might surprise us. The doctrine of the Trinity matters to us as followers of Jesus in many ways. Here are four:
- Eternality of Love — The act of love requires a subject and an object: one loves and another is loved. In other monotheistic religions (Judaism and Islam), there is a subject but no object. In that case, God’s primary and eternal trait was power. God had to use power to create in order to have someone or something to love. But with our Triune God, eternal love precedes the exercise of power. God has forever existed in a loving relationship within himself. This is why we can truly say that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
- Community, not Loneliness — Why would an eternal God create anything? If God were singular only, it would be to solve a problem of loneliness. God would have been all there is and so his creation would exist out of some lack of sufficiency or incompleteness in himself. Not so with our Triune God. Our God has eternally existed in loving, self-sufficient community within himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So why did our eternal God create the world? He chose to share and extend that loving community to include us. How amazing it is that our God invites us into relationship with his eternal family!
- Salvation — If the man who sought to reconcile us on the cross was any less than God himself, he would be unable to bear our sins and save us. If the Holy Spirit were anyone other than God, dead people would not be made alive, guaranteeing God’s promises will come to pass. Our very salvation depends upon the reality of God’s Triune nature.
- Unity in Diversity — The world oscillates between goals of diversity and unity. It teaches to either elevate our differences to the point of separation and segmentation, or else demands complete uniformity in all of life and thought. In the Trinity, we see something different. The three persons of God have diverse roles in accomplishing our salvation: The Father appoints. The Son accomplished. The Holy Spirit applies. Still, each holds complete unity in God’s purpose: Sinners become saints to the glory of God.
Our Triune God is the one to whom we give worship and praise, to whom we pray and confess, and about whom we teach others. We must recognize and believe the reality of our God’s Triune nature. Only then will we experience the greater richness of who he is and what he has done.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,