The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. What appears are descriptions and statements which do mean Trinity – the idea of three Persons of the ONE GODHEAD.
But why is Trinity important ? Why three persons, not two or one or even four ? Why the three ?
Because the three persons of the godhead reflect the respective roles and functions of each person yet ONE GOD.
We reach chapter 18 in the book of Genesis where we find three men visiting Abraham and Sarah. Yet the account clearly talks of the LORD appearing to Abraham.
The three men commune together and yet speak as one. It is an account in everyday terms by which we may appreciate a spiritual truth. The idea of 3 being one is difficult for us in conceptual terms. Yet in the natural world we readily appreciate and understand that water can be a solid, that is ice; a liquid which flows; or indeed a gas we call steam. This is not a perfect analogy with the Biblical concept but illustrative.
Throughout the Bible we are aware of the three Person Godhead – the Father, the Son [Jesus Christ] and the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament account it is not so explicit but is definitely there. In the New, Jesus himself makes it explicit.
Jesus constantly refers to the Father, and speaks of the Holy Spirit being sent when he himself goes away. This is particularly explicit in the Gospel of John. Jesus is very clear that he and the Father are one, and he refers to himself by the name of God identified to Moses, I AM. Jesus refers to himself and the Father coming to live in the life of a true disciple. That of course is by means of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew records Jesus commissioning the apostles to baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And we see the three persons of God identified when Jesus himself is baptised.
The trinity is thoroughly Biblical and essential to Christian doctrine. Without it, Christian doctrine fails.
The Father conceives the plan of salvation which the Son Jesus Christ accomplishes, and the reality of that salvation is accomplished in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The wrath of the Father against sin is assuaged by the sacrifice of the Son on the cross. Jesus achieves our forgiveness while the Holy Spirit makes it real in our lives – both by convicting us of our sin in the first place and by then applying the loving presence of God in our lives when we surrender to his judgement and to his mercy because of the blood Jesus shed at the cross.
Trinity is vital to Christian doctrine and to Christian life and practice. The presence of God is real – it is a real and active experience in the life of the true disciple. Which is why we must take care to understand the doctrine itself, and to recognise dangerous heresy which could deprive us of the full and real effect of Jesus sacrifice on the cross for us.
The Trinity is identified in each of the historic Creeds of the Christian Church, but we must take care that these assist our understanding of the Biblical faith, not replace it. The fullest description of the doctrine and meaning of the Trinity is expressed in the Athanasian Creed. It is significant that sects and cults depart from this basic understanding historically accepted by both Protestand and Catholic theologians.
We must therefore be clear that the Christian God is not 3 separate gods [tritheism] nor is it one god appearing as three different persons [modalism, or ‘Sabellianism]. Nor is it Arianism [today taught by JWs] whereby Jesus was created by the Father; the Father existing before the Son and before the Holy Spirit, suggesting those two were created by the Father. Neither did the Father adopt the Son, nor is the Son somehow subordinate to the Father. They are orthodoxly three in one.
Othodox Christian theology requires us to understand then that:
- God is three persons
- each person is fully God
- there is one God
Any conceptual understanding or explanation must conform simultaneously to all three of these statements.
In living practically each day, I believe it is helpful to see Trinity in this way.
I look to the Father, while endeavouring to become like the Son; and to do both, I am learning to rely entirely on the Holy Spirit.