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 ESV)
The Bible clearly teaches that there is one true God, the Creator and Redeemer of humanity. But this one God exists in three persons. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
If you find this concept difficult to understand, you are not alone. It is a mystery how God can be one and yet three. Sunday school teachers use analogies like an egg (shell, white, and yolk) or the three states of water (solid ice, liquid, and vapor) to demonstrate how three can be one. But such analogies are limited in their ability to explain this deep truth.
Simply stated, the doctrine of the Trinity consists of seven true statements about God:
- The Father is God.
- The Son is God.
- The Spirit is God.
- The Father is not the Son or the Spirit.
- The Son is not the Father or the Spirit.
- The Spirit is not the Father or the Son.
- There is only one God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the Christian faith. Believing in God’s Triune being is how the church guards against false interpretations of the biblical understanding of who God is, what he is like, how he works in the world, and how he relates to us. In short, the Trinity distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. The God of the Bible is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To take away any one of these persons is to no longer talk about the God of the Bible at all.
Considering the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, it may seem surprising that Scripture does not mention it very explicitly. The reason for this is that the Three Persons of the Godhead appear throughout the Bible as an assumed reality. The doctrine of the Trinity is the ground upon which the grand drama of God saving his people takes place; it doesn’t have to be specifically mentioned because it is everywhere present.
The Old Testament anticipates the Trinity, but the New Testament explains it more fully with the incarnation of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We first see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mentioned at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). There are then numerous mentions (particularly in the Gospel of John) of how the persons of the Trinity work together. Jesus talks about his Father all the time and often promises the coming of the Spirit. The Great Commission as well as the writings of Paul further teach this truth (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
The tri-unity of God demonstrates that God is eternally loving and relational. Before humankind was created, God lived eternally and loved in community with himself. Furthermore, the tri-unity of God makes salvation possible. The Father pours out his wrath against sin on the Son, the Son is able to provide atonement because he is both God and man, and the Spirit applies that salvation to us through his indwelling presence.
It is not an overstatement to say that the most important truths of the Christian faith hinge on the three-in-oneness of God.