Guest Blogger, Brandon Bennett, is a second year student at Beeson Divinity School and is also currently serving as college intern.
If a Muslim classmate were to accuse you, a Christian, of believing in three Godsâ€”Father, Son, and Spiritâ€”what would you say? Or what if your college friend says that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all teach the same basic thing: that we know God as one. Letâ€™s face it: the odds are that you have already encountered such questions.Â And if we are called to be faithful disciples and disciple-makers in an increasingly pluralistic world (pluralism teaches that there are many ways to God), then we must be clear on the Trinity, the foundation of our commission according to Matthew 28:19.
But what Iâ€™ve discovered is that so many Christians, even those who attend â€œgospel-centeredâ€ churches, seem to think that the doctrine (teaching) of the Trinity is like the awkward family member who shows up once a year at Christmas. You make room for them at the yearly festivities, but you just donâ€™t know what to make of them in conversation.
What is the doctrine of the Trinity? To say it as simply as possible, God is one in essence, and three in persons. Is this a contradiction? No, Christians do not say that God is both one and three in the same way or in the same relationship.
When we as Christians say that God is one in essence, we are saying that there is only ONE essential Being, God Himself, which both the Old and New Testaments consistently affirm (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; James 2:19). But in talking about the oneness of God, letâ€™s not think that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different â€œcostumesâ€ that God puts on (the heresy of modalism). Have you ever heard God compared God to water, who appears as ice, liquid water, and steam? Thatâ€™s modalism if someone says that God appears in different forms, which is not at all what Christians mean when we say that God is a Trinity.
Still, the one true God exists as a plurality (â€œthreenessâ€) of persons, who are all wholly God in their own right. What we need to avoid here is thinking that there are three Gods, which is the heresy of tritheism. Here is the point: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God, but the Father is not the Son; the Father is not the Spirit; and the Son is not the Spirit. Each person is totally God, not a third of God. Consider John 1:1-3 where â€œthe Wordâ€ (Jesus Christ) is identified as God and distinct from God the Father. Then in John 15:26, the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus from the Father, and he â€œproceeds from the Father.â€ Astonishing and mysterious, yes, but should we expect to be able to master God?
In Concise Theology, J.I. Packer helps us on the persons of the Trinity:
They are always together and always cooperating, with the Father initiating, the Son complying, and the Spirit executing the will of both, which is his will also. This is the truth about God that was revealed through the words and works of Jesus, and that under girds the reality of salvation as the New Testament sets it forth.
Finally, if you are wondering what this matters to you, you need to see that the Trinity is essential and thus extremely practical for every Christian! No part of your life or your spiritual walk is separated from the Trinity. Your very human existence is a full Trinitarian work. Let me list a few â€œpracticalâ€ areas on this subject to help show you that it is not simply an obscure thought for bookish people.
1) Creation. In Genesis, God creates, and the Spirit is present. Psalm 104:30 indicates that the Spirit is the life-giver. John 1:1-3 and Hebrews 1:2 also credits the Son with creation.Â To know God is to know the Triune One who created us.
2) Salvation. The entire Godheadâ€”the Trinityâ€”is involved in our salvation (see above). Itâ€™s so important that without the Trinity, there is no salvation. Let me repeat: NO TRINITY, NO SALVATION. As Gerald Bray states in The Doctrine of God:
It is the Father who sent the Son to be our sacrifice, the Son who satisfied the just demands and appeased the wrath of the Father, the Holy Spirit who comes into our hearts and gives us the faith to cry: â€˜Abba, Fatherâ€™ as adopted sonsÂ Â Â Â Â Â and daughters of God (Gal. 4:6).
3) Prayer. We pray to the Father (Matthew 6:6), in the name of the Son (John 14:13-14), in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that the Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers (Romans 8:26).
4) Worship. If we say that we worship God, we must worship Him as He truly is. If He has revealed himself in Trinity, then it is dishonoring to Him to think and speak of Him any differently.
Finally, take a look at this helpful graphic on the Trinity from Tim Challies:
For Further Study:
John 14-17; Galatians 4:3-7
Our Triune God by Philip Graham Ryken and Michael LeFebvre