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Scripture indicates that God is both one and three. There are three separate persons. And yet the three are also one. There is only one God. Christianity is monotheistic.
This is puzzling to many people. It is hard to understand and accept. Sometimes, in an effort to explain it or make it understandable, people say things that Scripture does not support. Because it is a stumbling-block to many, I want to deal with it.
It is not surprising that some people find the concept puzzling or difficult. We humans approach any new concept by trying to compare it to something we already know. But God is unique. He cannot be compared to anything we know because he is not like anything we know.
What we need to do is to recognize that we are dealing with something totally unique, and outside of our normal experience, and simply accept whatever Scripture says about the Trinity as true without trying to compare it to, or test it against, anything in our normal experience. We need also to be careful not to go beyond what is written in Scripture, and to recognize that our human logic and experience is inadequate to give us a full comprehension of this mystery.
THE TRINITY IS SCRIPTURAL
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, the concept of the Trinity is clearly expressed in Scripture. The word “Trinity” is not used, but there are many references in Scripture to the three members of the Trinity, and quite a bit is said about their relationship. The following are some examples. Each of these passages speaks of three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit—and treats them as equal in status. This is the basic concept of the Trinity.
We see this even in the Old Testament. Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor…” In Luke 4:21, Jesus specifically identified himself with the speaker of this passage. Jesus is the “anointed one” (which is what the words “Messiah” and “Christ” mean). So God (the Father) has anointed Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit is upon him. Similarly in Isaiah 48:16 we read, “And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me.” The Father and the Spirit sent the Son. All three are present.
The following are some more Scriptural examples in which we see each of the three members of the Trinity clearly present and separate from each other:
THE BAPTISM OF JESUS —At Jesus’ baptism, the Son is baptized in the Jordan river; the “Spirit of God” descends on him in the form of a dove; and the voice of the Father from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). The Son is in the Jordan River, the Spirit descends from heaven and alights on him, and the Father speaks from heaven. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all present and all clearly separate. Acts 10:38 is similar; it says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”
JESUS ASKED THE FATHER TO SEND US THE HOLY SPIRIT —In John 14:16-17, Jesus says, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of Truth.” The whole context of John chapters 14 to 16 makes it clear that this Helper is the Holy Spirit. The Son will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. All three persons are present.
PENTECOST —On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in power, Peter said that Jesus “…has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33 NIV). Again, we see the three members of the Trinity as separate and distinct.
CREATION —We even see all three members of the Trinity at the Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). But the Son was with the Father at the Creation. “All things were made through Him [Jesus], and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). (Also see Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2.) And, at the very beginning, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all present at the creation. It is significant that the word that Genesis, chapter 1, uses for God, Elohim, is in the plural. The Creator is plural. He is both one and three.
In the rest of this chapter, I shall refer to other Scriptures that speak of the three persons of the Trinity and tell us about their nature, characteristics and relationship. Everything in this chapter will demonstrate that the concept of the Trinity is Scriptural.
THE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY
Scripture makes it clear that the three members of the Trinity are separate persons, and that each is God. The three members of the Trinity are not different aspects or facets of God, or different ways of looking at God, or different ways in which God manifests himself. They are always spoken of as three separate persons, each of whom is God. Our minds may find this hard to grasp, but this is what Scripture says. As I have already noted, sometimes we see these three separate persons acting, in total unity, but as separate individuals. The Father speaks from heaven, while the Son is being baptized and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. All three are present and are clearly separate.
God the Father is a person. (See Chapter 5.)
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is also God. (See Chapter 6.)
Jesus is a person who is separate from God the Father. This was obviously so when he was here on earth, but let us look at Scriptures dealing with his position in heaven. Jesus “had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3). In other words, he was with the Father in heaven; the Father sent him to earth (Jesus often spoke of himself as having been sent); and he returned to heaven. In heaven now he is “at the right hand of God” (Romans 8:34). (Also see Acts 7:55-56; Matthew 26:64; Ephesians 1:20.) In Revelation, chapter 5, he appears as the Lamb who comes to the throne of God, who takes the scroll with the seven seals from the hand of God, and who then is praised and worshiped together with God the Father. In Daniel’s vision, Jesus (“One like the Son of Man”) approaches the “Ancient of Days” (God) who is seated on a throne (Daniel 7:13-14). He is with the Father but separate from the Father.
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a person. He is not just an essence or a quality. Scripture refers to him as “he.” He speaks (Acts 13:2, 20:22, 21:10). The Holy Spirit has gifts, and he distributes them as he wishes (1 Corinthians 12:11). “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26 NIV). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
The Holy Spirit is God. He is referred to as the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). (Also see Matthew 10:20; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 2:11, 3:16, 6:11; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 3:16.) He is also referred to as the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19). (Also see Romans 8:9; Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6.) He comes from God and is sent by God (John 14:16). (Also see Luke 11:13; John 3:34; Acts 2:33, 38; 5:32; Romans 5:5.) We “…worship by the Spirit of God…” (Philippians 3:3 NIV).
In a number of passages, we see an equivalence between the Holy Spirit and the Father or the Son. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” But 2 Peter 1:21 says that the prophets “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (Also see Hebrews 10:15.) Scripture speaks of David as speaking by the Spirit (Matthew 22:43). (Also see Acts 1:16, 4:25.) Men preach the gospel “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). (Also see 1 Thessalonians 1:5.) Scripture speaks of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). It is the Holy Spirit who “will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). (Also see 1 Timothy 4:1.) So the Scriptures are inspired by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Is not this saying that God and the Holy Spirit are equivalent? Is not this saying that the Holy Spirit is God?
We receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). But Scripture also says that the Holy Spirit gives us eternal life. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8 NIV). (Also see Romans 8:4-14.) Jesus said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Spirit gives life (John 6:63). We are “made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). So the Spirit and Jesus Christ are equivalent. Since Jesus is God, does not this mean that the Holy Spirit is also God? There is no conflict here. There is never a conflict between members of the Trinity. We receive eternal life only by believing in Jesus Christ. But when we believe in Jesus Christ, we can receive the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). And it is by sowing to please the Spirit, by living a life controlled by the Spirit, by being born again of the Spirit, that we can appropriate this eternal life.
We are sanctified by God (John 17:17). But Scripture also speaks of the “…sanctifying work of the Spirit…” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV). (Also see 1 Peter 1:2.) It says, “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). God “saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
It is Jesus who has given us access to the Father (Hebrews 4:14-16). He said, “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But the Holy Spirit also plays a part in that access. Scripture says that “through Him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). We are told to “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions…” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV).
Before Pentecost, Jesus told his disciples, “You shall receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). In Ephesians, Paul talks about the power (dunamis) of God which works in us (Ephesians 1:19, 3:20, 6:10). I believe this is the same power. The Holy Spirit has given to believers the power of God.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied, Peter said, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” and “you have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3, 4). Lying to the Holy Spirit is considered the same as lying to God. Indeed, Jesus made the remarkable statement that the one sin that could never be forgiven was the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32).
Hebrews 10:29 (NIV) says, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Trampling the Son under foot and insulting the Holy Spirit are treated as parallel and equal in severity.
Is it not clear that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each God?
THE MEMBERS OF THE TRINITY ARE ONE
Our Faith Is Monotheistic
One of the striking features of the Judeo-Christian faith is its radical monotheism. Historically this has stood out in sharp contrast to the polytheism of many Near Eastern religions, and the polytheism of Greece, Rome and the Norse religion. Today it stands out in sharp contrast to the polytheism of Hinduism, of the pagan religious revival, and of the many animist religions. And the fact that our God is a personal God stands out in sharp contrast to the pantheism of the New Age movement.
Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This became a prayer, which was and is recited daily by practicing Jews. Jesus repeated these words in Mark 12:29.
Throughout Scripture we find a reiteration of this concept that God is one. Moses told the people of Israel, “Know this day, and consider it in your heart that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). David declared, “O LORD, there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You” (1 Chronicles 17:20). Solomon declared that “the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60). God declared through Isaiah, “I am the LORD and there is no other; there is no God besides Me” (Isaiah 45:5). (Also see Isaiah 45:21, 46:9.) Jesus declared that God the Father is “the only true God” (John 17:3). Paul said, “God is one” (Galatians 3:20). There is “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6).
How can we reconcile these statements that there is only one God with the statements that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate persons and each of them is God? Apparently Jesus saw no inconsistency between them. Nor did Paul. The answer that Scripture gives is that the members of the Trinity are three and yet they are also one. If that is what Scripture says, then we should accept it, even though it does not fit our logic or our earthly conceptions. God is God, and our understanding of who and what he is should be based solely on what he has revealed in Scripture. If what Scripture says about him does not fit our preconceptions, then we need to realign our thinking with Scripture.
Jesus declared that the first and greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In a polytheism, men cannot love (or serve, or worship, or fear) one “god” with “all” their heart, soul, mind and strength, because their devotion to one “god” takes away from, or conflicts with, their devotion to another “god.” But with the Trinity, there is no such conflict. To love the Father is to love the Son and the Holy Spirit. To worship the Father is to worship the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see this in Revelation, chapter 5, where both the Father and the Son (the Lamb) are worshiped together with no sense of conflict or of one detracting from the other. “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). There is no conflict because when we praise the Son, we are praising the Father, and when we praise the Father, we are praising the Son. We see this expressed in John 5:23, “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” 1 John 2:23 tells us, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
In the polytheisms with which we are somewhat familiar, such as the Greek, Roman and Norse polytheisms, we see different “gods” working at cross-purposes with each other, opposing each other, playing tricks on each other. There is nothing remotely like that in the Trinity. Scripture gives us a historical record going back some 6,000 years. During all that time, there is no record of any conflict or disagreement among the members of the Trinity. We cannot conceive of such unity. We humans have never experienced anything like it. We have never heard of individuals who are so united that they never disagree, never quarrel, never feel angry or resentful towards each other, never work at cross purposes, never even entertain thoughts that disagree. But with God all things are possible.
To know the Son is to know the Father. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also” (John 8:19). (Also see John 14:7.)
We find this unity expressed in various ways. Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). While on earth, he did only what he saw the Father doing, and spoke only the words that the Father gave him (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49-50, 15:15). He said, “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). Again, Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you of things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15).
Although God is three persons, God is also one.
A Common Misconception
Scripture says that Jesus Christ forever makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). (It also says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:27.) Some picture this as a loving and merciful Jesus pleading with a harsh Father for mercy for us humans. Such a concept is contrary to the character of God and contrary to the concept of unity expressed in Scripture. Consider the following:
JESUS WILL JUDGE US —It is Jesus who will judge all men. The Father “has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). (Also see Matthew 25:31-46, 13:40-43, 7:23.)
JESUS AND THE FATHER ARE BOTH LOVING AND JUST —There is no difference in character between Jesus and God. Jesus is loving, but so is God. God is love (1 John 4:16). God did an extraordinary act of love in sending his Son to die on the Cross (John 3:16). God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). (Also see 2 Peter 3:9.) On the other hand, Jesus is holy and just, and capable of great wrath (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 6:16-17).
THE FATHER WANTS ALL PEOPLE TO BE SAVED —There is no need to beg the Father for salvation for men. The work of salvation was done on the Cross. Those who believe in Jesus are already saved. Jesus has already paid the price. The righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26) has already been imputed to those who believe in Jesus. God wants all men to be saved. The problem lies with man, not with God. It is man’s unwillingness to believe in and accept Jesus that prevents him from being saved.18
JESUS TAUGHT US TO PRAY FOR THE FATHER’S WILL TO BE DONE —Jesus taught us to pray, “[God’s] will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He prayed, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). He always sought to do his Father’s will. There is no record anywhere of his pleading with the Father to manipulate his Father’s actions or decisions. In John, chapter 17, Jesus gave us a model of an intercessory prayer. In that great prayer there is no hint of pleading or imploring for mercy. He prays that God will protect and sanctify the disciples and give them joy, and he prays for unity among all believers. He prays, not to change the Father’s will, but to reinforce what is already the Father’s will for us.
I believe that when Jesus is making intercession for us—that is, for those who believe in him—he is praying that God’s will be done in our lives. He is praying that we will fulfill the purpose God has for us, that we will be sanctified and grow into spiritual maturity, that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we will have the strength to overcome strongholds and obstacles, that we will not turn away or fall away from God, and the like. In other words, by his intercession, he is adding his mighty strength to our feeble strength to enable us to become the people God wants us to be. It is by his intercession that Jesus is imparting to us God’s “…incomparably great power for us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:19 NIV). He is praying to reinforce what is already God’s will for us.
Further Illustrations of Unity
There are passages in which some might find inconsistency as to which member of the Trinity is operating. I believe there is no inconsistency, and that what these passages are saying is that God is at work, and it really does not matter whether we speak of him as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or all three.
For example, God the Father is in us (1 John 4:12-16). Christ is also in us (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20; John 15:4 KJV). And the Holy Spirit is in us (John 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). We can say, as some Scriptures do, that it is by the Holy Spirit that both the Father and the Son live in us (1 John 3:24, 4:13; Ephesians 2:18, 22), and I believe this is true. But a simpler way of looking at it is to say that God is in us, and it does not really matter whether we see him as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or all three, because all three are God. The point is that God is in us.
In the same way, we speak of God’s power in us (Ephesians 1:19). (Also see Ephesians 3:20, 6:10.) But Jesus Christ is also the source of our power, for he said, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Acts 1:8 says, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Again I suggest that it does not really matter whether we think of the power as coming from the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. It is all God’s power.
The Father’s word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16). (Also see 1 John 5:6.) Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the truth.
Some Christians disagree as to whether we should pray to the Father or to the Son. I believe a proper understanding of the Trinity indicates that we pray to God, and whether we address our prayers specifically to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit makes little difference. They are all prayers to God.
What Scripture says about the Trinity is quite clear. God is three. He is also one. There are three separate persons. Yet they are one God. We cannot expect fully to understand this mystery, nor do we have anything in our experience with which we can compare it. All we can do is to accept and believe what Scripture so clearly tells us.