One of the most difficult doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity. It is difficult because it is hard to imagine what it means for one Being to be a Trinity. We lack good illustrations of what the Godhead is like. We can catch glimpses of the Trinity in things around us, like an egg or water, but taken to their natural conclusions all these examples fall short of truly illustrating the doctrine.
I think a good place to start when talking about the Trinity is a quote from C.S. Lewis: “You may ask, ‘If we cannot imagine a three personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?’ Well, there isn’t any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time – tonight, if you like.” (The Joyful Christian, p. 44)
The importance of the Trinity isn’t that we understand it, but that we experience it. Once we experience the life, love, and transformation that flows from God, then it becomes easier for us to accept. This is true even though we may not fully understand it. We are not saved by our understanding of doctrine, but through our trust in God.
With that being said, it is important to remember that what we believe matters, because our beliefs shapes our worldview and our actions. I like what Francis Chan wrote in his book Forgotten God, “But theology is still important—what you believe absolutely determines how you act. So while good theology at its best can lead us to live godly lives, bad theology will always point us in the wrong direction.”
Here are a few of my thoughts on the Trinity.
Through college and my first two years as a youth pastor I struggled with the doctrine. The reason that I struggled with it was because I had a difficult time visualizing it.
Not only is it difficult to visualize, but also it is not clearly taught in Scripture. If you look up the word “Trinity” in a concordance you will discover that it is not there. You will not find these words in the Bible, “And God is three persons, but one being.” I think if that phrase was in the Bible, then the doctrine would be easy to accept.
As a young youth pastor I taught that God was Trinity, because I understood that to be orthodox Christian teaching, but I struggled to understand it. That struggle finally led me to pray one day, “God, if You truly are Trinity, show it to me. I want to teach what is true.”
A few days later I began reading 1 Peter and verse 2 of chapter one jumped out at me:
God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
May God give you more and more grace and peace. (NLT)
Peter didn’t use the term Trinity in this passage, but he makes the point to mention that the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus all played a part in our salvation. God is working as One to make our redemption possible. From that moment on I haven’t questioned the doctrine of the Trinity. I still have trouble explaining it, but I affirm the doctrine that God is One being and three persons.
While the Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Bible, I believe Scripture contains glimpses of the Trinity.
Isaiah 9:6 is one of those passages that gives a glimpse of the Trinity:
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NLT)
In Forgotten God Francis Chan, commenting on this verse, wrote:
Right there in that oft-quoted verse we see the Son referred to as the “Counselor” and the “Father”! This passage (and many others) keeps us from oversimplifying a divine mystery. It is not easily broken down into three main points that just make sense, but it works. And it is beautiful. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One.
In What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit, Russell Boatman points to 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 as another glimpse of the Trinity:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. (NLT)
In this passage we notice how the early Church was working out the reality that the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus are all God. To the ancient Jews, God was the Father. That meant to talk about “our Heavenly Father” would always refer to God. After the resurrection of Jesus, he was recognized as God. How do you teach that the Father and Son are both God?
This led the Church to refer to the Father as God and Jesus as Lord (which was a name for God used in the Old Testament). Our spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service in the Lord, and it is God who is at work in all of this. The Spirit, the Lord, and Father are all one God.
Not only are there glimpses of the Trinity, but Scripture also affirms that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine.
- The Father: But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. (1 Corinthians 8:6; NLT)
- Jesus: Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (Philippians 2:6; NLT)
- The Spirit: So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT)
Scripture teaches two truths that need to be reconciled. It teaches that there is only one God. It also teaches the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How do we handle this reality?
In my opinion the best way to reconcile these twin truths is the doctrine of the Trinity. It is complex and hard to understand, but it leaves us with the opportunity to ponder and meditate who God is, the love that He has, and the way He is working to bring redemption and salvation to His creation.
We don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of a doctrine for us to benefit from it. The Trinity is one such doctrine. I believe the more we will meditate on its truth and open up our lives to the love and work of the Father, Son, and Spirit the more we will experience the life God created us to live.