Is Jesus Really God...What Is the Trinity?November 1, 2019 Save Article
At Christmastime, people who aren’t Christians enjoy all the partying and gifts but don’t get why there’s so much focus on a birth 2,000 years ago. For the secular world, decorations, lights and glitter signal “any excuse for a party.” But for faithful Christians, it’s a holy, joyous time—celebrating the coming of Jesus, who was truly God in human flesh.
Why should the birth of Jesus get so much attention? Why do Christians make it so important?
There are so many wrong answers:
- Some say “Jesus was a great man.” Yes, He was. But if you only pay Jesus that compliment, you’ve missed it all. Noted historian H. G. Wells named Jesus Christ as Number 1 on his list of the ten greatest men in history, a list that included Charlemagne the Great, Peter the Great, and Alexander the Great. But Jesus is more than “Jesus the Great.” He’s Jesus the One and Only. The late Dr. W. A. Criswell said, “To compare the greatest men on earth like Caesar or Shakespeare with Jesus is like comparing a grain of dust to the whole universe or a molehill to Mount Everest.”
- Islam says (quoting the Koran), “Jesus was only a messenger of Allah.” No. He is far more: He is God in human flesh.
- New Agers say, “He’s a medium, a channel to know God,” thinking they’re in contact with the Almighty through a mystic Jesus. But the only one they’re in contact with is a demonic entity imitating the Lord Jesus.
- Others call Jesus a great moral teacher—and He was a great teacher. But as C.S. Lewis said: "We don’t have the option of just simply calling Him a moral teacher and moving on. I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing people say: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That’s the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher; he would be either a lunatic, on the level of a man who says he’s a poached egg, or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a mad man or something worse. You can show Him up for a fool. You can spit at Him. You can kill Him as a demon. Or you can fall at His feet and call Him “Lord and God.” But let none of us come away with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He’s not left that open to us."
If Jesus is not the Son of God, why can’t He still be a great man, a prophet, or a great moral teacher?
We must understand exactly who this Jesus is. Let me tell you straight out, without any apology, Jesus is God in human flesh. Not only is He the Son of God, He is God the Son.
How can we back up such a statement? That brings us to a doctrine we must emphasize more today than ever before: The Doctrine of the Trinity.
- The doctrine of the Trinity declares that there is only one God, who eternally exists as three distinct Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each one is fully God. God is three in Person but one in essence.
- The doctrine of the Trinity is the dividing line between true, orthodox Christian faith and aberrations from the faith.
- The doctrine of the Trinity is the great Christian distinctive, setting it apart not just from other religions, but even those faith systems claiming to be “Christian,” like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- The doctrine of the Trinity is so basic that if you deny it or misunderstand it, you end up with heresy and miss all of Christianity and the message of the Bible: God is a God of three in one and one in three.
Islam doesn’t believe in the Trinity. Unitarianism doesn’t believe in the Trinity. Mormonism doesn’t believe in the Trinity. Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity. The Jewish people, in general, don’t believe in the Trinity. In fact, the concept of the Trinity—God in 3 Persons—is a stumbling block to them.
Before we look at the doctrine of the Trinity in-depth, take a moment to write your definition of the Trinity as you understand it. If someone asked you to explain it, what would you say?
What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?
When someone asks, “What do you mean by the Trinity?” some people mistakenly answer: “Well…there’s God, then there’s Jesus, and then the Holy Spirit.”
No. There’s God the Father, God The Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is not a faith of three gods, but of one God existing in three Persons.
When we say there’s one God in three Persons, some people say, “Well, that’s a contradiction. It sounds like you’re worshipping three gods.” No, not three gods. How often on Sunday morning have you sung, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity,” and not understood the implications of what you were singing?
But keep in mind, there’s much we don’t understand about the one true God.
- Can you understand a God who never had a beginning?
- Can you think of anything else that never had a beginning?
- Can you think of a God who is everywhere at the same time?
God never had a beginning. And God is everywhere. That’s not logical, but it’s certainly true.
It ought to give us comfort that we don’t “understand” the Trinity. God is bigger and greater than we are. A wise man once said, “Try to explain the Trinity, and you may lose your mind; Deny it, and you may lose your soul.”
If you say, “Well, it doesn’t make sense to me,” frankly, I’m glad it doesn’t make sense, either to you or to me. We don’t want a God we can understand. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’
You don’t have to try to define or explain God. The Trinity is a sublime mystery.
It is Bible doctrine. The only reason we believe it is because the Bible teaches it.
You say, “I can’t put any faith in something I can’t understand.” Well then, don’t turn on the lights. You don’t understand electricity. Someone might say, “Oh, I understand electricity. I’m an electrician.” Albert Einstein said he didn’t understand electricity, and he hoped before he died, he could understand it! Vance Havner added, “I don’t understand it either, but I’m not going to sit in the dark until I do.”
The only way we can know about the Holy Trinity is by divine revelation.
You will never understand the Trinity by human investigation, logic, philosophy, or science. You can’t “discover” the Trinity on your own. The only way you can know about the Trinity is by what God says in His Word. John Wesley, a great man of God, said, “How can a worm understand a man, and how can a man understand God?”
If we cannot discover the reality of the Trinity by human logic, reasoning, science, or philosophy, how can we find out about it?
Can we fully understand everything about the Trinity?
What must we depend on to get a grasp on how God could be one in essence, yet three in Persons without that being a contradiction?
Have you ever tried to explain—to yourself or someone else—the Trinity? How did you do it? What did you say?
Stumbling into Error—“If I Could Just Explain It…”
Some people try to explain the Trinity by saying, “A man can be a father, a son, and a brother all at the same time, and that’s like the Trinity.” Parents have sometimes used that illustration, trying to explain the concept of the Trinity to their children. But that’s incorrect—that explanation belongs to a heresy called “Modalism.”
Instead of accepting that there are three distinct Persons within the Godhead, “Modalism” says that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three distinct Persons but merely three different manifestations of one divine person—“God.” This heresy emerged early in church history.
About Modalism, Dr. R.C Sproul has written: "One of the earliest heresies emphasized God’s oneness so much that it had no room left for God’s threeness. This heresy, often called modalism, collapses the three persons of the Godhead into one person where God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but He is not simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rather, at one point in history, God was the Father. Then He switched to being the Son. And now He is the Holy Spirit. In modalism, there is no eternal fellowship between Father, Son, and Spirit, as we see in the Bible."
Another way people fall into modalism is to say, “The Trinity is like the three forms of water: sometimes it’s ice (solid), sometimes it’s water (liquid), sometimes it’s steam (vapor). God can be three different forms.” No, God doesn’t “morph” Himself into three different forms—He is three distinct Persons.
How does modalism distort—to the point of denying—the truth of “one God in three persons”?
It’s vital that we avoid a heresy like modalism because knowing that one God exists in three persons helps us better understand what God is like, how He interacts with us, and how we fellowship with Him. It is basic to our Christian faith.
Reflections of the Trinity
If you think about it, in much that God has created, we see reflections of the Trinity. Again, these are not illustrations, for that would be Modalism, but so often we see “threes” in creation—reflections of how often things come in threes.
Time is past, present, and future. The past is not the present; the present is not the future, and the future is not the past. All three are distinguishable, inseparable, and you can’t have one without the other.
Space has height, width, and depth. Height is not width; width is not depth; depth is not height. All are distinguishable, but all are inseparable. They exist together. You can’t have one without the other.
The Bible reveals how the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—work in concert together as three distinct persons.
The Creation of the Universe.
In the very first verse of the Bible, you find the Trinity. “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Hebrew word God [Elohim] ends with the letters “im,” the plural ending. Literally the original Hebrew says, “In the beginning Elohim [Gods, plural] created [singular] the heaven and the earth.”
With that in mind, read John 1:1-3: "In the beginning was the Word, [“The Word” is one of the Bible’s descriptions of Jesus] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him; and without Him [Jesus] nothing was made that was made."
Nothing was made without Him. The Baby of Bethlehem was the one who created the materials for the manger and stable in which He was born.
So we have “In the beginning, Elohim [Gods] created the Heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).
The Baby of Bethlehem is the mighty God of Genesis 1. These two Bible passages fit together like the two sides of a coin.
In the Creation of Man.
You’ll find the same thing in Genesis 1:26, “Then God[Elohim, plural. “Gods”] said, Let Us[not let Me, but let Us] make man in Our image….” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit create man in the image of God.
In the creation of the Word of God, the Bible.
How did the Bible come about? From the Holy Trinity.
- The Bible is inspired by God the Father. Every verse in the Bible is God-breathed. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
- But God the Son also wrote the Scripture. “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating…” (1 Peter 1:10-11). Who was in the prophets as they wrote the Scripture? The Spirit of Christ.
- But the Bible was also inspired by God the Holy Spirit. “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
In the Great Commission.
At His ascension, when Jesus Christ in His earthly body left this earth to return to Heaven, He gave the Church its commission for continuing His ministry. Here again, we see the Holy Trinity. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
When people are baptized, they are baptized with this Trinitarian formula: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If Jesus is not co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father, it would be blasphemous for Him to say, “Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” putting Himself on equal footing.
As you see a pattern in place, what do these passages say to you about the Trinity? What do they tell you about Jesus’ place in the Trinity—His deity?
For more on the study of the Trinity and Jesus' birth, go to the article: Is Jesus Really God...What Does His Birth Tell Us?