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What is the Trinity?

If we want to know and love God, we need to understand Him. Let's explore the what and why of the Trinity. The goal? To know and love God more.

If you’ve spent much time in church, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “Trinity”.

Maybe your church has the name “Trinity” in it. Maybe you sing songs about the Trinity. Maybe you even wear a necklace with the Celtic symbol of the Trinity on it.

But when push comes to shove, many people have trouble defining exactly what the Trinity is. They know it has something to do with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but beyond that they’re not sure.

It’s really important to have a clear understanding of what the Trinity is. Why?

Because it describes God Himself. If we want to love God and know Him, we need to understand what He is like.

In this post, we’re going to explore the what and why of the Trinity. The goal? To know and love God more.

Let’s dive in.

Definition of the Trinity

You won’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible. Nevertheless, it’s a helpful term for describing concepts that are clearly found in Scripture. The word comes from the Latin word “trinitas”, which means “triad”.

Throughout history, Christians have used the phrase “Trinity” to communicate the Biblical truth that there is one God who is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Each of these persons is fully God and each is distinct, yet they are one God.

In the early years of the church, there was a lot of debate about the exact nature of the Trinity (more on that in a bit), and several councils were convened in an effort to bring clarity to the issue.

At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the primary focus was on the relationship between Jesus and the Father. The result was the Nicene Creed, which speaks of Jesus in this way:

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father."

At the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, the Nicene Creed was expanded so that it also spoke of the Holy Spirit as divine:

"And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified."

The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. They are three distinct persons, and yet they are one God. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.

There Is One God

Again and again, the Bible makes it clear that there is only one God. There are not many gods competing with one another or a hierarchy of gods with some ruling over others. There is one God who is supreme over all things.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

These words were spoken to Israel after they had been rescued from the Egyptians, who believed that there were many gods. The Lord wanted them to understand that He alone was God and that He has no rivals.

In 1 Kings 8:60, Solomon prayed,

...that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.

In Isaiah 45:5-6, the Lord says:

I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.

God stands above everything else. He rules over the universe and none can compare to Him. Even the most brilliant, glorious angels are nothing compared to the living God.

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There Are Three Distinct Persons

Scripture also makes it clear that God is three distinct persons. Each person is distinct from the other and each is fully God:

In John 1:1-3 we read,

In the beginning was the Word, 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 nothing was made that was made.

From this passage, we learn that Jesus (“the Word”) was with God the Father in the very beginning and is God.

Titus 2:13 says that Christians are,

...looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Hebrews 1:8, it says of Jesus,

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.

The Holy Spirit is also fully God. He is not a spiritual force. He is a person who works in our lives.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said to His disciples,

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…

Clearly, Jesus is putting the Holy Spirit on equal footing with Himself and the Father.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, Paul writes,

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.

In Acts 5:3-4, Peter says to Ananias,

Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit...You have not lied to men but to God.

Putting all this together, we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully God. There are three persons in the Trinity, and each of those persons is God. Together they are one God.

The Trinity Is Not…

It’s hard for our finite minds to understand how God can be both three and one. It’s a mystery that goes beyond our comprehension. Throughout history, various individuals have tried to simplify the mystery in different ways.

Some have argued that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same person, with God sometimes appearing as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit. But the Bible is very clear that each member of the Trinity is a distinct person.

Some have contended that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not actually God, but are very powerful created beings or some form of lesser gods. This also goes against the very clear teaching of the Bible.

People have also tried to use various analogies to explain the Trinity, saying that it’s like water, which can take the form of solid, liquid, or gas. But this analogy falls short because water can’t be all three at the same time. Describing the Trinity like an apple (seeds, fruit, skin) doesn’t work, since none of them fully make up the apple.

We need to resist the temptation to make the doctrine of the Trinity easier to understand. God is God, and we are small, finite, limited humans.

When we try to make God more understandable, we shrink Him. We take away from His glory.

In Isaiah 55:8-9, we read:

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.

We need to be okay with mystery. We must let God be God. Things always go wrong when we try to fit God into the box of our understanding.

Delighting In The Trinity

Ultimately, knowing that God is three-in-one should cause us to worship Him. The Father has adopted us and calls us His beloved children. The Son died for our sins and now intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit fills us, giving us the power to walk in ways that please the Lord. Each member of the Trinity relates to us in different, beautiful ways.

Though we don’t fully understand how God can be three-in-one, we can worship Him anyway. We can delight in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and marvel how they all work together in perfect harmony.

Our goal is not to understand the Trinity simply for the sake of knowledge. Our goal is to know God more fully so that we can love Him more deeply and serve Him more passionately.

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