The reason for a Christian doctrine on the Trinity
Most Christians believe that God exists with three distinct personal identities, Father,Son, and the Spirit yet God is one in the basic essence of his divine being. Although this belief is difficult to understand and hard to explain, Christians generally hold to this doctrine because the inspired writers of the biblical records of God’s revelation referred to various divine activities as coming from either the “Father”, the “Son”, or the “Spirit”.
One of the clearest biblical examples of such activity is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist as Jesus prepared to launch his ministry among the Israelites in ancient Judea and Galilee. Jesus presented himself to John in order to be baptized in the Jordan river, and Matthew reports the event from Jesus’ perspective with these words: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he (Jesus) went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16–17)1 Here we see the simultaneous activity of these three distinct persons; Jesus, the Son who was baptized, the Spirit who descended upon him, and the Father who praised him.
In some of his final instructions to his disciples before he would be arrested and crucified and eventually leave them, Jesus indicated to them that he would be sending them “the Counselor”, the “Spirit of truth”, who would come “from the Father ” (John 15:26)2 So Jesus, according to the apostle John, acknowledges the existence of these distinct persons, aside from himself, who were engaged in God’s various activities in the world.
And these distinct persons have been active in God’s work from the very beginning. Moses refers to the “Spirit of God” who was “hovering over the waters” as God created the “heavens and the earth”. (Genesis 1:1–2)3 Paul refers to these distinct persons in his words of thanksgiving for the work of “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and the love of fellow believers “in the Spirit” and “the kingdom of his beloved Son” in his letter to the Colossians. He even indicates that Jesus Christ “is the image of the invisible God…by” whom “all things were created”. (See Colossians 1:3–16)4 The apostle John gives a great testimony regarding the distinct activities of “God,” “the Father,” “the Spirit,” and Jesus “the Son” in his introduction to his gospel record of Jesus’ life and ministry. (See John 1:1–34)5
A simple example of triune identity for a single individual
A man can be known, identified, acknowledged, received, or greeted as a son, a husband, and a father by different individuals all at the same time as they refer to the same individual. It is obvious from this example that this triune identity of a single individual has to do with the individual’s relationships with other individuals. And it should be evident from this example that there is a mutual and special bond that joins the individuals who use these terms in reference to one man to each other in a relationship that is very personal and special. This bond is one of blood and commitment, sharing one’s resources and treasures with each other in love and thanksgiving. The man and each of the individuals who relate to him in different ways each have their own personal roles and responsibilities and gifts to implement with each other in their relationship, but the identity of the man is always bigger than any of the particular roles, responsibilities, or activities that he does with those to whom he is related.
The importance of believing in the Trinity
The belief that one God, a single divine being, exists and functions as three separate persons makes it reasonable for us weak, mortal, rebellious human beings to hope for any personal relationship with such an awesome being. To acknowledge and to even superficially understand that God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit means that at the center of this divine being is a quality of relationships that includes other persons, and therefore might include us.
This is not to imply that God has to have a relationship with any of us in order to be complete, because he was and is complete in his triune nature apart from our creation or his ongoing relationship with us human beings. So belief in this doctrine of the Trinity, that God exists as a single divine being in the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit provides any of us with a reasonable basis for any hope of a personal relationship with him.
The expression of God’s triune personalities in his relationship with us
I’ll make this brief, but hundreds of books have been written about each of these expressions or activities of God and thousands of sermons have been preached to explain and to emphasize their importance. Some of the statements on this website comment on some of these matters and activities regarding God and his work with us humans in this world. I invite you to read them for further information.
In the person of the Father, God gathers everything in heaven and earth, in all of his creation, unto himself. The Father is the great provider throughout the total universe and for all time, through eternity. The Father is the source of one’s “daily bread”, for which Jesus taught his disciples to pray (see Matthew 6:11)6, and he sends “rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. (Matthew 5:45)7 Everything that is really GOOD in this world in all of our experiences and relationships comes from the Father.
In the person of the Father, God is the great lover of every being with whom he is related. His love is extended to his Son and to the Spirit, to his created angels and special heavenly beings, and to his redeemed human children. We can love and live in relationships of love, because God as the Father is love!
Because of his love, the Father sent the Son, Jesus, into the world to carry out a special work of redeeming human rebels from their sins so that they could be brought into a personal relationship with the holy and almighty being of God, their creator. And the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into the world to implement and to continue God’s works of loving and providential care for his children and to convict people in the world in regard to the matters of “sin and righteousness and judgment”. (John 16:8)8
In the person of the Son, whose name is Jesus, God implemented and completed his special work to redeem rebellious human sinners back to the Father. Jesus, the Son, did this by coming to earth, being born as a human infant to his virgin mother, Mary, and living and working among humans in Palestine, where he taught crowds of interested followers and educated Jewish lawyers and teachers some new lessons about the eternal and heavenly kingdom of God and God’s requirements for entrance into it. As the Son of God, Jesus paid God’s price for the redemption of human sinners by allowing himself to be crucified on a Roman cross outside of the walls of Jerusalem, where he accepted the sins of all humanity in his shed blood and broken body, dying in a very painful and shameful way. This Son of God, Jesus, was buried in a tomb, but after three days the Son physically arose from the dead, left the tomb, and over the course of the next forty days completed the mission that God, the Father, had sent him to earth to accomplish. He was physically seen by hundreds of other human beings who carefully examined him, ate food with him, walked around with him, and listened to him as he further explained their particular roles in God’s ongoing work of redemption in the world. And after forty days of such activities, the Son returned to the Father, ascending up into “heaven” (Acts 1:9–10)9, as seen by his disciples and acknowledged by “two men…in white robes” (angelic messengers from heaven).
But even before he was crucified, Jesus, as the Son, explained to a small group of his disciples that he would send another person from God to be with them and to implement them and to empower them in their ongoing relationship with him and with the Father. (See John 14:15-17, 25-26, 15:26, and 16:13-15 for his words of introduction to this person.)10 This person was the Spirit, who descended upon these disciples and their enlarged gathering of committed followers of Jesus ten days later, on “the day of Pentecost” “in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:1–5)11. And the Spirit empowered Peter to preach an inspiring message about God’s glorious authority and power that was demonstrated in Jesus, which led to the redeeming change of “about three thousands souls” (Acts 2:14–41)12 that day. This event marks the beginning of Christianity, which is all about human beings living in relationships with God, the Father, in accord with their faith in Jesus, the Son, through the transforming power of the Spirit. And it is this person from the triune being of God, this Spirit, who continues to empower and to change and to bring rebellious sinners into a personal relationship with God and to instruct them in how to live lives of trust and faithful service in their personal relationships with God.
So it is through the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, that human beings can experience a personal relationship with the divine one being of God. It is reasonable to accept this doctrine of the Trinity and this brief explanation of how God does his work of redemption through these persons without trying to explain the triune nature of God's unified being in logical details.
Other perspectives regarding the Trinity
Christian Scientists generally believe in “the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but do not accept the Trinity as three persons in one. Life, Truth and Love are ‘the triune Principle called God’.” 13 Episcopalians believe that God “reveals Himself as …Creative Reality (God the Father)…Expressive Act (God the Son)…and Responsive Power (God the Holy Spirit).” 14 Jehovah’s Witnesses “believe that Jehovah God and Christ Jesus are two distinct persons and are not combined with a so called ‘Holy Ghost’ in one godhead called a ‘Trinity’.” 15 Unitarians “do not believe in the Trinity but in one God.”16 Jews “do not accept the divinity of Christ and therefore cannot accept the concept of the Trinity,” 17 although there are some Jews who are now accepting Jesus as their “messiah”.
The doctrine regarding the Trinity is a matter of God’s revelation. When it gets subjected to logical arguments of philosophy and religious theories of human intellect it becomes distorted or confusing in the various efforts of some individuals to explain it. I have tried to avoid some of the problems created by these approaches to this doctrine. For a fuller statement regarding “God’s Work of Redemption” see my statement on this website at “God’s Work of Redemption”.
1. HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
13. A Guide to the Religions of America, (edited by Leo Rosten, Simon and Schuster, 1955), p. 183.
15. ibid, p. 184.