Theology

The Trinitarian Nature of the Christian Faith and Life

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A Doctrinal Overview

Christianity is, at its core, Trinitarian in nature.  In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity is central to the Christian faith and life.  Remove the Trinity and you remove the beating heart from the body that is the Church.

So, briefly stated, what is the doctrine of the Trinity?  The doctrine of the Trinity is the teaching that there is one God who exists in three distinct, yet co-equal and co-eternal Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  Put another way, there is one Being of God and three Persons of God.  We must be careful, however, not to understand this as meaning there are three gods (i.e. Tritheism), which is to divide the essence or substance of God, nor are we to think that there is one person of God who manifests Himself in three different ways: sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit.  This latter notion is known as Modalism.  Both Tritheism and Modalism are heretical doctrines that the Church has historically rejected as being contrary to Scripture.

Following is the Athanasian Creed (ca AD 500), which was not actually written by Athanasius.  It was, however, attributed to him for a time, and therefore the name stuck.  The creed is a stalwart articulation of this most majestic doctrine.  While it may be lengthy, it will be a blessing to the soul who diligently reads it:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e. universal and historic, not Roman Catholic] faith.  Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.  And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.  But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.  The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.  The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible.  So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty.  And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  And yet they are not three gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord.  And yet not three lords, but one Lord.

For as we are compelled by the Christian verity [or truth] to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.  The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.  The Holy Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood; who, although He is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh [the man Jesus did not take on Divinity] but by taking of the manhood into God [the eternal Son took on human nature]; one altogether; not by confusion [or mixture] of substance, but by unity of person.  For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell [the abode of the dead], rose again the third day from the dead.  He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.  At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.  And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

The Doctrine Revealed

Now, while it is true that the Trinity is by far more clearly evidenced in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the revelation of the Persons in Unity became clearer through the acts of God in providence, to include redemption, this does not mean evidence is altogether lacking in the Old Testament.  For instance, God uses the plural “Us” and “Our” in Genesis 1:26 with reference to man being made in God’s image, according to His likeness.  This plurality cannot refer to the angelic host, for man is not said to be made in the image of angels, who themselves are creatures, but of God alone.  While some have suggested the plurality here may be understood as referring to a plurality of majesty, such as a king using “we” in reference to himself, I think it is more likely that we see a glimpse of Trinitarian communion in this text.  Other such Scriptures give evidence of the Trinity (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 2:7 (cf. Heb. 1:5-6); 33:6; 45:6-7 (cf. Heb. 1:8); 110:1; Isa. 48:16; 61:1 (cf. Lk. 4:16-18); 63:10-11).  Louis Berkhof supplies an excellent analysis of this progressive revelation:

The Old Testament does not contain a full revelation of the Trinitarian existence of God, but does contain several indications of it. And this is exactly what might be expected. The Bible never deals with the doctrine of the Trinity as an abstract truth, but reveals the Trinitarian life in its various relations as a living reality, to a certain extent in connection with the works of creation and providence, but particularly in relation to the work of redemption. Its most fundamental revelation is a revelation given in facts rather than in words. And this revelation increases in clarity in the measure in which the redemptive work of God is more clearly revealed, as in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And the more the glorious reality of the Trinity stands out in the facts of history, the clearer the statements of the doctrine become. The fuller revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament is due to the fact that the Word became flesh, and that the Holy Spirit took up His abode in the Church.[1]

In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity, due to its primary revelation in facts/acts, is intricately tied to the progress of redemption.  This does not mean, however, that God did not reveal His Trinitarian nature in the Old Testament, as has already been briefly addressed.  But it does mean that, as redemptive history progressed, so too the clarity of the Trinity progressed.  It is as Craig Carter says, on a similar note, “The christological meaning of an Old Testament text could be discerned on this side of the resurrection because it was always there in the text, even though it was not necessarily discerned (or at least not clearly discerned) by those who lived before the incarnation of God in Christ.”[2] It is easy to understand, therefore, as to why the New Testament is more abundant in its teaching on this doctrine.   With the fuller revelation of God’s redemptive purpose in Christ comes a fuller revelation of the three Persons’ roles in salvation (Eph. 1:3-14).

A Scriptural Compilation

The following is a compilation of select New Testament Scriptures[3] that show forth this teaching of the Trinity.  Some texts only speak of two Persons within the Trinity, whereas others speak of all three.  You will note that these passages present the three Persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)[4] as distinct, yet equal in nature/essence.  These passages reveal to us the importance of this doctrine in relation to the Christian faith and life (e.g. salvation, baptism, prayer, worship).  As you read through these texts, ask yourself these questions: How do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit relate to one another?  What are their distinct roles?  What aspect of the Christian faith/life does this text relate to?

John 1:1-5, 14, 18 “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 was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”[5]

Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Acts 2:33, 36 “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 8:1-4 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Romans 14:17-18 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

Romans 15:30 “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf”.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”

2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'”

Ephesians 1:3-7, 13-14 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Philippians 3:3 “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh”.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Titus 3:4-7 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”.

Hebrews 9:14 “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

1 Peter 1:2 “[Elect exiles] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”.

1 John 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

A Theological Summary

Hopefully you have recognized some key areas in the Christian life where the triune nature and relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit play a vital role.  Indeed, it is impossible to talk about the Christian faith and life without bringing into the discussion the triune nature of God (whether we realize it or not).  So, following are a few summary points, based on the above passages, on the significance of the Trinity in our lives.

Salvation: The Father chooses or adopts His people; the Son secures their redemption by His life and bloody substitutionary sacrifice; and the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ’s redemption in the regeneration, sanctification, and glorification of the elect.

Worship: Worship and praise is due to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, although the Scriptures typically present worship as being offered to the Father, through the Son (e.g. in His name), and in the fellowship and power of the Spirit.  We worship the Triune God!

Prayer: We pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ (i.e. He mediates for us), and in the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Conclusion

We looked at twenty New Testament Scripture passages above, demonstrating the biblical teaching of the Trinity and its significance for the Christian faith and life.  Hopefully, you noticed the equality of nature between the Persons of the Trinity.  You should have also noticed the different roles of each Person, especially with regard to salvation.  You should have also noticed the revelatory significance of the Son and Spirit to the Father; that is, they reveal and bring us to the Father.  You should have also picked up on the shared titles between the Father and the Son (i.e. Lord, Savior).

What this study has demonstrated is that Christianity is fundamentally Trinitarian in nature.  The doctrine of the Trinity is central and essential to our faith and life.  For this reason, we should be thoroughly grounded in and convinced of this glorious doctrine.


[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (MI: Eerdmans, 1932), 85. Emphasis added.

[2] Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition (MI: Baker Academic, 2018), xvi.

[3] All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.

[4] Keep in mind that “God” in Scripture most often refers to the Father. However, in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 “God” refers to Jesus Christ. Note also Acts 5:3-4 where lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God.

[5] Verse 18 contains a textual variant.  The NASB ’95, for example, says “the only begotten God”.  The NASB is based on earlier manuscript evidence. Interestingly, the NASB ’20 has “God the only Son” (the italics mean Son is implied but not explicitly in the manuscript). The NKJV has “the only begotten Son”.  The truth is there’s strong debating points on both sides.  Both have external evidences they can point to, to include quotations from early Church Fathers.  For instance, Irenaeus and Clement used both renderings.  Additionally, both sides can make strong arguments from the internal evidence (the usage and consistency within the text itself), although I think this aspect is more favorable to the reading of “Son”.  Either way, the theological understanding is consistent with biblical doctrine in general and the doctrine of the Trinity in particular.

About Drew Mery

Drew is a husband, father, Reformed Baptist, and lives just outside of Tampa, FL. He is working on two master's degrees, one in Biblical and Theological Studies from Belhaven University and the other in Philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He has a BS in Religion: Biblical Studies from Liberty University (2010). His favorite past-time is reading, especially the Great Books and in the areas of theology, philosophy, education, science, and history. He is a board member of Pietas Classical Christian School in Brevard County. His goals are to earn a PhD and teach at the college level.

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