A Simple Explanation of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult yet crucial doctrine; consequently, Christians have engaged historically in much hard thinking in order to explain and understand this doctrine. The earliest creeds of Christianity dealt primarily with this doctrine (which See Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed). The need for hard thinking about this doctrine remains to the present; thus, the following article is an attempt to simply explain this crucial biblical doctrine and assist the believer in thinking biblically about our triune God.

The Bible teaches that there is only one God in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut. 6:4, 1 Cor. 8:4). And, it calls three persons God (the Father – John 17:3; Jesus Christ – John 1:1, Titus 2:13; and the Holy Spirit – compare Acts 5:3 and 4). Thus, the orthodox view of the trinity is that there is one God who is three persons. This is so difficult to understand because God is unique. There is no other being who is three persons to which to compare him. Ultimately, we have to do our best to understand what the Bible teaches and believe it even though we lack exhaustive knowledge of God. Truthfully, if we were able to fully comprehend God, then he wouldn’t be much of a God. The mysteries of Scripture should lead us to worship God because he is so great that we puny humans cannot figure him out completely.

One of the difficulties in understanding the trinity is that many mistakenly view God the Father as the one who is God. In other words, many think of the Trinity as, “Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit.” Consequently, when someone suggests that Jesus is God, they conclude that person is saying that the Father and Son are the same. But this is a mistake, for Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are all God. Yet, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

What this means is that whatever we say about God applies equally to all three persons of the trinity. For example, God is eternal; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. Another example, God is all-knowing; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all knowing. Thus, all three persons are one in essence.

Yet, differences exist between the persons. These differences have to do with their relationship to one another and their work in creation and redemption. The creeds speak of the Son being begotten and Spirit as generated. This language deals with the relationship between the persons of the trinity. Although all three persons in the trinity are equal, there is a chain of command. Thus, the Father is called father because he is “in charge.” The Son willingly submits to his Father in all things, and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and Son to do their will. An example of the difference in their work is that the Father did not become a man and die on the cross. Jesus Christ, God the Son, did. If Jesus and the Father were exactly the same person, there would have been no one for Jesus to pray to while he was a man.

In summary, all three persons of the trinity share in whatever makes them deity, and only differ in their relationship and work. Understanding the trinity is vital to the Christian faith because in order for a sinner to escape eternal punishment, he has to put his faith in the death of Jesus Christ. If we place our faith in someone who is less than God, we are placing our faith in a Savior who cannot save. Jesus being fully God and fully man was able to pay the infinite price for sin that no human being could ever pay; consequently, he is able to rescue from eternal punishment all who have faith in him.

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