From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 3 – God’s character – who He is and what He is like
Although the Bible speaks of God as being One, it also makes clear that there are three distinct and separate Persons. Together, they make up what we call the “Trinity”. They are God the Father, The Son of God and the Holy Spirit. The word “Trinity” is not used in the Bible, but it is a good word to summarise what the Bible does say about God. He is three Persons, but One God. The word Trinity means “tri-unity” or “three-in-oneness”.
The New Testament gives us a much clearer understanding of the Trinity than the Old Testament. But even in the Old Testament there are many passages which clearly suggest that God exists as more than one person. Let’s look at a few examples where God is referred to in plural terms. Note in each case the use of the words “Us” or “Our”
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;…..Genesis 1:26(a) (NASB)
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;…..Genesis 3:22(a) (NASB)
“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”Genesis 11:7 (NASB)
In each of these verses God is speaking in terms which make clear that He is more than one person. It is not simply the so called “Royal we” that the Queen uses. That is something our own British royalty have used, but it is not found anywhere in the Old Testament in relation to the Kings of Israel or Judah. So it can’t be explained away in those terms. God is clearly speaking to, and of, Himself in plural terms. Also, there are many passages where God is speaking but He is clearly speaking to another Person who is also God. Let’s look at some examples, though there are many more:
6Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;Psalm 45:6-7 (NASB)
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
7You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
In the passage above it initially refers to the Son of God (Jesus). We are told that God (i.e. the Father) has anointed Him. This passage can not make sense any other way. Two Persons, both of whom are God, are being spoken of. However, they are distinct from each other. Let’s look at two more passages from the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit is also referred to as God. But He is, likewise, differentiated from the other Person being referred to as God:
Yet they rebelledIsaiah 63:10 (NIV)
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.
In the verse above the Holy Spirit is referred to but a distinction is made between Him and God. See also this next verse, where a distinction is drawn between “The Spirit of the Lord God” (which is the Holy Spirit), “the LORD” (which is the Father) and the person speaking, which is Jesus Himself. So, all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in this verse. Jesus is speaking and He is referring to the Holy Spirit and the Father:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,Isaiah 61:1 (NASB)
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
Then, when we get to the New Testament, more is revealed. The fact that God is three Persons is made very clear:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.2 Corinthians 13:14 (NASB)
In this verse all three Persons of the Trinity are named separately and all three are clearly presented as being divine. It cannot be read any other way. The same is true in this next passage from Ephesians:
4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:4-6 (NASB)
There are many more such passages. Please refer to Required beliefs for salvation (chapter 15) for more examples of verses which prove and help to explain the trinity.
Summarising what we mean by the Trinity
In short, what we mean is that:
a. God is three Persons
b. Each Person is fully God
c. Nevertheless, there is only One God.
To understand the Trinity we must accept all three of the above points. Each one is essential. So, it would not be correct to say that the members of the Trinity form one Person, because there are three Persons. But it is true to say that those three Persons together are one God. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to God as “He”.
Why does it matter that God is three Persons but still One God?
The doctrine of the Trinity is vitally important for many reasons. Thus, when cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject these facts, they are rejecting something which is essential to the genuine Christian faith. Let’s look at a few reasons why this matters so much:
- If Jesus was merely a created being like we are, and not fully God, then how could He save us? How could He ever have lived a sinless life and how could His death on the cross have paid the price for our sins if He was only a man? (See chapters 10 and 11 for more details).
- If Jesus was not fully God in His own right, then how could we ever pray to Him or worship Him? We would be praying to, or worshipping, a mere man, which we must never do.
- If there is no Trinity then it would mean that before He created the angels and mankind, God would have had nobody else to relate to. Yet we know that God did have personal relationships before He created any of us. He did so within the Trinity. Each of the three Persons related perfectly to each other. And, they always have done, for all eternity past.
What are the distinctions or differences between each of the three Persons of the ‘Trinity’ or ‘Godhead’?
In terms of their nature, character, attributes and power, each of the three Persons of the Trinity are equal. They are each divine and are all-knowing and all-powerful. That is why Jesus, said: “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” So, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit do not differ in their essence. But they do differ in the roles they play and the functions they have as they relate to the world and to us as believers.
We see in the Bible that God the Father spoke the words which brought the universe into existence. However, God the Son was also active in the process of creation. He brought the Father’s words to completion. We also see that the Holy Spirit played a different role in the creation of the world. He was “moving” or “hovering” over the face of the waters and taking part in what was occurring.
Then, when it comes to the salvation of mankind, all three Persons of the Trinity played different roles. The Father planned the redemption and sent the Son into the world. Jesus, the Son of God, carried out that plan. He became a man and died on the cross while the Father and the Holy Spirit watched. Imagine how firmly they must have held back their natural desire to intervene and stop the crucifixion. Even in their restraint they played their part. The current role of the Holy Spirit is mainly to bring to completion the salvation of individuals and the development of the Church. He is fulfilling what was planned by the Father and carried out by the Son.
Until we die and meet God face to face, we will never be able to properly understand this mystery of God being three Persons in One. It is beyond our minds to grasp it. Even so, the Bible tells us that it is true. God is formed from the perfect union and co-operation of three distinct Persons. Each of them is fully divine and eternal. They relate so closely together, and are so perfectly united, that it is right to say that they are One. We cannot really understand that. We must just accept it because the Bible says it is true. Perhaps we could see marriage as a partial analogy here. The Bible presents marriage as a bond or union which is so solemn and profound that although the husband and wife are two people they are, in a certain sense, viewed as being one.
Therefore as we seek to form a correct and biblical understanding of who and what God is and how He operates, let us always remember that He is three Persons. Sometimes when we see different aspects of God’s character being emphasised it may be because one of the Persons of the Trinity is being focused upon at that moment.
God is not just a disembodied “force” or electrical power, as some people imagine Him to be. He has personality, and emotions. He feels love and anger. He can also be hurt and grieved and made to feel sad, just like you, even though He is the God who created the whole universe. He also displays every virtue to an infinite degree. He is more kind than you could ever imagine. Likewise He is utterly generous, good, gentle, patient, loving, and faithful. If you imagine the best person you have ever met, they are only a pale reflection of what God is like.
God’s kindness is infinitely greater than any kindness that you have ever come across from a human being. His love is infinitely greater that any love that you have ever known. Therefore, as well as being our King and our Judge, God is also our Father. Jesus sometimes even addressed God as “Abba”. That means “Daddy”, as a child would say. We can do the same.