Resource on the Trinity
Hey Vintage Leaders,
As you know, we’re going to be spending the year exploring All of God for All of Us. We hope that our people will grow in the understanding of how the Triune God (the Trinity) shapes our experience of life, faith, community, and God himself. This means we’re going to be talking a lot about the Trinity, and—as elders, deacons, community group leaders, and other ministry leaders—you’re likely going to be having more conversations and fielding more questions about the Trinity than usual. The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult, dangerous, and doable. It’s difficult because we’re trying to explain in human terms something that is beyond human understanding. It’s dangerous because to get it wrong can be to misrepresent God and what he’s done in the world. It’s doable because we have the Holy Spirit, and the Church has been doing Trinitarian theology from its inception. That being said, I wanted to give you a brief guide to the Trinity, what Christians do and don’t believe about the Trinity, some dos and don’ts for talking about the Trinity, and some questions you’re likely to encounter as we work through this doctrine together.
If you want a more than brief but still accessible exploration of the Trinity in the Christian Faith, I’d suggest Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.
Thanks so much for loving and serving Vintage Church so well!
A Brief Guide to The Trinity
There is one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. We call this reality the Trinity. The easiest way to express this is in six brief sentences: 1) The Father is not the Son. 2) The Son is not the Spirit. 3) The Spirit is not the Father. 4) The Father is God. 5) The Son is God. 6) The Spirit is God. All six sentences are inseparable and eternally true.
What Christians Believe About the Trinity
1. Christians believe there is only one God.
Moses clearly states this in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) which Jesus recites as the first and great commandment. God himself confirms this when speaking to King Cyrus in Isaiah 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” Judeo-Christian monotheism is rooted in these passages.
2. Christians believe that one God exists eternally in three persons.
Nonetheless, from the beginning of Scripture we see the distinct persons and function of the Triune God. In Genesis 1:1-3, we see God the Father creating the heavens and the earth, God the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and God the word (the Son) speaking the universe into existence. John 1 confirms this that the Word was with God and was God. The Word became flesh and lived among people. The Word is the Son, Jesus.
Perhaps nowhere do we see more clearly the presence of the Triune God then when Jesus is baptized in Matthew 3:16-17. In this picture, we see God the Son standing in the waters of the Jordan, God the Spirit descending on him like a dove, and God the Father speaking over them all that Jesus is his beloved Son.
3. Christians believe each person of the Trinity is fully God.
As we stated from John 1, Jesus was always with God and always was God. Jesus states clearly in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one” and in John 10:58, he declares, “Before Abraham was, I am.” His use of ! Am was a clear statement of his being God. It’s so clear that people with him tear their clothes and gathered stones to kill him for blasphemy.
Additionally, the Holy Spirit is not part of God but a distinct person in the Trinity, fully God. When rebuking Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Peter asks, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit… You have not lied to men, but to God.” Peter recognizes the full divinity of the Holy Spirit and understands that lying to the Spirit is lying to God himself.
Each person of the Trinity is fully God.
What Christians Don’t Believe About the Trinity
1. Christians don’t believe God is one person at a time.
This is a heresy called modalism and would deny the reality of the picture we saw at the baptism of Jesus.
2. Christians don’t believe Jesus became God (or divine).
This is a heresy called Arianism and denies Jesus’ claims in John 10, rendering him a liar and a sinner unable to make atonement for the sins of the world.
3. Christians don’t believe in hierarchy within the Trinity.
This is a heresy called Subordinationism denies the claims of John 1 and Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s eternal equality with, and identity as, God.
Dos and Don’ts When Speaking About the Trinity
- Don’t say “individual people”. Do say “distinct persons”.
- Don’t say “three gods in one”. Do say “One God in three persons”.
- Avoid analogies. Use the six sentences. (The pretzel, the three-leaf clover, the ice-water-steam analogies break down quickly and are really unhelpful.)
- Don’t speak as though this is simple. Do embrace mystery.
FAQs About the Trinity
1. The word Trinity isn’t even the Bible. Why should we use it?
The word Trinity is the church’s historical way of encapsulating the way the Scriptures talk about God. Though it is not used in the Bible it is a helpful shorthand to describe what we mean when we say God.
2. Isn’t “one God, three persons” contradictory?
It can seem that way. However, as Christians, we acknowledge that God is beyond our finite understanding and things that seem like contradictions can be embraced as the mystery of faith in an infinite God.
3. Who do we pray to? Does it even matter?
Jesus taught us to pray to the Father. Traditionally, the Church has prayed to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. However, there’s no clear prohibition in Scripture for praying in other ways.
4. Why do we make such a big deal about this?
How we think and talk about the Trinity affects how we understand everything in the Christian life from salvation to community, from prayer to eternity. We want to live in the light of the truth of God and so it matters how we talk about him.
Shaun Cross, Vintage Durham