Trinity

Trinity.jpg

Living Stones Churches’ position on the Trinity is this: We believe in one God, eternally existing in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who know, love, and glorify one another.

Here is why we have come to this conclusion.

1) The Bible Teaches That There is One God

This truth is clearly addressed in the Old Testament, where God declares that he alone is God.  Deut. 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God...” (see also 46:9)

The Jews undoubtedly understood that there was only one God and that no other deity should be put on his level (Ex. 20:3).  Part of the reason Jesus was killed was because he was committing “blasphemy” by equating himself with God (John 5:18).

The understanding that there is one God is found in the New Testament as well.  Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus...” (1 Tim. 2:5)  And James tell us that even the demons believe that God is one (James 2:19).

Therefore, Christianity is a monotheistic religion.  There is one God, and He is the only one worthy of worship.

2) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Equally God

The Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each the full representation of God.

a) The Father is God

Yahweh is unquestionably God.  This is clear from the first verse in the Bible (Gen. 1:1) and continues through the last chapter in Revelation.  There are no serious (biblical) objections to his deity.

b) Jesus is God

- Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins, which God alone can do (Mark 2:5-7).

- Jesus claimed his eternal existence using the definitive statement “Before Abraham was, I Am!” (John 8:58).

- Jesus taught that only God is to be worshiped (Matt. 4:10), but then accepts worship for himself (Matt. 28:9, 17).

Additionally, the New Testament writers explicitly affirm Jesus' deity:

- Paul says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily...” (Col. 2:9)

- John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)  Jesus is the human expression of the invisible God.

- And the author of Hebrews calls Jesus 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.” (Heb. 1:3)

Jesus' deity is essential for the claims he made about himself and the sacrifice he made on the cross.  If he's not God, then his words are empty.  Fortunately, he is.

c) The Holy Spirit is God

The deity of the Holy Spirit is the most difficult to derive from Scripture, but He is nonetheless identified as God.  Here is a clear reference:

“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?... You have not lied to man but to God.’” (Acts 5:3-4)

Notice the parallel here.  Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit, which Peter claims to mean that he has not lied to man but to God, using "the Holy Spirit" interchangeably with "God."  If the Holy Spirit were not God, Peter would have been committing blasphemy.  Likewise, Paul equates the Spirit with the Lord (2 Cor. 3:17-18).

It is also important to clarify that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but the personal God actively at work in the world.

3) The Members of the Trinity Exist Simultaneously

There are several times where the three members of the Trinity are inextricably linked together.

- All three are present at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:16-17).

- Jesus commands the church to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), thus identifying the three members as equals.

- And throughout the epistles we see the Trinity mentioned in the same breath (1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; Tit 3:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21).

4) Each Member of the Trinity has Distinct Roles and Activities

Each member of the Trinity possesses all of the attributes of God (omnipotence, love, mercy, etc.), but each member is distinct in function.

- The Son submits to and is sent by the Father (John 12:49-50), and the Holy Spirit submits to and is sent by the Father and Son (John 15:26).

- The role of the Spirit is to magnify and glorify the Son (John 16:14).  The Son is sent to do the will of the Father (John 5:19).

The Trinity also has distinct roles in salvation history:

The Trinity in Creation

God the Father spoke creation into being (Gen. 1:1); God the Son was the divine agent of creation (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2); and The Spirit was present and hovering over the waters (Gen. 1:2).

The Trinity in Salvation

God the Father set the plan of redemption and sent the Son to save us (John 3:16; Gal. 4:4-5); God the Son provides the sacrifice for sins (1 Peter 2:24-25); God the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of the Atonement to our hearts (John 3:5-8) and transforms us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

But despite these differences in role and relationship, there is complete unity in will and essence.  Each member has His own will (1 Cor. 12:11; Luke 22:42), but they are unified in thought, purpose, and desire (which we generalize as “God’s will”).  Jesus was not forced to but willingly chose to die on the cross.  And the Holy Spirit is not the bad boy member of the Trinity who plays by his own rules - the Spirit’s thoughts are God’s thoughts (1 Cor. 2:11) and he never contradicts Scripture.

5) Common Misunderstandings about the Trinity

While the nature of the Trinity is not contradictory, we cannot fully comprehend God’s triune existence.  When this is attempted, some aspect of God’s nature gets skewed.  Here are two common ways in which the Trinity is misunderstood:

Misunderstanding #1) There is one God who appears differently depending on the situation

As an attempt to emphasize God’s oneness, this view (termed “Modalistic Monarchianism”) denies the uniqueness of each member of the Trinity, meaning that the Father is the Son and the Spirit is the Father and the... you get the idea.  Therefore, when Jesus died on the cross it was actually God the Father.

But if this conception were true, then God wouldn’t actually be in community within himself and would therefore have imperfect love - he would need his creation for this essential element of his being to be complete.  Love is not complete if there are no others to share it, but we see that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Additionally, the interaction between the members at Jesus' baptism would also make no sense if they were not distinct persons.  The truth is that one God exists in a mutually loving, self-sufficient community (doesn't that blow your mind?).

Misunderstanding #2) Jesus was created and became God

This view (called Adoptionistic Monarchianism) holds that Jesus was created and adopted to be God.  However, if this is true then Jesus would not be eternally existent, which is something he explicitly claims (John 8:58).  Additionally, worshiping Jesus would be idolatry since we would be worshiping creation and not the creator (Rom. 1:25).  But Jesus is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 22:13).  He is the uncreated Lord of the universe.

6) FAQ on the Trinity

Here are some commonly asked questions about the Trinity.

1) Why do we say that God exists as three “persons”?

“Person” does not necessarily mean human (although it can), but refers to the qualities and characteristics of a relational entity.  This is important to understand because God is a personal God, not a vague, mystical force.

2) Why doesn’t the Old Testament refer to the Trinity?

While the members of the Trinity are not explicitly listed in the Old Testament, this does not mean that it is silent on the matter.

- There are several instances where God uses the pronoun “us” when speaking (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; and Is. 6:8).

- In Ps. 45:6-7, two persons are called “God.”  The author of Hebrews identifies the second person as Christ (Heb. 1:8).

- In Is. 48:16, the “servant,” (who is later revealed to be Jesus), says that both he and the Spirit are sent by the Lord.

God progressively revealed his nature to humanity, but he has existed in the Trinity from eternity past and will through eternity future.

3) What is a good analogy for the Trinity so I can explain this to others?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one.  Each analogy for the Trinity is deficient in some way.

A common one is that God is like water, existing as steam, ice, and liquid.  But this is an analogy for modalistic monarchianism because the three states of water cannot exist at the same time.  God, however, does exist eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit at the same time and is one in essence.

Another common analogy is that God is like the US Government - the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branch.  However, none of these branches is the full representation of the US Government - but each member of the Trinity is the complete representation of God.

4) How can Jesus be equally God if He submits to the will of the Father?

“Submitted” does not mean “inferior.”  Jesus submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and Son, yet each member is of equal significance, character, and divinity.

Understanding how submission works within the Trinity enables us to understand the complementarian relationship of male and female in the home and church. Both men and women are equal in essence and value but distinct in role and function.  If the members of the Trinity can possess distinct roles yet maintain equality, we can enjoy having them too.

5) Why is a correct understanding of the Trinity important?

The fundamental difference between Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians is on the nature of the Trinity, specifically on the deity of Jesus.

But if Jesus isn’t God, does he have the power to forgive sins?  If Jesus was created, isn’t it idolatrous to worship him?  It's one thing to believe that Jesus is the savior of the world, but if you believe that Jesus is a mythical hippie or a superhuman promoted to god-hood you are not believing in the same guy that is depicted in the Bible.  Imposter Jesuses cannot save.

The center of the Christian faith stems from a correct understanding of the Trinity. Therefore, we must be willing to explain it, defend it, and marvel at the God who exists in it.