What does it mean that God is Trinity?
The Trinity was and still is quite frankly a mystery; it was a hidden truth that has been revealed. It was something that was hidden and now revealed. Yet, this doesn't make it any easier to understand.
So, what does it mean that God is Trinity? The Bible teaches that there is one eternal God (Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4). The one true God exists in three distinct Persons who share the same divine nature. The Father is God (1 Corinthians 8:6; John 6:27; 1 Peter 1:2). The Son is God (John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Hebrews 1:8). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; Romans 8:9). There is One God. The Father is not the Son and/or the Spirit. The Son is not the Father and/or the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father and/or the Son. There are three divine Persons who are co-existent, co-eternal, and co-equal (Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19).
(Definition taken from my book: Found Here)
The Trinity is a doctrine that has been accepted and defended by Christ's Church from very early on. It is foundational to our faith. Let's discover more about God as Trinity.
The Scriptural foundation of the Trinity teaches that there is one God. Yet, this one God co-exists in three co-equal, co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the one God is clearly distinct from the other and fully God. The Scriptures fully affirm these three truths on the Trinity:
God is three Persons.
Each Person is fully God.
There is one God.
To fully understand and affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, these three statements must be declared and believed. To deny any number of them is to deny the Scriptural teaching of the Trinity and must be repented of immediately.
To avoid the error of saying too much on the Trinity, I will stick closely to the Scripture’s declarations. There is no verse in Scripture that directly explains and declares the Trinity. Yet, this does not make the doctrine any less right or clear. To affirm the Trinity in the Scriptures, we will look to a multitude of Scriptures.
To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him. (Deuteronomy 4:35)
"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
The Scriptures are clear there is only One God. There are not three Gods there is one God. The doctrine of the Trinity must begin here. What is learned of the persons of the Trinity never negate this one truth, that God is one.
The one and only God has existed for all of eternity in the same unchangeable way. One God in three persons, the Trinity, three in one. There was never a time in which God did not exist in this way. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have co-existed, simultaneously, in perfect harmony together for all of eternity.
In this section, the deity of each Person of the Trinity will be briefly laid out with Scripture. Be sure to take time to read and re-read the Scriptures in their context, memorize the verses, so that you will become familiar with them, and able to proclaim and defend the deity of each Person of the Trinity.
Perhaps the easiest of the three persons to declare as God from the Scriptures is God the Father. This is not because the deity of the Father is clearer and the other’s more ambiguous. Rather it is because most of the heretical teachings on the Trinity affirm this truth, whilst denying the other Persons. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who identifies themselves as a Christian who denies the deity of God the Father. However, on the other hand, it would be difficult to find Christians who affirm and can explain the deity of both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
We sit back and wonder why there are so many leaving the Christian faith, or why people are not responding to the gospel call. Yet, by now these truths should be becoming more evident, the people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge and rejection of the truth (Hosea 4:6). This was true of the nation of Israel who rejected God’s revelation of Himself given in the Law and is true of us today who identify ourselves as God’s people and yet reject the fullness of the revelation of God given in the Scriptures. Don’t fall into this error, humble yourselves before the Word of God and continue repenting of your wrong beliefs about Him.
God the Father is God
Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 1 Corinthians 8:6, bold added
In a future section of post the oneness of God ontologically and the difference of the Triune God functionally is discussed further. Understanding the difference is helpful in avoiding error. Showing that this verse carries no contradiction in the Scriptures. Often when the above truth is not understood then this verse is abused and twisted to argue against the deity of the Son and the Spirit. We must be careful not to distort the Scriptures to fit selfish gain.
In the passage above, 1 Corinthians 8:6, the Apostle Paul is dealing with a specific problem in the church of Corinth. As the Gentiles (non-Jews) were being brought into the church through repentance and belief in Christ they came with baggage. They were used to buying and eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. This was an atrocious thing to the Jews, who still practiced the Law, not to be saved but because they were by birth Jews.
The situation of the eating of meat that had been offered to idols would have caused much tension between Jew and Gentile. This is what Paul is addressing. He is not writing about the Trinity, nor is he contradicting Scripture saying that the Father is God and the Son and the Spirit are not. He is saying that these idols who are being sacrificed to are not gods. There is only one God, God the Father is God.
Notice also in this verse that Paul does not stop with the deity of the Father but also in the same breath speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ. This title of “Lord” is not meant to be a lesser thing. Paul uses the Greek word kyrios which is translated as Lord in English. The word means master, owner, ruler, and carries the weight of authority. When Paul gives this title to the Son, Jesus Christ, and attributes our existence through Him, Paul is declaring the equality of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul is affirming the truth that Jesus is God.
Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:27, bold added)
This Scripture also divorced of its context can be and is distorted to teach incorrect doctrine. This was said the day after Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with five barley loves and two fish. The people, because of this miracle, desired to take Jesus by force and make Him king. They were looking to the earthly things rather than the heavenly and missing the reason that Jesus was sent, to save them from their sins.
This is the purpose of Jesus’s words to the people in John 6:27. On the other side of the sea on the following day, the crowd that desired to make Jesus king followed Him. Jesus spoke to them the above verse. Again, Jesus like Paul’s writing to Corinth is not laying out a doctrine of the Trinity. He is exposing the heart of the people and correcting their wrong thinking.
However, in this correction, it is observed that Jesus declares that God is the Father. It should also be observed that Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man whom God the Father has set His seal. Jesus was speaking these things to a Jewish audience who would have been familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. The use of the title “Son of Man” would have brought to memory two specific Scriptures that directly pertained to God; Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1-2.
Both Scriptures are a declaration of the deity and reign of the Messiah. Jesus does this on purpose because of the people’s wrong beliefs about God’s Messiah and their intention to make Him king over earthly things. Jesus is thus declaring that He is the Son of Man of whom the Scriptures speak of in Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1-2, and subsequently that He is God. Affirming this truth with the approval of God the Father Himself who set His seal upon Him.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:1-2, bold added)
In the Apostle Peter’s introduction of the letter written to the Jews who were dispersed from Jerusalem because of persecution, he wrote this greeting. Peter is declaring that long ago God the Father chose that man would by the sanctifying work of the Spirit obey the Son, Jesus Christ. That man would be made clean by the cleansing of Jesus’s blood.
This is how God the Father has chosen to make a people for Himself. These Jews to whom Peter was writing to understood the deity of the Father. Now Peter is making it clear to them in their distress that was His plan all along. Encouraging them to not forsake the faith because of persecution but to continue in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
God the Son is God
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, bold added)
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, bold added)
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18, bold added)
I highly suggest that you take the time to read John 1:1-18 a couple of times. The purpose of John’s writings was that all who would read would “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). John is making it very clear at the beginning of, and all throughout, his gospel account that Jesus is God.
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:28-29, bold added)
After the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, He made Himself known too many of His followers. Many people give Thomas a bad report because he doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures. We forget that he was the one who was willing to die for Jesus earlier in John 11:16. Thomas’s whole world was shattered into a million fragments when Jesus died.
When Jesus appeared to Thomas and Thomas touched Jesus’s hands, feet, and side; he believed. The confession of Thomas’s belief was, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas going from disbelief to belief confesses what is right, that Jesus is his Lord and his God. For Thomas and the world, the evidence of this is in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.
How can we know for certain that Jesus is God? He was raised from the dead on the third day in fulfillment of the Scriptures. How can we know for certain that Jesus is Lord? In His exaltation, all things have been handed over to Him. The Scriptures which contain no error or contradiction, declare here that Jesus is God.
But of the Son He says,“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. (Hebrews 1:8, bold added)
Like John, the author of Hebrews doesn’t mess around. He directly speaks of the supremacy and deity of the Son, Jesus. The epistle written to the Hebrews is rooted deep in the Old Testament Scriptures. The author wants to demonstrate to the primarily Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of what is already written.
After a wonderful declaration of the Son found in Hebrews 1:1-4, the author quotes from several Old Testament Scriptures, attributing them to Jesus. Specifically, in Hebrews 1:8, the author is quoting from Psalm 45:6,
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
The author attributes this verse to the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Declaring that the Son is of whom it is written, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. From this, we can rightly declare that Jesus, the eternal Son, is God, and His throne is forever and ever.
God the Spirit is God
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4, bold added)
The book of Acts contains the rich and yet difficult beginning of the church. As people are being saved through hearing and believing in the gospel, more and more are being added to Christ’s church. This explosion of growth comes with complications. During this formative time in the early church, there were many needs. As a result, many including Barnabas sold their properties and gave the money to the Apostles (Acts 4:32-37).
This is exactly what Ananias and Sapphira did. They sold their property and gave a portion of the money to the Apostles. This was a very generous thing that they did, as they gave a large sum of money that they did not have to give. Yet, their error was not in giving money it was in lying about their generosity for selfish gain. Peter declares in the same breath that they lied to the Holy Spirit and thus they lied to God.
There are not two different persons to whom they lied to. They did not lie to the Holy Spirit and God. Peter is declaring to all the church that the same God who looks upon the heart, the Holy Spirit is whom they lied to. You see, they contrived the deed in their heart. They didn’t tell man; they just gave the money leading men to believe that it was all of the profit from the property sold. God who sees all, does not dwell upon outward appearances but upon the heart. He exposed the deed that was done in secret. The Holy Spirit who saw their hearts is God and was lied to.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11, bold added)
This passage of Scripture is packed full of wonderful truths. I say wonderful truth because there is so much here that I cannot fully comprehend. So, I stand in awe and wonder in affirmation of these truths. In verses 9-11, Paul uses four descriptive phrases to speak of the indwelling Spirit:
The Spirit of God dwells in you
Have the Spirit of Christ
The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you
Through His Spirit who dwells in you
In the above descriptions, it must be noted that they are speaking of the same Spirit. There are not three or four different spirits living in the believer, but only one. Yet, this singular Spirit is spoken of in four different ways.
The Holy Spirit, who is God, is also called the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God. If this were not true, then it would be incorrect for the Spirit to be equated to God and Christ. However, because it is true, and the Spirit is God there is nothing wrong with the interchanging of titles and names because all three are ontologically one. They share the same divine nature, and yet are three distinct persons who have different functions.
The Trinity Observed
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17, bold added)
As the deity of each person of the Trinity has already been established through the Scriptures we now look to the Trinity observed. In the Scripture above Jesus, the Son of God is about to begin His earthly ministry. Here we see,
Jesus the Son of God incarnate being baptized
the Holy Spirit resting upon Jesus in the form of a dove
the Father God saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
All three Persons of the Trinity present at the same time in different ways.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, bold added)
After Jesus’s resurrection, He appeared to a multitude of people on the earth for forty days. Before His ascension to the right hand of the Father and subsequent exaltation, He gave His disciples the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. In the Great Commission, all of Jesus’s disciples are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations.
This is not an option, it is not for some disciples and not others, but all of those who profess Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior are to take part in the mission of God. God’s mission is clearly to reconcile or make right a people for His possession from the entire earth (Revelation 5:9-10, Matthew 28:19).
In this commission, we observe three co-equal and co-eternal Persons of the Trinity. The new disciples who have responded to the gospel message preached by Christ’s disciples are to be baptized in the name of:
The Holy Spirit
Be careful to note that the “name” is singular. It is not the “names” of but the “name” of. When the Scriptures speak of a person’s “name” it means much more than what a person is called. It often is speaking of the person’s character. It is no different here, in the Trinity, there are three separate Persons who are ontologically one. They share the same divine nature and character but are different in function.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27, bold added)
Paul is not laying forth a doctrine of the Trinity. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the Trinity is not present. Here we in chapter 8 the Trinity is present. This chapter is a great chapter for the defense of the deity of the Spirit and the co-existence of the Trinity. As all three Persons are present at the same time performing different functions.
In the Scripture above the Trinity’s difference in function is observed,
The Holy Spirit helps through intercession in prayer
Jesus knowing the mind of the Spirit intercedes for the saints
All of this is done according to the will of God (the Father)
One in Nature, Three in Function
All three Persons of the Trinity possess and share in the same divine nature. When I speak of the divine nature, what I mean is essentially the fullness of the character of God. Every attribute expressed in this book is possessed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As each Person is fully God, each Person of the Trinity shares in the fullest sense all the attributes of God declared in the Scriptures.
The Father is faithful, the Son is faithful, and the Spirit is faithful. We have talked about God's holiness; the Father is holy, the Son is holy, and the Spirit is holy. God is beauty, perfection, righteousness, goodness, longsuffering, love, wrath, vengeance, grace, mercy, sovereign. The three Persons of the Trinity equally possess all of these attributes.
When I say that God possesses them equally, I mean that the Persons of the Trinity not only possess all the same attributes, but They are equal in the measure in all attributes possessed. The Father does not love more than the Son or the Spirit. They all love the same, equally as one, perfect in every attribute.
It is impossible to speak of the shared nature of the Trinity without speaking of their shared mission. The mission of God is what the Persons of the Trinity in their shared divine nature are working to accomplish. The purpose of God could not be stated better than in Revelation 5, where all worship is directed from the Father to the Son because of what the Son did.
And they sang a new song, saying,
"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9, bold added)
The Trinity's divine nature has been working together in unity to bring about this purpose. The purpose of purchasing men for themselves from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Praise God! Really, praise Him. This is what we will be doing for all of eternity, bowing down and casting our crowns at the feet of God who saved us, singing praises to Him who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb who was slain.
It is in the mission of God where differences of the Trinity are observed. The Trinity is not different in nature but different in relationship and function. Some theologians when describing the Trinity will use the terms ontological and functional. The term ontological referring to the Trinity speaks of "being" or "essence." It is what I just spoke of in the shared "divine nature" of the Trinity. The term functional describes the "role" and/or "relationship." God is one ontologically and three functionally.
The statement that God is one ontologically and three functionally must be understood lest we drift into error. Many in the past and many in the future say the Trinity is contradictory and, therefore, wrong. How could God be one, yet three? It is in the misunderstanding of, or denial of, the biblical revelation that God is one ontologically and three functionally that they have reached this conclusion.
There is no contradiction in the biblical revelation of the Trinity. God is one (ontologically); He is not one (functionally). Likewise, in the way God is three (functionally), He is not three (ontologically). Since the doctrine of the Trinity does not assert that God both is and is not one (or three) in the same sense, no contradiction is present even when one is asserted by opponents who do not understand the doctrine of God they are arguing against.
Some will also attempt to argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is absurd because it attempts to get people to believe that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. However, God is not finite, like His creation. Instead of a mathematical trick, God’s infinite nature is better understood as ∞ + ∞ + ∞ = ∞, which is not absurd nor invalid. (Joe Kohler, "What is the Trinity, One God Three Persons")
The Trinity being one in nature and mission is three in function and relation. Each Person of the Trinity has a different role and relationship concerning the creation and one another. Regarding function, the Father's works are not the same works as the Son nor the Spirit. The Son's works are not the same works of the Father nor the Spirit. The Spirit's works are not the same works as the Son nor the Father.
The same is true of relationships both to the creation and one another. God the Father, is unique in His relating to the Son, the Spirit, and the creation. God the Son is unique in His relating to the Father, the Spirit, and the creation. God the Spirit is unique in His relating to the Father, the Son, and the creation.
When speaking of relationships, it can sometimes seem that the Father is greater than the Son or the Son more significant than the Spirit. This is not the case. All Persons of the Trinity are co-existent, co-eternal, and co-equal, all sharing the same divine nature.
Yet, in their co-equality, each Person exercises mutual submissiveness. This mutual submissiveness is shared and needed to accomplish the mission of God to purchase men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. The Son submits to the Father, the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son, and the Father gives everything to the Son (Colossians 2:9; John 5:19; 10:30; 12:49; 14:9-10; 14:26; 15:26).
This mutual subordination in the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity does not mean one is more God than the other. They are one ontologically yet three in function. To use a pitiful earthly example, the Bible declares that my wife and I are one, yet, we are two. Although we are unified and equal, we are different in function. We have different roles and responsibilities. Also, in our relation to one another according to our differences in functions, we are mutually submissive to each other (Ephesians 5:21).
God is one yet three. There is no earthly picture that can explain this mystery. Remember that God is Holy. He is not like us, He is different, other. These truths laid out in this post of the Trinity are meant to not just fill our brains with knowledge. Rather, they are meant to produce wonder, which leads to worship!
Please hear me. God who is infinite has revealed Himself to us who are finite through His Word. We cannot understand fully who He is because we are limited in many aspects. It is not our responsibility to explain things away. It is our responsibility to seek God. To seek to know Him and make Him know. To love Him and therefore obey His commandments. Seek to know and enjoy this marvelous God who has made Himself known to us through Christ, in His Word, and by His Spirit!
(Most of the content on this page is taken out of my book: Knowing the God We Proclaim)
(To discover more about God, see our page, Who is God?)