Back when I was in college, I had the opportunity to take two classes on world religions. In these classes we broke up several of the world’s religions into two categories. In the first class, we studied religions that are pantheistic (the belief that everything is divine) and polytheistic (the belief that there are multiple gods). These would include religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. In the second class, our professor had us study what is called the “monotheistic” religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These religions, it was argued, believe in one, and only one, divine being. However, one stands out as unique among the three monotheistic religions. Jews and Muslims believe in one divine being, but in orthodox Christianity, we believe in one God who eternally exists as three distinguishable persons. We call this the doctrine of the the Trinity.
As Presbyterians, we are Trinitarians. We adhere to the classical position on the Trinity as manifested in the historic creeds of the church. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, yet they are one God. While we (sadly!) don’t recite it, our church subscribes to the Nicene Creed which confesses that there is “one God” which includes the Father, the Son (who is “of the same substance as the Father”), and the Holy Spirit (“who with the Father and the Son is to be worshipped and glorified”). Our Westminster Confession of Faith is also a markedly Trinitarian document. It states that, “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” (WCF 2.3).
But as important as our tradition and heritage is in making us Trinitarians, we ultimately believe in this profound doctrine because we believe it is taught in Scripture. While the word “Trinity” does not appear in Holy Scripture, all the elements of the doctrine of the Trinity are present. The singularity of the being of God is confessed in the “Shema” of Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (v. 4). Similarly, the monotheistic aspect of a biblical view of God is found in Isaiah 45:5: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” And yet the Father is called God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Jesus receives worship that can only be given to God (Matthew 28:17), forgives sins as only God can do (Matthew 9:1-8), and even calls Himself the “I AM” (John 8:58). Likewise, the Holy Spirit is said to do things only God can do, such as know the very mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), and is Himself called God (Acts 5:3,4). In Scripture, then, we see the unity of the Godhead, but also the tri-unity of the Godhead.
But why is any of this important? What does it matter that we know, confess, and worship the Triune God? It’s important to know this because if we do not know the Triune God, then we do not know the true God. Any god who is not triune is not the God of Scripture but is a false god.
But another reason we need to know about God as Trinity is because of the beautiful truth of what it means for us as believers in Christ. When we are in Christ through the Spirit who abides in us, we have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). What Jesus has done is not simply save us from our sins, but He has ushered us into sweet fellowship with the Triune God. We have a blessed unity with the Triune God because of the high priestly work of Jesus (John 17:21-23).
Over the next several months, I want to look at various aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity that we may not only know the one, true, Triune God, but also that we may be more aware of the blessed union and communion we as Christians have with the Triune God.