On Sunday, I preached on the hope of Christmas: the message that God entered this world as a baby who would become the mighty but tender Shepherd that Isaiah prophesied of hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. But this raises questions in many people’s minds. Jews and Muslims get uncomfortable because it sounds like Christians believe in three gods. To many, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sound like competing deities. And if there’s one thing that Jews and Muslims (and Christians!) all agree on, it’s that there is only one God. Christians will try and respond to these concerns with some reference to the concept of the Trinity. The problem is that often Christians, themselves, don’t have a clear sense of how God could be both three and one. Let me offer this beginner’s guide to the Trinity.
1. Christians believe that there is only one God.
When Moses declared, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), Christians agree with Jews and Muslims that this makes clear that there aren’t other gods. The Bible teaches that there aren’t multiple gods or a pantheon of gods. When God addressed the Persian king, Cyrus, He was unmistakable, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5).
2. Christians believe that God is one being who exists in three persons.
Although Christians believe that there is only one God, they also believe that the one God exists as three persons. They hold to this understanding, called the Trinity, because the Scriptures teach it. Already in the book of Genesis, when it says that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), it adds, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Isaiah prophesies of a child who will rule in Israel and be called “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). When Jesus came, He declared, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and the crowd hearing his claims tried to stone him for blasphemy saying, “because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). The Bible teaches that God is both one and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God.
3. Christians don’t believe that God had a baby.
When Jesus is called the Son of God (e.g. Mark 1:1, 3:11, 15:39), it’s not saying that God had a baby. Son of God is a title given to Jesus. It describes something of how He relates to God the Father. Similarly, when Isaiah calls God, “Father” (Isaiah 63:16), it doesn’t imply that He has a wife and children. It’s a title, describing His role. It speaks of His role as Creator of the world and the Jewish people. Jesus is the member of the godhead who was not only born into this world as a son (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:34-35) but relates to God the Father like a son (Matthew 26:39, John 6:38, 1 Corinthians 15:28).
4. Christians don’t believe that God is like a three-leaf clover.
Trying to describe the Trinity is difficult. People look for analogies. Sometimes people compare the Trinity to a three-leaf clover, but in doing so they can give the impression that Jesus isn’t actually God but just part of God. The Bible doesn’t just say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each part of God and together add up to one God, but that each of these three persons is fully God and together they comprise one being. The leaf on its own, however, is not a clover, but just a leaf and part of a clover.
5. Christians don’t believe that God is like water, steam and ice.
Sometimes people talk about the Trinity as being like water, steam and ice. They’re all different but still various forms of water. That’s not how the Bible describes God. When Jesus was baptized, He came out of the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended like a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). The members of the Trinity are three distinct persons not just modes of the one person.
6. Christians believe that God is more complex than humans.
Confused yet? The Trinity is a confusing concept because we’ve never experienced someone who is one being and yet three persons. But should we be surprised that God is different than us? Is it so hard to accept that the God who spoke the universe into existence is more complex than we are? The Trinity is one of the things that gives me confidence in the Bible. It’s such a unique concept, I can’t imagine anyone making it up! But because this is how God reveals Himself in the Bible, I believe it.
May God guide all of us in understanding Him better!
In awe of Him,
Interested in learning more? You might also like to check out:
Looking for a hero https://www.gracebc.ca/blog/2018/3/20/looking-for-a-hero
The big story that ties together all the little stories https://www.gracebc.ca/blog/2018/2/26/the-big-story-that-ties-together-all-of-the-little-stories
Was the temple just a big church? https://www.gracebc.ca/blog/2018/4/3/was-the-temple-just-a-big-church