What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?
In his deepest thinking, man could never have envisioned the God described in these words: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1Jn 5:7) The fact that God is three persons in one can only be known by revelation. Moreover, the idea of a three in one God is not just beyond the possibilities of man’s imagination. It is also beyond the possibilities of man’s comprehension. In man’s deepest intellect, he will never understand God, as three persons being one.
Jesus proclaimed His oneness with the Father. I and my Father are one. (Joh 10:30) Men hated Jesus for such words. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ confession to equality with the Father was the so-called crime for which He was crucified. Moreover, things got no better after Jesus’ crucifixion. The apostles continued to face stiff resistance, not only for proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, but also for holding to the idea of the plurality of the one God, even that this Jesus was the God Whom He had claimed to be.
The resistance to the idea of a Trinity has continued throughout the history of the church. Rather than accept the idea as truth, many have rejected it as impossible. For example, in the second century Sabellius taught that there was not a trinity of persons in the Godhead, but simply a trinity of offices held by one God. Many still cling to this error, believing that it solves the mystery of the Godhead. Yet, the idea of one person with three offices cannot agree with the words: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. To ‘bear record’ is to be a witness, even to be called on to give testimony. In any situation where a person is asked to bear record to something, or to give his testimony concerning the matter, it would be absurd to consider one person to be three witnesses, just because he might hold three offices. If the same man is called to testify once (because he could claim to be the mayor), and again (because he could claim to be a pastor), and yet again (because he could claim to be a salesman), there would still be only one who bears record. The only way that three can ‘bear record’ is if there are three distinct and individual persons, and not one person with three offices.
In the fourth century, Arius introduced the false notion that Jesus was the first created being. In the Arian sense, the idea of a Trinity is explained away as one supreme God, and two subordinate and inferior gods created by the supreme God. This kind of thinking is really no different to the false gods of cultures throughout history. The Greeks and the Romans claimed a supreme god and multiple underling gods. So mythology already had this idea long before Arius’ day. Whether the claim is two lesser gods, or hundreds, neither fits the revelation that the three are one.
To refute the Arian teaching of a created Christ who would in turn create everything else, consider the following: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Joh 1:1-3) Arian thinking acknowledges that Christ created all things, but with the one exception that Christ did not create Himself. This error is destroyed in the statement: without him was not any thing made that was made. It is impossible to make these words fit the idea of a created Christ. If Christ was created by another, then there can be no truth to the thought that without him was not any thing made that was made, in that He Himself would have been made without Him. Thus, this one text alone refutes the whole Arian notion of a created Christ. So either the Bible is wrong, or Arius was wrong. We may choose to believe what God has revealed about God, or we may choose to believe what we imagine about God, or we may choose to believe only what we can reason out with our finite minds. There is no doubt that a finite mind cannot fully comprehend a being of God that is three persons. Yet, by the gift of faith, the mind can believe the things that it cannot understand.
Though we admit that we cannot understand such a thing as the Trinity, let us attempt to reason about what must be involved in the truth: the three are one. As we begin to think about the idea that the three are one, let us present an initial thought that the idea of Trinity without unity is absurdity. Consider these words: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (2Co 13:14) Here each of the three persons of the Trinity is presented as possessing three distinct and different things.
As I ponder the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, questions come to my mind concerning how intertwined the three persons of the Trinity might be. Does each work independently, even uncooperatively? Like oil and water, individually beneficial, just do not mix well. Does each do His own thing, unconscious of the others? Like the right hand that does not know what the left hand is doing. Does each take care of His own business, knowing where the lines are? Like suburban neighbors, who occasionally wave, but each stays on his side of the fence. Do the three make up a well-balanced triad, each with His talents and failings, but cooperating to get the job done? Like Jack Sprat and his wife. He could eat no fat, and she no lean. Yet by combining, they licked the platter clean.
These thoughts are not only absurd, but even border on blasphemy. To view the persons of the Trinity as being uncooperative with each other is ridiculous. The idea that one is unaware of the others’ plans and efforts is outlandish. The proposition that each minds His own business and keeps the relationship casual is preposterous. For the persons of the Godhead to be restricted by what they cannot do (as the Sprat couple) is unthinkable.
It would seem that no conscientious believer would ever be guilty of thinking such things as these about God, yet close analysis of the man-made plans of salvation reveals similar absurdities to what we have just described. The plans of salvation created and devised by men do border on blasphemy, in that they present the three persons of the Trinity in an uncooperative relationship. The Father, Son and Spirit are described as if each is unaware of the others’ plans and efforts. Men’s so-called proposals for salvation present the Trinity in disunity, each seemingly with His own agenda. The Bible says the three are one. Surely this must be so in the salvation of sinners. Surely the plan is one plan. The work is one work. The end is one end. The Lord our God is one Lord! The one Lord cannot be a divided God. The three are one! Though each person of the Trinity sometimes does different things, there are no lines drawn in the sand. The three are a perfectly cooperative unit, always working together in everything. They have common motives, and are in common in their efforts to bring success to their motives. Never divided, and always united. Trinity, yet Unity. The three are one!
As we think upon the words: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, what about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Is Jesus the only one of the Trinity who has grace? Of course not! The Father is a God of grace: …continue in the grace of God… (Act 13:43) The Son is a God of grace: …the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ… (Act 15:11) The Holy Spirit is a God of grace: …the Spirit of grace. (Heb 10:29) Surely Father, Son and Spirit are in unity, as far as grace goes.
What about the love of God? Is the Father the only one of the Trinity who shows love to His people? Of course not! The Father is the God of love: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. (Joh 3:16) The Son is a God of love: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Joh 15:13) The Holy Spirit is a God of love: Now I beseech you…for the love of the Spirit… (Rom 15:30) Surely love is not confined to the love of God, but is as much of the Son and Spirit, as it is of the Father.
What about the communion of the Holy Ghost? Is the Holy Ghost the only one of the Trinity who has communion with His people? Of course not! The Father is the God of communion: …and truly our fellowship is with the Father… (1Jn 1:3) The Son is the God of communion: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. (Joh 14:18) The Holy Spirit is the God of communion: …if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit… (Php 2:1) Surely communion and fellowship with God are communion and fellowship with the entire Trinity.
What about the unity of the Trinity in creation? The Bible says that each of the three was united in the common purpose of creation. Of the Father, the Bible declares: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen 1:1) Of the Son, the Bible declares: All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Joh 1:3) Of the Holy Spirit, the Bible declares: The Spirit of God hath made me… (Job 33:4) Surely creation was a united work of the Trinity.
What about Jesus’ resurrection? Just who is responsible for the greatest event in history? Each of the three was united in raising Jesus from the grave. Of the Father, the Bible says: This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Act 2:32) Jesus Himself said: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (Joh 10:18) Of the Holy Spirit, the Bible says: …being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (1Pe 3:18) Surely the resurrection of Jesus is a united work of the Trinity.
No matter the activity that God undertakes, the three Persons of the Godhead always move together in perfect unity and cooperation. Grace, love, and communion are extended from all three. Though any of the three by Himself would have been capable, creation was a joint venture. Jesus’ resurrection is to the praise of each, and to the praise of all three.
Surely there must be unity in the Trinity, with never a hint of disunity. Surely the One God, who is three persons, can never be opposed to Himself. Surely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agree in one, and as one. Surely the work of the Father, the work of the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit are one work. Surely what one does, the others would not hinder. Surely the plan and purpose of one is the plan and purpose of all. Surely the relationship is ‘All for one, and one for all’.
So let us revisit salvation. Are the three united in saving sinners? Do they work together in the different aspects of salvation? The Bible speaks of a phase of salvation, where God planned the details before time began. The Bible speaks of a phase of salvation, where God paid for His peoples’ sins on a cross. The Bible speaks of a phase of salvation, where God gives spiritual life individually to each of His children, at some point during their natural lives. The Bible speaks of a phase of salvation, where God finally saves each of His children to glory.
Let us consider one verse which proclaims all these phases of salvation. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Rom 8:30) There is unity in the Trinity in salvation. Each one the Father predestinated—the Spirit called. All that the Spirit called—the Son justified. All the Son justified—end up glorified. This unbreakable chain of salvation is a united effort of the Trinity. This chain describes the three in one God working together in salvation. God working together with God to save God’s people is an unstoppable plan of salvation. All the ‘whoms’ end up ‘thems’. None is lost along the way. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is certain. The three are one.
There must be unity of the Trinity in God’s plan of salvation. Surely the three persons of the Trinity worked together in the planning phase? It seems absurd to think that the three argued, and that perhaps one stormed out, saying that He would do it His way. It seems doubtful that two of the three knew the plan, while one was left in the dark. It seems unreasonable to think that there would have been any disagreement in the planning phase. After all, the all-wise God was doing the planning. So the plan would be a perfect plan, and they all three would know that the plan was perfect. All three were in on the planning. All three were agreeable to the plan. All three left the planning phase knowing His part in the plan. All three left the planning phase with a purpose to save. The purposes of God always come to pass. God’s plan of salvation is a certain plan. In the end, it is certain that all God ever purposed to save will be saved. The three are one.
Do you suppose Jesus still remembered the planning phase, when He went to the cross? Did He remember the part where the Father elected His people? Did Jesus still remember that the Father had given the chosen children to Him in the planning phase? Jesus said that He came to do His Father’s will. The Father’s will and purpose had been established in the planning phase of salvation. Jesus came to save each and every one of God’s children that the Father had given to Him. Jesus did save each and every one whom He planned to save. In the final phase none will be lost. The three are one.
Do you suppose the Holy Spirit still remembers the planning phase, when He moves as he pleases to born again His children? Does the Holy Spirit remember the part where the Father elected His people? Does the Holy Spirit know each and every one of the children that God gave to Jesus in the planning phase? Does the Holy Spirit know the exact group that Jesus died for? Does the Holy Spirit know just how, and when, and where, to find each one of them? Will the Holy Spirit lose any that He agreed to find? In the end all God’s chosen children, for whom Jesus died, will have been born again. The three are one.
In God’s plan of salvation, the Father elected the ones to be saved. The Father gave the elect to His Son. The Son died for the elect who had been given to Him. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual life to each and every one that Jesus died for. Each of the three was in on the plan. Each knew His part in the plan. Each does His part in the plan. There is unity in the Trinity in the salvation of sinners. Salvation is of the Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three are one.
Man-made plans of salvation inevitably introduce disunity into the Trinity. Salvation by God’s sovereign grace, and grace alone, is the only plan that maintains perfect oneness in the Godhead. A united Trinity can only be preserved in the Bible taught truths: unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace and final preservation. If a reasonable person consents to the essential conclusion that God must agree with God, then he is also forced to conclude that salvation must be by sovereign grace.
Why do I say this? Every other plan, except salvation totally by grace, invariably disrupts the unity of the Trinity. Men’s devised plans of salvation describe the three persons of the Godhead with different wills and motives, different degrees of commitment, different levels of ability, and different success rates. Some so-called plans of salvation have one in the Trinity doing for the sinner without measure, while another of the three fails to do. Where one of the three would have great faithfulness to the cause of salvation, another falls short. While one of the persons would have unquestionable love, another’s love seems fickle. Where one acts of His own will, another can only react to man’s will. While one moves as He pleases, another is hindered in moving. The God that men describe is pitted against Himself—a Trinity in disunity.
For example, consider men’s idea of supposed general atonement. They surmise that Christ died for all men, and that He offers salvation to all who believe and accept. Will all for whom Christ died ultimately be saved in this proposed plan? No! According to the supposed plan, only those who accept His offer will be saved. The error of general atonement proclaims that Christ died for all. Yet it will not allow all that Christ died for to be saved. These statements not only present Christ as a weak and conflicted God, unable to attain what He desires, but also present a lack of unity in the Trinity. First of all, the idea that Christ died for all, contrasted to the Biblical truth that the Father elected some, creates disunity between these two persons of the Trinity. Secondly, the idea that Christ died for all, contrasted to the notion that the Holy Spirit only saves some, creates disunity between these two persons in the Trinity. This self-opposed general atonement plan of salvation has the Son trying to save, but failing. It has the Father never intending to save in the first place. It has the Spirit not even now trying to save. Thus ‘general atonement’ says that the Father, Son and Spirit are very different. The Bible says the three are one.
In an effort to maintain unity in the Trinity, some try to explain election away by saying that the Father elected those that He foresaw would accept Christ. They go on to explain regeneration by saying that the Holy Spirit gives the new birth to those that He now sees do accept Christ. Though these two premises are untrue, they at least maintain a consistency between the work of the Father and the work of the Spirit, in that the Father is said to have elected a particular group, and the Spirit is said to born again the exact same group. Yet, this supposed plan of salvation still declares that the Son died for everybody. So this proposal has the Father foreseeing whom He would save, and the Spirit now seeing whom He will save, but the Son blindly trying to save everybody. This man-made plan of salvation demands significant disunity in the Trinity. The Bible says the three are one.
What about the oneness of God’s love? Many claim that God, the Father, loves all people, so much as to give His Son for all. They claim that God, the Son, loved all people, so much as to die for all. Yet God, the Holy Spirit, does not love the people, even so much as to find and save any of them. In this plan, if the sinner wants salvation, he has to ask for it. The Father did not wait to be asked. He just by grace sent His Son. The Son did not wait to be asked. He just by grace went to the cross. Yet the Holy Spirit waits to be asked. He is content just to wait it out, even to the point where it is too late. This certainly seems to indicate a difference in the love of the persons in the Godhead. To send your Son to die is unquestionable love. To willingly die on the cross is unquestionable love. To refuse to make the first move is questionable love. The Bible says the three are one. This so-called plan of salvation says they are different. Again, there is disunity in the Trinity.
The problem is not that the Holy Spirit is the weak link in salvation. The problem is a man-made plan of salvation that makes man the means to his own salvation. To make man the means to his own salvation, not only makes for a weak link in the plan, but it also makes for disunity in the Trinity. If the Spirit has to wait for man, then His hands are tied. He ceases to be the God that acts in accordance to His sovereign will. He becomes the puppet that can only react to the will of man. That is not the sovereign God of the Bible!
If man is an essential link in the chain of salvation, then the certainty of salvation becomes uncertainty. Yet the Bible does not describe God’s salvation of His people in uncertain terms. The Bible speaks emphatically when it says: thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Mat 1:21) [Emphasis added.] The verse does not say that Jesus will try to save all people, but finally settle for some people. It does not say that Jesus will do His part, and then wait to see who will do their part. The proclamation is that Jesus shall save His people. That is a certain statement about a certain salvation. Salvation is certain, because man has no part in his own salvation.
Salvation is certain, because salvation is totally of the Lord. Salvation is certain because salvation is by God, and God alone. Salvation is certain because salvation is by grace, and grace alone. Salvation by grace alone is the only plan of salvation that preserves the unity of the Trinity. God the Father chose a people. God the Son redeemed that same precise people. God the Holy Spirit does born again each one of those same exact people, in that He individually, and personally, calls each of them from spiritual deadness to spiritual life. In the end, not one of those same people shall be lost.
Salvation by grace is the only plan that maintains consistency and harmony from start to finish. From before the beginning, God had a consistent plan to save His people. Each person in the Trinity knew His part in the plan. Each person in the Trinity does His part in the plan. In the end, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will be satisfied that each has done His part in the plan. Would you expect less from an all wise, all-powerful, sovereign God? In the end, all of God’s children who were in the plan from the beginning shall be saved. Salvation is certain, because there is a united consistency within the Godhead. Salvation is certain, because there is unity in the Trinity. The three are one.