The first year I decided to take a group of students to Utah to share the Gospel with Mormons, a parent of one of the students asked me why I would take such a trip: “Why would you want to strip someone of their faith in God and Jesus?” This question came at a pivotal time for me as a pastor. It caused me to ask myself the question: What is the difference between the Mormon God and the Christian God? Is the difference significant? Does it separate who is a Christian from who isn’t? As it turns out, the nature of Jesus, God the Father and Salvation are the core essentials distinguishing Christianity from other theistic faith systems. If you want to call yourself a Christian, you’ll need to embrace the definitions offered by Christianity. If you don’t you may still be a theist, but you won’t be a Christian theist.
While early Christians may have sometimes struggled to understand exactly what the scriptures taught about the nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they eventually recognized something distinctive about the God described in the New Testament. The God of Christianity has a triune nature, and His character is reflected in His creation. The Bible teaches two truths: there is only one God, and God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all that same God:
1. There Is Only One God
Both the New and Old Testament declare there is only one God. Not just one God for this universe, or many gods united in one purpose, but one God. Both Judaism and Christianity are clearly monotheistic.
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
1 Corinthians 8:4, 6
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one…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 Timothy 2:5-6
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.
From these few verses, it is clear there is only one God according to Jewish and Christian theology. This is our starting point; this is where we begin. God is ONE.
2. Yet the Father, Son and Holy Ghost Are All God
But there is something else we see in the Scripture. The Bible teaches God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all God. In fact, the Bible teaches all three of these divine persons are equally Divine. Let’s look at some of the ways the three persons share the exact same nature:
All Three Are the All-Powerful Creator (Omnipotent)
The first characteristic of deity (omnipotence) is possessed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three are described in the Bible as being the all-powerful Creator:
But now, O LORD, Thou art our Father, We are the clay, and Thou our potter; And all of us are the work of Thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
All things came into being by Him (Jesus, the Word), and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:3)
“The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)
All Three Are All-Knowing (Omniscient)
In addition to possessing the power to create, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all observed to be all-knowing according to Bible:
…in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. (1 John 3:20)
“Now we know that You (Jesus) know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” (John 16:30)
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10)
All Three Are All-Present (Omnipresent)
While we assume this of the Father and the Holy Spirit, most people don’t realize the Scripture also describes the Son as having the ability to be everywhere at the same time (omnipresence):
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
“…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthews 28:20)
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 139:7-10)
All Three Are All-Loving (Omnibenevolent)
Another aspect of Godhood, the all-encompassing love of God, is also demonstrated equally by the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me… (Romans 15:30-31)
All Three Are Called “God”
Now you are starting to see why we must conclude God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all God. In fact, the Bible explicitly calls all three of them God:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:2)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
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)
To Deny the Trinity is to Deny Christianity
Even the earliest believers understood the importance of this truth (and apparent tension) in the nature of God. There is one God, and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. This is clear in the Scripture, and while it may be mysterious to us, it is the objective claim of the Bible. The first Christians understood the importance of retaining this truth about God in order to retain the true identity of Jesus. When early Christians tried to maintain the oneness of God without regard to the Divine description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as we’ve just described, they usually redefined (and mischaracterized) Jesus as a human, limited, or finite creature. But, if Jesus is not God in every sense of the word (as the Bible claims), then He does not have the power to save us on the Cross. If Jesus is not God Incarnate, then he simply cannot take our place and bestow upon us the righteousness of God. For this reason, the earliest leaders were very careful to describe the triune nature of God as seen in the Bible. They eventually described God as one in substance, essence or nature, while being distinctly but undividedly three in person. This was reflected in the early creeds, including the Athanasian Creed of the 4th Century:
“…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal… And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”
It’s interesting this creed (widely accepted and used in Western Christianity) affirms that without a proper understanding of the nature of the Trinity, one cannot even be saved. Augustine (the well respected and influential philosopher and theologian who became bishop of the North African City of Hippo Regius) agreed a proper understanding of the Trinity was critical to understanding Christianity and grasping the power and Salvation of God:
“And I would make this pious and safe agreement, in the presence of our Lord God, with all who read my writings, as well in all other cases as, above all, in the case of those which inquire into the unity of the Trinity, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; because in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.”(Augustine, On the Trinity 1:3:5)
Why is a proper understanding of the Trinity so important? Because all deviations from historical Trinitarianism have compromised the eternal, divine nature of Jesus. It’s that simple. Over the course of history, several groups have mischaracterized the Trinity and, therefore, mischaracterized the true nature of Jesus. The Early Church Councils corrected the errors of Adoptionism (2nd Century), Docetism (2nd Century), Monarchianism (2nd and 3rd Century), Sabellianism (3rd Century), Arianism (4th Century), and Socinianism (16th and 17th Century). In addition to these historic mischaracterizations of the triune nature of God, there are several current mischaracterizations, including the polytheism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the denial of the Trinity present in many Unitarian groups, including the Christadelphians.
Christianity emphatically claims that God is TRIUNE in nature. Not polytheistic, but triune. It’s not about three gods (1+1+1=3); it’s about three distinct persons within the Godhead (1x1x1=1). Once someone moves from this description of God (one in substance but three in person, distinct but undivided), he or she has simply moved away from Orthodox Christianity. This belief may find a home in some other worldview, but is no longer a reflection of the Christian Worldview.
Is The Triune Nature of God Reflected In His Creation?
The concept of the Trinity is incredibly difficult to grasp. In large part, it is completely mysterious and impossible for us to understand or communicate thoroughly. But would you really expect anything less? Would you really think God could be so easily grasped or described? Is it reasonable to expect limited creatures such as humans to be able to completely understand and render the nature of an incredibly vast and powerful Being? Perhaps this is why the triune nature of God is difficult to understand and a challenge to communicate to others. Many metaphors have been attempted over the years, but most are simply a poor reflection of the truth of God’s nature.
But there is some evidence for the triune nature of God in the world around us. If we look at the nature of our universe and our own bodies, we do see the fingerprints of a triune God. And that really should come as no surprise to us, given the fact God is the creator of everything, and His creation reflects His Nature:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
If God’s creation reflects His nature, we might expect to see this in the nature of the universe and the nature of human beings:
The Triune Nature of the Universe
Science tells us the universe in which we live is finite and had a single point of origin. Science continues to confirm the fact there was a point of Cosmological Singularity (often called the “Big Bang”). Scientists describe this event as the beginning of all space, time and matter. Science continues to divide and describe the physical universe in this triune manner. Is this simply evidence of the triune nature of its Creator? It’s interesting to note that each of these three properties of the universe are also triune within their own natures:
Dimensions in space are typically measured in degrees of height, width and depth (spacially three dimensional)
Time is typically understood as it relates to the past, present or the future (temporally three dimensional)
Matter is typically measured and divided into categories of solid, liquid and gas (categorically three dimensional)
The Triune Nature of Human Beings
In addition to God’s creation of space, time and manner, we need look no further than our own lives to see the nature of the Triune God evident within us. Each of us is comprised of a body, spirit and soul:
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Even though the concept of the Trinity is difficult to grasp in relationship to the Divine Nature of God, it appears to be clearly evident in the nature of God’s creation.
All worldviews have distinctive beliefs characterizing and distinguishing them from other ways of viewing the world. Christianity is no different. When it comes to the nature of God, trinitarianism is a Christian distinctive. It has been affirmed by believers over the centuries, not as a random construct, but as a true reflection of the Biblical teaching. The best and most reasonable way to interpret what the Bible teaches about the nature of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is to conclude that God is one in essence and three in persons. As mysterious as this may be, it is the claim of Scripture. As exclusive as this claim may seem, it is the defining and distinctive teaching of the Bible. To reject the Trinity is to reject the clear teaching of the Scriptures. To deny the triune nature of God is to deny the claim of Christianity and to redefine oneself as something other than Christian.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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