Basics of the Reformed Faith – The Holy Trinity
It is common to hear people claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God. Not true. Unlike those who worship Allah, or those Jews who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Christians worship the true and living God, who reveals himself in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has been said that the Holy Trinity is Christianity’s most distinctive doctrine. Although in many ways the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, we believe this doctrine because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are the one true God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult topic to discuss, because it stretches the limits of human language and logic. Despite the difficulties this doctrine presents to us, we must believe and confess that God is triune, because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word. The three persons of the Godhead are revealed as equal in divinity, glory, and majesty. Each of the three persons are expressly called “God” in the New Testament. And to each of them is assigned the same divine attributes, as well as the same glory and majesty which are ascribed to the other persons of the Trinity.
The Scriptures are absolutely clear that there is only one God. In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses declares “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In Isaiah 44:6, we read “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” This same assertion is found throughout the New Testament, even though we learn of three distinct persons in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Paul writes, “there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many `gods’ and many `lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Elsewhere James writes, “you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The Scriptures are crystal clear, there is but one God.
Yet the Bible plainly teaches that although there is one God, he is revealed in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead are mentioned together throughout the New Testament. When Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” even as the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by baptizing them in the name (singular) of three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
In his benediction in his second Corinthian letter, Paul blesses his readers in the names of the Triune God (2 Corinthians 13:14). “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In John 14:26, Jesus informs the disciples that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.” As God in human flesh (cf. John 1:14), Jesus mentions both the Holy Spirit and the Father as equals.
Another line of evidence for the Trinity in the Bible is that the same divine attributes, glory, and majesty are assigned to each of the three persons of the Godhead. The Scriptures teach that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are eternal. According to Isaiah, God says, “I am the first and the last,” (Isaiah 44:6) and Paul adds that God is “eternal,” (Romans 16:26) that is, without beginning or end. John records the Son saying, “I am the first and the last,” (Revelation 22:13) and Micah notes that his “coming and going are from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). In Hebrews we read of the Holy Spirit as “the eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14). Father, Son and Holy are eternal, without beginning or end.
The Scriptures also speak of the fact that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, created all things. Paul states, “God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9), while the Psalmist declares “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100). Yet, in John's gospel we read of the Son, “all things were made through [Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). In Colossians 1:15-17, Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In Job, we read of the Holy Spirit, for “the Spirit of the LORD has made me.” In Genesis 1:1 we read that at creation “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are said to have created all things. What we can say of the Father, we can say of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As we see from this brief summary of the biblical evidence, this is why we must affirm that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons–Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are equal in glory, majesty and power. This is how God reveals himself in his word.