And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18–20)
How wonderful are the treasures of the Trinity! Jesus incorporated the importance of this teaching in one of His last commands before His ascension. For as He commanded, the gospel message must be preached and then all who truly repent and receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour are to be baptized in the Trinitarian name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Mat. 28:19). By the rite of baptism, believers are to understand that they have died to the old life of sin (Rom. 6:1-4) and are pledging themselves to obey everything contained in Holy Scripture (“teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”). The power to fulfill this commission is the presence of Jesus Himself (“Lo, I am with you alway…”).
The Priority of Trinitarian Teaching
Christian baptism and Christian teaching must always be Trinitarian, for the concept of the Trinity is at the very heart of the Great Commission. All Christians must know from the very beginning that the Christian God is one, existing in three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is not three Gods, but one Triune God. This teaching is different from the simple monotheism of Islam; it is trinitarian monotheism. The early church took the Great Commission of Jesus seriously and began Trinitarian teaching with the baptism of each new convert.
This is why the Christian study of God has often been organized into three divisions—the study of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Christian theology came into being to catechize new converts and to explain Christian baptism.
THE TRINITY BEFORE CREATION
What was the Triune God doing before creation? What was God like before He decided to create the material universe? The Bible reveals at least two fundamental truths about God’s essential nature: He is holy (Lev. 11:44) and He is love (1 John 4:8). The Triune God was, is, and always shall be characterized by holiness and love, for these are expressions of the way the Triune God exists and functions.
1. The Perichoretic Unity of the Trinity God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always existed in a state of mutual, self-giving, and holy love. They have always loved one another.
Further, the concept of “holy” excludes the idea of “self-centeredness.” The early church spoke of this relationship as a “perichoretic unity,” a relationship of mutual love, mutual self giving, mutual deference, mutual indwelling, and mutual glorifying. This means that the Godhead was totally happy, completely contented, needing nothing to enhance its satisfaction or its glory. Hence, God did not choose to create mankind out of personal loneliness, or because of some other felt need. The presence of the three Persons of the Godhead excludes this possibility.
The Godhead is totally happy, completely contented, needing nothing to enhance its satisfaction or its glory.
2. God was “Father” before He became “Creator.” He eternally was the Father to God the Son, and God the Son was eternally the Son to God the Father. The concepts of “Father” and “Son” speak of a loving, tender, personal relationship.
- As Father, God is the personification of everything good that can exist in the concept of “fatherhood.” As a loving Father, God is wise, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exo. 34:6).
- As a wise, loving Father, He is devoid of arbitrariness or capriciousness. Thus, God was a “Father” before He became the sovereign ruler over all His creation. The implications of this truth comprise one of the great treasures of the Trinity.
- As a Father, it would be inconsistent with His loving and compassionate character to predestinate some people to hell and “elect” others to eternal life.
A loving Father would never arbitrarily inflict harm upon any of his creatures. He would, however, administer justice in accordance with His holy nature. But his holy nature is consistently loving, and He has chosen to show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32). John tells us, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”(John 3:16). Peter adds, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Jesus willingly came to earth to become the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Further, the plan of redemption was a Trinitarian action. God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Such wondrous love displays the true colors of our Trinitarian God: God is unalterably oriented toward us in love.
The primary category for understanding God is “established by the relationships within his triune personhood, where his fatherhood existed prior to his sovereignty. First Corinthians 15:24-28 says that Christ will deliver his kingdom back to his Father, from whence it came. Note that God is described in this consummately eschatological passage as Father, not a King. Note also that Romans 8:29 describes Christ as the ‘firstborn among a large family,’ not the first in a retinue of servants.”1
THE IMAGE OF THE TRIUNE GOD IN MANKIND
The essence of God is not only holiness and love, but as Triune, God is essentially relational. Therefore, when the Triune God decided to make mankind in His own image, we should understand the image to demand more than one person. And that is exactly what we find. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27).
Adam was not complete without Eve. It took two people in intimate personal relationship to reflect the full image of God. God designed man to be in communion just as He is a being in communion. In other words, we are designed to be in loving fellowship with others because God exists in loving fellowship within the Trinity. Our need for communion and community is a built-in reflection of the image of God.
The Redemptive Significance of Trinitarian Teaching
The significance of the doctrine of the Trinity is not, as some suggest, philosophical, but rather is redemptive. Wonderful treasures of truth are discovered as we seek to understand the interpersonal relationships and workings of our Triune God. For “every way that God has of being God, the totality of God’s self-awareness and expression, is summed up in the Trinity. The Trinity is the fullness of God, the length and breadth and depth of all that God is.”2
Further, since God is Triune, it is as Triune that the privilege of knowing God is accorded to us in Jesus Christ. Redemption is an event in which each of the three Persons of the Godhead participate. We are offered reconciliation with the Father, through the Son (2 Cor. 5:18), nurtured and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18). Our fellowship is with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; Phil. 2:1). God desires that His creatures fully share in His Triune life. This is an important truth to treasure as we seek to deepen a personal relationship with our Triune God.
God desires that His creatures fully share in His Triune life.
WHY DID GOD CREATE HUMANKIND?
Since our Triune God was totally happy, completely contented, needing nothing to enhance His satisfaction or His glory, why did He create us? Isaiah gives us the answer: “I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). It pleased the Lord to create.
Scripture reveals the role of the Trinity in Creation. Each person of the Trinity participated in creation. The Father worked through His Word (Jesus) and His Spirit. Hebrews 1:2 says that God the Father made all things through (dia) His Son Jesus. 1 Corinthians 8:6 says there is “one God, the Father, of (ek) whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by (dia) whom are all things, and we by (dia) him. The Greek preposition dia followed by a genitive means “through.” God the Father made the worlds “through” the agency of God the Son. The Greek preposition ek means “of” or “from” in the sense of origin or source.
This means that creation proceeds from the Father through the Son. Psalm 104:29 says that God sent forth His Spirit and created the earth. Psalm 33:6 says God created the heavens and all the host of them “by the breath of his mouth,” referring to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we may say, God the Father purposes and plans, Jesus Christ is the mediate agent through whom the purposes and plans pass, and the Holy Spirit is the instrumental means of all creation. Biblically, one can say God the Father created, or God the Son created, or God the Holy Spirit created.
God the Father purposes and plans, Jesus Christ is the mediate agent through whom the purposes and plans pass, and the Holy Spirit is the instrumental means of all creation.
The role of the Trinity is revealed throughout Scripture. All three Members of the Triune God were active in the Old and New Testaments. If you read Scripture looking for the activity of the Triune God, you will begin to see many references to the Trinity. Although Augustine’s claim that he found indications of the Trinity on every page of Scripture may be extreme, I am sure that there are many more references to the Trinity than most of us have ever noticed. The more you look for the Trinity in Scripture, the more you discover.
There is no way to overstress the importance of this doctrine. “The doctrine of the Holy Trinity has been called the innermost heart of Christian faith and worship, the central dogma of classical theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God. It belongs to the Gospel of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again and has given us the Holy Spirit who has shed the love of God abroad in our hearts.
The doctrine of the Trinity enshrines the essentially Christian conception of God:
- it constitutes the ultimate evangelical expression of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich,
- of the Love of God who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for it is in that personal sacrifice of the Father to which everything in the Gospel goes back, and
- of the Communion of the Holy Spirit through whom and in whom we are made to participate in the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and are united with one another in the redeemed life of the people of God.
Through Christ and in the Spirit, God has communicated himself to us in such a wonderful way that we may really know him and have communion with him in his inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”3
The self-revelation of God mediated to us through Christ and imparted to us in the Spirit “amounts to the greatest revolution in our knowledge of God. It is precisely when we grasp its truth that we discern the enormous significance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.”4 Truly, we have great treasures in the Trinity.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.
- Dennis Kinlaw, The Mind of Christ, Francis Asbury Press, 1998, p. 26.
- Roderick T. Leupp, Knowing the Name of God, InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 15.
- Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons, T & T Clark, 1996, p. 2. Italics his.
- Ibid., p. 3. Italics his.