Since the birth of the Church nearly 2000 years ago, Christians have struggled to understand the nature of God. Describing God is a daunting task, and it has been the focus of much theological debate and study. At the forefront has been one of the most misunderstood doctrines in Christian theology—the doctrine of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is one in essence while existing as three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is strictly monotheistic, as it maintains that there is one and only one God. Yet it deals with the biblical revelation that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are individual persons.
While central to the Christian faith, this doctrine has also left many in confusion. It can be a difficult concept to grasp. But from a Christian perspective, there are several reasons why it is important to understand the doctrine of the Trinity.
1. Understanding the Trinity helps you better understand the nature of God. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals a God who lives within a divine community. These three persons, while individuals, exist with one essence. As the Nicene Creed declared, they are “Homoousios”, or “of one substance.” This means the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each eternal, are each omnipotent, and are each divine.
2. Understanding the Trinity allows you to reconcile a biblical paradox. At first glance, it seems contradictory to claim that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and there is only one God. Yet that seems to be what the Bible teaches. The doctrine of the Trinity resolves this conflict and shows how these apparently contradictory statements can coexist.
3. Understanding the Trinity shows how the three persons of the Trinity interrelate. It is a common view that the Father is superior to the Son, and the Son is superior to the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity opposes this view. Since all three members are divine and of one essence, they are coequal. While each may play a unique role within the Trinity and perform certain functions, no one member is more important than the others.
4. Understanding the Trinity helps you understand your own desire for community. Since Christianity teaches that God created you in his image, understanding him helps you understand yourself better. When you realize that God experiences community within the Trinity, you can appreciate why you also crave community with others. Even self-proclaimed “loners” desire companionship from time to time. As the English poet John Donne wrote in 1624, “no man is an island.”
5. Understanding the Trinity explains the Christian view of how God works in your life. The Father sent the Son to be born into Creation, the Son died and rose again for your redemption, and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to work in your life to convict, guide, empower, and transform you. According to Christian belief, all three members of the Trinity are personally involved in your salvation.
6. Understanding the Trinity helps you distinguish Christian beliefs from those of other religions or quasi-Christian sects. Going back to the early days of Christianity and the early Church councils, the doctrine of the Trinity has been a unifying belief of Christians. Through the centuries, Christianity has maintained a strong conviction that God is triune. Opposing beliefs have been considered by the preponderance of Christians to be heretical doctrines. While there are various doctrines which are debated among different Christian groups, the doctrine of the Trinity is considered to be nonnegotiable.
The word “Trinity” itself was not used in reference to God until about AD 200. But belief in the Triune God goes all the way back to the time of Jesus and his original followers. This doctrine has been confused, denied and misrepresented throughout the years. But for the Christian, it stands as an essential description of the revealed nature of God.