This series, “Bible Cliffnotes: An Easy Practical Guide to Biblical Doctrine,” was conceived several years back when I saw people struggling with understanding the various biblical doctrines vital to the Christian faith.
“Bible Cliffnotes” does not represent complete treatises on these various doctrines; I will leave that to those theologians and professors more qualified than myself. Further, each of these doctrines can be found in greater detail in books on Christian Theology, Bible Encyclopedias, and specific books dealing these each of these topics.
Instead these booklets are designed to give a working knowledge of these various doctrines in a way and method where both Christians and those seeking after the truth can readily understand and begin to apply to their lives.
Throughout my years as a pastor I have read, studied, and presented hundreds of sermons and teachings. Much of the material in this booklet isn’t new but is based on what I have learned over 40 years of being seminary trained, a senior pastor and teacher, and living as a Christian.
The material in this booklet can be used by anyone without worry of any infringement. My prayer is that this material can be used to help Christians, churches, and those who are seeking to move closer to all that God has called for them to be.
Through many of the social media sites there’s a lot being said about the nature and character of God.
One attempt used popular merchandise to describe God.
This is just one of the many clever ways people try to describe God. And while they are nice and cute, they do little to help our understanding of God, especially concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.
Out of all the doctrines, the Trinity has caused the most confusion. The doctrine says that God is one and yet eternally exists in three persons.
This has had people as far back as the first century scratching their heads being unable to, or not wanting to, fathom its reality, thus dismissing Christianity as a whole.
Others view the teaching of the Trinity as rationally impossible going so far as questioning Jesus’s sanity saying He was schizophrenic when He prayed to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Unfortunately, they don’t get it.
The Trinity is neither irrational nor impossible. It may be beyond the reach and scope of our complete understanding, but then how can finite human beings with limited brain capacity understand an infinite God with unlimited capability.
Even the Lord tells us about our shortcomings in this area.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Understanding God’s nature goes beyond our ability to understand, and that’s because we know of no other being like God. Therefore it is called a mystery, because a mystery is something that is bigger than our minds can take in.
However, just because it is a mystery shouldn’t stop us from thinking and exploring its possibility. The mystery of the Trinity invites us to come and study and partake of the biblical revelation found within God’s word, the Bible.
This is exactly what a group of Christians in the first century did. They were called Bereans because they lived in the city of Berea in the area of northern Greece.
When Paul brought the gospel message to them it says they searched it out to see if what Paul taught was in accordance to what the Bible, or at that time, the Holy Scriptures said.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:10-11 New International Version, or NIV).
The Bereans believed that if God’s word didn’t say it then neither they nor anyone else should be teaching it.
However, before we dig into this doctrine of the Trinity to see if it is biblical or a religious fantasy, it may be good to look at its importance.
The concept of the Triune God, or Trinity, is one of the foundational teachings of Christianity and is considered bedrock of the Christian faith, because it shows the person and deity of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully human.
Why is it important?
First, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then a person’s salvation is at stake. If Jesus were just a human being, then like the rest of us He would have inherited the sin nature of Adam.
The Bible says that there is no human being who has ever been without sin.
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Further, if Jesus isn’t fully God, if Jesus is a created being, then He could never have offered Himself as that perfect sinless sacrifice John the Baptist declares.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)
If Jesus isn’t fully God and didn’t die as that perfect sinless sacrifice for all humanity, then all of us would still be in our sins, and thus forever separated from God.
Second, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then salvation wouldn’t be by faith; rather it would be by works, which would make Jesus a liar when He used God’s holy name saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
Jesus also said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
If Jesus isn’t God as He said, then how can we trust Him when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
It is with this truth that Jesus is God that the Apostle Paul said that our salvation is a matter of faith, not works.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Finally, if the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t believed, then Christianity is a farce, and our praying and worshipping Him does absolutely no good.
This was Paul’s conclusion.
“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. … And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17)
Hopefully, we see why it is so important to get this doctrine straight.
Nowhere in the Bible is the word “Trinity” found, but that shouldn’t rule out its teaching or reality
As an example, the word “theocracy” isn’t found in the Bible either. Theocracy means “rule of God.” It is used to describe Israel’s form of government, that is, Israel was a nation ruled by God.
Yet even though the word “theocracy” isn’t found in the Bible, the Bible clearly teaches it.
When the people asked Gideon to rule over them after His resounding victory over the Midianites, Gideon said, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23).
The same can be said about the word, “Trinity.” But there is even more evidence for the Trinity than there is for theocracy.
In the New Testament there is a comparable term used, “Theotetos,” which is the word for “Godhead.”
“For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
The word, “Trinity,” is derived from the Latin word, “Trinitas,” which means the number three. It has come to stand for “three in the unity of one,” or “Tri-Unity.” The word is used to express the unity of God existing in three distinct persons, also known as the Godhead; three co-eternal, co-equal persons, each having the same substance, but with a distinct existence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In his book, “Systematic Theology,” Wayne Grudem defined the Trinity.
“God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is where we worship One God manifested in three distinct Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are each equally God in their being, power, holiness, and eternality. God is one in essence and three in persons.
To be clear, the Trinity is not three gods in one, but one God manifested in three persons
While this may sound confusing and more like a contradiction, what’s important to understand is that we’re not saying God is three persons and only one person at the same time; rather the Trinity says that there are three persons in one nature, which is God, and while this may go beyond our reason, it doesn’t go against reason.
The Oneness of Unity
The Bible makes it clear there is only one God.
We see the oneness of God in His own statements.
“That you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me” (Isaiah 43:10).
“Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me” (Isaiah 45:21).
This oneness is also seen in in the very heart of the Jewish faith.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Yet, within this declaration of God’s oneness we see the plurality of the one God.
First it is seen in the Hebrew word used for “one.” It is the Hebrew word, “echad.”
There are two words in the Hebrew language for the word “one.” They are “echad,” and “yahid.”
“Yahid” means absolute oneness or singleness, leaving no room for any meaning other than one and one alone. But “echad” brings with it the idea of many that make up one, or a composite unity.
There are several instances seen within the Bible.
The first is God’s plan for marriages where the husband and wife will be one, “echad,” flesh (Genesis 2:24). Here are two distinct individuals comprising a unity of one in marriage.
There is also the time when the spies came out of the land of Canaan with one, “echad,” cluster of grapes, or many grapes that make up the one cluster (Numbers 13:23).
The creation account is another place where a composite unity is found when it says that one day is made up of two distinct parts, evening and morning.
“God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first (echad) day” (Genesis 1:5).
Next, this plurality in oneness is seen in the plural language used for God, like when the Lord recounts His creation of humanity.
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a).
Plural language is being used, but whom is God speaking to? God is not speaking to or getting advice from the angels or any other created being, because there is no other created being that has been made in the image and likeness of God.
In another example we see the Lord addressing Himself in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Lord, who was upon the earth, rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord who was up in heaven. Two individuals who are both described as “Lord.”
“Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24).
Here, and in our passage of God’s creation of humanity, God is speaking amongst Himself in unity, which is the whole idea behind the description of Godhead. But how can we be sure that the one true God exists in the three personages: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
The Godhead being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is brought out in the Apostle John’s first letter.
“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one” (1 John 5:7).
The designation, “the Word,” is a name given to Jesus by the Apostle John. In John’s gospel it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
We know this references Jesus because of what John goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a).
The Godhead being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is also seen in the Great Commission given by Jesus.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Now, what many people miss when giving this as a proof text of the Trinity, or one God in three persons, is that Jesus didn’t say to baptize in the “names of,” or the plural, which would mean that they are each separate and distinct and not one. Instead Jesus said, “In the name of,” or the singular. Therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.
The Apostle Peter also gives this formula for the Godhead. In his greeting to the church, Peter presents the most condensed outline of the salvation process by identifying the Trinity in the work of our salvation.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:1-2).
But this idea of Trinity, God existing in three person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not a New Testament concept only; it is also seen through what the prophet Isaiah said in the Old Testament where the Father sends the Messiah and the Holy Spirit.
“Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together” (Isaiah 48:12-13).
We clearly see that this is the Lord God speaking by His reference of the creation account where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Further the Lord wants to make sure we know this isn’t the prophet Isaiah or anyone else speaking as He goes on to say, “I, even I, have spoken” (Isaiah 48:15a).
And then comes this statement made by the Messiah revealing the Trinity, that is, one God manifested in three Persons.
“Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me” (Isaiah 48:16).
In the Hebrew language this last sentence literally says, “The Lord God has sent Me and His Spirit.”
What is even more mind boggling about this passage, which is something that has confounded the skeptics of the Trinity doctrine, is that the Lord who is speaking, the One who is identified as the First and the Last, the Creator of heaven and earth, is the Messiah, Jesus, whom the Lord God sends along with the Holy Spirit.
Now that we’ve established the concept or idea of the Trinity, that is God in three persons, can we say without hesitation that each one is God?
There are complete chapters, not to mention books, written on this topic, so this will only be a brief overview with proof text from the Bible.
a. The Father
In the prayer Jesus taught the disciple, known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus begins by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).
The word, “hallowed,” in the Greek language means to make holy, and only God is holy. Not only is “holy” God’s name, but it is also His dwelling place.
“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place’” (Isaiah 57:15a).
Isaiah goes on to talk about God as our Father who is both Lord and Redeemer.
“You, O Lord, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name” (Isaiah 63:16).
In His second greeting to the Corinthian church, Paul identifies not only the Father as God, but also Jesus as Lord.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Generally there is little if any controversy surrounding the Father as God.
b. Jesus Christ
Concerning the coming Messiah the Bible says that He will be none other than the Lord God Himself.
In describing the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah uses names to describe Him that are given exclusively to God.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
As a sign to the people, Isaiah said that the Messiah would be called, “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matthew 1:23).
Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord gives the following description and name to the Messiah, and the name that He has been given has never been given to another, only to the Lord God Himself.
“In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6).
The name, “The Lord our Righteousness,” in the Hebrew is, “Jehovah Tsidkenu.” Not only does the Lord call the coming Messiah by His holy name, “Jehovah,” which He said He would never give to anyone else (Isaiah 42:8), but He also gives Him the name and title of righteousness, and only the Lord is righteous.
Both Psalm 14:3 and Romans 3:10 confirms that no human being can be righteous, which would then indicate that the Messiah is God.
In his gospel, John brings out the deity of Jesus, whom he identifies as the “Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).
The reason we know this speaks of Jesus is what John goes on to say in that the Word was made into a person of flesh and blood.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Further, Jesus being the begotten Son of God, the Lord said, “You are my son; today I have become your father” (Psalm 2:7 NIV).
Finally, so there could be no mistake, Jesus declares Himself to be God by calling Himself by God’s holy name.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
This was the very name God gave when Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me.”
The Lord replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” … “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).
c. The Holy Spirit
There are two verses when it comes to declaring the Holy Spirit as being fully God.
The first is when Peter assesses the actions of two church members, Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about a piece of property they sold and declared they had given the whole amount to the church.
“Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).
The second are two verses about our bodies being God’s holy temple, and then it says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)
We also see the three main attributes of God being attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Omnipresent: everywhere present
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7)
David then lists heaven, hell, the morning sky and the depths of the sea, and that the Holy Spirit is present everywhere (Psalm 139:8-9).
Omnipotence: all powerful
“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
Omniscience: all knowing
“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. … no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
And finally the Holy Spirit is a person, not some impersonal force.
This is seen in the many aspects of a person’s personality that the Bible has attributed to the Holy Spirit, like His ability to teach (John 14:26), He convicts sin (John 16:7), He is grieved and has feelings (Ephesians 4:30), He also has an intellect (1 Corinthians 2:10-12), and a will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
There have been many ways people have tried to explain the Trinity through analogies so that others can grasp hold of this doctrine. While each falls short in one way or another, they each add to our understanding and are helpful.
An egg has three parts: shell, whites, and yoke, yet it still remains an egg. The problem is that when taken separately, the shell is not the egg, neither is the whites or yoke.
Water, or H20 exists in three forms: liquid, solid, and gas, while retaining the same properties. The problem is that they do not exist simultaneously.
1 x 1 x 1 = 1
A Human Being
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Since we’ve been made in God’s image and likeness, which we have seen as being the Trinity, one God in three persons, it would only make sense that as a human being we are made up of three parts; body, soul, and spirit.
The Economy of the Trinity
The Economy of the Trinity is the ordering of activities within the Godhead. While the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in nature and attributes, they do differ in their function.
To illustrate let’s look at two of God’s major functions as it regards humanity.
Father: The Father spoke the creative words to bring the universe into existence.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
Jesus Christ: In John’s gospel we see Jesus as the “Word,” and the one that took the Father’s words of creation and created.
“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).
Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit was also active in both sustaining and manifesting God’s presence within creation.
“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).
To summarize the economy of the Trinity as it involves creation, it was the Father who spoke the words of creation. Jesus was then the one who created what the Father spoke. And the Holy Spirit then maintains what the Father spoke, and Jesus created.
Father: The Father planned our redemption and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish it.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Jesus Christ: Jesus obeyed and accomplished the Father’s plan of redemption.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit was sent by both the Father and the Son to maintain, bring to completion, and forever seal what the Father planned and what Jesus accomplish upon the cross.
“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
To summarize, it was God the Father who planned and sent His Son, Jesus, to accomplish our salvation. Jesus then came and accomplished what the Father had planned through His death and resurrection. And then it was the Holy Spirit who sealed the deal.
And so, while the Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit are equally God, and there is only one God, each has a specific function within the Godhead.
In the end, when it comes to belief in the Trinity it all boils down to a matter of faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Although we cannot see God visibly, by faith and through God’s word we can know who He is. Faith believes God is just as His word describes Him as being. It is the conviction of His reality, perceiving as real fact what is not revealed through our natural senses. We cannot hold or see God, but we know the reality of His presence.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
From our study what we can conclude, and what we must by faith believe, is that God is one, and that God is a Trinity, that is, He exists as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that each one is equally God.
One God in three persons!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Spiritual Transformation Series
Spiritual transformation is probably the most important process undertaken by a Christian. The goal is to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It’s about actively engaging with God and His Word, the Bible, following its commands in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us not to be conformed to or by any worldly standards, but rather we are to be transformed, that is, a change that happens within through the renewing of our minds and hearts (Romans 12:2), because as a person thinks in their hearts, that is who they will become (Proverbs 23:7).
The Apostle Peter says it’s all about growing in both the grace and knowledge of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Pastor Dennis Lee is writing a series of books and pamphlets dealing with discipleship and doctrine to help the reader grow, not only in their knowledge of God, but also in how to apply biblical reality to everyday life.
Please visit https://spiritualtransformationseries.com
Copyright © 2019 by Dennis Lee
Bible Cliffnotes: An Easy Practical Guide to Biblical Doctrine
by Dennis Lee
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved solely by the author. The author guarantees all contents are original and do not infringe upon the legal rights of any other person or work. No part of this book my be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author. The views expressed in this book are not necessarily those of the publisher.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scriptures quotations are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.