“God is love” (1 John 4:8). Those three words could hardly be more bouncy. They seem lively, lovely, and as warming as a crackling fire. But “God is Trinity”? No, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy. All quite understandable, but Christians must see the reality behind what can be off-putting language. Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.
To dive into the Trinity is a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good, to have your heart won and your self refreshed. For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God. If the Trinity were something we could shave off of God, we would not be relieving Him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing Him of precisely what is so delightful about Him. For God is triune, and it is as triune that He is so good and desirable.
I want to show you how.
BEGINNING WITH JESUS
The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God Himself, and every aspect of the gospel is only Christian insofar as it is the expression and action of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus; I could believe in His bodily resurrection; I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe that God is triune, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. Let’s see that in Scripture.
John wrote his gospel, he tells us, so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). That would be an admirable mission statement for any evangelist: to see someone come to genuine Christian faith. But even that most basic call to believe in the Son of God is an invitation to Trinitarian faith. Jesus is described as the Son of God. God is His Father. And He is the Christ, the One anointed with the Spirit. When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is the triune God who you get.
The name “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is a window into the eternal, essential life of our God. In John 17:24, Jesus prays, “Father . . . you loved me before the foundation of the world.” And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before He ever created, before He ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was the Father loving His Son in His Holy Spirit.
The Father loves His Son in a very particular way, something we can see if we look at the baptism of Jesus:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16–17)
Here, the Father declares His love for His Son and His pleasure in His Son, and He does so as the Spirit rests on Jesus. For the way the Father makes known His love is precisely through giving His Spirit. In Romans 5:5, for instance, Paul writes of how God pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is, then, through giving Him the Spirit that the Father declares His love for the Son.
In other words, to talk about “Trinity” is only a way of speaking about the God who is revealed in Jesus, the God we meet in the gospel. The Trinity is not the product of abstract speculation, for when you proclaim Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father, you proclaim the triune God.
ENJOYING WHAT IS THE SON’S
Why did the Father send the Son to us? Part of the answer is our fallenness and sin. Part of the answer is that God loved the world, even in our rebellion (see John 3:16). That is stunning enough, but later on in John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of an even more primal and potent reason. Praying to His Father, Jesus says:
O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (17:25–26)
That is, the Father sent His Son to make Himself known—meaning not that He wanted simply to download some information about Himself, but that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in Him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has. Here, then, is a salvation no single-person God could offer even if He wanted to: the Father so delights in His eternal love for the Son that He desires to share it with all who will believe. Ultimately, the Father sent the Son because the Father so loved the Son and wanted to share that love and fellowship1 by the Holy Spirit. The Father’s love for the world is the overflow of His almighty love for His Son.
The Father, then, is not about sprinkling blessings from afar, and His salvation is not about being kept at a distance. We are not merely pitied and forgiven by our Creator. Instead, He pours all His blessings out on His Son and then sends Him that we might share in His glorious fullness. The Father so loves us that He desires to catch us up into the loving fellowship that He enjoys with the Son in the Spirit. And that means we can know God as He truly is: as Father. In fact, we can know the Father as our own Father.
John 1:18 describes God the Son as being eternally in the bosom or lap of the Father. One would never dare imagine it, but Jesus declares that His desire is that believers might be with Him there (17:24). That, indeed, is why the Father sent Him: that we who have rejected Him might be brought back—and brought back not merely as creatures but as children, to enjoy the abounding love the Son has always known.
DELIGHTING IN GOD
J. I. Packer once wrote:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
Indeed, when a person deliberately and confidently calls the Almighty “Father,” it shows he has grasped something beautiful and fundamental about who God is and to what he has been saved. And how that wins our hearts back to Him! For the fact that God the Father is happy and even delights to share His love for His Son and thus be known as our Father reveals just how unfathomably gracious and kind He is.
Knowing God as our Father not only wonderfully gladdens our view of Him, but it gives the deepest comfort and joy. The honor of it is stupefying. To be the child of some rich king would be nice; to be the beloved of the Emperor of the universe is beyond words. Clearly, the salvation of this God is better even than forgiveness, and certainly more secure. Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as His children, never to send us away. He does not offer some kind of “he loves me, he loves me not” relationship whereby I have to try to keep myself in His favor by behaving impeccably. No, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Jesus gives us security to enjoy God’s love forever.
What is your Christian life like? What is the shape of your faith? In the end, it will all depend on what you think God is like. Who God is drives everything.
Which God will you have? Which God will you proclaim? Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father. Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know God as our loving Father. But as Martin Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is our Father, and “we may look into His fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us. That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow.”
- In Trinitarian theology, fellowship is the eternal, loving relationship that the three persons of the Trinity have with one another. From all eternity, each person of the Trinity has loved and has been loved by the other persons. In our redemption, by grace alone, we share in this fellowship. We are adopted by God the Father, receiving the same love He has had eternally for God the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit (John 17:20–26). ↩︎