What Are the Three Parts of the Trinity?

Contributing Writer
What Are the Three Parts of the Trinity?

The doctrine of the Trinity is a distinctive core belief of Christianity. Yet many Christians do not understand it very well, and non-Christians frequently mischaracterize it as a form of polytheism. Much has been written and could be written about the Trinity. But this article will focus briefly on the activity of each person within the Trinity.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity has a long history of development beyond the scope of this article. Its final form was produced in response to a controversy that threatened to engulf the church. Just what is the relationship between the Father and the Son? The doctrine of the Trinity holds that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in essence. But within the one God, there are three distinct persons. These three persons are fully integrated into one being. Yet they each have their own distinct personalities and roles that they carry out within the one God.

Before discussing the individual members, it is essential to stress the unity of the Trinity. The three persons are one being. They always function in harmony together, with one will and one purpose. They are not three individual entities that cooperate well together. They are only a single entity. And they have always been one being with three persons. That is outside of our human experience, which makes trying to grasp the triune nature of God so difficult.

It is challenging to try and identify what each person within the Trinity does. Scripture talks about what each of them does, but there is quite a bit of overlap. It is not uncommon to find two or more of them doing the same thing. And at other times, it is hard to know which person of the Trinity is at the forefront of some activities. That is probably to be expected, because whatever one of them does, they are all involved.

The Father

While the three members of the Trinity are one being, there are functional differences between the three persons. Jesus, as the Son, expressed that his will was subservient to the will of the Father (Matt. 26:39). In John 14:28, Jesus said that the Father was greater than he was. And in Matthew 24:36, Jesus expressed that only the Father knew the time of his return. It might be argued that this submission was only operative while Jesus was on earth. But this submission seems to have preceded Jesus’ incarnation.

In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul said that “there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” This verse, dealing with creation, refers to a time prior to the incarnation of Jesus. He expresses that all things came from the Father. And they came through the Son. The Son was the agent of creation, but the Father was the source.

The Father is frequently described as sitting on his heavenly throne, with the Son at his right hand (Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:33; Rom. 8:34; and others). The Father is pictured as the ultimate sovereign. And the Son, at his right hand, is in the place of honor. It is always the Father who is identified as sovereign. The other persons of the Trinity are pictured as carrying out his direction.

The Son

Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. In the New Testament, he is proclaimed and identified as Lord. This is the Greek word kyrios, which the Septuagint used to translate YHWH, the name of God given to Moses at Sinai. There is little question that the New Testament writers understood Jesus to be God, YHWH of the Old Testament. Yet, as 1 Corinthians 8:6, quoted above, points out, he is distinct from God the Father.

John 3:16 is typically used to express God’s love for the world. But it also tells us something about the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father sent the Son on a mission – to be the savior of the world. John 14:24 also expresses the idea of the Father sending the Son. I do not think this was a unilateral decision though, with the Father ordering and the Son obeying. Instead, it was a choice they made together. And each of them, including the Holy Spirit, played their part in creation and salvation accordingly.

It is often thought that Jesus was the physical manifestation of God in the Old Testament. But there is no doubt that in the New Testament, Jesus is God incarnate. John 1:1-3, 14 identifies the Word, Jesus, as being with God, as being God, and becoming flesh. In Colossians 1:19, Paul says that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus].” In Philippians 2:6-8, he identifies Jesus as being in nature God and taking on the nature of humanity. And in Hebrews 2:17, we are told that Jesus became fully human in every way. Jesus was not just wrapped in humanity, He fully became one of us, while at the same time remaining fully God. A great mystery.

The Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system, especially the Day of Atonement, pointed ahead to Jesus. When Jesus came, it was as a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20). And he offered for one time a sacrifice that can take away our sin (Heb. 7:27). Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And, in doing so, he has brought all who trust in him into the family of God. I believe this was what all of history had been pointing toward – not just a restoration from Adam’s fall, but a new humanity, created in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. As mentioned above, he was also sent from the Father once the work of Jesus was done. Jesus’ work was primarily centered around opening the way to salvation for us. The work of the Holy Spirit is largely behind the scenes and can be divided into two major areas.

The first area is concerned with the world at large. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin and judgment to the world (John 16:7-11). It is also the role of the Holy Spirit to enable our fallen natures to be able to respond to God’s offer of grace and salvation. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever accept the work of Jesus on the cross. In John 6:44, 65, Jesus expressed that no one could come to him without the drawing of the Father. And this drawing occurs through his Spirit at work within individuals.

The second way the Holy Spirit works is within the believer’s life. The Holy Spirit assures us of salvation (Eph. 1:14). He serves as our primary interpreter of the Scripture (John 14:26). And he works in our lives to produce his fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). He is our guide to life as believers, and without him, we are lost (Rom. 8:1-17). The Holy Spirit enables us to know and talk with God (Rom. 8:26-27). The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is essential for the life we are called to live.

The Trinity Revisited

The nature and work of the triune God of the Bible is a great mystery, one that we can only dimly comprehend. The Scripture tells us that there is only one God, and that he is in three persons. Each of these three performs complementary roles in our salvation. An illustration may help in describing the work of the three persons of the Trinity. But, like any illustration of the Trinity, it only serves as an aid in understanding, not a comprehensive description.

Picture, if you will, the Trinity as a human body made up of many parts. In this body, the Father is the head and the heart. As the head, the Father has a plan and purpose for his creation that he is working out. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God has “predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” And as the heart, it is Father’s love for us that led him to send the Son to be our savior (John 3:16).

In this illustration of a body, Jesus is the arms and hands. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus expressed his longing to gather the Jews together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Jesus reached out to a lost and dying world. Seeking to bring us into his family. And Jesus reached out his arms and hands to be nailed to the cross, making atonement for all of humanity.

Finally in our illustration, the Holy Spirit serves as the legs and feet. It is the Holy Spirit who walks with us on our journey of faith. He is our comforter, teacher, and guide. Without his leading and enabling, our journey would end in failure.

Three members of one body. Distinct, and yet one. The Father sends. He sends the Son to be our savior. And he sends the Spirit to be our guide. But they are all one God.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Ed Jarrett headshotEd Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.