The Trinity

The Bible not only describes God as eternally powerful and infinite in all perfections, but it also teaches that God has eternally existed as the Trinity. The One God has always existed as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because the Bible is Trinitarian, the Baptist Faith and Message is Trinitarian: “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.” This confession makes the same point as the following diagram, a common visual conception of the Trinity for hundreds of years:

There is one God who exists eternally as three Persons. Each Person is fully God, and each Person is distinct from the others. The rest of Article II discusses each member of the Trinity in greater detail. This blog post will therefore focus on presenting the biblical evidence for how the Bible refers to each member of the Trinity as God and how the Bible describes the distinct personal attributes of each.

The Father

Scripture affirms the Fatherhood of God from the beginning. God’s creation of Adam and Eve in his image points to his Fatherly relationship to them (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2). Luke explicitly refers to Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Later, God refers to Israel as his “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). God was also father to the Davidic kings (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). God’s Fatherhood is even clearer in the New Testament. Jesus refers to God repeatedly as his Father (Matt 7:21; 10:32–33; 11:27; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19; 20:23; 25:34; 26:29, 39, 42, 53). In the Sermon on the Mount, he reveals that he has come so that his disciples can also call on God as “your Father” (Matt 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11). In fact, as Creator, God is the Father of everyone, in a sense (Acts 17:28–29; Heb 12:9).

As Father, God the Father has the distinct personal attribute of being unbegotten. Jesus especially teaches the Father’s distinction in role from him as the Son in John 5:19-27. The Father is the origin of divine works (v. 19). The Father has life in himself and has granted the Son to have life in himself (vv. 21, 26). The Father has ultimate authority to judge and has given that authority to the Son, as well (vv. 22, 27). John Frame helpfully explains, “That the Father has some sort of primacy is implicit in the name Father in distinction from Son and Spirit. … The Son and Spirit become voluntarily subordinate to the commands of the Father, because that kind of subordination is appropriate to their eternal nature as persons” (Systematic Theology, p. 501).

The Son

The New Testament repeatedly affirms Jesus’ divinity. John affirms it from the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1, 14, 18). He refers to Jesus as the “Word of God” who is eternally coexistent with God and identified with God (v. 1). As the Word, he “tabernacled” among people just as God dwelled in the Tabernacle during Israel’s wilderness wanderings (v. 14). He is the only-begotten God at the Father’s side who reveals the Father (v. 18). When he sees the resurrected Jesus, Thomas exclaims and calls him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Various epistles also refer to Jesus as God. He refers to Jesus as “Christ, who is God over all” (Rom 9:5). He calls Jesus “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Peter likewise calls Jesus “our God and Savior” (2 Pet 1:1). Though the New Testament only directly refers to Jesus as God only a few times, Jesus is called “Lord” scores of times. Since “Lord” is the word used for “God” in the Old Testament, affirmations of Jesus as “Lord” actually affirm Jesus as God.

The Son’s distinct personal attribute is his begotten-ness, something that John hinted at even in John 1:14, 18. Though the ESV translates monogenes here as “only,” the word in fact is better translated “only-begotten,” as in the KJV or NASB (cf. also John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). The word monogenes communicates sonship. The Son is the “begotten” of the Father. But since the Son is God, he is “eternally begotten.” The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created” (translation in Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 491). The only-begotten-ness of Jesus is also called “eternal generation.” “To say that the Son is eternally generated from the Father is to say that something about his eternal nature makes it appropriate for him to be begotten in time,” rather than the Father or Spirit (ibid., p. 494).

The Holy Spirit

A few important New Testament texts explicitly affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has generated much debate, but whatever precisely it is, it points to the deity of the Holy Spirit, since blasphemy is directed toward God.

Acts 5 is perhaps even more telling. When Ananias sold his land and lied about the proceeds, Peter confronted him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Notice Peter’s logic: Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, and he lied to God. The Holy Spirit is God.

Finally, consider Paul’s statements about Christians being the temple in 1 Corinthians. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19). A temple by definition is a dwelling place of God. For Paul to say that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians, who are temples, is for Paul to call the Spirit God. Furthermore, Paul refers to Christians’ bodies as the temple of God and as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God.

The distinct personal attribute of the Holy Spirit is that he proceeds from the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and the Son sends him. John Frame again is helpful: “The Spirit is the member of the Trinity whom the Father and Son send, over and over again, to do their business on earth. Unlike the Son, he is not generated or born into a human body. … So perhaps there is value in defining eternal procession as that quality of the Spirit that makes it appropriate for him to receive these missions from the Father and Son and to proceed as he does into the temporal world” (ibid., 497).

The Unity of the Trinity

In its affirmation of the Trinity, the Baptist Faith and Message concludes by saying that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist “without division of nature, essence, or being.” Jesus taught his disciples that he and the Father were “in” one another (John 14:10-11). He also described his unity with the Spirit to them (John 14:16-18). Paul similarly said, “the Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). “Each of the three persons is ‘in’ the other two, and therefore each exhausts the divine nature” (ibid., 432-433).

This essential unity of the Persons of the Trinity expresses itself in their great works throughout history. All three members of the Trinity were active in creation (Gen 1:1-2; John 1:3). All three were also integral to the redemption of God’s people (Eph 1:3-14). The Father planned salvation (vv. 3-6, 8-10, 12); the Son accomplished salvation (vv. 7, 11, 13a); and the Spirit applies salvation (vv. 13b-14). Peter describes salvation in this way: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet 1:2). Finally, all members of the Trinity mutually glorify one another. Jesus prayed about his and the Father’s glorification of one another (John 17:1, 4-5). He taught his disciples about how he and the Father glorified the Spirit, and vice-versa (John 14:12; 16:7, 13-14).

Some people may complain, “The Trinity’s not a Scriptural term! It’s extrabiblical!” But the above Scriptures show that although the term “Trinity” is not in Scripture, the teaching and concept of the Trinity certainly is. We at Friendship Baptist Church are unapologetically Trinitarian because the Bible teaches that God from eternity past has existed as a Trinity: one God, in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God’s Infinite Perfections

After confessing God’s eternal power and divine nature, the Baptist Faith and Message affirms God’s infinite perfections. By virtue of his deity, God is perfect in every way: ” God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience.” The Baptist Faith and Message not only lists God’s perfections but also teaches how people should respond to God’s perfections.

God’s Perfections

The Baptist Faith and Message first lists holiness as the perfection of God. The New Testament affirms, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that is wonderfully true, but the Bible even more loudly proclaims God’s holiness. The late R. C. Sproul’s comments are most apt:

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1998), p. 26

Sproul is referring to Isa 6:1-3, Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory in the temple. But what exactly does God’s holiness mean? When we say that God is infinite in holiness, what do we mean? Peter Gentry helpfully defines God’s holiness:

God is absolutely holy. Holy means that He is completely devoted and in this particular context, devoted to his justice and righteousness which characterizes his instruction of people of Israel in the Covenant, showing them not only what it means to be devoted to him but also what it means to treat each other in a genuinely human way

Peter J. Gentry, “No One Holy Like the Lord,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 12, no. 1 (2013): 33

The Psalms especially demonstrate the soundness of Gentry’s definition of God’s holiness. The great messianic psalm of lament, Psalm 22, begins with an affirmation of God’s holiness in terms of salvation even in the midst of suffering: “Yet you are holy,” David says to God, which God had demonstrated by delivering and rescuing previous generations of Israel (Ps 22:3-5). Similarly, Psalm 99 says of God, “Holy is he!” (Ps 99:3). The Psalmist then describes God’s holiness as his love for justice and as his faithfulness to answer his people with forgiveness (Ps 99:4-8). God is holy, and he is devoted to work salvation for his people and to judge their wicked enemies.

The next perfection of God in The Baptist Faith and Message is his omnipotence. Certainly God is all-powerful, and his exercise of that power was a major point in the previous blog post.

God’s perfect knowledge is the perfection that gets most attention in this part of Article II, and rightly so. Our faith in the perfection of God’s knowledge distinguishes us as Southern Baptists. God is “all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.” Every piece of that affirmation is vital to our faith as Southern Baptist Christians.

God’s perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future. We believe God’s knowledge is temporally exhaustive because the Bible says so. God commanded Israel through Isaiah,

Remember this, and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,”

Isaiah 46:8-10

According to these verses, one of the ways we know that the God of the Bible is the true and living God is because unlike every other so-called God, this God actually knows “the end from the beginning.” His counsel stands, and he accomplishes all his purpose. This lesson is what Job learned at the end of his great suffering: “I know you can do all things,” he admitted to God, “and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). These verses show, “God’s knowledge depends only on himself. God knows all things by (1) knowing himself, and (2) knowing his own plan for the universe” (John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013], 306).

If God knows the end from the beginning, that would necessarily include his knowledge of the future decisions of his free creatures. Things not yet done would be contingent upon the future decisions of free creatures, who may make any number of choices. For God to declare those things from ancient times, he would have to know the decisions his creatures would make before they made them. This affirmation is a point of controversy, even among evangelicals, and even among some Baptists. But we Southern Baptists affirm this truth because (again) the Bible teaches it.

Consider Isaiah 45. God names Cyrus as the one who would decree the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the release of the Jews from exile. God foretold this through Isaiah hundreds of years before Cyrus’s birth! During Isaiah’s ministry, Assyria and Babylon were the two great empires; the Persians were not on anyone’s radar for being the next empire to come afterward! Consider all the decisions of free creatures God had to know to predict this: most broadly, he had to know that Cyrus would decide to wage war against Babylon and succeed, and he had to know that Cyrus’s parents would name him Cyrus. But these events are contingent upon countless other events before them. God’s knowledge truly is exhaustive and meticulous and includes the future decisions of his free creatures.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest proof that God knows the future actions of his free creatures. In the first Christian sermon, Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus’ death was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. God had planned Jesus’ death for the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation from before the foundation of the world, and Jesus’ death necessitated the free choice of the Jewish leaders and lawless pagans to execute him. God knew the decisions they would freely make, and they were accountable for those sinful choices.

Our Response to God’s Perfections

God’s infinite perfections demand our love, reverence, and obedience. We should love God for his infinite perfections (Matt 22:37-40), especially for the way that he expresses his holiness in acting to save us, and in the way that he uses his perfect knowledge to effect our salvation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We should revere or honor God for his infinite perfections. The Bible most often refers to our reverence for God as “fear” of God (e.g., Deut 6:13; Ps 25:11-15; 1 Pet 1:17). Finally, God’s infinite perfections should inspire our obedience. Such is the thrust of 1 Peter 1:14-16, ” As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” The holiness of God calls us his people to be holy likewise.

We at Friendship Baptist Church are not perfectly holy. But we serve a perfectly holy God. And we are striving to grow in increasing conformity to his holiness, day in and day out, week in and week out. We love him, and seek to show him our love by our reverence for him and obedience to his commands. We would invite you to join us in this lifelong journey!