How the doctrine of the Trinity relates to saving faith
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
I was once asked a question about what the bare minimum requirements for expressing trust in Jesus Christ for one's salvation. The questioner then added a caveat: "how does the doctrine of the Trinity fit into one's salvation experience?" This question and its caveat are very important, since various levels of comprehension of the Gospel exists across the spectrum of children and adults.
In this post I will lay out four basic truths that are vital in any profession of faith. The Christian faith centers around the doctrine of the Trinity as the Biblical teaching on the nature and identification of the God of the Bible. The aim of today is to demonstrate why Biblical saving faith is ultimately connected to the Trinity. May this post aid us all in praying for the salvation of loves ones and friends and assessing our own spiritual status before the Lord.
What doctrines are included in a basic profession of faith in Jesus Christ?
Let's consider first what are the "basics" for saving faith.
1. Acknowledgment of Jesus as Savior, Lord and the exclusive way of salvation (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9).
2. Belief in the existence of God as revealed in the Bible (1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 11:6).
3. A level of acknowledgement of the total truthfulness of scripture regarding my sinful condition and God's provision of salvation in Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).
4. Salvation is a free gift received by faith alone, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
All people are going to have varying levels of comprehension and exposure to the four points I just mentioned (a little child, a person from a non-Christian home and a person raised in a Christian home, for example). Moreover, some may nuance the above "short-list" with other very important truths. For our purposes, though, this short-list could count as a minimal content requirement for saving faith.
How the Trinity relates to salvation
So what about the Trinity? Some may noticed that I did not explicitly include the Trinity in the short list of necessary truths. As I'll explain in a moment, the doctrine of the Trinity may not be explicitly comprehended by some at salvation, however, its implications embed the other four truths. Let's unpack this further.
The doctrine of the Trinity involves three truths about God:
1. There is One, and only one God.
2. This One God exists as three Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. The three Persons, distinguished by their relationships to one one another, are One God. A person may very well be saved by not having an explicit grasp of the Trinity (say a child), however, all are saved by the implicit foundation the doctrine of the Trinity provides for all four points. Consider how the four truths I mentioned at the beginning of this post are implicitly (and with discipleship, seen to relate explicitly) to saving faith.
#1 The confession - "Jesus is Savior and Lord", is an affirmation of Christ's deity.
The early Christians already affirmed the Jewish Monotheism of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 43:10-11). However, they also asserted the Deity of Jesus (1 Corinthians 8:6) which followed from the vindication of His claims and life by His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Yahweh in the O.T was declared the only Savior (Joel 2:9; Isaiah 43:10-11). Jesus, of course, is declared the Savior of the world (John 1:29). The doctrine of the Trinity has as part of its structure the affirmation of monotheism and the deity of Christ. This implication of the Trinity flows from the explicit affirmation of Jesus as Savior and Lord. Deny the Trinity and you lose the coherence of this first foundation stone of saving faith.
What of #2, the existence of one true God revealed in the Bible?
We know God is love (1 John 4:8,16). To love, God within Himself had to had been the God of love before and apart from creation. To have love, you need a subject who loves, a second person that receives such loves and the love in between the two. No other religion in the world posits a loving God like Christianity. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the eternal act of love between the Trinity. To deny the Trinity leads to positing a God that became a God of love because of the creation. Again, the God of scripture makes the Trinitarian revelation the scaffolding for revealing truly who God is (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 13:14).
How about #3, namely, grasping the authority of scripture's statements about my sin and the salvation work of Jesus?
The implications of the Trinity also work to support this point as well. In addition to the belief in monotheism and Christ's deity, we have the Personality of the Holy Spirit rounding out a most basic outline of the Trinitarian understanding of God. If we affirm scripture as Divinely revealed (Exodus 24:4; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), we must also affirm the Spirit's status as Truly Divine, since He is credited as the Person superintending the production of scripture through the agency of the 40 human authors of the Old and New Testaments (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16).
This then leads us to #4, salvation is received by faith alone, apart from works.
Does the Trinity implicitly undergird how we receive our salvation? Absolutely! 2 Corinthians 5:15-20; Ephesians 1:1-5; 2:1-5; 2 Peter 1:1-2 and other texts describe the Person of the Father planning our salvation. John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10; Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 2:2 and other texts express the Son as purchasing our salvation. John 16:8-12; Ephesians 1:13 and other texts describe the Holy Spirit applying salvation through saving faith. As each of the Persons of the Trinity are involved in how we receive salvation, other texts credit the miracle of salvation to God (Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:1-2), which can only mean that if one denies the Trinity, then the way in which we receive salvation is underminded.
Bringing it home
To summarize, let me say two things.
1. First, the Trinity implicitly flows from and provides the foundation for the four main points of what comprises basic saving faith (these are mentioned at the beginning of today's post).
2. Second, even if a person gets saved without having a full working knowledge of the Trinity, nevertheless, upon being discipled, that person will embrace the doctrine, and thus see it as the only valid way for understanding the God of scripture, salvation and eternity. To explicitly and knowingly deny the Trinity brings into serious question the genuineness of one's salvation. I close out with this quote I heard years ago: "Try to figure out the doctrine of the Trinity, and you'll lose your mind. Deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and you lose your soul."
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