The Trinity Properly Defined

The Trinity confuses most people. It confuses some people so much that they either reject Christianity because of it or they modify it so much that Christianity ceases to be Christianity. It shouldn’t surprise us much that most Christian cults deny the doctrine.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to be posting some articles to help explain this difficult doctrine by looking at it from different angles and answering different questions. The first step to all that is to properly define it up front.

The Trinity is not, as many phrase it, three beings who are one God. The Trinity is not three Gods who are really one God. The Trinity is not three beings who are one being.

The Trinity is three Persons who are one Being. These Persons are called the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and are all the same essence; they are co-equal and co-eternal.

This basic definition is extremely important, because it answers most of the logical objections people have. It would certainly be self-contradictory to say three beings are one being. No matter how pious we are, we cannot say things that are just self-contradictory. God is, after all, a God of order, and He gave us a mind for a reason! It is not self-contradictory, though, to say that three persons can be one being, because a person is not necessarily a being, and a being is not necessarily a person.

Proof for this is easy enough. A tree is a being (it “be’s”). Anything that is is a being. Yet a tree is obviously not a person. You are a person, and you are also a being. Personhood, then, is something that is found in a being; it is not a being itself. There is nothing in the definition of a person (which, in philosophical terms, is “a complete, essential, rational, subject of predication that does not exist apart from the individual”) that says that there cannot be multiple persons who exist as one being.

For those who want to get into the philosophy behind important words like “person,” “being,” “substance,” “essence,” “predication,” and many others, we’ll provide those discussions in the near future. For everyone else, just keep the basic definition and this fact in mind: a person is not the same thing a being, and a being is not the same thing as a person. There is no logical contradiction of any kind, no matter what opponents argue. When they assert there is a contradiction in spite of this, they are simply being irrational, not you.

Pastor, A Word Study

Having established that the church is simply the assembly of God’s people at a particular place and time, we can turn to questions about how it is to function. In today’s culture, a first matter of importance is its leadership. In Protestant churches, the pastor is the main leader. Elders, bishops, priests, and deacons are also all important positions that are handled differently by different denominations. We will spend a few days looking at each of these terms, especially as it relates to church governance.

Given the prominence of “the pastor,” we may be amazed to discover that the word is only applied once in the New Testament to the church’s human leadership. The Greek word is poimen, and it occurs in this context only in Eph. 4:11, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors [poimen]and teachers.” (NIV) Against this, the word is used a total of eighteen times in the NT, and in every other case is usually translated “shepherd” (see Matt. 9:36; 25:32; 26:31; Mark 6:34; 14:27; Luke 2:8, 15, 18, 20; John 10:2, 11, 12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25). Further, in every instance except those in Luke, the word is used either directly or indirectly to describe Jesus. He is constantly called our “shepherd.” This is a particularly good translation, as poimen is used in the Greek translation of the OT to translate the word ro’eh, which means “shepherd” or “herdsman.”

Given this, there seems to be no reason not to translate poimen in Eph. 4:11 as “shepherd” as well (we should note that the English word “pastor” comes directly from the Latin word for “shepherd”). Further, grammatical evidence indicates that “pastors and teachers” are not two different offices, but rather describe a common function of these people. That is, pastors (shepherds) are those who teach and guide the church, pictured as God’s flock.  Thus, even though the title “pastor” is not one the Bible gives the leaders of the church, it does describe the manner in which they are to function.

This is confirmed in the fact that the verbal form of poimen, which is poimaino and means “to shepherd,” is used eleven times in the NT (Matt. 2:6; Luke 17:7; John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 9:7; 1 Pet. 5:2; Rev. 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15). Each of the usages in John, Acts, and Peter command the church’s leadership to “feed the flock.”

By far, “shepherd” is not the predominant word the NT uses to describe “the pastor.” The term, though, does well describe what such a one is to do. He is to feed the flock of God’s church, especially by teaching. When we compare this with the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, it is evident how great a responsibility this really is. When we consider, then, the role of the pastor, we would do well to keep in mind the picture of a shepherd and all that comes with it.

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Can Real Christians Live in Sin?

Two years ago, John trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He had been talking with a Christian friend of his for several weeks about the Gospel, and finally, at his friend’s invitation, he went to hear an evangelist the church had invited. During the message, John felt a deep tugging in his heart of hearts and realized that everything he was hearing was true, and that Jesus truly was the only way to salvation. As soon as the evangelist gave the invitation, John was on his feet on his way down front. He talked and prayed with the minister, and two weeks later was baptized and joined the church. Things went well for a few months from there. He was excited about his experience and even told a few people. He attended Sunday school and started reading his Bible. But as the months wore on and Monday morning came over and over again, John started falling back into his old ways. He attended church less and less, and soon, his Bible never left its place on the shelf. Before long, he stopped going to church all together, and within a couple of years, decided the whole thing was just a phase in his life. He was back to being old John again, complete with all the “sin” in his life the pastor spent so much time talking about. Many of his old church friends decided he apparently had never even believed in the first place. Some decided that he had just lost his salvation. Everyone, though, agreed on one thing: John was back on a one way road to Hell.

For most of us, this story isn’t all that fictional. We know someone, or know of someone, who has been through it in one way or another. Whether “former Christians” or Christians who have backslidden into serious sin, such as substance abuse, sexual addiction, anger problems, homosexuality, or perhaps even something as simple as a lack of “change,” we conclude these people can’t really be saved, because no real Christian can have such behaviors and beliefs.

The question is an honest one. Can real Christian live in such sin? Or put differently, don’t real Christians produce works and have a change of life to prove that they are really saved?

I’d like to suggest that as popular—near universal, actually!—as this view is, it just isn’t true. We’ve often heard people say something like, “I can’t inspect the root, but I can inspect the fruit” Or we hear, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone!” The clichés are endless. Better yet, they supposedly have Scripture to back them up. After all, Jesus said you will know real Christians by their fruit, didn’t He? And James says that faith without works can’t save.

Before we look at those verses, though, let’s just stop and look at what Jesus said.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but has everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

According to this verse (and dozens more like it; see John 5:24; 6:47; 20:31, etc.), every single person who believes in Jesus has everlasting life. Notice that it doesn’t say that they “will have” everlasting life. They have it now. If you believe in Jesus, you have everlasting life right now. How long does everlasting last? Forever! But if you could lose your salvation by a lack of works or a falling away, then your life wasn’t really everlasting, was it? It was temporary life. That isn’t what Jesus promises. In this verse, He says that every single person who believes in Him will live forever. He goes on to add, if that isn’t enough, that they will never perish.

For some people, though, Jesus’ Gospel isn’t enough. They believe what I call “Andy’s Gospel.” For them, it doesn’t matter what Jesus says. Belief isn’t enough. A person has to believe “and he’s” got to repent or be baptized or have a change of life or do good works or stop sinning or whatever. In short, they are adding to the Gospel. Jesus said everyone who believes lives forever. Those who deny that, unfortunately, deny the Gospel.

But what about those verses we mentioned above? Doesn’t “real faith” produce real works? Amazingly, the Bible doesn’t make that claim anywhere. In fact, the Bible doesn’t talk about “real faith” versus “false faith.” On the contrary, the Bible explicitly says in several places that there are times when faith does not lead to works! In John 12:42, certain Pharisees believed in Jesus but were afraid to confess Him. Why? Because they loved men more than God. In Luke 8:1-15, Jesus talks about four kinds of people who hear the Gospel. Of them, only one rejects it, but the other three believe. Jesus says of one type that they believe for a little while. I’m not going to tell Jesus He was wrong and that they didn’t really believe! Another believes, Jesus tells us, but never produces fruit of any kind. Further, the entire book of Hebrews is dedicated to warning Jewish Christians against leaving their faith and going back to Judaism.

Everywhere, the New Testament supposes that Christians can fall into serious or permanent sin. David murdered a man and stole his wife (2 Sam 11). The last we hear of Lot in the Old Testament is when he gets drunk and impregnates both his daughters (Gen. 19:36). Peter denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-60). If anyone were to do any of these things today, we would doubt their salvation. But why? Jesus says that everyone who believes has eternal life. Is His Word not enough?

Passages like James 2:14-26 (see our exposition of that passage here) and Matt. 7:15-23 do not challenge our view. First off, we should note that even if they did, they would not change the fact that John 3:16 promises all believers eternal life. At worst, we have a contradiction in Scripture! But there is no such contradiction. In James 2:14, he isn’t talking about eternal salvation at all, and further, even if he were, demons are never offered salvation anyway. In Matthew 7, the fruit we are to inspect is not good works, but the doctrine of teachers (the context is false prophets). In fact, in Matthew 7, it is the works of the false prophets that causes people to think that they are genuine believers!

So, can a genuine Christian fall into sin or even unbelief? Sadly, yes we can. The response of the church in such a case is not to call into question their salvation. It is to restore them gently (Gal. 6:1-5) on the basis of their salvation. It is to love them unconditionally and recognize that all of us are capable of falling into error. None of us but Jesus Himself is perfect. This obviously doesn’t give us the permission to go living in sin. There are serious consequences for that, and some of them are eternal. It just so happens that one of them isn’t Hell.

Salvation is by grace. It is not earned, and if we have to do works to keep it or prove it is really ours, then it really isn’t a gift after all. Against this, the clear testimony of Scripture is that God saves by grace or not at all.

I know the view I’ve suggested here isn’t popular. The Gospel never is. If you have any questions, comments, or even cries of outrage, leave them in the comment box below. I’m sure we can have a great discussion!