Augustine, while puzzling over the focus of this article, was walking along the beach one day when he happened upon a young boy, bucket in hand, who was rushing back and forth between ocean and dunes. “What are you doing?” the philosopher asked, intrigued by the lad’s actions.
The child looked up breathlessly, not wanting to be sidetracked from his quest. “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole,” he announced as he rushed back toward the breakers.
Augustine suddenly realized that the boy’s response pretty much described what he was trying to do theologically: pour an infinite God into his finite mind.
So much about God would be impossible for us to fathom were it not for the fact that He’s already revealed the truth about Himself in a way that even our finite minds can comprehend. He’s fully aware of our limitations and knows just how much water to pour.
I first heard about the three-Gods-in-One concept when I was a child. My parents were Christian missionaries, so attending baptisms was a common and joyous occurrence. After all, bringing people into a saving relationship with Jesus was precisely why they’d left their home country and traveled halfway around the world to take up residence in some pretty out-of-the-way places.
We’d gather by rivers, ponds, swimming pools, or bathtubs or simply uncover the big baptismal tank installed under the floor of a local church in order to follow the example of Jesus. He’d invited John the Baptist to do the honors for Him in the Jordan River two thousand years earlier (Matthew 3:13–16).
During these happy ceremonies I kept hearing the same phrase over and over again: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Every minister would say those words just before lowering the smiling new believer under the water.
This particular idiom has its roots in the same command that my parents had heeded years earlier when they left their homeland to serve in a strange land. Shortly before Jesus left this earth at the close of His own missionary endeavor, He instructed His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). I later learned that this group of deities had a name: the Trinity.
I figured that, because a person is baptized, he or she must now have full access to those three members of the Godhead as indicated by the ministers’ statement. In time, I learned that my view was far from complete. He or she was not being baptized in order to gain access to the Trinity, because those divine Persons had already been hard at work in his or her life, transforming a heart of stone into a heart of flesh—replacing doubt and fear with an abundance of unselfish love.
So, what part do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit play in transforming a lost sinner into a saved sinner?
It all comes down to function.
God the Father
Living the Christian life isn’t easy. We think we’re fighting temptation and our natural tendencies to put self first. But the battle is so much more than that. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, we’re standing nose-to-nose with Satan himself—a being with millennia of experience and an arsenal of proven, truth-destroying tools. The Bible describes him as not just a lion but a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). This dude is dead serious, and we’re in very real danger of losing everything to his evil ways.
As TV’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor famously said, “We need more power.” That’s where God the Father steps in.
Jesus understood the source of His amazing ability to fight sin. He told His disciples that “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18, KJV).* I like the word given. The power to overcome sin, to face the devil, to change our hearts from stone to flesh, isn’t earned or bartered. It isn’t something we have to mortgage our home to receive. It’s a gift from God the Father! “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).
I remember hearing my dad tell the story of a young woman who decided to turn her life over to Jesus and become a Christian. Her father, deeply entrenched in another belief system, picked up his machete and screamed, “If you join that church, I will kill you and those who filled your mind with such lies!” And he meant it.
The young lady feared for her life. That’s when a strange thing happened. A new confidence deep inside of her stirred, and, with the blessing of her spiritual family, she went ahead with her plans, even though doing so put them all in harm’s way.
On the day of her baptism, her father showed up at the church, machete in hand, ready to keep his word. But something overcame him. Something stilled his rage. Something turned a potential tragedy into a reason for praise. He angrily left the building and never bothered his daughter or her fellow believers again.
That man had come face-to-face with a Power stronger than hate.
I don’t know about you, but I could use that type of strength in my life from time to time—power to overcome temptation, power to do what’s right when everyone else isn’t, power to face my own devils, power to choose God’s way over the world’s way. God the Father says to each one of us, “That power is my gift to you.”
God the Son
One day a group of self-righteous religious leaders dropped a sinner at Jesus’ feet—a woman they’d caught in the very act of adultery. “According to the Law of Moses,” they declared, “we should stone her to death.” This incredible encounter is recorded in John 8:2–11.
Jesus quietly and respectfully dispatched the angry mob by reminding them that their own robes weren’t exactly spotless. When the mob had dispersed, leaving Jesus alone with the woman, He turned to her and spoke His Trinity résumé: “Woman,” He said, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
The terrified woman looked around through tear-filled eyes. Astonished at what she didn’t see and hadn’t expected to see, she whispered, “No one, sir.”
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared, lifting her to her feet. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (verses 10, 11).
Contrary to what many believe, Christ’s work is not one of condemnation or judgment. While He didn’t hesitate to condemn the legalism of the Jewish leaders of His time, His primary marching orders aren’t to make us feel lost and alone. His job is to insert a fresh, divine element into our psyche—the element of forgiving love. Later in His ministry, Jesus announced, “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).
The young baptismal candidate in my story had felt Christ’s spirit of forgiveness in her life: that amazing love that, without judgment, accepts sinners into the inner circle of salvation. She was willing to risk her life in order to maintain her connection with the Son of God—the One who loved her and invited her to go and sin no more.
God the Holy Spirit
Christ Himself identified a third Member of the Trinity and revealed His primary responsibility. Speaking soon before His departure from this world, He told His disciples, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7, 8). He further promoted His earthly replacement by revealing that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John14:26).
I find it comforting to realize that I have a live-in Teacher in my heart; a spiritual Advocate with a direct connection to heaven. The answer to my every question is only a prayer away. I don’t have to be fooled by sin. I don’t have to stumble blindly through life wondering what’s truth and what’s error. I can rest assured that the road ahead leads me home to glory, thanks, in part, to the efforts of the Holy Spirit.
Now I understand. It’s no longer a mystery to me. The Trinity and the work that they do individually and collectively is my ticket to heaven. You and I are not alone. We’re in good hands.
Because of this amazing Presence in our lives, we can all someday walk through the gates of the New Jerusalem in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
* Bible quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version