An Elementary Exposition of the Distinction and Unity of the Godhead—The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I want to preface by saying that the feat I am attempting is to bring a simple and natural comprehension to something that is complex and spiritual. We only can begin to parse out the few gems God has sprinkled through his word. I believe that we must be content to accept that the fullness of God cannot possibly be fully exhausted in the few pages of the Bible. Therefore, I will lay out the Scriptures for you the best way I understand them, but in the end, I think it is healthy to conclude that God is simply too big for any of us to fully grasp. And simply said, I love that about him. In this study, I will first show you the distinct features of each of the three persons of the Godhead. Then I will conclude by revealing their unity.

            God the Father: When I think of God, I think of the central essence of the Godhead dwelling in heaven. When we look at the creation story, God uttered his voice from the cosmos. But it was his spirit that formed the earth (Ge 1:1–2). When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, “Our Father in heaven…” (Mt 6:9). Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of his departure, he said he was going to the Father (Jn 14:28). As you survey Scripture, you do not find God the Father coming in the flesh. His place is reserved in heaven while Jesus became the incarnate. God the Father does not dwell and move along the face of the earth; rather, this is distinctly the role of the Holy Spirit. There are a couple times God did come within the atmosphere of earth, and nature quaked in his presence. We see this true from God’s visit with Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:17–19), and also his visit with Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:7–14). Where is God the Father? We see him seated on his throne in heaven (Rev 4).

            Jesus, the Son: John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Later in verse 14, we read that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus was the incarnate of God—God revealed in the flesh. Jesus was born into the flesh in 4 AD, but prior to that, he was with the Father. John was six months older than Jesus, yet he said that Jesus was before him (Jn 1:30). Jesus, speaking to the people said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (Jn 8:58). And as we already read from John 1:1, Jesus was from the beginning. Where was he before he was born in 4 AD? He was with the Father in heaven. God the Father never has physically appeared on the earth. The Spirit of God has never been physically manifested. When God walked upon the earth, his name was Jesus.

            The Holy Spirit: With the exception of the incarnate of Jesus Christ, the only time God was presently active on the earth was through his Spirit. We see this very truth revealed in a host of Scriptures: In Genesis 1:1–2, it was the Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the earth; the Spirit was upon Moses and shared with the seventy elders (Num 11:25); The Holy Spirit was upon Joshua (Num 27:18), Othniel (Jdg 3:10), Gideon (Jdg 6:34), Samson (Jdg 13:25; 14:6), and Saul (1 Sam 10:9–10); When David had sinned and was afraid that God would leave him, he prayed, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). When we come to the New Testament, we see the same truth. Even with the raising of Jesus, we learn that it was the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11). And finally, on the day of Pentecost, we learn that the promise to those who chose to be baptized in Jesus Christ is forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts (Acts 2:38, also Rom 8:11). Paul continues to speak of this active role of God in our lives through his letters, especially Galatians 5. The early Christians did not call this indwelling presence God the Father; he was on his throne in heaven to which they prayed. Nor did they think Jesus the incarnate was still with them; Jesus had gone to heaven to prepare a home. The gift to have God dwelling among his people was the Holy Spirit. The active presence of God on the earth, with the exception of Jesus Christ for those few years, has always been the Holy Spirit.

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            The above has showed us the distinct roles of the three persons of the Godhead. Each role is very different from the other. Yet there are not three Gods. Some have referred to the three parts of an egg to help comprehend the separateness while being one. I contend that there is no human devise imaginable that could give us a perfect picture of the Godhead.

            While the three are separate in function, they are the one God. Jesus gives us a remarkable image in John 14. When speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23). Notice the use of the we. The context in which Jesus is speaking is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. While promising the Holy Spirit, he speaks of himself and the father (we) making their home in those who obey. Who is the we? The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

            Let me try to help us wrap our minds around this. Jesus made claims that he was one with God (Jn 10:30; 14:9, 20; 17:11–23). The Hebrew writer speaks of Christ being the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3). So, let us put that on the table for now—Jesus and God the Father are one. While at the same time, we see a oneness with Christ and the Holy Spirit. We saw above that the Holy Spirit is promised to dwell in us once we obey (Acts 2:38, Rom 8:11). At the same time, Paul speaks of Christ in us (Col 1:27). And in Ephesians 3:17, Paul speaks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. While we see the Holy Spirit dwelling and Christ dwelling in us, we also know from Paul’s writings, that when we obey the gospel, we are reconciled to God (Eph 4:2–4, 2 Cor 5:16–21). With perplexity, we realize that through obedience and faith, we are reconciled to every facet of God.

            We often try to make a distinction with the members of the Godhead. In role and function, we see clear purpose. But while noticing their distinct roles, one would find it difficult to ignore the oneness at the same time. Jesus says it well near the end of John’s gospel; “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (Jn 17:20–23). Read that passage slowly and it begins to come alive. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are separate persons, yet they are one. We looked at many passages from the Bible, but I am inclined to think that none of the writers of the Bible fully understood the Godhead either. He is one God. Yet he functions in different ways. Maybe these roles of God are for our finite minds to help us understand what we really cannot. I continually find myself where Job was when he wrote, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3b). And I am fine with not fully understanding God. I am fine with him being bigger than my comprehension. That is the kind of God I will worship.