What is the Significance of the Doctrine
of the Trinity for Living the Christian Life?

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2000

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church. Many believers today are aware of its importance as a doctrine, but few would actually consider it as being immediately necessary to the way in which their life of faith is lived out. It is therefore, the aim of this essay to demonstrate that the Trinity is not only necessary, but essential to every area that the Christian life consists of.

Anti-Trinitarian groups view the doctrine of the Trinity as being not only unscriptural, but also irrelevant to the Christian life and unnatural to the individuals experience and understanding of God. 1 However, it can be demonstrated that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is scriptural, natural, and necessary to the life and faith of the believer. The doctrine makes a significant contribution to the way believers understand their relationships with one another and the God whom they seek to serve.2

In the body of Christ, unity is essential for the smooth running of the Church. This unity is not natural to the carnal person, but can only be attained through fellowship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3, 2 Cor. 13:14). 3 The Apostle Paul recognizes how the three Persons of the Godhead are operative in unifying the many diverse gifts and activities of those in the body (1 Cor. 12-14). 4 This unity that God desires in the functioning of His Church, is a reflection of the perfect unity that exists in Himself. 5 Hodgson observes that all other unity's that exist in earthly experience are but pale reflections in the light of the unity that exists in Him. 6 Each member of the Trinity act in harmony with one another; and there are no separate agenda's as are sometimes found in Christian communities (1 Cor.1:10-13). For example, the Father sends the Son (John 3:16) and draws attention to Him (Matt. 17:5), the Son is obedient to the will of the Father (John 17:4) , and seeks to glorify Him in Himself (John 13:31-32), and both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:26), who glorifies the Son (John 16:14). 7 In connection with this unity, there is also an equality. Augustine recognized this when he said: "There is so great an equality in that Trinity, that not only the Father is not greater than the Son, as regards divinity, but neither are the Father and the Son greater than the Holy Spirit". 8 In many ways therefore, the unity and equality that is evident in the Trinity serves as an example of the harmony that should be in the life of the Christian. 9

Another area that the doctrine of the Trinity is significant for the Christian life is in the union that believers experience in Christ (sometimes called the 'mystical union'). 10 Union with Christ can be defined as being several different relationship that the believer has in Christ, whereby every benefit of salvation is received. 11 These benefits enable the Christian to live a powerful and victorious life (1 John 5:11). 12 The Apostle Paul likens the union that exists between Christ and His people to the union of love and oneness that husband and wife share in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). 13 To be in union with Christ means that all things can be done in Him (Phil. 4:13), and a godly life can be lived (2 Tim. 3:12), with the result of bearing much fruit (John 15:5). 14 Not only is the believer in Christ, but Christ is also in him or her (Gal. 2:20); which is described as being a profound mystery (Col. 1:27). 15 Berkhof observes how union in Christ has these two aspects by pointing out that the initial act is brought about by Christ, through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit; but also by the believer uniting him, or herself to Christ, by exercising faith in Him. 16

The union that Christians have in Christ also brings union with the other persons of the Trinity. Christ told His disciples that both He and the Father will dwell in them (John 14:23); and also the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). 17 Baillie illuminates the point by explaining how all three Persons of the Trinity are active in the Christian experience of God, yet it is not three separate experiences but one. 18 Believers are in relationship with the Father in His particular operation as Father, Creator, and Sovereign; they are in relationship with the Son as Saviour and Redeemer; and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit in regeneration, knowing Him as Comforter Advocate and Sanctifier 19 Ephesians 1:3-14 gives a modified form of these distinctive functions (although it must be recognized that all three members of the Trinity are equally involved in the activity of one another). 20 Union with Christ therefore, also includes union with the Father, and the Holy Spirit. 21 Murray observes that through this union, believers enter into the most intimate place of relationship with the Triune God; being raised up to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6), having their life hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). 22

Those who are in Christ are also justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:11). 23 This act whereby Christ's righteousness is imputed to the one who has faith in Him takes place once for all. It is not something that is to be repeated, but is dependent upon the redemptive work that Christ accomplished at the cross (Rom.5:9). 24 The righteousness of justification is therefore the very righteousness and obedience of Christ Himself (Rom. 5:17-19), and comes forth from God the Father (Phil. 3:9, Rom.3:21). It is for this reason that believers are directed away from themselves, and are pointed towards Christ and His accomplished work. 25

All three Persons of the Trinity are active in the work of sanctification, 26 although it is especially the Holy Spirit who is operative in this work as the one who energizes (Rom. 15:16) and prepares believers to live obedient Christian lives to Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:2). 27 However, there is certainly scriptural evidence to show that the Father is also active in this work; He is presented as the source of sanctification (Ex. 31:13, John 17:17, 1 Thess. 5:23-24). 28 But as Murray observes, it is also by the power of Christ's resurrection that sanctification is wrought in the Christians life. 29 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, makes it apparent that the progressive, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to the image of Christ, is dependent ent on the activity of the risen Lord (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:45). 30 Christ is therefore the agent of sanctification (1 Cor. 1:2, 30, Heb. 10:10), who gives the believer the confidence to know that this work will continue through to completion (Eph. 5:25, 27).31 Commenting on 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Smail notes how the sanctifying Spirit is experienced as Lord in the life of the Christian, turning him or her away from themselves, and towards Christ Jesus. 32 Smail further notes that as a result of looking towards Christ, and being open to Him, believers are changed in such a way that their lives begin to reflect some of the glory of the very One to whom they have been exposed. 33

As well as the process of sanctification, the indwelling Holy Spirit gives the believer a firm assurance of their adoption as children of God, resulting in confidence and stability in the Christian life. 34 Believers are sealed with the Spirit at the very point of conversion (Eph. 1:13-14). Although it is primarily the Holy Spirit that is at work in the believers sealing, the other members of the Godhead are also active (2 Cor. 1:21-22), giving assurance from the Father and the Son (John 10:27-29) as well as the Spirit. 35 Christians can take comfort in the knowledge that their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was no less than Yahweh God Himself. They can also know that it is this same God who seals them and dwells within them by the person of the Holy Spirit. 36

In his research on the subject of the Holy Spirit, Smail has been led to believe that the primary function of the Spirit is not so much to do with the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the Church, but rather the initiation of believers into relationship with the Father and the Son. 37 This is seen in two main confessions within the New Testament, 'Abba, Father' (Gal. 4:6), and 'Jesus is Kurios, Lord' (1 Cor. 12:3). 38 Before the Spirit imparts His gifts upon a person, He relates him or her to God the Father and God the Son, so that Abba and Kurios can be confessed. It is only by this work of the Holy Spirit that these confessions and relationship with God are at all possible. 39 It is the Spirit who encourages the believer onward towards a deeper relationship with Christ. He does this because His work among the people of God is in conformity with His position in the Trinity as the one who glorifies Father and Son. 40

Probably the clearest area where the doctrine of the Trinity is significant for living the Christian life is in the whole area of worship. However, opponents of the doctrine teach that to worship God as Trinity, extracts from the life of faith and prevents people from knowing Him. 41 But when the scriptures are carefully examined, it soon becomes apparent that the opposite is actually true. From New Testament times, believers worshipped the Father, in the Spirit, through Christ (Eph. 2;18, 5:18-20), and sometimes worshipped Christ directly (Matt. 14:33, 28:9, 17, John 9:38), because they recognized Him as fully God (John 1:1, 18, 20:28, Col. 2:9, Titus 2:13). 42 Although the early Church also recognized the Holy Spirit as being God (Acts 5:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:17-18, Heb 3:7-11 c.f. Ps. 95:6-11), the explicit worship of the Spirit appears to have developed at a later period. 43 But although distinct as three Persons, there exists such a harmony in the Triune God that to worship one is to worship Father, Son, and Spirit together. 44 For God to be truly present by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, the whole activity of God must be active. 45 Saint Ambrose discerned this as a reality in the life of Christian worship when he wrote: "...by unity of power, Christ is jointly worshipped in the Father when God the Father is worshipped. In like manner then, by unity of the same power the Spirit is jointly worshipped in God, when God is worshipped in the Spirit." 46

In connection with worship, prayer also has a distinctively Trinitarian mold. Luke, in his Gospel account, records a prayer of Jesus to the Father, and specifically mentions that He was full of joy through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21). 47 It is not surprising therefore, that Luke continues in this Trinitarian pattern of prayer, in the life of the early Church. Before his martyrdom, Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, saw the glory of God and prayed to the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:55-60). Jude also recognises a Trinitarian pattern, in prayer, when he encourages Christians to pray in the Holy Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God and hope in the mercy of Christ (Jude 20-21). 48 The Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to pray regularly 'in the Spirit' with all kinds of prayers (Eph. 6:18). Commenting on this particular text, Smail has observed how just as there can be no genuine reality of prayer apart from the mediation and union that believers have in Christ, neither can there be any true Christian prayer apart from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the Christians life. 49

The doctrine of the Trinity should not be viewed as an irrelevance to Christian life and practice. On the contrary, it is only because of the doctrine that the believer is able to live their life of faith at all. This is evident in every area; from the fellowship that is enjoyed in the Church, to God's complete work within an individual, and the devotional life that they seek to live in Christ.


1 V.A. Stinson God is Not a Trinity! (U.S.A.: The Church of God International 1993), 13.

2 M. Ovey, "The Human Identity Crisis: Can We do Without the Trinity?", Cambridge Papers. June 1995, vol. 4, number 2, 4.

3 H.W. Robinson, The Christian Experience of the Holy Spirit (Great Britian: Fontana, 1962), 194.

4 A.W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament (London: S.P.C.K., 1962), 241.

5 L. Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd., 1944), 96.

6 Ibid.

7 Ovey, 4.

8 Augustine, edited by P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol. 111 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 115.

9 Ovey, 4.

10 W. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1994), 841.

11 Ibid., 840.

12 Ibid., 843.

13 T. Smail, The Giving Gift (Great Britian: Darton Longman & Todd, 1994), 187.

14 Grudem, 834-835.

15 Ibid., 845.

16 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1969), 450.

17 J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961), 172.

18 D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (London: Faber & Faber, 1947), 153-154.

19 Murray, 172-173.

20 B. Milne, Know the Truth (Leicester: IVP, 1983), 60.

21 Murray, 172.

22 Ibid., 173.

23 Ibid., 127.

24 Berkhof, 513.

25 Murray, 127.

26 Ibid., 535.

27 J.R. Williams, Renewal Theology vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 91, 92.

28 J.R. Williams, Renewal Theology vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 101.

29 Murray, 147.

30 Ibid., 148.

31 Williams, vol.2., 147.

32 T. Smail, Reflected Glory (Great Britian: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977), 25.

33 Ibid., 25-26.

34 Grudem, 738.

35 Ibid., 789.

36 R.M. Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 19.

37 Smail, Giving Gift, 13. 38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., 12.

41 R.M. Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 19.

42 Wainwright, 266-267.

43 Ibid., 67.

44 Robinson, 199.

45 Ibid., 203.

46 Ambrose, edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. X (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 115.

47 Smail, Giving Gift, 200.

48 Bowman, 131.

49 Smail, Giving Gift, 201.


Ambrose, edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace, Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers, vol. X. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956.

Augustine, edited by P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol. 111. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956.

Baillie, D.M. God Was in Christ. London: Faber & Faber, 1947.

Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1969.

Bowman, R.M. Why You Should Believe in the Trinity. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.

Grudem, G. Systematic Theology. Leicester: IVP, 1994.

Hodgson, L. The Doctrine of the Trinity. London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd., 1944.

Milne, B. Know the Truth. Leicester: IVP, 1983.

Murray, J. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961.

Ovey, M. "The Human Identity Crisis: Can We do Without the Trinity?", Cambridge Papers. June 1995, vol. 4, number 2, 4.

Robinson, H.W. The Christian Experience of the Holy Spirit. Great Britain: Fontana, 1962.

Smail, T. Reflected Glory. Great Britian: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1977.

Smail, T. The Giving Gift. Great Britain: Darton Longman & Todd, 1994.

Stinson, V.A. God is Not a Trinity! U.S.A.: The Church of God International, 1993.

Wainwright, A.W. The Trinity in the New Testament. London: S.P.C.K., 1962.

Williams, J.R. Renewal Theology vol.1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

Williams, J.R. Renewal Theology vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Should You Believe in the Trinity? Brooklyn: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1989.

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