In the same way the substitution of Christ can be simplified in to error when handled incorrectly, the Trinity, One God in three persons can suffer from the error by those who seek to simplify it in ways not biblically possible. The commonly used, ‘water, ice and steam’ illustration makes such an error, because if you remove the water or ice or steam from the triad you still have H2O but if you remove God the Father, or God the Son or God the Holy Spirit from the trinity, you no longer have God. The problem with all illustrations is their limitation to explain in full what the word of God teaches especially when dealing with the substitution of Christ and the Trinity.
The next two questions in the Heidelberg Catechism are as follows, ‘How are these articles divided?, and Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?’. There are three great ecumenical creeds- the Apostles’ creed (see: ‘The object of our faith HC7), the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These historic creeds are structured around the Trinity and in turn emphasise that what makes Christianity Christian is the Trinity.
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Athanasian Creed
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;
2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;
39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;
40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. and shall give account of their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.
Three parts, but why three?
The articles are divided in to three parts: God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. Why three? Because this is how God has revealed Himself in His Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God. The creeds mentioned above simply reflect what is already made clear in the word of God.
Understanding the Trinity, but at some point we will need to simply bow down and worship.
There is only one God, the father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Son or the Father. One is not more God than the other and there is not three gods, but one God in three persons. We are not to believe that God is one with three different names, acting in three different ways (modalism), this is what the illustration of ‘water, ice and steam’ represents, H2O in three different forms and therefore is not an accurate understanding of the Trinity.
The absent word
As many will be aware, the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear in the Bible, but nonetheless it is a very good word for reflecting what the scriptures teach. Though the word ‘Trinity’ doesn’t appear there are plenty of passages that reflect that God is Father (Jn 6:27; Titus 1:4) and that the Son (Christ Jesus) is God (Jn 1, the word was God and Jesus is the word). We also have verses that affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit (Heb 9:14, 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Acts 5:3-4). There are also plenty of texts that Speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the same breath, we see this for instance in the great commission (Matt 28:19) and also in many other verses (Gal 4:6, 1 Cor 12:4-6, 1 Pet 1:1-2; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph 1:13-14).
God is in need of nothing
God is in constant and eternal relationship because God is triune and for those who have read and understood the letter of 1 John will see that God is love and why he is able to love, why he knows how to love, it is because God is triune and such love exists within the Trinity. The relationship we enjoy and have with God is a relationship where we come to share in God Himself, the father creates, the son delivers and the Spirit sanctifies. While it is true that God is in need of nothing and therefore he does not need us, it is also true that he loves us and that is why we belong to him.