Does the absence of the Trinity make for a "different gospel" as mentioned in Galatians 1?

(Alexander Meier) #1

Hi everyone.

I’m sure we can all agree that there are certain secondary issues about which exist a large disagreement within the Christian faith. We are not saved or condemned by holding correct opinions about debatable things, regardless of how closely we hold those convictions. If it an honest interpretation of scripture, it falls more or less into a Romans 14, agree-to-disgree-but-I-still-love-you sort of category. That is a very good thing, or a large portion of the church would be going to Hell over whether a woman should preach. We are not saved by being “right” about these things.

Yet, there are also those beliefs which are central to and intrinsic of a true faith. For instance, salvation by grace as opposed to salvation by adherence to the law, which is the main context of Galatians. I believe that most, if not all, Christological heresies fall into this category of very elements which are necessary for a true faith.

And while I can see and demonstrate the biblical reality of the Trinity and even speak to some of the many implications of it, I have a much harder time illustrating how belief in the deity of Christ and personhood of the Holy Spirit, both distinct persons from the Father but all three the Only God, is a necessary element of saving faith. I haven’t met anyone who denies the Trinity without also compromising other essential doctrines, but is it possible? Even just to make it a valuable point of conversation, how do I respond to following question: How does the absence of a Triune God change the gospel message in any essential way, so as to directly affect salvation?

How can I affirm the trinity in a way that is not only meaningful but a necessary component of faith? Right now, I feel like all of my demonstration of the Trinity is more just theological acrobatics.

Thanks for the discussion.

(SeanO) #2

@AlexMeier Thank you for that question. My first response would be this: You can be saved without understanding the Trinity, but you cannot be saved without experiencing the Trinity. Because God is spirit and is personal/knowable, we can known Him without fully understanding Him. We can come to Jesus and experience God the Spirit, praying to God the Father because of what God the Son did without understanding the theology behind our experience.

But why is it that people who deny the Trinity tend to deny other Biblical doctrines? Is there causation behind this correlation? I would say, generally, yes - the Bible is quite clear about Trinitarian theology if we read it. Consider this verse from Matthew, for example, which lists each of the members of the Trinity separately. And there are many places where both the Son and the Spirit are identified as fully God and yet distinct from the Father elsewhere.

Matthew 28:19 - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So, when people deny the Trinity, it may show a willingness to distort Scripture or deny the Bible, which would then lead to going astray on other doctrines. However, I cannot say that everyone who does not understand the Trinity has not experienced the Trinity - there may be those in Heaven who had a wrong view of the Trinity but did experience the Trinity. So I would be careful about saying that you must believe this doctrine to be saved. However, I would also not attend a church where they denied this doctrine. So there is a balance here…

Here are some resources that may be helpful as we continue the discussion. The Lord grant us peace and understanding.

(Jimmy Sellers) #3

This is from a thread a while back. Please view the 3 min video. I think you will find it helpful and a bit humorous.

(Preston Blake Powell) #4

SeanO I would argue that if you dont believe in the Trinity then you are not saved. I’m experiencing this dilemma in one of my bible study groups and have been attempting to help a couple guys in particular with the idea of a Triune God. Actually there’s a whole group of us trying to help them. They do not believe Jesus is God. They simply claim He was the Son of God without really understanding what that means. I agree that a person doesn’t have to understand the Trinity in its fullness in order to be saved but when someone categorically denies the Deity of one of the members of the Godhead they are essentially denying everything Christ taught, lived, and died for.

They believe “THAT” God exists but so do the demons. They believe “THAT” Christ is Gods Son but they do not believe “IN” Him. That is a critical difference. It is indeed the separating point between true saving faith and eternal damnation.

The Trinity is both mysterious and paradoxical. We will not ever be able to fully understand or comprehend it. Not even in heaven. Our finiteness limits us from obtaining the infinite perspective which only God Himself holds. So I would emphatically argue that this is a “Salvation” issue if one is denying any person of the Trinity PERIOD.

We must not get soft on this and cut people slack because of the difficulty of attempting to understand such a mind blowing concept. We are falling into sin of the worst variety if we cater to peoples desire to hold to their own “Opinion” on every doctrine they choose. We must not sacrifice the “Truth” for comfort or tolerance. These people think that they are truly saved and we are not helping them if we tell them it’s okay that they dont understand and feel that way of the Trinity. That is the most unloving thing we can do. We cant just believe whatever we want about this doctrine. We must believe what is TRUE!!!

(Bob Beck) #5

This is an easy one if you think about it. When one accepts Christ into his heart and life they are spiritual babies. Babies don’t know much but they trust. A true believer accepts Gods word as truth. If they learn the Bible says Jesus is God and reject this truth I question their salvation.


(SeanO) #6

@Prestonp1985 Thank you for those thoughts. I think it is important that even a man like John Piper, who is very passionate about God’s glory and nature, admits that it is not necessary to believe in the Trinity to be saved. He says in this video that you could be saved without ever having heard of the Holy Spirit. Now, he does say that if, after having become saved, you are taught the Bible and reject the deity of the Spirit then he would wonder about your salvation. Matt Slick from CARM says something very similar - it is not necessary to understand the Trinity to be saved, but the Holy Spirit will testify to the truth as you study the Scriptures and guide you into all truth.

I applaud your efforts in teaching the truth. For me, this topic comes down to following Paul’s commendation to teach other’s the truth while leaving it to God to judge their heart. If they claim to follow Jesus and believe in His deity, death and resurrection I will leave judgment of their heart to God and yet teach them the Trinity every time I get the chance - exhorting them to see the plain teaching of the Scriptures.

2 Timothy 4:2 - Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.

I Cor 4:3-5 - I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

It is not believing in the Trinity that makes us Christian. Rather, it is being a Christian (and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit) that enables us to believe in the Trinity. So, in one sense it’s not a requirement to affirm the doctrines the Trinity in order to become saved. However, the true Christian will not deny the doctrine of the Trinity because the Holy Spirit will bear witness of truth (John 15:26) in the Trinity as true. This would mean that anyone who claims to be a Christian, but openly and continually rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, is probably not truly saved.

(SeanO) #7

@bobbeck I think this is similar to what John Piper says in his video, but I would add the nuance that we should give people room to grow in understanding and not be to quick to pronounce judgment.

(Tabitha Gallman) #8

The 3 min. video is really helpful @SeanO .

(Tabitha Gallman) #9

The video was funny @Jimmy_Sellers. :grinning: I still hear those analogies being shared by some Christians.

(Preston Blake Powell) #10

Thank you for that reply SeanO. So just to clarify on my end what I meant by my earlier response was specifically that those who have knowledge of the Trinity and deny the Deity of Jesus Christ are not only implicitly denying the doctrine of the Trinity its self but are explicitly denying Jesus Christ as Lord. They seem willing enough to call Him their Savior but those that understand what the title of Lord and LORD mean aren’t willing to attribute such titles to Christ because it would then affirm His deity and therefore make them subject to His will.

But then you have an even more difficult task of attempting to help those that don’t believe Christ is God who are more than willing to call Him both their Lord and Savior! They don’t always necessarily seem to understand what connotation the title of Lord Carries with it. So now my question is this…

If one has the knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity and yet still chooses to deny that any particular member of the Trinity is God are they genuine believers or not? By “knowledge of” I simply mean your basic surface knowledge. You know what it is but your not deep in your theological understanding of it and because you don’t understand it you choose to reject it.

I fully agree with you and John Piper that we cannot judge the motives and intentions of anothers heart. But we can judge and should judge with great care and patience the accuracy of statements made by those professing to be true believers when we know for certain that the affirmations they are making are categorically false.

I dont believe we should approach this in a way that just makes them feel like they are wrong and you are right. That misses the point of the argument altogether. Jesus said if you deny the Father you have denied Him. And if we deny Jesus there is no way to the Father. Salvation is solely a work of God through the power of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

So if regeneration has truly occurred then that person “WILL” come to Him. Jesus said His sheep will come to Him. So will a sheep go to one who is not his Master? Will those who deny the Trinity and more specifically the Deity of Christ be in heaven? If so, HOW? I love John Piper and his teachings but I would have to read for myself exactly what he means when he says that because I’m not sure that I totally agree on that point.

If you can deny that Jesus is God and blame it on ignorance then everyone would be saved. Muslims are saved by holding to that type of belief system. I understand the difference between knowing of the Trinity and not knowing the Trinity even exists. But even Paul addressed those who will never hear the message of Christ and said that they are judged by the knowledge that God has given them in conscience and kn nature. I want to grow in my understanding of how to properly approach this critical topic. I thank you for your responses thus far and look forward to many more from whoever wishes to join in.

(Preston Blake Powell) #11

I watched the video after I gave that last response and i think were on the same page lol. He basically is saying the same thing that it is not necessary for one to understand all the intracacies of the Trinity and how to articulate it in order to be saved but that is one denies specific claims of Deity to the Son or the Father or the Spirit then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. That’s exactly what I was looking for. I dont think he actually said you dont have to believe in the Trinity to be saved though. I’ll have to watch it again just to make sure because if he did actually say that then it contradicts multiple statements by Jesus that He and the Father are One and that those who believe “IN” Him are indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit because they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and can now come to the Father through Jesus Christ the Son our one and only mediator between God and man. If someone doesn’t believe in the Trinity then how can all these things be a reality? He did say there are some who have never heard of the Trinity and he believes it is possible that they may be saved and with that in would most certainly agree because it is still possible that they may be regenerated by hearing the gospel in the future. Or they have been given revelation through conscience and nature and have trusted in what God has revealed to them. I dont know. I’ll have to study a little deeper on that particular issue because I know that passage in Roman’s teaches that all men everywhere regardless of if they’ve heard the gospel or not are given enough evidence through their own morality and the created order around them to condemn them for rejecting what God has made evident to them. It doesn’t teach that that is another way of Salvation for those who have not heard about Jesus Christ. What an amazing topic to talk about.Thank you SeanO.

(SeanO) #12

@Prestonp1985 Yes, very deep things. I do think we mostly agree, but I think there is no reason to decide what someone else has to believe to be saved - we should let God decide. Rather, we should teach the truth of Scripture. On the Day of Judgment God will sort out men’s secret thoughts because He knows their heart.

Romans 2:16 - on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.

You may also find this thread of interest - it discusses the fate of those who have never heard.

(Preston Blake Powell) #13

SeanO yes I agree completely. It was never my intention to attempt to dictate what someone else must believe in order to be saved. If I came across that way I truly did not mean to. But I do think scripture is clear on what we must believe in order to be saved and to deny Jesus is to deny your salvation.

Jesus affirmed the Trinity and all I’m saying is that one must believe in Jesus Christ as God in order to be saved. That is not my opinion. That is scriptural. I think you would agree with me on that as well.

Your right it’s not up to us to dictate what others believe. Even God doesn’t force us to believe in what we dont want to. But He does make it abundantly clear what/who we are to believe in in order to be saved.

If I am wording all of this in a way that is causing confusion I apologize. I am trying to come to a fuller understanding of how to approach this issue with the two guys in our bible study group that claim that they are true believers but deny the Deity of Christ.

They genuinely think they are saved right now and I am basing my judgement of their particular claims to salvation on the very words of Jesus Christ Himself. According to Him they are not saved because they do not believe “IN” the Son (John 3:36).

It is not my judgement it is His. I am simply attempting to help them understand how Jesus can be fully God and fully man so that they can truly accept Him and confess with their heart and their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord.

I believe that is the most loving thing I can do for them is tell them the truth and pray that the Holy Spirit performs the work of regeneration in them so that they can begin to understand who God really is and what He has done for them.

They are trapped in the world of easy believeism and think that just because they are sincere about believing in the existence of God the Father they are saved. I am not attempting to judge or condemn them. I am trying to help them in any capacity I can and am looking for help on the best way to approach that task.

This is a foundational doctrine that is essential to the faith and while it is very basic in one sense it is also very complex and complicated in another. There is always the danger of providing too much information to the person to quickly. When you do that they just end up overloaded and dont really internalize anything you have said.

How can I do a better job of helping them without overdoing it and how can I help them understand what Jesus truly taught about salvation without making them feel like I am judging or condemning them?

For example, if they were to flat out ask me if they were truly saved right now I would have to respond by saying that I personally do not know the answer to that question.

But Jesus Christ claims that if you do not believe “IN” Him then you are condemned already. They are going to respond by saying that they do believe in Jesus Christ but that they just dont believe He is God. Therein lies the problem I’m facing. They think their saved but according to scripture they are deceived.

That’s what makes this so difficult for me to explain not only to them but to you as well. I know patience is key here. And constant prayer as well. Please pray for them and me.

And if I am articulating this or anything else in a manner that causes confusion or implies that I’m attempting to usurp scripture with my own views or opinions please correct me and help me to better communicate the Gospel and become more effective at reaching people in need. Thank you for your responses thus far.

(SeanO) #14

@Prestonp1985 Will pray for your friends. I certainly agree that Jesus’ deity is central to the Christian faith and a core doctrine. May the Lord Jesus open the eyes of their hearts to see His glory and grace and to confess with Thomas ‘My Lord and my God’.

(Kathleen) #15

Hello! Just getting to reading this thread with much interest. Didn’t get to watch the videos, but hope to get around to them at some point. :slight_smile:

@Prestonp1985, I wanted to ask about your friends in the Bible study… It’s curious that they believe that a mere man could save them. I mean, it’s super-difficult for my mind to grasp how one can be fully human yet at the same time fully divine, so maybe it’s works similarly the other way?

What do they believe about Christ if they do not believe that He is God? What do they say to Scriptures where it is recorded that Jesus also believes He is God and openly teaches that? What are the issues/objections at the heart of their unbelief? Have y’all had a chance to discuss that?

I realise that this is a thread about the Trinity and the nature of a different gospel, and I’ll look into splitting this topic if it moves too far away from the original discussion, but, as you mentioned, Preston, to accept Jesus as Saviour yet deny Him as a part of the God-head is to essentially deny God as Triune, and, yes, it is a ‘different gospel’. (…unless they attribute the Son as being another?)

I guess I’m just curious to know what they think actually saves them. What’s so good to them about their good news/gospel?

(Preston Blake Powell) #16

KMac thank you for input on this. So when we took them through the scriptures that affirm the Deity of Christ they were reluctant to accept that that’s what those verses actually in fact taught. They claimed that that was just someone’s opinion on what they taught. I showed them the correlation between John 1:1-14 and Genesis 1.

I explained to them that the “Word” is “Logos” in the Greek and that in this particular context its describing a “Person” and that that person is Jesus Christ Himself. I pointed out that He was “In the beginning” which signifies that He was already in existence before the beginning of anything. Then I pointed out the personal distinction made when it says “And the Word was with God”.

I explained that that signifies that what is being described here is a relational quality that distinguishes one particular aspect of personhood from another. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Then it says and the Word “Was God”. This is where the confusion began to set in for them.

When we attempted to explain the difference between “Essence”, which is the very nature of a thing that has very particular attributes and characteristics, and “Persons” which describes personal distinctions within the Godhead they were not inclined to really try and think it through themselves. They just kept saying that’s mans opinion. They easily accepted that Gods “Essence” refers to “What” He is, which is “One Being”. But when we said He is “Three in Persons” they quickly rejected that notion and said that it doesn’t make any sense. They think it is " Three Gods" which they rightly reject as being true.

They believe that God the Father created Jesus to do His work and that He came simply to teach. They dont seem to have any real understanding of the true gospel message.

One of them was raised Roman Catholic and he states that his Priest taught them that Jesus Christ is just the “Son Of God” but not God Himself. The other grew up in a Christian home and just simply has been taught bad theology and has been clearly influenced by the “Easy Beliveism” that has been so persuasive and influential in many of our modern churches.

I explained to the one who was raised Roman Catholic that I dont know what type of theology his priest was teaching but it was not Roman Catholic Theology because they “Affirm” the Deity of Christ. He responded by saying they don’t. I did not push the issue much further after that because it was clear that he was simply misled and has not really ever engaged in any type of serious study.

I dont mean that in a derogatory way. I just mean that it is evident when someone has never studied to find the answers themselves. I did not tell him that because I did not want to offend him or start an argument.

This whole issue is why I posted the question “Did Jesus Create His Own Physical Body” and is also why I weighed in on some other topics in different threads to try and find a way to better respond to both of these men and truly help them to understand and remove the barriers and roadblocks to their beliefs.

I know the Holy Spirit is Who “Regenerates” them and seals them for the day of redemption. Our logic and reason and theological answers dont perform that divine act. But I also know God uses these other methods to open peoples hearts and minds in order to become receptive to the truth.

“What’s so good about their gospel that they think that saves them?” My honest opinion on that is I dont know. They cant explain it. Their works dont and they seem to know that much. But they seem to think that just believing in the existence of God the Father is enough. Its complicated. They do think Jesus died for their sins but they dont think He is God.

They don’t seem to grasp that only God is capable of doing such a thing. This has actually been a common experience in many conversations I have with both people who claim to be Christian’s and people who are not Christian’s. Its commonplace to find that people dont actually know what they believe! They know that they believe “Something” but they tend to believe more so in their “belief” itself than the “Actual Thing” their claiming to “Believe In”.

In other words it’s purely subjective with no objective facts to support it whatsoever and most people I find are completely fine with that because it makes them “Comfortable”. That is “Another Gospel” of the most subtle and self-decptive form. The task that we have as Christian’s in the era we live in is colossal.

Engaging in these difficult conversations is critical and at times discouraging. But if we are to proclaim the “True Gospel” of Jesus Christ it “MUST” be done. I need your help Kmac! I need all of your guys’ help.

I’m just a regular guy. I am not trained in this. I haven’t gone to school. I’ve learned a great deal from the materials RZIM provides, as well as Ligonier ministries and others but I cant quite reach others in the depth and magnitude you all can. Sorry for the long response. I look forward to hearing more from you. Thank you and God bless.

(Kathleen) #17

Take heart, @Prestonp1985! Even the best and most rigorous training is no match for indifference. :wink: Seriously, though, I do commend you for your desire to share the truth re. Jesus with these guys. Sometimes all we can do is make a position clear (as we possibly can given the circumstances) and then continue to ask questions about how they see the world and love them as real life carries on…and continually pray for opportunity to share His truth and that their hearts would be softened! I will be praying both for you and for them…that they may know the true good news! Do keep asking questions as they come up.

And I would be remiss to not link this whole discussion to Anthony’s reflections/discussions on the Nicene Creed. This is the part where Trinitarian theology is fleshed out a bit more…

(Preston Blake Powell) #18

Thank you Kmac for the prayers and encouragement. And thank you for the thread on the Nicene Creed. I will utilize that in tandem with scripture and constant prayer when the time is right and the discussion continues with them. God bless!

(Jimmy Sellers) #19

I know this late to the party but this is a new video from the Bible Project. You might find it useful.

(Keldon Scott) #20

I had not watched that 1 Jimmy. Thanks for posting it. Very interesting