QUESTION: I have been a Christian for over 30 years and I am confused with the teaching about the trinity. Do I have to believe that Jesus is God to enter the kingdom of heaven? As best as I can understand; the answer is in John 3-16 and Romans 10:9-10.I have read and heard the arguments on both sides and truly prayed about it and I am still confused. HELP! DB
ANSWER: The reason you are struggling is because sorting out the concept of the trinity is one of the most difficult endeavors in Christianity. Do you realize that the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible? On the other hand, the concept is clearly presented throughout the Scriptures.
In essence the trinity is the concept that God exists in three distinct persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—while still being one Person.
By the way, Muslims consider the trinity to be a blasphemous concept as they maintain that "Allah is one." They believe that Christians worship three distinctly different gods. This is not surprising because many Christians find it difficult to accept the "three-in-one" themselves, much less explain it to someone else.
The idea of the trinity is established early in the Biblical record. In Genesis 1:26, God says, "Let us make man in Our image..." When he says, “us,” he is affirming His multiple-person nature. He is unified one while being more than one. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit are God while at the same time three distinct personages with different roles and responsibilities. In broad, sweeping terms God the Father is the overseer of all things. God the Son, is the creator and savior of all things. God the Holy Sprit is the current comforter and Divine person living in every Christ Follower as well as the present sustainer of life.
In numerous passages we see clear-cut references to One God existing as three persons. In John 17 Jesus declares that He and the Father are one. In Romans 8:27 Paul writes, "He who searches our hearts (God the Father) knows the mind of (God) the Spirit."
While all three have different responsibilities they are often pictured as fully united in intention and in purpose. God does not metamorphose from one form to the other. They are, however, seen as involved in a variety of significant activities. For example, all three were involved in the process of creation. Again, at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son as the Father verbally commended Him to the people there. Again, the Bible is clear that Jesus did not raise Himself back to life. The resurrection was the specific work of God the Father and God the Spirit.
I use several analogies in getting a mental grip on just how the triune God might exist. No analogy is perfect, nor is it meant to be. Analogies are models that help us understand the real thing.
One analogy I like is the egg. God is like an egg which comprises three distinct parts—the shell, white and yoke. One egg, three parts but all necessary to be one.
Another of my favorite analogies compares the trinity to ice, water, and steam. All three are merely different states of the same substance “H2O”. Ice, water and steam have different forms and properties. They do very different things; and yet they are all the same: “H2O”. I think that I like this analogy the best! God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all the same—God while existing in three different “states” simultaneously.
Don, the real question behind your question seems to be whether or not Jesus Christ is fully God. If He is then we can trust the verses you mentioned as our way to Heaven. If He is not fully God than every thing is up for grabs!
My favorite passage where Jesus declared His divinity is in John 8:19-59. The Pharisees questioned Jesus about His lineage. They declared, "Abraham is our father.” “They then asked Jesus, “Who is your father?” The implication was that Jesus was illegitimate. He did not know who His father was.
After declaring that the Pharisees were going to kill Him and that He would die for the sins of the world, the Jews responded, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"
Moments later Jesus responded, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."
"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
The reason they picked up the stones was because He had blasphemed by claiming to be God. “I am” is one of the holiest names of God! He declared His name as, “I am.” He knew exactly what He was doing by using that name for Himself—so did the Pharisees. He declared Himself to be God and the Pharisees hated Him for it.
Now, for your most significant question: “Do I have to believe that Jesus is God to enter the kingdom of heaven?” I think your answer is in the verses you mentioned above. Both Jesus and Paul answered your question with an unqualified, “Yes!”
John 3:16-18: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”
Romans 10:8-10: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Well, Don, I hope this clears up some of your confusion. Sometimes, we simply take things on faith because we can never understand them in this life. These incomprehensible truths are often called “inscrutable”. Inscrutable describes things beyond human comprehension. For me the doctrine of the trinity is simply inscrutable. Paul writes, “Today we see in a mirror; then we will see face to face.” I can wait; the time for understanding will come soon enough for all of us .