Experiencing the Trinity in Daily Life

In the mid-90’s and early 2000’s no matter where you looked in the church there was someone with a bracelet, tee shirt or coffee mug emblazoned with the ubiquitous WWJD — “What would Jesus do?”  The idea, of course, was to get people to think about Jesus during their daily lives.  Before reacting to a rude co-worker, or making a big decision, or succumbing to a temptation, the hope was to get people to stop and think about what Jesus would do in this situation. Without commenting on the merits or folly of the WWJD movement, I’d point out that we have an answer to that question.  In passages such as, John 6:38; 14:31; 17:4 the Bible shows that Jesus’ entire focus while on earth was on doing the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Sanders 2010,171)

There is, in other words,  a Trinitarian shape to the life and ministry of Jesus.  We see demonstrated in two ways throughout the Gospels.  First, in His exclusive His focus on fulfilling the will of the Father.  Perhaps no other verse in Scripture captures this as well as Matthew 26:39, where Jesus prays to the Father, “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”  But we also see the Trinitarian shape of Jesus ministry,  in His reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Through  out His ministry, Jesus did not rely on His own strength or power to accomplish the Father’s will, but on the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look at both of these aspects of Jesus’ ministry.

 

Jesus Focused on Fulfilling the Will of the Father

The entire focus of Jesus’ life and ministry was to carry out the will of the Father.  I’ve already noted the most famous example of this in Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. But we see this expressed in a number of other places, especially in the Gospel of John.  In John 4:34, for instance, Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”  Then in the next chapter, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (5:19) Then in 5:30, He says, “I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” One chapter later, in 6:38, He added, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (see also 8:29 and 12:49) These verses, and many others show the overarching focus of Jesus life on earth was do the will of His Father.

Jesus’ focus on doing the will of the Father serves as an example of how we are to live the Christian life.  In Mark 3:35, Jesus said: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Commenting on this verse, William Lane writes, “It is the performance of the will of God which is decisive in determining kinship with Jesus. In the new family which Jesus calls into being there is demanded the radical obedience to God which he demonstrated in his submission to the Father and which the disciples manifested in their response to the call.” (Lane 1974, 148)

God’s greatest desire is not to give us a better life, or a happier existence.  He’s not merely blessing us with things to make our life easier, or to make us more prosperous.  It’s not even to guarantee our eternal life in heaven. God’s ultimate goal is that we glorify Him by carrying out His commandments and participating in His life.  But this is only possible as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 

Jesus Was Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Jesus did not carry out the will of the Father in His own strength.  From beginning to end, His ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Luke 1:35 says that He was begotten by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.  In Matthew 3:16, John the Baptist saw “the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him [Jesus].” In Matthew 4:1, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted.  During His first sermon in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (see Luke 4:18-19)   Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20 show that He cast out demons by the Spirit of God.  Later, Paul notes that it was through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead (Romans 8:11). Jesus’ constant reliance on the Holy Spirit to carry out the will of the Father, serves as the model of how the Christian life is to be lived.

In the same way the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus for service, He also empowers us. In Acts 2:33, Peter announced that, “Being, therefore, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus carries out His Lordship through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Notice the Trinitarian shape of the Christian life.  We live out our daily lives under the Lordship of Christ for the glory of the Father through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  This is fleshed out in more detail in John chapters  14-15.

 

 

Four Ways the Trinity Empowers Our Daily Lives (John 14-15)

This passage is one of the most familiar in the entire  New Testament.  On the night before Jesus was crucified, after leaving the upper room where He’d just celebrated the final Passover meal, Jesus began to talk to His disciples about His departure. This news must have shaken the disciples to their core. With the shock of the moment still lingering in the air,  Jesus turned their attention to what would happen after He was gone. Specifically, He showed them four ways the members of the Trinity would continue to work in the lives of disciples.

 

  1. By Empowering Us for Greater Works (14:12-17)

While Jesus was on earth He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.  All of these were intended to give credibility to His message and identify Him as the Messiah.  After His departure, however, Jesus promised He would empower the disciples to do even greater works than these:

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:12-17)

 

Jesus starts this passage off with the familiar words, “Truly, Truly.”  By starting off this way, Jesus calls our attention to the importance of what He’s about to say.  It’s like the teacher saying, “Heads up!  This is going to be on the exam!”  As soon as we hear the words “Truly, truly” we need to raise our spiritual attenna and tune in to what He’s about to say

Knowing that His departure was just around the corner, Jesus promises His disciples that they will do even greater works than what He had been doing. While there’s been much speculation over exactly what Jesus meant by this phrase, the context suggests it’s related to the preaching of the gospel.  The subequent history of the disciples further supports this interpretation. While the book of Acts begins with a number of miraculous events tied to the preaching of the gospel, there is progressively less emphasis placed on these signs as the book progresses. The further we read, the less attention is given to miracles while increasingly the spread of the gospel takes center stage.  It’s this miraculous growth of the church and the spread of the Gospel that Jesus has in mind when He talks about the “greater works.” Frankly, it is far more miraculous to see one person born-again into eternal-life than to see 10,000 raised physically from dead only to die again later.

We are able to do the “greater works” for two reasons.  First, because Jesus returned back to the Father.  This is a reference to His ascension back to heaven as Lord of the entire universe. (see Acts 2:33) We see this same idea expressed in  Hebrews 1: 3b where the writer says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”  F.F. Bruce notes that being “seated at the right hand” of God the Father is not a literal, physical location but rather a symbolic reference to Jesus’ Lordship. (Bruce 1990) Similar expressions of His Lordship can be found in Ephesians 4:10 and Philippians 2:9.  The point here is very simple, we are able to do the “greater works” of Jesus’ because we operate under His Lordship.  By His authority, we are able to carry out the work of the Gospel and live the Christian life.

The second reason, we can carry out these “greater works” is because of the Holy Spirit. (14:15-17)  The Bible connects the Ascension of Jesus with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church. (see Acts 2:38) What Jesus predicted in John 15:16-17, Peter reported as being fulfilled on Pentecost. As we engage in the mission of preaching the gospel to the nations, it is essential to remember where our authority and power come from.  We have the authority to preach the gospel because Jesus ascended back to the right hand of the Father.  We have the power to preach the gospel because the Father gave the Holy Spirit to Jesus to pour into our lives and empower us for service. We do not rely on our own authority or might but draw our strength from the inexhaustible riches of the Triune God. This is vitally important in our day and age because we are so prone to rely on our own strength and technology in living out the Christian life.  None of these are sufficient to empower us for service.

 

  1. By Teaching Us (14:25-26)

Not only do the members of the Trinity work together to empower us for greater works, but they are also involved in teaching us.  John 14:25-26 says:

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Notice that each member of the Trinity is involved in this process — the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus to remind the disciples of all that He taught.  This is consistent with the statement Jesus made earlier in this same gospel when He said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” (7:16)

There are two issues I want to draw special attention to here.  The first, is the fact that the Holy Spirit never speaks on His own but always points us towards Jesus (John 16:13-15). This is a matter of the eternal procession of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus is co-equal with the Father in regards to His nature,  but He is eternally subordinate to the Father as the Son.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and Son, even though He is co-equal with both of them according to His nature.  In these relationship the Holy Spirit never points to Himself — He always directs our attention to the Son.

The second issue, I want to draw attention to is the Holy Spirit’s ministry of teaching and reminding.  The Holy Spirit was not sent to be a replacement for Jeus, but rather to call to mind those things Jesus did and taught for future generations. (Borchert 2002, 132) We see this same idea reiterated in John 16:13-15, where Jesus says,

 

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine, therefore, I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 

Initially this promise was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to pen the New Testament.  But there is an ongoing sense in which the the Holy Spirit continues to teach, remind and guide us into all truth through His work of illumination.  We covered these issues back in chapter 4, but it is important to be reminded that all three members of the Trinity are actively involved in teaching us how to live the Christian life.  God has not left us on our own to figure it out the best we can.  He has taken a vested interest in our daily Spiritual lives and personally teaches us how He wants us to live by calling to mind the teachings of Jesus through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.

While we have the sure and certain promise of the Trinity’s continued work of teaching us how to live the Christian life, this is not an excuse for laziness.  Over the years, I’ve met several people who had the idea that the Christian life was essentially passive – they would just wait on the Lord and He’d give them whatever they’d need when the crucial hour came.  But this isn’t how it works, they’ve bought into a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it commands us to wait on the Lord. (see Ps 27:14, Isa 40:31)  Waiting on the Lord is not passive, it requires that we actively place ourselves in a position to listen to and hear God when He speaks.

If we want to experience the Trinity teaching us how to live, we must place ourselves in the position of being taught.  Above all this means we need to actively engage in reading, studying and discussing the Bible.  We must place ourselves within a body of believers where we can be challenged to grow and held accountable by other believers.  We need to be active while we wait on God to teach us and as we respond to Him our lives will bear fruit.

 

 

  1. By Causing Us to Bear Fruit (15:1-11)

John 15:1-11 contains one of the most poingant images of how God works in our lives in the entire Bible.  Given the context of this passage, its not hard to imagine Jesus using either a cup of wine or perhaps a cluster of grapes as a visual aide when delivering this message.  Regardless of whether or not He used any visual aides, Jesus was making an apt comparison of how fruit is produced.

He points out that all three members of the Trinity are involved in producing fruit in our lives. Jesus identifies Himself as the vine, the Father as the Vinedresser and His disciples as the branches. While Holy Spirit is not explicity mentioned in this passage, His presence is implied through the phrase, “Whoever abides in me and I in them, he it is that bears much fruit.”  Since Jesus abides in the hearts of believers via the agency of the Holy Spirit, we should see here an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit

 

 

  • The Father Prunes the Branches

 

In  v.2, Jesus  lays out the expectations of our relationship with Him— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He [the Vinedresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  The word fruit is used three times in v.2, reminding us of  God’s expectation that every believer will bear fruit in their walk with Jesus.  The image of the Father in this passage is that of a Master-gardner “distinguishing between productive and unproductive branches and dealing appropriatley with them in both cases.” (Borchert 2002, 140)

This text states emphatically that the Father “takes away” branches that bear no fruit.  For many this will be a disturbing image, because so often we’ve lost the proper, Biblical view of the true church.  The New Testament, however, is clear — genuine Christians always bear fruit in their lives.  The idea that someone can confess Christ as their savior but remain a “carnal” Christian is foreign to the New Testament.  Those who profess Christ but never bear any demonstrable fruit, show they never really belonged to Him. But this is not the primary point of this passage.

The far more important issue here is the work of God the Father in the lives of those who do bear fruit — He prunes them so they’ll bear even more fruit. Pruning is always a painful and traumatic experience in our lives, but it is absolutley necessary.  When I was a kid, my dad planted several fruit trees in our yard.  We had couple different types of apple trees, a pear tree and for some reason he even attempted to grow peaches in Eastern Ohio.  Honestly, none of them were very productive,  largely because we hadn’t any idea of how to properly prune a fruit tree.  While I still don’t know how to prune a tree, I do know it requires a great amount of skill and wisdom.  A good tree surgeon knows exactly what to remove and how much so as to not kill the tree but still maximize the harvest of fruit.

God the Father is more skilled at producing fruit than any tree-surgeon who ever lived.  Through the lens of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, our Father knows exactly what to trim away from our lives to accomplish His purposes.  What may feel capricious and unnecessary in the moment is actually part of God’s eternal plan to conform us into the very image of His Son. Furthermore, because He is loving, compassionate and kind beyond measure, we can be certain that whatever He does in our lives is motivated by the noblest of purposes.  This is important because the process of pruning always hurts.  He often cuts away things in our lives we weren’t expecting to have to lose.  Many years, ago when I first surrendered to the ministry, I lost a very good friend who rejected me because of my faith.  That hurt more than I could possibly have imagined, but now years removed from the situation I can look back and see it was absolutley necessary. Hindsight is 20/20 and now that I’m years removed from the situation I can see just how negative of an influence he was on my life.  Honestly, he would have hindered me from obeying God’s call on my life and doing the things that I am doing now.  So, while it hurt greatly when it happened, I am now glad that God pruned that influence from my life.

A few years later, I was permanently laid off from a job.  I won’t lie, the experience initially created a great deal of anxiety and pain.  But looking, I can see that God knew exactly what He was doing.  By pruning my life of that job, God moved me towards full-time ministry; something I would not have done without  Him removing my secular job.  Through the process of pruning my life, He taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned — to rely on Him for my needs. Through these experiences I learned that God is the master surgeon who knows exactly what needs to be removed in order to cause us to bear fruit.

 

  1. The Son and the Spirit Produce Fruit

There is a question about exactly what Jesus meant by “fruit” in this passage.  Some have been tempted to think of the fruit in this passage as relating to evangelism — i.e. additional souls won to Christ.  But R.C.H Lenski shows this will not work within the context of the verse, because it would make the branches themselves the “fruit” of  the vine, which makes no sense. The vine produces additional branches, whereas, the branches produce “fruit.” (Lenski 1961, 1030 )  In light of this, it is better to understand “fruit” as a reference to those character traits produced by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives – namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal 5:22-23). But that still leaves the question, “How is this fruit produced?”

Jesus answers that question in verse 4, when He commands the disciples to “Abide in me, and I in you…”  The word “abide” means to “stay or remain in the same place over a period of time.” For us it means that we are to live in a deep, personal relationship of dependence with Jesus. Gerald Borchert observes that, “A branch is not a self-contained entity, and neither is the Christian disciple.  As a branch separated from the supply of nourishment cannot produce fruit, neither can the Christian.” (Borchert 2002, 142)  We are to draw our life and everything we need from our relationship with Christ.

Jesus then then goes on to show the absolute necessity of this relationship, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”  Jesus is actually building here on a theme He began back in John 14:10, where He stated that He abides in the Father and the Father in Him.  Then later in that same chapter, He says that the Holy Spirit abides in the life of the believer.  All three members of the Trinity are involved in the process of causing us to bear fruit in our everyday Christian lives.

As believers, we have no ability to bear the fruit of the Christian life on our own.  We are absolutley dependent upon Jesus, living His life in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  No matter how talented, gifted or skilled we believe ourselves to be, Jesus reminds us that bearing fruit is an impossbility apart from Him.   The key then to living the Christian life is to lean further into our relationship with Jesus, relying more and more on Him for everything in our lives, and drawing ever more deeply on His resources.

The image of a vine and branches captures the Christian life perfectly. Just as the sap travels through the vine and into the branches to cause them to bear fruit, so to the members of the Trinity continue to work in our lives to cause us to bear fruit.   Jesus told His disciples, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in Him.”(15:10)  Here is where the practical nature of Jesus’ subordination to the Father comes to light.

Passages like John 8:29 and 12:49, clearly show that Jesus is always subordinate to the will of his Father.  As we’ve already seen, this subordination within the Trinity is soley relational.  In regard to His essential being and nature, Jesus is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But with regard to His function, Jesus always subordinates Himself to the Father.  An easy way to understand and explain this is to simply say that Jesus always does the will of His Father.  In doing so, He sets the example for us of how the Christian life is to be lived.  Just as Jesus abided in the Father and carried out His will, so to must we abide in Christ and carry out His will throught the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

CONCLUSION

The ministry of Jesus while He was here on earth sets the example for how the Christian life is to be lived.  The answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is simply that He would do the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  For us this is a profoundly simple but astoundingly complex understanding how the members of the Trinity are work in our daily life.  Like, Jesus our focus is to be constantly on the will of the Father.  But at the same time, we must acknowledge we are helpless to carry out His will in our strength.  Therefore, just like Jesus, was must rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us carry out the will of the Father, we experience the Trinity in our daily walk by living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Christian life then becomes an amazingly simple process by which we simply rely on each member of the Trinity to carry out their work in our lives.  John 15 describes this process as simple “abiding” in the vine.  Through this intimate relationship of dependence, the Godhead works in our lives to trim away the things that are displeasing to God and to bear additional fruit.  The simplicity of this relationship is astounding, but its results are profound.  Jesus does not call us to bear fruit on our own, but promises that if we simply rely upon and trust in Him, the members of the Trinity will work together in our lives to accomplish their purposes. The entire Christian life then becomes and experience of all three members of the Trinity.  With that in

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Experiencing the Trinity in Worship

One of the most vivid memories I have of church as a child is of the entire congregation singing the doxology as the ushers brought the offering forward.    In fact, this is the first memory I have of being exposed to the doctrine of the Trinity.  If I close my eyes I can still here that little country church singing:

 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above ye, heavenly hosts

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Every Sunday, no matter what else we did, we sang that chorus.  This practice may seem outdated today, but our Pastor intentionally build this into our worship as a reminder of the Trinity.  While I’m not advocating a return to the singing of the doxology each, although it wouldn’t hurt occasionally, I do want to extol the merits of a Trinitarian shaped worship experience.

Biblically, our approach to God is always Trinitarian.  Paul expresses this idea in Ephesians 2:18 when he says, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Our access to the Father is made possible through the work of Christ and is empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As we’ve already seen in the earlier chapters, the Trinity shapes the way we are saved, read the Bible, and even pray.  It should be no surprise, then, that the Trinity would also shape the way we worship.  True worship is offered to the Father, through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Importance of Worship

In some ways, this chapter may be the most important in the entire book because God’s driving passion and central purpose is His own glory.  God’s focus on His own glory is displayed in several passages throughout the Bible.  In Isaiah 43:6-7, for instance, God says He created man for “His glory.” In Ephesians 1:3-14, God’s motivation for saving us was for, “the praise of His glory.” (v.6, 12, 14) John 1:14 says Jesus came to earth to reveal God’s glory.  Philippians 2:1-11 reminds us that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, “to the glory of God the Father.”  God’s passion for His own glory, therefore, is what fuels our understanding of worship.  We were created and redeemed to worship God.  This teaching is summarized in the Westminster Shorter Catechism when it says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Since worship plays such a central role in the economy of God,  it is important for the church to get it right.  Too much of the modern discussion about worship is centered on the issue of style.  While we tend to think this is as a relatively recent debate, it actually pops up in nearly every page of church history. Today we debate the merits of contemporary songs and the use of praise bands, while in the past the church has debated whether or not any instruments should be played and whether it was permissble to sing anything but the Psalms. All of these were primarly focused on the issue of style, but missed a far more important issue. While we have been fighting over style, Satan crept in undetected to attack the shape of our worship. The evidence of this is seen in the way the Trinity is neglected in our worship.

 

The Neglect of the Trinity in Contemporary Worship

 

To get a glimpse of the role of the Trinity in contemporary worship I’ve analyzed fifty of the most used contemporary worship songs, according to the website of a major music publisher.  What I found is that 34 refer to God in general sense without naming any specific member of the Trinity.   Two songs specifically mention the Father, twenty-six refer to the Son and the work of redemption, while five refer directly to the Holy Spirit.  Surprisingly, only one song on the list, “How Great is Our God,” refers to all three members of the Godhead by name and uses the title Trinity.

In examining the lyrics of these songs, I came up with two important observations.  First, is that contemporary Christian music has a strong emphasis on the redemptive work of Christ.  Over half of the song on the list refer to Jesus by name while also emphasizing His work on the cross.  This emphasis on Jesus is a hallmark of evangelical worship and is a thoroughly Biblical focus because our access to God the Father is made possible by exclusively through Jesus the Son.  That’s why even in heaven, the focus of worship is on the redemptive work of Christ (Revelation 5:16-14).  So, in this regard contemporary worship music is very strong.

But I also noticed an alarming trend.  Thirty-four of the fifty songs used the generic “God” or “Lord” while only two referred directly to the Father.  On one hand, this may not be too big of a deal.  All three members of the Trinity are, in fact, divine and worthy of worship.  So, simply referring to them by the title “God” is perfectly fine.  On the other hand, this trend may show a growing lack of clarity and precision in our understanding of God.  This is alarming because worship music plays an important role in how doctrine is taught in the church. If we continue down this road, my fear is that we could eventually become functional, if not outright, Unitarians.  In all honesty, this is not just a problem for contemporary music, traditional hymns also struggle to adequately capture the doctrine of the Trinity.  Balance is very tough thing to maintain, but we must strive to do the very best we can.

One way to protect ourselves from this doctrinal slide is to vigilantly maintain a Trinitarian shape in our worship service.  Doing so will not only promote orthodoxy but may even result in a deeper experience with the living God.     An age-old problem, is our sinful desire to make worship about us.  This has been true in every generation since the fall.  God, however, has given us specific instructions on how He wants to be worshipped — we see this throughout the Bible.  While the New Testament allows for a great deal of flexibility in the forms worship, it makes it clear that the overall shape is to be thoroughly Trinitarian.

 

Trinitarian Shape of New Testament Worship

When I say, worship is to have a Trinitarian shape, I’m referring to the Biblical truth that we worship the Father, through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  At the beginning of the chapter, I mentioned how my former Pastor purposely included the Doxology in our worship services each week. Today, he might choose songs like How Great is Our God or We Believe to carry out the same goal.  But his goal would still be the same — keep the doctrine of the Trinity before us every week. While including songs that specifically mentions the Trinity is a great first step, it falls short of having a truly Trinitarian shaped worship service.  For that to happen we must once again return to Ephesians 2:18, “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  As we’ve seen in earlier chapters, this verse gives a Biblical understanding of how we approach God.  In worship, just as in salvation, Bible reading and prayer, we come to God the Father, through the Son in the power of Holy Spirit. Worship involves all three members of the Trinity.  Let’s look at role each member of the Trinity plays in worship.

 

  1. Worship is Made Possible by Jesus

Because of the fall, we cannot approach God in worship on our own merits.  This separation is dramatically illustrated in the Old Testament worship through the Tabernacle and the Temple.  The architecture of both buildings was designed to convey the idea that people were separated from God by their sin.  The first sign of this in the Old Testament was the outer wall of the Temple, which separated God’s chosen people from the Gentiles.  Further inside the court was a second wall through which only the Priests could enter and still further there was the Holy of Holies, in which only the High Priest could enter once a year to make sacrifice for the sins of the people.  Everything in this building was designed to show that our sin has separated us from God.

In addition, to its architecture, the entire worship system of the Old Testament Temple showed the need to approach God via a substitute.  All of this was intended to point us to Jesus who is the means, motivation, and minister of our worship.  Let’s look more carefully at how Jesus fulfills each of these roles.

Jesus is our means worship, because it is only through His sacrificial death on the cross that we are qualified to approach God’s throne.  He is fully God and the perfect revelation of the divine nature (Heb 1:1-3) but He is also fully man.  After dying on the cross for our sin, He ascended back to heaven where He stands for us before God the Father (Heb 9:24) giving us access into His presence (Rom 5:2).  If it were not for the work of Jesus, we could not come before God.  (John 14:6) That is why Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God…” It is only through Jesus that our worship is acceptable to the Father, therefore, He is the means of our worship.  (see also 1 Peter 2:4-5)

But Jesus also gives the motivation for our worship.  Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The “mercies of God” summarizes everything Paul had talked about in the first eleven chapters of Romans — namely, the redemption and reconciliation offered to us by Jesus.  But Paul has more than just an emotional response in mind by this command.  The word translated as “spiritual,” is the Greek word logikos, referring to our reasonable or logical response to God.  Our worship is reasonable in the sense that it’s motivated and informed by Christ’s redemptive work.

Commenting on this verse, Douglas Moo writes, “I am afraid that what passes for worship in some churches goes little beyond an emotional reaction to a certain form of music.  Some writers of music and certain kinds of worship leaders know how to get people excited but I am not always that they are getting people to worship.” (Moo 2000, 398)  True worship must be both thought-filled and heart-felt.  One without the other will always fall short of what God desires from us in worship. Thought-filled worship reflects a robust theologial understanding of the work of Christ, which naturally leads to a heart-felt surrender of our emotions, mind and will to God.

In addition to serving as the means and motivation of our worship, the Bible also teaches that Jesus serves as our heavenly minister of worship.  Hebrews 8:2, refers to Jesus as “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”  The word translated as “minister” is the Greek word, leitourgos, which refers to “one who serves.” David Allen says this word was used in reference to the priests who served in the Tabernacle and is “virtually synonymous with ‘high priest’ with an emphasis on the activity of worship and priestly ministry.” (Allen 2010, 441) The picture here is of Jesus, our High Priest, representing us before the Father and simultaneously leading us in worship.

We can directly measure the quality of our worship by examining what it says about Jesus.   Since Jesus is the means, motivation, and minister of our worship, He should occupy the center stage of our corporate worship.  This requires more than merely mentioning His name a couple of times in each service.  True Biblical worship will call to mind all the major facets of Jesus’ ministry — His incarnation, atoning work on the cross, resurrection, ascension and second coming.  It will also include a balanced picture of His attributes — His eternity, righteousness, holiness, sovereignty, grace, and love.  For true Biblical worship to occur, leaders as much time thinking about how to balance and present these themes as they do chord charts and orchestration. Once again, we must strive to lead the church in worship that is both heart-felt and thought-filled.

 

  1. Worship is Focused on Glorifying the Father

Jesus’ primary mission on earth was to glorify God the Father.  We see this idea fleshed out in several places in the Gospel of John.  In John 6:38, for instance, Jesus says “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  Then in John 14:31, He says, “…but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” Later in His high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus says that everything He did was focused on glorifying the Father by carrying out His will. (see v.4, 6, 8) The glory of God was the utmost issue in Jesus’ mind in everything He did.

As we’ve already seen earlier in this chapter, God’s overriding purpose is “the display and furtherance of His own glory.” (Man 2000, 81)  John Piper observes that, “The Biblical vision of God is that he is supremely committed, with infinite passion to uphold and display the glory of His name.” (Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad 1993, 99) The overwhelming focus of Jesus’ life and ministry was the glory of God.  In this, He sets the example for the church. God created us for His glory (Isa 43:6-7).  He saved us for His glory (Eph 1:3-14).  Even in heaven, the central focus and activity will be worshipping and glorifying God (Rev 5). Glorifying God through worship, therefore, is not one of the many activities we perform as a church — it is the central reason for why we exist.

But we need to raise this discussion in the modern church beyond the issue of style.  Glorifying God transcends the issue of style.  Truthfully, God can be just as honored by a Skiffle influenced ska band as he can a Southern Gospel quartet.  He can be just as glorified by an electrified Polka band as He can a five-piece rhythm section or a Pipe organ.  Style is a matter of culture.  Worship is a matter of our heart.  A rapper who loves Jesus can be just as effective in leading God honoring worship as a classically trained musician.  Frankly, God would rather hear 10,000 out of tune hillbillies who can’t keep time but who have a white-hot passion for His glory than four dudes whose hearts are cold and indifferent but can sing in perfect harmony.  The fact that we make such a big deal about style is the best sign that our focus is in the wrong place.  Worship is about God!  Not us!  Therefore, we must make sure our focus is on glorifying God rather than satisfying our flesh.  Below are three major areas of focus that we must keep to glorify God the Father.

  1. Focus on His Attributes

The Bible is filled with examples of people praising God for what He is like.  Psalm 8 celebrates God’s power in creation and His sovereignty over the universe.  In Isaiah 6, the angels declare His holiness.  In 1 Chronicles 16:23-29, David praises God for His glory.  Psalms 102:25-28, focuses on His immutability, while Psalms 113:4,5 talks about His transcendence.  Psalms 89:1-8 talks about His faithfulness, Proverbs 3:19-20 about His wisdom, Psalms 139:7-12 His omnipresence and Psalm 139:1-6 His omniscience.  We could go on and on, but I think you get the point.  God’s attributes have been celebrated in the worship of the church from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, in modern churches many of His attributes have fallen into neglect.  My survey of 50 often used contemporary worship songs revealed 34 referred to God the Father, but of these the clear majority focused exclusively on His grace and mercy to the neglect of His other attributes.  In fact, only two mentioned any of His other attributes — His eternity and holiness.  Noticeably absent were themes such as His righteousness, faithfulness, and immutability, all of which have traditionally been regular subjects of Christian worship.  To see what I mean just compare the lyrics of Isaac Watts, William Cowper, or the Wesley brothers with the most often used songs in your church.

This does not mean, however, that all contemporary hymns writers are neglecting the attributes of God.  I’ve found several composers such as Keith and Kristen Getty, Stuart Townsend and Chris Tomlin are writing theologically rich music, which deal with a wide variety of God’s attributes.  The problem is that our familiarity with some of the more popular songs hinder us from digging into the rich library of hymnody, both traditional and contemporary, available to the church.  So that you won’t think I’m picking on the contemporary music, let me point out that this problem is often far worse in traditional churches, where familiarity with a handful of songs have given them a false status of being quasi-divinely inspired.  The truth is that both the contemporary and traditional churches limit themselves by not planning worship to focus on a wide variety of God’s attributes.  We will examine how this can be remedied later in the chapter, but for now let’s turn to the second focus that should be clear in our worship.

 

  1. Focus on the Great Works of God

The Bible commands us to focus on the great works of God in our worship. In Psalm 105:22, for instance, we are commanded to “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” In 1 Chronicles 16:9 as David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the tent that he had pitched for it, he said, “O give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make know his deeds among the people! Sin to him, sing praises to him tell of all his wondrous deeds.”  A good example of how this was carried out is Psalms 66, where the Psalmist says, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!  Say to God, how awesome are your deeds!”  After inviting the worshippers to consider the works God has done on their behalf, the Psalmist then lists several of them — crossing the Red Sea (v.6-7), preserving the life of the nation (v.8-9), and delivering them into the promised land (v.11-12). This is a good pattern for modern worship — we need to invite people to see what God has done and then show them.

Today, when we think of praising God for His works, our minds tend to drift exclusively towards redemption.  Obviously, this is an important focus of worship and we will discuss it at length in the next section.  But we also need to focus on some of God’s other great works, such as creation and the way He providentially guides the universe.  Traditional hymns such as “How Great Thou Art,” and “O God our Help in Ages Past,” or more recent songs, such as “God of Wonders” are wonderful ways to praise God for His great works.

 

  1. Focus on the Redemptive Work of Christ

As you may have already guessed, the theme of salvation is a major focus of worship in both the Old and New Testaments (see 1 Chr 16:23-29, Ps 96:1-9, Isa 66:18-19 and Lk 2:20).    The Temple and sacrificial system were designed to point worshippers to the need and means of salvation. In addition, Ephesians 1:3-14 shows that God’s goal in our salvation was for His own glory.  Later in Revelation 5 we discover that even in heaven our salvation will be a major focus of praise.  Given the emphasis placed on this theme throughout the Scripture it makes sense that it should play a major role in the worship of the church today.

While evangelicals typically do a good job of keeping the themes of redemption and salvation as major focuses in our worship, we should be aware of two cautions.  First, we must be careful to keep our focus on salvation from becoming too man centered.  It is easy for us to fall into the trap of making salvation primarily about us, rather than the glory of God.  Therefore, we must carefully examine our worship to ensure we keep our focus on the big picture of salvation.  Second, we need to make sure we don’t allow our familiarity with this theme to lead to neglect.  Maintaining the proper focus in our worship needs thoughtfulness and careful planning, both as individuals and church leaders.   But we also need to remember that we are incapable of glorifying the Father and the Son on our own —true worship is always empowered by the Holy Spirt.

 

  1. Worship is Empowered by the Holy Spirit

It has become common place in evangelical churches to make the Holy Spirit a direct object of worship.  In a sense, this is totally permissible because the Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father and Son, therefore, worthy of worship.  But merely mentioning the Holy Spirit in a few songs misses the important role He plays in focusing and empowering our worship.

The primary focus of the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament, is to point people to Jesus.   In John 15:26, for instance,  Jesus told His disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” Jesus reiterates this teaching in the next chapter, saying;

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)

The issue raised here is one of agency.  Just as Jesus served as an obedient agent of the Father carrying out the role of redemption, “the Spirit’s role is also one of agency — namely to communicate to the disciples what he receives.”  (Borchert 2002, 168)  As a faithful agent, the Holy Spirit never focuses our attention on Himself, but always points us towards Jesus.  True Spirit filled worship, then,  will always be focused on the the works of Jesus.

In addition to maintaining our focus, the Spirit also empowers our worship.    Philippians 3:3 says that we “worship by the Spirit of God.” Without denying the physical components of worship, we must acknowledge that it is primarily a spiritual act, therefore,  It must be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit for it to be genuine.   Such worship, as we’ve already seen, will be God-centered and Christ-focused but it will also be guided by the Word to engage both the heart and mind.  Both are ncessary for true worship to have occurred. Engaging the mind to think deeply about the things of God is a matter of the intellect. But true worship will go beyond merely engaging our minds by also moving our will and emotions.

 

 

One of the key tests of whether we have experienced true Spirit-empowered worship is the change it produces in our lives.  Worship that merely stirs our emotion will fade once the enthusiasm wears off.  Worship that engages  the mind without stirring the emotions or moving the will, results in a stale orthodoxy. True spirit-empowered worship touches the whole person.  It moves our emotions, transforms our minds and directs our will to become more like the Son, to the glory of the Father.

 

Conclusion

The same Trinitarian shape we see in salvation, Bible reading and prayer carries into our worship.  True worship is offered to the Father, through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is the Biblical pattern for worship.  As we plan and evaluate worship in the church we should constantly seek to sustain this pattern. Three questions must constantly be on our minds as we think about the worship of the church.  First, was the redemptive work of Jesus central in this service?  It is never enough to merely mention the name of Jesus a few times in a worship service.  Biblical worship centers on the redemptive work of Christ, which offers our only means of access to the Father.

Second, did it glorify God the Father by focusing on His attributes and works?  Far too often we are guilty of worshipping God in vague and general ways.  While this is okay at times, we also need to get more specific.  Focus on praising God not just for His love and grace, but for His other attributes as well.  The same holds true for His works.  In addition to focusing our attention on redemption we should also include such works as creation and providence in our worship.

Finally, we need to ask, was this worship service empowered by the Holy Spirit?  Be careful how you answer this last question.  Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of merely evaluating the Spirit’s influence in terms of emotion.  Genuine spirit-filled worship moves our emotions, but also transforms our mind and directs our will.  Worship that doesn’t do all three is not true worship.  As you think about this chapter and discuss it with another believer this week, take time to prayerfully consider your worship life using the following questions.