“The Trinity is revealed through the dynamic action of all three members of the Godhead working in perfect unity to accomplish their collective will.”
Over the next several weeks, I will be preaching and blogging about the doctrine of the Trinity. Specifically, I want to show that the entire Christian life is an experience of all three members of the Trinity accomplishing their collective will. If you enjoy this post, please follow my blog so that you won’t miss and installment and share with your friends.
While working on this series in local coffee shop, I bumped into a friend of mind, who happens to be a fellow Pastor. After a couple minutes of talking, he asked what I was working on. When I told him that it was a new teaching series on the Trinity, his eyes began to glaze over and he asked, “The Trinity? Why are you working on something like that? Why not work on something that will actually help people?”
While I have no doubt that my friend is a devout believer and a dedicated Pastor, his response demonstrats a significant problem in the evangelical church – we have divorced doctrine from practical life. Nowhere is this more evident than in our treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity.
He is correct in one sense, almost all evangelicals know about the Trinity. According to a 2016 study conducted by Lifeway Research, 93% of evangelicals affirm they believe there is one God in three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. At first glance this makes it appear like the doctrine of the Trinity is alive and well within our churches. But closer inspection starts to shows some real problems. For instance, while 83% of Evangelicals agreed with the statement that Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, 63% agreed with the contradictory statement that He is the first and greatest being created by God the Father. As we will see in next week’s post, this is a direct contradiction of Biblical truth.
Another example of our confusion over the trinity, concerns the deity of the Holy Spirit. The study reveals that 24% of evangelicals agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is divine but not equal with God the Father or Jesus. In addition, 55% agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being. As we will see next week, both of these statement are direct contradictions to the doctrine as revealed in the Scripture.
We could go on and on, but the Lifeway study demonstrates that there is widespread confusion in the church over the doctrine of the Trinity. Furthermore, this situation is about the same in both the evangelical and Roman Catholic traditions. While most members of the church affirm their belief in the doctrine, the majority do not actually have a Biblical understanding of it.
I would suggest that one cause of this problem lies in our tendency to reduce big doctrines into simple slogans. An easy example of this tendency is in the way we summarize the gospel with slogans such as, “Jesus saves” or “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” When it comes to the Trinity, we attempt to sloganize the entire doctrine with simple phrases like – “We believe in God in three persons” or “We believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”
These types of slogans have value in helping to give believers a short-hand way of expressing the truth, but they fall short of a robust understanding of the doctrine. Even worse, they can sometimes give the impression that we understand something that we really don’t. This is exactly what the statistics shows is happening with the Trinity. While the majority of church members claim to believe the slogan, they have no real understanding of the doctrinal content underlying these statements, let alone how these truths can impact their daily lives.
With regard to the Trinity, much of the problem lies in the way teach this doctrine. In most cases, the doctrine of the Trinity is limited to a presentation of three basic Biblical propositions that look something like this:
- There is only one God.
- Three different persons are referred to as God.
- Each person is distinct from the others.
Having stated these three basic propositions we then proceed to flesh it out with supported texts. In one sense, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this outline. It presents the basic principles of the doctrine of the Trinity in a simple and accessible manner. In fact, next week, we are going to use this very outline to lay out some basic guidelines for understanding the Trinity.
This basic type of outline forms a great starting point for sorting out and gaining a basic level understanding of the doctrine. But sadly, this is where most presentations of the Trinity stop. We learn to recite the slogan, but don’t go to the next step of seeing how the doctrine is fleshed out in the historical narrative of the Bible, nor in our own personal experience. One of my main purposes in this teaching series is to try to remedy this situation by exploring a more robust way of presenting and understanding the Trinity.
Far from being a mere set of propositions, the Trinity is revealed in Scripture through the dynamic action of all three members of the Godhead working in perfect unity to accomplish their collective will. The clearer we see this vision of God, the more we come to understand that the entire Christian life is an experience of the Trinity. All three members of the Trinity are working together to accomplish their collective will in every aspect our lives.
Take, for instance, our salvation. According to Ephesians 1:3-14 all three members of the Trinity play a role in this experience — God the Father chooses us, God the Son redeems us, and God the Spirit seals us. All three persons carry out their own distinct role in our salvation, but they are working in perfect unity to carry out their collective purpose. We will look at this in more depth in a couple of chapters, but for now just notice the pattern - all three members of the Trinity are working towards a common goal, but in their own distinct ways. This same principle holds true for other areas of our Christian experience as well.
When we take part in the mission of the church, we are serving God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, pointing people to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When we read our Bibles, we are reading the very words inspired by God the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit to point us towards God the Son. When we pray and worship, we come before God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit through the intercession of God the Son. Do you see what I am getting at? Every aspect of the Christian life is an experience of all three members of the Trinity working together to accomplish their collective will. Far from being a dry and impractical, the doctrine of the Trinity is the key to unlocking an experiential knowledge of God.
The goal of this study, therefore, is to open your eyes to the incredible work of the Trinity in your everyday Christian experience. Along the way we will clarify the Biblical doctrine and look at some classic departures from orthodoxy. But more than anything, we want this study to be a life-changing encounter with the living God. Beyond anything else, the doctrine of the Trinity focuses on relationships – the relationship between the three members of the Trinity but also the relationship between the Godhead and the believer. Simply being able to recite a doctrinal formula, therefore, is not enough. God’s purpose in revealing the Trinity in Scripture is to invite us into a relationship – a relationship that involves the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all working out their collective will in and through our lives.
Throughout this series, we will dig deeply into the Biblical teaching about how we experience the Trinity. I hope that you will book mark this page or follow this blog so that you won’t miss a single installment of this series. I also would ask that you consider sharing these posts with your friends and fellow church members to help spread the word about it.