A New Series: Experiencing the Trinity

“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.[1]  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:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. Three different persons are referred to as God.
  3. 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.

[1] For more information about this study visit http://www.thestateoftheology.com

Why I believe Kim Davis should have resigned?

Today, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning found Kim Davis, Country clerk of Rowan county, in contempt of court over her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.  While I agree with Mrs. Davis that same-sex marriage is morally wrong and a violation of Biblical principles this does not give her the right to violate a court-order.  The fact is, she has had her opportunity to make her position known and to appeal to the courts.

After Governor Steve Beshear told county clerks to issues marriage licenses to all eligible couples, Mrs. Davis filed suit in a Federal court.  After a District court ruled against her, she appealed her case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.  In each of these instances, she lost.  While I wish that her case would have gone differently, the fact is that she has been ordered by the court to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. But she has refused to comply and has now been jailed for contempt of court. Rather than following this course,  I think a better and more Biblical course of action would  have been to simply resign her office, publicly stating the reason for her decision is that she in good conscience could not issue licenses for same-sex couples.

As Christians we can disagree with the finding of the Supreme Court that go against our core Biblical beliefs but this does not give elected officials the right to a disobey a court order. (see Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14)  The truth is that Mrs. Davis is not being discriminated against, nor are any of her rights being violated.  No one is saying that she does not have the right to practice her religion or to hold her beliefs.  Some Christians have cited Acts 5:29 as a justification for Mrs. Davis’s refusal to comply with the court order, but I think this argument misses the points.

In Acts 5, the Apostles had been arrested and put in jail for preaching the gospel.  That night an Angel of the Lord came and opened the prison doors, commanding the Apostles to, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” (Acts 5:20)  When the high priests and Sanhedrin heard about this they sent and had the Apostles brought before them, when they arrived the Chief Priest asked, “Did we not strictly, command you not to teach in this name?  And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine…”  To this Peter replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:28-29)

Those who cite this Scripture in defense of Mrs. Davis argue that she is simply carrying out the command of God.  But this misses the point.  The Apostles were actually being denied the right to preach the gospel.  The government was actively telling them to violate the command of God with no option to obey.  This is not the case with Mrs. Davis.  She has every right to hold her belief but not if it interferes with the execution of her job as county clerk.  She is free to hold her religious beliefs and if she does not want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples she has the option of resigning, but this of course, wouldn’t have made the evening news.

When I was teenager our family belonged to a church that took a very strong position on the issue of alcohol.  In our church covenant, every member pledged to abstain from the sale and use of alcohol as a beverage.  That was a common position for Baptist churches at that time and I don’t bring it up to make a point about alcohol but rather to recount the testimony of one faithful member of the church who had the courage to live out her convictions.

One of the ladies in that church had a job in a grocery store.  When she first took the job, the store did not sell alcohol so when the proprietor secured his liquor license she was faced with dilemma.   Her conviction was that it would be wrong for her to serve alcohol, so she went and talked to her boss.  He explained that he had no other positions available and that if she was going to continue working for him she would have to sell alcohol.  She was faced with a very difficult decision.  On one hand she wanted to live according to her deeply held religious opinions.  But on the other hand, she needed the job to help provide income for her family.  After much prayer, she decided to live by her convictions, quit her job, and trust that God would provide for her financial needs.

This was not an easy decision.  She didn’t get any press coverage and most people in the church didn’t even notice.  I’m sure there were probably moments when she wondered if she had made the right decision.  But eventually, God was faithful and provided her with a new job where she did not have to violate her conscience.  My point is that she didn’t make a big fuss about it.  She didn’t go to work and then refuse to do her job.  She didn’t go on TV or to court to appeal her case, she simply lived by her convictions and trusted God.

As believers we need to stop applauding people who grandstand and start applauding those who by simple faith live out their convictions day to day.