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

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G.K. Beale on the Assurance of Salvation

At the recommendation my dear friend Nathan Martin (@nater_Martin) I spent some time last night reading the excursus in G.K. Beale’s “A New Testament Biblical Theology” on the assurance of salvation (pgs. 865-870). Assurance is one of the most important doctrines for a new believer to comprehend, but unfortunately it is often presented in ways that are at best unhelpful and at worst can be unbiblical. Instead of offering trite sayings or clichés, Beal provides us with a clear, simple and Biblical model for understanding the assurance of salvation. He argues that we can understand assurance as a triangle, “with each angle contributing to an aspect of assurance. “

BealeTriangle

Trust in God’s Promise of Salvation

 Beal states that, “First, God promises throughout the NT that those who place their faith in Christ and his redemptive work will receive an inner assurance that they have truly benefitted from Christ’s work (the top of the triangle).” (p.867) He then cites 1 John 5:9-15 as a classic example of this teaching in Scripture:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

This passages teaches us that “God ‘has testified’ that ‘eternal life’ comes through belief in ‘His Son,’ and those ‘who believe’ in the Son ‘have the testimony in ‘themselves.’” (p.868) We have the assurance of God’s Word that He has given life to all who believe.

Good Works

The Bible clearly teaches that no one will be saved by their good works, but it is also equally adamant that those who have been saved will produce good works. Beale uses Ephesians 2:8-10 to demonstrate this point:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Verses 8 and 9 are universally used to demonstrate the Biblical teaching concerning justification by faith alone, however; we often skip the next verse. Verse 10 is important because it teaches that as believers we are saved to do “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” Beal says, “..one who has truly been resurrected (Eph 2:4-6) and thus becomes a part of the new creation will inevitably and increasingly be characterized by good works (Eph 2:10) instead of behaving like “dead people” in bondage to “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1-3).” (p.868)

One of the ways that I explain this to new believers is that the greatest evidence of genuine salvation is a changed life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This new life is exhibited through a change in behavior and attitudes that lead to good works. These good works not only demonstrate to others that we have received a new life, but also serve as assurance to us that God has indeed transformed our lives through the gospel. Beal says, “…believer’s assurance of truly being part of the new creation comes as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about since they became Christian.” (p.869)

Conviction by the Spirit

Many years ago I heard an evangelist say that one of the ways that we know we are saved is that “whenever we fall into sin we are immediately convicted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.” He summed this teaching up by saying, “We can’t get away with anything.” Looking back this was one of the most evident signs to me that something had changed in my life. I can remember shortly after I was saved falling under tremendous conviction for uttering a curse word on the playground. What had been a regular activity before now suddenly felt out of place and wrong.

Beal closes by saying, “…faithful, growing Christians should receive multiple assurances from these three angles, which have a cumulative force, enhancing the overall sense of confidence about the reality of their Christians experience.”(p.870) But also warns that, “no confidence should exist in those who profess to believe in Jesus but who reflect no discernible change for the good in their lifestyles and who have no conviction about changing their sinful ways.”

G.K. Beale “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011)