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

Meek = Submissive (but submissive to the will of God)

Joe BuchananYesterday, I began a series of blog posts on the importance of meekness or humility in the life of the believer.  I mentioned in that post that Moses is a classic example of what meekness looks like.  Today, I would like to explore the issue further by looking more carefully at the life of Moses and then to provide an example of how God has taught me humility.

The Pride of Moses’ Youth

The story of Moses is one of the most interesting in the entire Bible. Few men have ever been born with such high expectations of what their life’s purpose was going to be, only to then have their lives redirected in such an unexpected way. Having grown up in the house of Pharaoh, Moses had all of the privileges of growing up in the royal family. He had access to the educational, cultural, and political benefits of being the adopted grandson of the ruler of Egypt. But in spite of his privileged position, Moses never forgot where he came from; down deep in his heart, he knew he was a Jew and his national identity came to a head one day when he witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.

The Bible says that Moses “looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12). The very next day, Moses witnessed two Hebrews fighting, and once again tried to intervene by saying to one of them, “Why do you strike your companion?” The man answered him, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13–14). Moses became afraid, and it says in the next verse that Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and put a warrant out on his life. At this point in the story, Moses did what any of us would do in his situation: he ran! He ran as fast and as far as he could, ending up in the land of Midian where he settled down and lived the next forty years of his life.

One thing that makes the life of Moses easy to remember is that his life can be broken down into three equal periods of forty years. During the first forty years, he lived in the house of Pharaoh. During the second forty years, he lived in the desert of Midian, shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Then during the final forty years of his life, he led the children of Israel during the Exodus. Pause and think about those numbers for a minute. Moses spent 80 of his 120 years preparing for the job God called him to do. I know guys who are so anxious to get started working for the kingdom that they can’t even take three years out of their lives to attend seminary. But Moses spent fully two-thirds of his life preparing for the mission God had in store for him. But even more significant is the fact that the first lesson Moses had to learn dealt with meekness.

Moses’ Learns Meekness in the Desert

We can see the need for Moses to cultivate the attitude of meekness in the fact that his initial attempt at leadership failed because he did not wait upon God’s timing or direction. Nowhere in the text of Exodus 1–2 does God speak to Moses and give him directions about how he was supposed to lead the people. Instead of waiting for God’s instruction, Moses acted impulsively and ended up nearly getting himself killed by his own adopted grandfather, the Pharaoh. Thankfully, God had bigger plans for Moses’ life and sent him to school on the backside of the desert.

Having grown up in the home of royalty, Moses must have been shocked by the rustic, tent life of a nomadic shepherd. Nevertheless, God was working out His plan and purposes in Moses’ life, and this required teaching him genuine humility. Nothing will humble a man like being thrown out of the royal family and forced to leave his homeland as a fugitive from justice. If there is anything more humiliating, it would have to be working for your father-in-law for the next forty years—and that is just what Moses ended up doing. For the next forty years of his life, Moses lived in the home of Jethro, his father-in-law, and tended his flocks.

It’s not hard to imagine that Moses might have felt like a total failure during this period in his life. Whatever dreams he’d harbored faded into distant memory as he went about the daily grind of caring for his father-in-law’s sheep. But what Moses could not see was that even in the midst of his greatest setbacks, God was at work accomplishing His divine purpose and plans. If we look at Moses’ life up to this point, all we see is failure and wasted potential. But God had different plans, and the fact that we know how the story ends should remind us to never give up on someone just because they aren’t progressing as fast as we think they should. It took God eighty years to get Moses to the point where he could be used.

The truth of the matter is that one of the most important traits God wants to build into our lives is the attitude of meekness. God is not looking for the most talented, or the most intelligent, or the most powerful people to use. God uses people who are wholly and completely dependent upon Him. This often means that before God can use us, He has to break our reliance on our own natural abilities and talents. In other words, God has to cultivate the attitude of meekness in our lives so that we will learn to be submissive to His will and the control of the Holy Spirit.

How God Taught A Young Preacher Humility

Early in my ministry, I had the great privilege of serving at Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, West Virginia. Most likely, you’ve never heard of this little church located in the Northern Panhandle of the Mountain State, but I will always have fond memories of the loving people in that church who called me to be their pastor when I was just twenty-four years old and loved me through thick and thin. Over the ten years I served as their pastor, the church grew from an average attendance of twenty-five to over one hundred. While that may not seem like a large or significant church, in that part of the state of West Virginia, we were one of the fastest growing churches within our denomination. Soon I was being invited to speak at our state convention meetings and at other churches around our state.

Somewhere in the middle of this excitement, I began to think the church was growing as the result of my skill and prowess as a pastor. I started to believe that I had a unique ability to grow churches and needed to be serving somewhere where my abilities could be used in a greater capacity. So I started looking for a bigger and better opportunity. Rather than being content with where God had placed me, I began to think I was too big for a rural church in West Virginia. To make a long story short, I ended up taking a pastorate in suburban Richmond, Virginia. The prior pastor had been the son of a well-known evangelist in our denomination, and I was certain that soon I would be pastoring the next great mega church within the Southern Baptist Convention. As you may have guessed, God had very different plans for my ministry.

The three years that I spent pastoring in Richmond turned out to be anything but fun. In fact, they were three of the most difficult years of my life as God literally stripped away everything I’d been depending on for the previous few years. At the time, I did not realize it but God was humbling me so that I would learn to be dependent on Him. This was not an easy experience, but it was necessary, and looking back now, I can praise God.

What I learned during those years is that God will not use anyone who is not fully dependent upon Him. Usually this means having to come face-to-face with who and what we really are. When forced to take a good, hard look at myself during those three years in Richmond, I didn’t like what I saw. It was not that I’d fallen into some notorious or scandalous sin, but something far worse—I’d fallen into the trap of believing I was actually a good guy and a talented pastor. The problem this attitude created was that I stopped depending on God and started relying on myself. It was not until God stripped away all of my self-confidence that I could see how arrogant and self-righteous I had become.

The hardest thing for me to admit in all of this is that when I left Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, I stepped out of the will of God. Looking back now, I can clearly see it was my own selfish pride rather than the hand of God that moved me to leave that church. Rather than being submissive to the will of God, I went looking for greener pastures. I wanted to do something for God. Something big! Something that would really show how much I loved Him and would help build His kingdom. What I didn’t understand back then is that God is not looking for me to do anything for Him, but instead wants to do something in me. That requires a submissive heart—a heart willing to submit to the will of God, but also that is yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Eventually I learned the lesson, and God has since called me to a wonderful church in Southern Illinois. Honestly, I needed to learn the lesson and am grateful for God for taking me through this experience, but nevertheless, I can now see how wrong my motives were and how unsubmissive to God’s will I was in making that move.