I’ll never forget this one conversation I had with a life long member at my first church. I was a young man and still in college, serving for the first time on staff at a church as a youth minister. The previous Sunday I had the opportunity to preach one of my first few sermons. I don’t remember the sermon passage or theme, but I do remember a conversation I had the next day. An older lady called the church office requesting help with getting her TV to work. Since the youth pastor is the go to tech guy, I jumped in my car and quickly skirted down the street to her house. I fixed the TV rather quickly, and she started talking to me about my sermon yesterday. At one point in the conversation she said, “You spoke about the Holy Spirit yesterday, and I got to thinking. You know, I don’t really know anything about the Holy Spirit.” I was caught off guard. Here was a lady who had sat through sermons and Sunday school lessons for seven decades, yet knows nothing about the Holy Spirit.
As I’ve continued to serve the church, I’ve come to a realization that so many Christians know little about the doctrine of the Trinity. How can this doctrine, a cornerstone of Christian orthodoxy, be so neglected in our teaching? I think there are a few reasons. First, I think many pastors and teachers are afraid of teaching on the Trinity, fearful they will accidentally say something heretical. So, they just avoid the subject. Second, the church has tended to avoid doctrinal instruction to its members in recent decades, thus the doctrine of the Trinity never gets discussed. However, I think there is a third reason, which is the real culprit for the Trinity’s neglect in our churches: we do not believe the doctrine of the Trinity is relevant to our lives.
What’s prioritized for the American church tends to be what’s immediate and practical. For most, the Trinity seems so esoteric and insignificant to the Christian life. Why bother with it?
I’m convinced that the Trinity is of incredible value to the Christian life, and the neglect of the doctrine in recent years has only impoverished Christian spirituality. Pastors and church leaders need to teach this doctrine, and demonstrate its relevance to their congregations. This short blog post could never unpack the beauty of the Trinity and expound upon its relevance to the Christian life in its entirety. However, I hope to whet your appetite with one area of great relevance, ripe for our consideration—union with Christ.
God is Community
Admittedly, the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand. Thankfully, through rigorous debate, the early church father’s helped form the language of Christian orthodoxy. The council at Nicaea affirmed,
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God form God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.
So the early church fathers helped develop this doctrine, teaching us that God exists as three in one: Father, Son, and Spirit. Each person is distinct, but of one substance. Through the language of Nicaea, the church fathers correct heterodox teaching in the church and clarify orthodoxy.
For our purposes, it’s important to note that though God is one, he exists within the community of himself. Each person of the Godhead delights and rejoices in the other. Within the inter-Trinitarian community, God exists in an effusion of love and joy. As God’s image bearers, we were designed to receive love from God and give love back to God. Of course, things went awry in the Garden of Eden. Our sin severed us from the fellowship we were created to have with God.
Jesus the God/Man
Enter the Son. In Jesus, the Son enters into the world. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. In Jesus’ incarnation, he is both fully God and fully man. Theologians call this doctrine the hypostatic union. So the eternal Son unites himself permanently and inextricably to humanity. Thus, only the Son can serve as the only mediator between God and Men. Through Jesus’ work of redemption, he enables sinners to again fellowship with the God of love. He takes on the penalty for our sin and gifts us with his perfect righteousness. Thus, by faith, we are in Christ. That little phrase “in Christ” is littered throughout the New Testament, particularly the Pauline epistles. Though we tend to gloss over the short prepositional phrase, it is crucial to understanding the practical implications of the Gospel and the Trinity.
Because believers are united to Christ, our life is taken up in him. Though we as individuals remain distinct in our own personalities, our lives find their identity in Jesus’ life.
We live in Christ. We suffer with Christ. We die in Christ. We’re given the mind of Christ. We share in the inheritance of Christ.
So, the key to understanding the relevance of the Trinity is comprehending and experiencing fully our union with Christ.
United to Christ, United to God
Because we are united to Christ, Jesus connects us again to the glorious inter-Trinitarian community. Through Christ we participate in this community of love. We do not become gods, but because we are grafted into Christ, the same delight the Father and Spirit have for the Son, the Father and Spirit now has for us. Why? Because we are in Christ. Through Jesus we can see, perceive, and receive the love of God.
You see, the Trinity isn’t some abstract and pointless doctrine, rather it is essential in understanding and experiencing the delight of knowing this Triune God. Instead of tossing the Trinity out as a complicated and irrelevant doctrine, we must ponder, meditate, and experience the beauty of God’s triune existence.
NOTE: If this post stirred your interest in the importance and relevance of the Trinity, consider reading Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.