Trinity - 3 : Why Believe It?



It is time to ask the question of practical importance of knowing God as Trinity. The Ancient Church and Orthodox Christians down through the centuries have affirmed that the Trinity, far from being some esoteric theory, is deeply practical. It “is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.”[1] Increasing fidelity to the New Testament means increasingly becoming Trinitarian in every aspect of our life of faith. In this final section, we seek to see how every facet of New Testament Christianity is remarkably Trinitarian.

Trinity and Our Salvation


The gospel – both in its execution by God and in its experience by us, is deeply Trinitarian. In its execution, the Father, in eternity past, planned the redemption of a people chosen in His Son (Eph. 1:3,4,5,11; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Thess. 2:13; Jn. 6:37-40, 17:1-5, 24; Tit. 1:2; Ps. 2:6-8;), then in history, the Son came in obedience to the Father and accomplished the redemption of this people (Jn. 6:37-40, 10:28-29, 17:2b, 6, 9b; Mk. 10:45; Eph. 1:7; Col.1:21-22 1Pet. 2:24;), to whom the Spirit in time applies this redemption (Jn. 3:1-21; Tit. 3:5-7; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30; 1Jn 4:13; 1Co 6:15, 19; 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; Rom. 8:9-10). Our salvation is thus – planned, accomplished and applied[2]- by the three Persons of the Trinity in mutual love for the other. The Father chooses a people out of His love for the Son, the Son accomplishes redemption for this chosen people out of obedience to the Father and the Spirit applies it to this chosen people to glorify the Father and the Son. Thus our salvation is basically a transaction of love between the members of the Trinity. The Father loves us because we are in His beloved Son, the Son loves us for we are the people chosen for Him by His Father and the Spirit loves us for we are the people chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Son. Thus underlying our salvation is the intra-trinitarian love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The source of our salvation is thus the mutual love of the Persons within the Trinity.

Our experience of this salvation is equally Trinitarian. The moment we become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father and the Son fills us with the Holy Spirit to partake in their intra-trinitarian fellowship. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father sent the Spirit on Him and pronounced His love for the Son. That is a picture of the life of God from all eternity, for the Father has always loved the Son with the Spirit. When we get saved by the Son, the Scriptures says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us”(Rom. 5:5b). Thus one of the fundamental marks of being filled by the Spirit is this assurance of God’s love for us, as it was for Jesus at His baptism. Moreover the Scriptures adds specificity to this love we enjoy through the Spirit by saying that “God has send the Spirit of His Son in our hearts, by which we cry, ‘Abba Father!’”(Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15-17). In other words, the Spirit is given to us so that we can enjoy the love of the Father for the Son. This then is the joy of our salvation that the intra-trinitarian love of the Father for the Son has become ours in the gospel, by the promised indwelling of the Spirit of God.

Take away the Trinity and the gospel looses its meaning. Trinity is thus deeply practical, for our enjoyment of God’s love is characterized by the Trinity. We are made one with the Son, so that we can enjoy the love of the Father for the Son through the indwelling Spirit of God. This is why Jesus at the end of His High Priestly prayer prays as follows to the Father : “I made known to them Your Name and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn. 17:26). Jesus is very clear on the practical benefit of knowing God as distinct Persons, for He says, He will make His disciples know the Name of the Father so that the love of the Father for the Son will be ours. In other words, according to Jesus Christ, the doctrine of Trinity has been included in the Bible for our enjoyment of the distinct love of the Father for the Son. Thus the Puritanical Christians were right when they called the doctrine of Trinity, the foundation of our communion and comfortable dependence on God. It is the foundation of our communion, as Christian communion with God, is partaking in the intra-trinitarian fellowship of the Persons of God. It is the foundation of our dependence on God, as it places our faith, on the mutual love and faithfulness of the Persons of God. In other words, I can trust the Father, for He loves me like He loves the Son. Thus His faithfulness to me is built on the foundation of His faithfulness to the Son. Similarly I can trust the Son, for He does all things in perfect obedience to the Father. Thus His faithfulness to me is ultimately due to His faithfulness to the Father. So is the Spirit’s faithfulness to me, dependent on His love and faithfulness to the Father and the Son. Their mutual trust thus becomes the basis of our comfortable dependence on God.  In short, Trinity is the basis of our enjoyment of God’s love and our faith in Him. A biblical understanding of Trinity is thus crucial to understanding our salvation. J.I Packer is right when he says, “The Trinity is the basis of the gospel and the gospel is a declaration of the Trinity in action.”

 

Trinity and Our Worship


One of the most comprehensive statements on the Trinitarian nature of worship, is that, “Christian worship is determined, initiated, and shaped by, and directed to, the Holy Trinity”[3]. Letham also observes that as our salvation is Trinitarian – from the Father through the Son by the Spirit, our worship is also Trinitarian – by the Spirit through the Son to the Father (Eph. 2:18).

Worship, whether corporate or individual involves basically two elements – a receiving of God’s revelation to us and a response to that revelation from us to God[4]. According to Hebrews 2:12, Jesus is the mediator of both the revelation of God to man and the response of man to God -  

“I will proclaim Your name to My brethren,  [God to man]
In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.”  [man to God][5]

In other words, the Son mediates both the word of God to man and also the worship of man to God.  “In our worship (be it corporate or individual, formal or in our daily walk), Christ does not just receive our worship as God’s co-equal, but in His grand condescension and consummate manhood He Himself is the supreme and perfect worshiper (cf. 2:12b, “I will sing Your praise”)! And not only that, but He leads His brethren in all their responses of worship to God the Father (“in the midst of the congregation”). He is not content to receive worship at the Father’s right hand from those whom He has graciously redeemed; rather He insists on standing with His brothers and sisters; and not just joining in-- but actually leading the chorus of grateful response to the Father for His grace!”[6]

To understand this twofold mediating work of the Son, we have to go back to our discussion of Trinity and our salvation. For “Jesus introduces us to the same relation He has with the Father. He is the Son by nature; we are children by grace. We now call on God as ‘our Father’”[7]. Thus “Since our salvation is in union with Christ, what is his by nature is ours by grace”[8], “Christ is, in reality, the one true worshiper. Our worship is a participation in his.”[9] Trinitarian worship is thus, “the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father”[10].

Truly Trinitarian worship then is not something we do on our own. Rather “the worship of the church is the communion of the Holy Trinity with us His people... it is first and foremost something the Triune God does, our actions initiated and encompassed by His.”[11] God-centered worship then is one that is “centred upon God not only as the object of worship but also as the leader and the inspirer of worship. This takes nothing away from the act of offering praise and thanksgiving but rather than focusing on what we can do for God the emphasis falls upon the work of Christ and the life of the blessed Trinity. That is, upon the Son who takes us into the Father’s presence through his sacrifice and intercession and on the Spirit who is the enabler and the inspiration of worship. In this way worship becomes an act of grace rather than a work that we do. Worship understood as a work with a stress on our faith, our worship, or even my worship and my commitment cannot bring one into the presence of God any more than good deeds can bring one to salvation. None of this rules out the human element of response in worship”[12]. Thus our worship is not something we do on our own, but rather is our participation in the intra-trinitarian communion of God.  

Unlike all other models of worship, Trinitarian worship alone is radically grace-driven, for,  “Whether in corporate worship, individual worship, or in our daily walk (which too is to be worship, Rom. 12:1), there is not a single bit of God’s truth which we apprehend without it being mediated to our minds and hearts through Christ in His ministry of proclaiming the Father’s name to the brethren. Similarly, in any of the above contexts (corporate, individual, or lifestyle worship) there is no response of adoration or gratitude or commitment lifted up to the Father which is not initiated and enabled by the Son in His ministry of praise to the Father in the company of His brethren.”[13] Thus the author of Hebrews calls us to offer worship to God through Jesus Christ when he exhorts us, “Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb. 13:5).

Not only is our worship a gracious work of the Triune God in which we participate, but even the object of our worship is also triune. In other words, we do worship God by reflecting His distinct Persons and the gracious actions of each one of them. As John Owen put it: “The saints have distinct communion with the Father, and distinctly with the Son, and distinctly with the Holy Spirit.”[14] The church is called to worship the Father, the Son and the Spirit, in their distinct personhood revealed in scriptures. Thus Letham flushes out this trinitarian focus of worship in these words: “A living relationship with God requires that each of the Persons be honoured and adored in the context of their revealed relations with each other. The nature of our response in worship is to be shaped by the reality of the One we worship. We worship the Father, who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, who planned our salvation from eternity, who sent His Son into the world and gave Him up for us. We worship the Son, in filial relation to the Father, who willingly “for us and our salvation was made flesh, who submitted Himself to life in a fallen world, who trod a path of lowliness, temptation, and suffering, leading to the cruel death of the cross. We worship Him for His glorious resurrection, for His ascension to the right hand of the Father, for His continual intercession for us, and for His future return to judge the living and the dead and to complete our salvation. As John says, ‘Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3). We worship the Holy Spirit, who gives life and breath to all, who grants us the gift of faith, who sustains us through the difficulties of life as Christians in a world set in hostility to God, and who testifies of the Son.”[15] 

Worship that is faithful to New Testament Christianity is Trinitarian, for “God cannot be worshiped except as the Triune God. The denial of the doctrine of the Trinity renders the worship of the living God impossible.”[16]

Trinity and Our Prayer


For prayer to be truly Christian, it has to be Trinitarian. For as Christians, we are called to pray to the Father (Matt. 6:9) in the Name of the Son (John 14:13-14) by the help of the Spirit(Rom. 8:26). In Ephesians 2:18, “Paul writes that "through him [Christ] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one [Holy] Spirit to the Father." Access to God is ultimately access to the Father. This is through Christ, the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). The Spirit gives us life in place of death (Eph. 2:1), raises us in Christ (vs. 6), and graciously grants faith (vss. 8-10; cf. John 6:44). From this it follows that prayer is distinctively Trinitarian. The church and the Christian live in an atmosphere saturated by the Trinity. The Holy Spirit creates a desire to pray and worship God, brings us to faith, and sustains us in a life of faithful obedience. In turn, our access to the Father is exclusively through his Son, Jesus Christ, for no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Now that he has offered the one perfect sacrifice for sins for all time, we have access to the Father (Heb. 10:19-20), and so can approach with confidence the throne of grace, knowing that our great high priest is there to intercede for us.. Moreover, the Spirit brings us into his own intercession (Rom. 8:26-27), eliminating the distance between us and God, creating in us the same relation he has with the Father and the Son. Prayer..  is thus an exploration of the character of the Holy Trinity.”[17]

It is noteworthy to reflect how non-trinitarian understanding of the Bible cannot explain New Testament prayer or worship. For as noted in these considerations, in both prayer and worship we are partaking by the Third Person, the personal relationship of the Second Person to the First Person. Without affirming distinct Personhoods of the Three, none of these make any sense. Prayer and worship clearly brings out the practical bearing of the relational and personal nature of the Trinity.

Trinity and the Church


The truth of the Trinity makes a church healthy – both inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly, the ministry of the church among the saints is fashioned after the mutual self-giving and love of the members of the Trinity.  Trinity teaches us that God is a community of distinct yet united Persons where each Person finds their true identity in the other. Thus the Father is the Father because He is the Father of the Son. The Son is the Son because He is the Son of the Father. The Spirit is the Spirit because He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. In other words, the Trinity is teaching us that true identity and fulfilment is not found by looking inside, but by looking out and in loving relation to others.  Thus as Keller puts it, our conviction in the Trinity teaches us that “Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about.” and that we “were made for mutually self-giving, other directed love.”[18] This is what makes the church, a loving family of members, though distinct in functions and gifts, yet united in mutual love.

For when we are self-centered and the poor and the needy are ignored, “then the life of the triune God is not reflected in our humanity as it should be; then personhood itself is wounded and reduced. Where recognition of others, where kindness, gratitude and care are lacking, the person who has left these behind, however successful in other respects, has shrunk, not grown, in terms of their true personhood. They are diminished, not greatened, in their self-sufficiency.”[19]  It is only when a church is mutually loving and giving themselves to each other that she finds and grows in her true personhood. Thus the church becomes inwardly healthy by imitating the intra-trinitarian mutual self-giving and other-centeredness.

Outwardly, the mission of the church in the world is fashioned after the sending and obedient going of the members of the Trinity in their out-working of man’s redemption. The Father sent the Son(1 John 4:14), the Son then with the Father sends the Spirit(Jn. 14:16, 15:26) and now the Spirit along with the Father and the Son sends the church into the world(Acts 1:8;Jn. 20:21). The missionary outreach of the church flows from the missionary outreach of the Persons of the Trinity. Thus when the church goes out into the world for missions, she is partaking in the missionary endeavour of the Triune God.

The Church is healthy in her mission to the degree she sees her work as done in fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Spirit. For it is the Father’s plan to save men from all peoples, as a bride for His Son by the work of His Spirit. Thus the missionary goal to have a new humanity is the Father’s eternal decree, effectually accomplished by the Son through His blood and applied by the Spirit through His power. The Church’s call in missions then is to partake in this privilege of being God’s ordained means for this missionary purpose. Since missions ultimately is the work of the Triune God and the Church is called to partake in it, it cannot fail. The Church can thus be bold in her endeavours, rest in God regarding its success, and be hopeful about its completion. Thus by fellowshipping with the Persons of the Trinity at work in missions, the Church grows healthy outwardly.

Conclusion

In this section we have seen how every facet of New Testament Christianity is deeply Trinitarian. Thus it is impossible to deny the doctrine of Trinity and claim to be a Christian. For, our salvation, our worship, our prayer, our ministry inside the church, our mission outside the church etc to be truly Christian, has to be Trinitarian. This is the reason why the doctrine of Trinity is considered to be one which determines our orthodoxy. In other words, it is part of those core doctrines, which if you deny, you cannot be a Christian, but are a heretic.

Paper Conclusion


This paper has attempted to introduce the doctrine of Trinity – its concept, its scriptural justification and its practical implications. It is hoped that the reader is beginning to get convinced at the beauty and significance of this truth for our faith to be distinctly New Testament Christianity.  May the following words of Edgar be an encouragement for further pursuit of knowing, loving and delighting in our Triune God –

“The Christian doctrine of God as Trinity is fundamentally simple, thoroughly practical, theologically central and totally biblical. It is not, as sometimes suggested, an abstract or philosophical construction with an unusual perspective on mathematics which makes three equal to one! It is not a doctrine which is incomprehensible in presentation, irrelevant in practice, unnecessary theologically or un-biblical in form. It is in fact the distinctive Christian doctrine and essential for Christian life and discipleship.”[20]


[1] 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2:3 (Cf. The 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, Ch2:3)
[2] Theologians call these three stages of redemption as : Pactum Salutis, Historia Salutis and Ordo Salutis.
[3] Robert Letham, The Trinity, Worship, and Prayer, New Horizons, May 2006.
[4] See Gary Furr and Wilburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1998).
[5] See “Jesus Our Worship Leader: The Mediating Work of the Son in Worship”  by Ron Man in, Proclamation and Praise : Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship
[6] See “Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Role of Christ in Worship”  by Ron Man in, Proclamation and Praise : Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship
[7] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, P & R Publishing, 2004, p.415
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] See Brian Edgar, The Message of the Trinity: Life in God, (Leicester: IVP, 2004) in “The Bible Speaks Today” Series (General Editors: John Stott, Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball).
[11] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, P & R Publishing, 2004, p.416
[12] See Brian Edgar, The Message of the Trinity: Life in God, (Leicester: IVP, 2004) in “The Bible Speaks Today” Series (General Editors: John Stott, Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball).
[13] See “Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Role of Christ in Worship”  by Ron Man in, Proclamation and Praise : Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship
[14] John Owen, “Of Communion With God,” in “Works,” Vol.2, pp.9-17
[15] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, P & R Publishing, 2004,p.419
[16] Robert G. Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church, Wipf & Stock Pub, 2010, p.105
[17] Robert Letham, The Trinity, Worship, and Prayer, New Horizons, May 2006.
[18] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p.215
[19] Peter Lewis, The Message of the Living God: His Glory, His People, His World, InterVarsity Press, 2001 , p.294
[20] Brian Edgar, The Trinity and life in God, brian-edgar.com

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