The Trinity Made Relevant!

(Mat 3:13-17 NKJV) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. {14} And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" {15} But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. {16} When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. {17} And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

I remember reading a book by Chuck Swindoll that was reported to make doctrine relevant, concepts like the Trinity come alive for us. I thought, "Neat, I always wanted the Trinity to be more than a concept." But in reading the book, though it had some good points, still the Trinity seemed to be not much more than an abstract doctrine that had little bearing on my practical day to day living in the Church or out of it. And I fear it is like that for many who call themselves Christians. It is no wonder that groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses that deny the Trinity don't seem to be so much out of main stream anymore. The Arians are among us!

Added to that, we hear statements like "doctrines divide," insinuating that we should get rid of things like an insistence upon irrelevant doctrines like the Trinity or anything else that divides us against them. It is a statistical fact that most people pick a church based not upon what they believe so much as on whether they have friends there, or if the people are friendly to them, or even if the services are exciting. Doctrine is more and more taking a back seat to other factors in why one attends Church and part of this is rooted in the fact that doctrine for most people has become relative to a group's point of view, placing a dividing line between the different groups of "Christians", and unrelated to our lives.

But try telling that to Paul, who in his two letters to Timothy mentions the word 11 times, with statements like:

(1 Tim 1:3 NKJV) As I urged you when I went into Macedonia; remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,

and

(1 Tim 4:16 NKJV) Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Don't tell Paul that correct doctrine was not important for our Christian walk and our salvation. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity was so critical, that in the century that Arianism was most strong, people were killed over this issue. They obviously thought it was important.

So, how does the Trinity relate to us today as Christians? You would be surprised. Take a look again at the above verses in Matthew of Jesus' baptism, which have traditionally been used to reveal the Trinity most clearly in the Bible.

First, you definitely have three different and distinct persons involved here. You have the Father speaking of the Son and the Holy Spirit resting on the Son. This is evident in other areas of Scripture where Jesus prays to His Father and speaks of sending the Holy Spirit.

Yet, you also have here an obvious reference of connection between the three. Jesus is described by the Father as His Son in whom He is well pleased. You hear this again at the Transfiguration. The Church has always seen this as a true sonship. Whereas we are sons by adoption (Gal 4:5) Christ is called the "only begotten" Son of God in the Nicene Creed. Just as our children have the same nature as we do, so Christ because He was truly begotten by God the Father has taken on that same nature as God. He is fully divine as the Father is. Not only that, but because it is the Father's holy and divine nature that Christ possesses by nature, He of necessity is of one will and mind with the Father.

With the Holy Spirit we see the same thing. He is described as "the Spirit of God". The Spirit originates within God and comes from Him, thus indicating that the Holy Spirit is of the same nature. Again, we see that within ourselves. When we think of our own "spirit", we do not think of it as something other than ourselves even if we realize it is not the same thing as our body. As a matter of fact, we might even say that our spirit is more us than anything else, though in reality we cannot be separated in such an artificial way. But again, the Holy Spirit, being of the same essence as the Father, of necessity is in perfect union with the will and mind of the Father. Thus, even though there are three persons, they are in complete unity and harmony with each other, acting as one unit in each of their personal capacities and roles.

You don't have one entity acting in three different "modes" or expressions of Himself, nor do you have three different gods acting separately like the Greek mythological "gods" that fought among themselves and seemed more made after the image of man. What you have are three persons, all with the same eternal nature of God, unified by that nature. Now see, that is no so hard to understand. But what does it all mean?

Just this. Unity. St. Paul talks about it many times in his epistles. If you read any of the early Church fathers, you find it a central focus. And Jesus' famous prayer was:

(John 17:20-23 NKJV) "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; {21} "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. {22} "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: {23} "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

When we get down to it, it is only within the very nature of God that we can find the kind of unity that Jesus is talking about. The Trinity becomes the model and source of unity for us. By being joined to Christ, we are joined to that unity. Like the branches connected to the vine (John 15), that is a unity that connects me in unity with every other Christian that is connected. It is only as we "put on Christ" that we can "make no provision for the flesh" (Rom 13:14) and become unified internally with the very nature of God. Not that our nature becomes or participates in His nature, but His nature residing in us by the Holy Spirit connects us to that perfect unity and it affects us in such a way that we partake of that unity, that humility, that holiness which makes us perfect or whole as the Father is.

Many would be content to stop there. However, this goes farther. For any real link with the unity found in the Trinity affects the unity we find in every other part of our life. First, we find an internal unity. The disunity we find between our spirit and our bodies, or our will and our heart; begins to be healed. The Greek word for "salvation" is also used in talking about "healing" of a sickness. It designates a "wholeness" to the person. The whole purpose of salvation is to unite our whole life in conjunction with God. To be saved is to find oneself unified within by being unified with God. When that happens, salvation becomes a reality for us and not just a confession.

Then, we will also find a unity with other people, especially those of the household of the Father, who have been adopted as His sons. In the midst of our human nature, our disagreements, our heated arguments, and the vast divisions among those within the denominations and groups (not to mention between the different groups themselves), this may seem like a pipe dream. Yet, Jesus prayed it. And those who have united themselves to Christ are relatives of each other whether they like it or not. And the more one becomes united to Christ, the more one is united to the whole family of God.

And judging by Jesus' prayer, that is a unity that was to be evident even to outsiders. We were to receive that same glory so that we would be one as the Son and the Father were one. And that is a oneness that reveals our oneness with God. The reverse is also true. The less in unity with God we are, the less in unity with each other we will be. The state of many who are called Christians should serve as a warning flag to us that something is not right.

Could it be that a simple doctrine ends up being the very thing that brings about a real unity in the Church? Could it be that a lack of understanding of the Trinity is what brought on a lack of unity in the Christian world? Granted, understanding the doctrine itself does not mean automatic unity. It has to be made effective. But not understanding it can hamper the way you relate to God and others as a Christian. The primary point of the Trinity is that there is a unity that originates with the Father seen in the perfect unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The primary point of the Incarnation of Christ in the person of Jesus is that we as humans can be united to that unity of the Father as well and then display it in our lives as the Church.

It is in the act of baptism that God is revealed. It is also when we have been baptized into Christ, died with Him and raised with Him, that we too reveal the unity of God with us so that we become that light shining on a hill side so that all can see. That makes the Trinity pretty indispensable as a foundational doctrine of who God is, for it describes to us how we relate to Him and how it is that we are to "love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and body" and our neighbor as ourself. Seek first His righteousness and His Kingdom. Then all the other things will fall into place.

In His grace,

Rick Copple