Today we’re thinking about the TRINITY. The Biblical idea that ONE God exists as THREE PERSONS. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person has different characteristics, but they all share, equally, the ESSENCE, or NATURE, of God-ness.
It’s a DIFFICULT doctrine. Hard to understand, and explain. It’s awkward and slightly embarrassing. And so, we mostly don’t talk about it. You won’t hear many sermons on it. We hope it never comes up in conversations with non-Christians. But instead of ignoring and overlooking it, today I want to HIGHLIGHT and CELEBRATE it. And, in particular, in how it gives us CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD. That’s something many people LACK.
OTHER RELIGIONS lack confidence before God. Because it’s often all about how well they can keep their rules. There’s UNCERTAINTY. And any confidence is seen as PRIDE or PRESUMPTION.
And many Christians lack confidence before God, TOO. It might be a fear of death and judgment. It might be a guilty conscience that makes them doubt God’s forgiveness. Or they compare themselves to other people, and they feel UNWORTHY. Or maybe they struggle TO PRAY. They lack CONFIDENCE. Is that YOU? Do you lack CONFIDENCE in your relationship with God? If it is, then listen up. Because I want to give you five reasons why THE TRINITY gives you confidence.
Five reasons why the Trinity gives you confidence.
- You can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father
Firstly, the Trinity means you can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father. As Christians, we take it for granted we can KNOW God. (LOVE him. That he’s our HEAVENLY FATHER we can speak to, and have a relationship with.)
But that’s a foreign concept for most religious people. For Muslims, Allah is basically UNKNOWABLE. He’s completely SEPARATE. They hope he’ll be MERCIFUL to them. Their experience is all about SERVING him, not KNOWING him. There’s little sense of his LOVE. Or of having a RELATIONSHIP with him.
And for many Australians, if they believe in God at all, he’s Distant, and at BEST UNINTERESTED. At WORST, an impersonal FORCE. An INFLUENCE. It’s no wonder they don’t want anything to do with him!
But that’s not the God WE know. He WANTS TO KNOW US. John’s gospel begins by describing the eternal God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
The WORD (that’s the SON), and GOD (that’s the FATHER). In some sense, the SAME. And in some sense, DIFFERENT.
But God isn’t just God-in-himself. He’s GOD-FOR-US. (God who MOVES OUTSIDE himself). John ch 1 continues, describing Jesus, the Word. V4 4In him was life, and that life was THE LIGHT OF MEN… And v9 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world… And again, in v11. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Jesus the SON comes to us. Becomes ONE of us. And GIVES US THE RIGHT to become like HIM. To become children of God TOO. Born of God. Only God HIMSELF (God the SON) can bridge the gap between US and HIM. WE certainly can’t. It’s like trying to jump to the moon. It’s like a dead person giving herself CPR.
Our problem is our sin. All of us are guilty before God. We’re DEAD and HELPLESS.
And so the loving plan of the TRINITARIAN God was to offer HIMSELF as a substitute. The Son, in obedience to his Father, dies in the place of sinners, satisfying the wrath of the Father against us. The infinitely perfect life of the God-man providing an infinite amount of mercy for all humanity.
It’s a transaction that takes place WITHIN THE TRINITY. The Trinitarian God JUDGES sin/ and IS JUDGED.
Only the truth of the Trinity offers us solid hope and confidence that our sin’s been dealt with. Only GOD HIMSELF can pay for sin, ONCE. For ALL. The Trinity means that God is the OPPOSITE of an impersonal force. The opposite of the distant, unknowable Allah of Islam. God IS relationship. God IS LOVE. From all eternity, he’s been rejoicing in relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.
But not only that, he bridged the gap between us and him by SENDING THE SON. To SWEEP US UP INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP. Into the FAMILY relationship of the Trinity. Tim Chester, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, says “The Trinity is a missionary community. The Father sent his Son and His Spirit into the world to redeem his people. So the Trinity is good news.” (p173)
God is INWARD-LOOKING. Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving each other. But he’s also OUTWARD-looking, reaching to make US children of God TOO. The Trinitarian God is a missionary community.
- We can be confident God is with/in us
That’s the FIRST reason the Trinity gives us confidence. (we can be confident Jesus has brought us to the Father). The second reason is we can be confident that God is WITH us. Once Jesus has BROUGHT us, we can be confident that God will STAY.
From John ch 13 to 17, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. He’ll PHYSICALLY leave them, but he won’t PERSONALLY leave them. Chapter 14 begins with Jesus telling the disciples he’s going away to prepare a place. But then, v3, he’ll come back and TAKE HIS DISCIPLES TO HIMSELF. (Describing the Holy Spirit coming.)
Phillip asks him about THE FATHER. And Jesus answers, v9 “Don’t you know ME, Phillip, even after I’ve been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen ME has seen THE FATHER.” V10 “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” Very simple words, but describing the complex relationship within the Trinity.
And then a bit further down, from v15, Jesus makes the extraordinary invitation TO BRING HIS DISCIPLES INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP.
Can you see the Trinity there? Jesus, the Father, and ANOTHER COUNSELLOR, the Spirit of truth. And Jesus promises that this Spirit of truth will be WITH us forever. He continues
The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he LIVES WITH YOU and WILL BE IN you.
Which probably means that, for the disciples, IN THE PRESENT, the Spirit is with them PHYSICALLY, (in the person of JESUS). But IN THE FUTURE, he’ll be IN them, SPIRITUALLY, in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Ok so far? But Jesus continues stretching our minds even MORE. V18. I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.
He could be talking about the RESURRECTION, when Jesus comes back them PHYSICALLY. But I think he’s talking about coming to them IN THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, at Pentecost, in Acts Ch 2. Listen to how he continues. (v19)
Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
The day the disciples realised that JESUS was in them was the day they received THE HOLY SPIRIT. The disciples will SEE Jesus in their experience of him living in them.
Jesus continues, down in v23. Now including THE FATHER.
If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. MY FATHER will love him, and WE will come to him and make our home with him.
In the person of the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity makes their home in the believer!
And notice it’s RELATIONAL and PERSONAL. It’s not like subconscious POSSESSION. (Like you see in the movies when someone possessed by an evil spirit.) When the three-person GOD lives in you, it’s about LOVE. “If anyone LOVES ME, MY FATHER will love HIM.”
To be filled with God – to have the Trinitarian God living in you – is about participating in the relationship that God himself enjoys, within himself. Of LOVE. V21, that we just jumped over, fills out that idea some more.
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Love expressed in obedience. God loving God loving us loving God. That’s the everyday experience of the Christian. CS Lewis, in MERE CHRISTIANITY, describe it like A DANCE.
The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made… If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…
Being joined in a dance with the Trinitarian God. It’s what LIFE’S ALL ABOUT. But it’s what other religions don’t know. It’s the SECOND reason why the Trinity gives you confidence.
- We can be confident we are God’s children
The THIRD reason is/ we can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN. Romans 8 describes what life is like when God’s Holy Spirit lives in you. And there are all sorts of good things. (We’ll look at Romans 8 in more detail in the last week of this series). But the blessing I want to focus on is down in v14.
those who are led by the Spirit of God are SONS OF GOD. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received THE SPIRIT OF SONSHIP (or ADOPTION). And by him we cry, “Abba, FATHER.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST,
God’s Spirit lives in us. That means we belong to him. But more specifically WE’RE PART OF HIS FAMILY. We’re his sons and daughters. IT’S A TRUTH THAT FLOWS FROM THE FACT THAT GOD IS TRINITY. We’re SONS and DAUGHTERS/ because we’re connected to Jesus, God the SON.
Let me show you. V1 of Ch 8 describes Christians as those who ARE IN Christ JESUS. (Who are UNITED TO HIM.) Another way of describing that is that CHRIST IS IN US. By the Holy Spirit. V9 says
And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
And one more relevant verse is down in v17. If we children, then we heirs – CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST. The benefits that Christ has as God the Son come to US because we’re joined to HIM. We’ve received the Spirit of SONSHIP.
We’re sons (and daughters), so we’re confident to call God “FATHER”. It’s the Spirit of his Son within us who calls, “Father”.
That’s the THIRD reason the Trinity gives us confidence. We can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN.
- We can be confident when we pray
The FOURTH reason is we can be confident when we PRAY. No one I know prays as consistently as they’d like to. We all struggle. But remembering that we approach a TRINITARIAN God will give us CONFIDENCE.
Ephesians 5:20 commands us to always give thanks TO GOD THE FATHER for everything IN THE NAME of our Lord Jesus Christ. We approach God, confidently, through THE WORK OF HIS SON.
Hebrews 10 describes the CONFIDENCE we can have because of what Jesus has done. V19.
Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith
(We pray TO the Father, THROUGH the Son). And thirdly, it’s God’s Spirit IN us who HELPS us to pray. Romans 8 again. V26
the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because THE SPIRIT INTERCEDES FOR THE SAINTS in accordance with God’s will.
Guiding, energising, and going before our prayers. We pray TO God the Father THROUGH God the Son BY God the Spirit.
Remembering that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are INVOLVED with us in prayer changes it from being like reading out a shopping list. To a powerful expression of a genuine relationship.
CS Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity.
An ordinary simple Christian… is trying to get into touch with GOD. He knows that what is prompting him to pray is ALSO God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes THROUGH Christ… God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.
The privilege of prayer is something we take for granted. It’s the fifth reason the Trinity gives us confidence.
- Christian unity is based on it, and modelled on it
And lastly, the FIFTH reason is because we can be confident in CHRISTIAN UNITY. All the PREVIOUS reasons were individual. (PERSONAL). But this one affects us AS A CHURCH.
In John 17 Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, the church. It’s a unity whose FOUNDATION is the Trinity, and which is MODELLED on the Trinity. And, thirdly, it ILLUSTRATES the Trinity to the world. V21
(I pray that) all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Firstly, notice that our unity is MODELLED on the unity of the Trinity. “May they be one JUST AS you are in me and I am in you.” Our unity should be like that of the Trinity.
For example, John’s Gospel shows THE FULL EQUALITY of Father and Son. (Different ROLES, but of equal worth and dignity). That’s what Christian unity should be like. It shows THE GLAD SUBMISSION of Father and Son. (The Father delegating to the Son, and the Son obeying the Father.) That’s what Christian unity should be like. And it shows THE JOYFUL INTIMACY of Father and Son. Each one loving and enjoying the other. That’s what Christian unity should be like.
But how can we DO that, when we’re all naturally selfish and self-centred? The secret to being joined to EACH OTHER is by being JOINED TO GOD. “May they BE IN US.” Jesus prays that we would experience and know and love God by his powerful, transforming Spirit living in us.
That’s the only way we’ll show unity. God in us is the FOUNDATION of our unity. Unity won’t simply come through agreed goals, or common projects, or a commitment to inclusion and love, or even correct theology.True Unity – unity modelled on the Tri-unity of God himself – only comes when we are IN the Triune God.
And, thirdly, when we do that, the world will believe that the FATHER sent the SON. “(May they be in us) SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”
The unity of the church is a LIVING APOLOGETIC. An EXPLANATION of God. But more than that, Jesus says it shows something of the TRINITARIAN God. Our diverse unity reflects, and models, and explains the TRI-UNITY of God. “(May they be in us so the world might believe) That YOU, the Father, have sent ME, the Son.”
Let’s not worry too much about whether we can EXPLAIN the Trinity. The REAL challenge is to LIVE it. In the way we’re confident of our standing before God. In the way we pray. In our UNITY. SO THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW that the Father has sent the Son, and loved him.