GETTING GOD "RIGHT"
In Part One of Understanding The Trinity, Pastor Andy unpacked the nature of God. Stated again, as Christians, we believe in one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person of the godhead is truly and completely God, yet each is distinct from the others. This week we want to unpack "why" the Trinity matters.
“There is scarcely a doctrine that is not effected by misunderstanding the doctrine of the Trinity.”
- Don Carson
Our understanding of God as three-in-one fundamentally distinguishes us from other religions, including Muslims and Jews. It is what makes us "Christian". Yet you might wonder, if the deity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit really matters in the long run? Is the Trinity truly that vital to the Christian faith? Rob Bell posited a similar question in his book Velvet Elvis when he questioned the necessity of the virgin birth in relation to the person and work of Jesus. Is a deviation from this belief, or a non-Trinitarian understanding of God, that detrimental? In short, Yes.
Take flying a plane, for example. Calculations need to be accurate and precise in order to land at the intended destination. So, if a pilot is off course by a single degree, it can alter his or her course greatly. A pilot whose bearings are off by one degree would be off course by 92 feet for every mile traveled. This would put a plane traveling from JFK to LAX off course by 50 miles! When we get God "wrong", we will get everything else wrong as well. Don Carson claims, “There is scarcely a doctrine that is not effected by misunderstanding the doctrine of the Trinity.”
THE TRINITY AND SALVATION
Without the Trinity, you lose several core Christian doctrines, including salvation. The work of redemption is a "Trinitarian" act. We see this clearly in Ephesians 1 where Paul demonstrates that all three members of the Godhead are actively involved in our salvation. God the Father is the one who blesses us and chose us for salvation (Ephesians 1:3-4) and adopted us as his children "according to the purpose of his will" (v. 5). However, while the Father purposed our salvation, it was the Son who "executed" it. The work of redemption was accomplished through Jesus (v. 5) and the Father's plan was "set forth" in Christ (v. 9). Verse 7 tells us,
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
Through Jesus we have obtained an inheritance (v. 11) and we hope in Christ because of his work for us (v. 12-13). In a similar manner, the Holy Spirit plays a unique role that neither the Father nor the Son undertakes. The Spirit is the seal of the promise, the "guarantee of our inheritance" (v. 13-14). He makes us alive, gives us a new heart, and continues to press us toward the hope we have received in Christ. All of this was purposed and could have only been executed by a God who exists in Trinity.
If you remove the Trinity from your understanding of God, then salvation becomes impossible. Only God is worthy enough to pay the penalty of offense against Himself. Yet, the payment for human sin requires human blood. Without the Son of God taking on flesh, salvation would be impossible because no man could repay the debt our sin requires. Without God being Triune, God the Son could not have become incarnate through the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Trinity are necessarily involved in the work of redemption.
J.C. Ryle expounded on the Trinitarian work of salvation, "It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, 'Let us make man'. It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, 'Let us save man'." We rejoice because God sent his own Son to redeem us from our sin and we are called to God by the work of the Spirit. This is why any teaching that portrays Jesus or the Holy Spirit as less than God, not only jettisons the Trinity, but loses the core of redemption, as well.
If you remove the Trinity from your understanding of God, then salvation becomes impossible.
THE TRINITY AND PRAYER
All three members of the Godhead are at work when we pray. In the next section of Ephesians 1, Paul declared that he prayed to the Father on the Ephesians' behalf, that they would be given the Spirit of wisdom in order to more fully know God (v. 15-17). It is God's design that we would draw unto him in prayer by the power of the Spirit to more fully know the Triune God. However, we not only petition God in prayer, but members of the Trinity actively join us and effect how we pray. Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit helps us when we do not know what to pray (Romans 8:26-27).
When we pray in Jesus's name, we join Jesus in prayer as he intercedes on our behalf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described praying in Jesus name, saying, "All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray." We have access to God because he made way for us to know him and, through Jesus, we can commune with him in prayer. We do not approach God in prayer as people trying to prove our acceptability, but as people redeemed by Jesus.
It is God's design that we would draw unto Him in prayer by the power of the Spirit to more fully know the Triune God.
A false understanding of the Trinity changes how we pray. If we do not understand who God is and what he has done to reconcile us to himself, we will approach God in prayer in the wrong manner. Instead of approaching God as a loving Father, we will come to him expecting his frustration over our shortcomings, forgetting that we have access through his Son. If we do not see Jesus as vital to our prayers, we will pray, wondering if God hears us, rather than trusting that, in Jesus, God hears our prayers.
Let us know our God, who exists in Trinity, and enjoy all the blessings he has secured for us in Jesus!