Trinity Anglican Church
Sermons Table of Contents spacer

Triune Life

The Trinity.
Do people today really care much about such a paradoxical and impenetrable doctrine?
We want encouragement in the faith; we want those words that will give us strength to face the various trials in the week ahead. We might be confused, depressed, facing financial difficulties. We might be crippled by doubt or not seeing any spiritual fruit in our lives. How does a discussion of the Trinity help with that?

Furthermore, we live in a time when the church is on the defensive in our culture. Because many people find Christians to be judgmental and mean-spirited, the current focus of many in the Church is to stress the love and compassion of God and to de-emphasize doctrines. Don't doctrines just set up boundaries and divisions that exclude other people and create an us vs. them mentality? Wouldn't Jesus just rather that we be loving to all whoever they are and not worry so much about getting them to assent to certain beliefs? Wouldn't you rather be loved than given a list of propositions to believe and then sent on your way?

So there are some real good reasons to be hesitant about focusing on this doctrine and these are fairly closely related.

  • First, most of us don't find the fine points of theology all that relevant to our day-to-day Christian lives. Sure, we believe that God is our loving Father, but the Godhead being three Persons sharing one essence doesn't get a lot of traction with us in our day-to-day lives.
  • Second, it is claimed by many that a doctrinal focus diverts us from the more important work of showing Christ's love to a hurting world. In a time when the Church has a real image problem, especially among the young, an emphasis on "believing the right things" rings rather narrow and intolerant. It is thought that the focus on "creeds rather than deeds" leads the Church into a dead orthodoxy at best. We become ingrown and complacent, unable to produce people who live the way Jesus did. So I can understand why many see the doctrine of the Trinity as just an abstraction to be believed, but not as life-giving words. I'll try for a few minutes to offer a response to that view.

A helpful way to see the doctrine of the Trinity is as the basis for our actually entering into the life of God.
For God wants us to have a certain kind of life which involves a relationship of mutual self-giving love which has existed eternally between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It has been the tendency in the theology of the West, and particularly Protestantism, to emphasize a juridical or law court approach to the gospel. Jesus came to pay the price for our sins, to provide satisfaction, to pay our debt. Hence, our status before God now has been changed in a legal way. Our job is to believe that. And in doing so we are justified by faith. This was probably the central emphasis of the Reformation.

But is justification by faith really the center of the Christian faith? There are at least a couple of problems here. For one thing, it can often happen that when this doctrine is treated as central it becomes the object of faith rather than God. Salvation becomes salvation by doctrine.
But God alone is properly the object of our faith, our trust, and our submission.

Second, is a change in legal status the ultimate end God has for us? How does this new status make any difference to our destiny? "Well," one could say, "it opens the way to heaven." But what is heaven? Is it not eternal, sinless, and unbroken communion with God, a sharing of His Life? So we seek something besides legal status. We don't seek to be justified just to be justified, but in order to enjoy something else.

Jesus didn't come in order that we might come to hold certain beliefs about Him and His work and then somehow try to live as He would have us live. He said that "I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly."
He also said we are to follow Him and obey His commands. So what place does doctrine have in leading this sort of life? Isn't it simply a matter of emulating Him as in being loving and compassionate? This is seen by many as an affair of the heart and so leads to a real disconnect between doctrine and the Christian life. There is theory and there is practice and never the twain shall meet.

But it wasn't always this way in the Church. The fathers of the Church didn't first speak about God by nailing down a proper doctrine of God, then move on to a proper doctrine of salvation, and then finally speak about the Christian life. Rather, the way they spoke about God necessarily included their discussion of salvation and the Christian life. They are of a piece.
To try and separate doctrine from Christian living is like trying to separate oxygen from a runner.
So, because of Who God is and what He is like, this is what salvation, and the Christian life, have to look like. The one is the necessary condition for the other. The focus of the fathers did not terminate on doctrine so much as it fixed upon the God whose life they shared.

But how can humans partake of such a life?

Well, we certainly cannot earn the right to it on our own merits. It is something we can only obtain by God's gracious adoption of us. Both our experiencing of forgiveness and becoming more Christlike flow from our participation in a relationship in which we share in the communion that the Son has with the Father through the Spirit. As Christians, we are not only being saved from something, but more importantly being saved for something as we are brought into conformity with Godliness through our rebirth in Christ. A key passage supporting this view is found in 2 Peter. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

This sharing in the divine life the early fathers called theosis.

It is the believer's sharing in the warm fellowship that has existed from all eternity between the persons of the Trinity, a fellowship we see most clearly in Scripture as the Father's great love for his Son.

This amazing linking of divinity and humanity, without equating them, is why there wasn't such a gap between theology and the Christian life for the fathers. If Christians truly participate in God's own triune life, then anything that we may say about God has direct applicability to the outworking of Christian life.

We were created for relationship by a God Who is in His very Being relational. He didn't just beget the Son because He was lonely or bored. The Son was always there, loving the Father in the Spirit and being loved by Him.

The Trinity is not just the way God appears to us but the way He is. Hence, his triune nature is not something at the periphery of the Faith, but right at the center.

As the patristic scholar Donald Fairbairn puts it the doctrine of the Trinity is the gateway to understanding Christian life. A God who was completely alone would have had nothing relational to offer us in salvation; he would have offered only a right status before him or something of that sort. But because God has eternally existed as a fellowship of three persons, there is fellowship within God in which we can also share. (p. 50)

Another way to look at this is to see that Christ is not the means of our salvation—how can God ever be a means to anything? No, Christ is our salvation. Christ does not merely win salvation for us through his death and resurrection; His very person is where salvation is to be found. The often difficult path of trust and obedience to Him leads to a greater and greater realization of that fact. And the end of that journey is finally to know God, our greatest joy.

Let us all pray for each other that we grow more fully into the life God means for us to have. Because we have a God who at the center of His Being is giving and receiving Love, we as His image-bearers can be confident that through grace we can do the same.

The central events in Christ's life don't merely pertain to us in a legal way; we actually participate in them because the Father, through His great love for us, has willed that we participate in the Son. We are admitted into a fellowship with God that no one would have ever thought possible—a sharing in the Divine Life. So, as a result, Paul can make the amazing claim that

[E]ven when we were dead through our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:5-6)

I hope that what I've said might make us a bit more excited about the Trinity.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Robert Philp

Trinity Anglican Church Anglican Church in America Directions Anglican Church in America Diocese of the Northeast Traditional Anglican Communion Logos House of Theological Studies Home Page About Us Contact Us Directions Calendar Related Links Photos Selected Sermons