What is the Trinity? (part 1): God is love...
(Note from Tim Bayly: This is the first in a series of articles written by Craig French for Christ the Word's newsletter. At my request, Craig is allowing the series to run here on Baylyblog. Thank you, Craig, for your faithful work in our behalf.)
Many Christians find it difficult to apply the doctrine of the Trinity. Truth be told, even the most orthodox Christians stumble trying to articulate how this teaching is relevant; yet early on in the Church, godly men died to preserve this doctrine.
How have we gone from dying for truth about God to scratching our heads about its importance? Probably too long of a story with rabbit trails every three feet causing us to become distracted. The short story, I’m convinced, is that we are very Trinitarian...we just don’t realize it. That’s not something I came up with...
Fred Sander’s book The Deep Things of God (Crossway 2010) shows page after page how evangelicals are Trinitarian to their core, but unconsciously so. Sanders uses an analogy: fish never think about water. They live and move and find their way of life in it. Similarly, evangelicals rarely think about the Trinity. But our prayer lives reflect the Trinity as we pray to God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Trinity, we wouldn't know how to pray. With the Trinity, we know how to. Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father." We must pray in the name of Jesus, God’s Son. When we don’t know how to pray, God helps us. The Spirit “groans” within us (Romans 8:26). Even if we have trouble using words to express the Trinity, the Trinity meets us in our prayers.
The analogy of fish and water isn’t supposed to justify our lack of knowledge of the Trinity. It shows us that our lives are (or should be) Trinitarian. Just because we haven’t been self-conscious about it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be. We should. Our families suffer because we don’t commit ourselves to the Trinity openly. The truth is, there is no teaching more practical than the Trinity. If we are created in the image of God, then Who God is must be relevant to who we are and how we are supposed to live. Do we remember that at the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let Us make man in Our image?"
So you pray to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But what is the Trinity?
The Trinity is God.
But what is God?
God is love (1John 4:8;16) and love cannot be solitary. That is, love cannot be love if there is no one else to direct that love toward. If God is love, He must always have someone toward whom that love is directed.
Think about this: if God were solitary--if He were only one Person--then love could only come into play after another person came into existence. If God were simply one Person, He could not be love. But we already know from God’s Word that at His core God is love. The Trinity shows God's love within the Godhead.
The Trinity is the teaching that God is one in essence, yet three in Person. The Persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one in that each possesses the same deity (what makes them God); but they are distinguished as Persons having eternal relationships within the Godhead. Remember Jesus' command at the great commissioning was, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?" Not "names" but "name." Singular.
And within the One True God are relationships defined by love. They have always existed, and so love has always existed.
On the surface, the teaching of the Trinity seems like it should be attractive to all men. Everyone seems to love love. We listen to love ballads, talk about love, love makes the world go round, all you need is love and all that. So why isn’t everyone Trinitarian?
The Trinity is too “intrusive” for our sinful tastes. At the core of this God of love are Three Persons Who are complete without us. God is love without us. He doesn’t need us. This is what makes God holy: He is separate from us; He is complete without us and perfect in every way. Love cannot be broken because no Person of the Trinity will ever cease to exist. They are eternal. We are not.
A holy God of love intrudes upon us. He doesn’t need us. Worse yet, He is described as “He” and makes demands upon us. We love our liberty. Not liberty from sin, but liberty from “thou shalt not." That much is obvious in the world, but sadly, it is not limited to the world. So-called evangelicals have been trying to neuter God by denying His Fatherhood and making love innocuous, stripping it of any hint of demands. They don’t want God to be true love. But if we strip god of his fatherhood, we have neutered him and such a god is no true God. Such a god is like a dog who only does what we want. And the kind of love we attribute to him isn’t love. It’s puppy love. We want a lap dog--not the Holy Trinity.
If we are created in the image of the Trinity, our love has to go deeper. We can’t just go along to get along. Some families get along as long as the T.V. is on. Mysteriously, once the T.V. goes off, sin starts crackling within the household. So the T.V. stays on. It becomes a crutch that keeps peace. There’s no cultivation of love, and certainly no demands. If there is to be real cultivation, demands must be made. Authority must be used and order shaped out of chaos... this is painful stuff that requires work.
But Jesus worked as He saw His Father work, and if we are His followers, we must do our work, also.
Besides the work in our families, there’s also our own sin to overcome; and this is hard work, too. Praise be to the Trinity, we are saved because of the invasive acts of Jesus taking on our flesh, dying, and being resurrected! Praise be to the Trinity, the Spirit gives us new life and provides us power to overcome sin! The Spirit gives us words to speak when we need them! Blood sacrifice, life in the midst of death, and resurrection don’t always feel like “love." Certainly they're not the love we’re used to.
But love is not a feeling. God didn’t call us to feel lovey-dovey; He has called us to imitate Himself. He’s called us to fight our sin, to lead our families, to submit to our husbands, and to serve one another.
No slave is greater than his master.
As fathers, our love should reflect God’s. It should be invasive, pressing, imposing and shaping our families. This is precisely what men hate: consistent, faithful love. Love that fulfills responsibility.
Some may allow us a masculine deity, but then rob him of his intrusiveness. He must be generic. He may be “him,” but only a dried up form of a masculinity that renders “him” innocuous. He is allowed to be a god with a long white beard. A grandfather who fits the distant, irrelevant figure receiving periodic visits whenever the grandkids have extra time on their hands. Not the Lord of hosts, the Mighty God, but a resident of the heavenly nursing home.
But God tells us He is Father--not grandfather.
Fatherhood and love are intrusive. This should be the God we love: the God of love. The Father sent His Son. The Son invaded His creation by taking on the flesh of man. When He ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit in an even more powerful way to invade the world. As His sons, we are called to intrusive work. We must not remain aloof among our family members, occasionally barking out orders while giving ourselves a pass on the housework. We must not go along to get along. We must not watch our friends and neighbors go Hellward as we do our best to hold back the awkward truth of sin and the judgment to come from them.
Love begins with God, and the source is the Father.