For many, the Trinity is one of those doctrines you adhere to so as not to be labeled a heretic. The doctrine itself stirs up little more than confusion and perhaps even embarrassment. “I have always struggled with the Trinity,” said the perplexed church member in the church foyer. He went on, “But, I don’t think it’s one of those primary doctrines that you have to believe to be saved.” For him, and the many he represents, the doctrine of the Trinity is an ivory tower, theological mumbo jumbo, that people like to debate while sitting surrounded by piles of dusty old books. It is theological, impractical, and unnecessary for Christian living. After all, the word Trinity is not even in the Bible. This is the unfortunate sentiment of many who fill the pews on Sunday morning, but such perspective could not be further from the truth.
Michael Reeves wrote a delightful book called Delighting in the Trinity in which he introduces the Trinity, not as an optional topic for theological dialogue, but as the governing center of all Christian belief. He argues that, without the Trinity, there is no Christianity. The Trinity is not something to be debated, but rather something in which to be delighted. It should serve as the source of our joy, the aim of our meditation, and the fuel for our worship.
I knew the Trinity was essential to the Christian faith, but this book helped me to see the Trinity as joy-producing for the Christian life. This book accomplished its title in my life, and it spilled over into my preaching. I could write several paragraphs of praise for this book. I could commend it for its argumentation, its beautifully engaging writing style, and its flavorful inclusion of voices from church history, but the purpose of this article is not review or critique, rather it is for personal reflection. What follows are some of my biggest takeaways.
God is Love Because God is Trinity
“God is love because God is Trinity.”[i] John Piper says often that books don’t change people, paragraphs do – sometimes sentences. This is one of those sentences. It is short and simple, but like the wardrobe leading to Narnia, behind it is a world beyond our imagination. It leaps off the page in the opening paragraph and it sets the stage for the depths that lie ahead. God is love (1 John 4:16). That’s a more familiar sentence. Love is essential to God’s very nature. Love is who he is. But, how is God love? In order for God to be love eternally, there must be an eternal object of God’s love. Without any one to receive his love, God would have existed in loveless eternity longing to fulfill his personhood by creating something to love. He would have needed a creation to fulfill who he really is. This can’t be the case though. For God to be God, he cannot lack anything. Creation cannot complete something unfinished in God’s nature. So, how was God love before there was a creation to love? What was God doing before there was a world to love? Did God create out of boredom, loneliness, or lovelessness?
The answer to these questions is in the essence of God, himself. He is Trinity. He is forever existent as a love relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. We see a glimpse of this happy existence in John 17 where Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Before creation, there was an eternal relationship of a shared glorious love in God. There has never been a time where God was not Father bestowing love upon Son, and Son bestowing love upon Father, all made possible by the power of the Spirit. God is love because God is Trinity, and this is good news for us, because it is into that love that we are welcomed.
Salvation is Good Because God is Trinity
Creation is an overflow of God’s love. It was a calculated bursting forth of his glory so that, quite literally, all things are from him (Rom 11:36). He is the one and only fountain of life (Ps 36:9). Sin, however, is a rejection of that triune fountain of self-giving love. It is a misguided pursuit of life from things that do not produce life. Such a rejection of God results in separation from God. The inevitable end of our choice to reject God is death, which is an eternal existence separated from the fountain we rejected. Hell is a place where the failure of our idols becomes increasingly real to us for an eternity.
Praise God, however, that God’s self-giving triune nature did not cease to overflow with goodness at the fall of humanity. God still had more to give – more of himself. “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). Jesus’s divinity and his eternal sonship are essential to our doctrine of salvation. He alone, being the eternal God wrapped in human flesh, could take the infinite cup of wrath upon himself in the place of ruined sinners. The Father sent the Son to pay the price, and then the Son sent the Spirit to open the eyes of the spiritually blind (2 Cor 3:17-18). The fullness of God’s triune personhood is active in accomplishing salvation. The Father wills it, the Son accomplishes it, and the Spirit applies it. The Trinity makes salvation possible, but more than that, it makes salvation wonderful.
To say that salvation is simply a pardon of sin is to sell the gospel short of its grander. The gospel message is not the message of a free ticket out of hell to be purchased with a prayer and cashed in at the gates of heaven. There is a reason that new believers are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This triune God is both the source of our salvation, and it is the fellowship that we are invited into at the moment of salvation. As Jesus has enjoyed the ever-flowing affection of God the Father, we are adopted to join this relationship as sons and daughters, co-heirs with Jesus (Rom 8:14-17). Salvation is, therefore, a reconciliation to God in his fullness (Rom 5:11). God’s triunity of overflowing love has invited us to join in on eternal joy. The Father sent the Son because the Father wanted to share the love and fellowship he had with his Son from before the beginning.[ii] Salvation is good because God is Trinity.
The Mission Continues Because God is Trinity
The Triune God is on a mission. He has always been a God overflowing with the goodness of his own glory. He has always been a God of love shared. He continued to be that even after the fall of humanity, and he continues to be that even now at this stage in redemptive history, but the way in which he now extends himself is through the disciple-making work of his followers. Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21-22). He has sent us, just as he was sent, to make disciples of all nations, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, and he has promised to be present in this endeavor until the end of the age (Mt 28:19-20). Participating in God’s mission is very much a reflective participation in the very nature of God.
Reeves profoundly states that, when we share the knowledge of God’s great love, we reflect the missional, generous, outgoing shape of God’s own life.[iii] As we are conformed to the image of the Son, we do what the Son has always done. We enjoy the love of the Father, and we overflow with desire to share that love. It is our being invited into this love fellowship and being changed by it that compels us outward to share it. The mission of God is not, therefore, an obligatory discipline of Christian living that every Christian must hesitantly and begrudgingly pursue in order to keep their Christian membership card. Evangelism is rather the effect of a fire started in our hearts by the Spirit of God. If the fire of delight has been sparked by the affection changing power of the Holy Spirit, then the automatic output is the heat and light of evangelistic fervor. Just like our God, we overflow with the joy of our heavenly relationship.
This book stoked the fires of my affection for God, but it also convicted me of how little I had considered God as Trinity in both my devotional life and in my teaching. Christians may be tempted to avoid Trinitarian language so as not to confuse. Some may limit their God talk to generalities in subconscious hope that listeners more easily grasp the gospel. But God is more beautiful than our best attempts to simplify. He is grander than our ability to fully comprehend. We must stand in awe of his self-revelation, rather than pick and choose which aspects of his deity we should celebrate. He is Trinity, and he has revealed himself as Trinity for our good and his glory.
[i] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 9.
[ii] Ibid., 70.
[iii] Ibid., 105.