I don’t know if I’m allowed to write what I’m about to, but I will anyway. I’m sometimes disappointed by the way many of us identify ourselves as “Christians.” Can I say that? No, it’s not because I’m seeking some existential freedom from labels. I happily own all kinds of different –isms for myself. Nor is it because I think “Christian” is an unbiblical word. On the contrary, it was in Antioch “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Rather, it’s because I have the sneaking suspicion that many of us have reduced this term “Christian” to identify ourselves only in relation to Christ. To be sure that’s incredibly important. Our union with Christ is the backbone of salvation. But I wonder, when you identify yourself as a “Christian,” is there a self-conscious Trinitarianism behind that label?
The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t a marginal or secondary doctrine appended to our belief in Christ, as if we can remain neutral to the Father or the Spirit. One writer was so bold as to assert, “Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice.” Is he wrong? I don’t think so. A non-triune God is not the God of the Bible but a mere idol, and “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:5). A biblical faith is a Trinitarian faith. Yet, remarkably, as Robert Letham observed, “For the vast majority of Christians, including most ministers and theological students, the Trinity is still a mathematical conundrum, full of imposing philosophical jargon, relegated to an obscure alcove, remote from daily life.”
Now, let me be sympathetic for a moment. I understand the difficulties of the Tri-Unity of God. It’s easy to get baffled by all the vocabulary: being, person, consubstantial, perichoretic, begottenness, procession, etc. I understand that there is no good illustration to picture the Trinity. Sorry! Water, egg, clover, etc all end in an actual denial of the Trinity. I understand the complexity of moving from the One to the Three and the Three to the One. I think it was Augustine who said there is no subject that is more laborious than an inquiry into the Trinity. Thankfully, we’re not saved on account of perfect vocabulary, perfect illustrations, or perfect comprehension. We’re saved by being drawn into a living and vital relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the difficulty doesn’t negate its importance or practicality. As Timothy Ware wrote, “The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian.” Let me offer seven practical reasons for the Trinity:
1. The Trinity is central to our Christian identity. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To be baptized into something is to be identified with–to be named in relation to (see 1 Corinthians 10:2). As disciples we’re named into the Triune God. John Calvin said, “In everything we deal with the triune God and never one of the three persons alone. Our relationship with God is therefore simultaneously a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
2. The Trinity fuels our evangelism. Again, Jesus’ words are to go into all the world and make disciples of the Trinity. One writer said, “In this doctrine is summed up the new way of thinking about God, in the power of which the fishermen went out to convert the Greco-Roman world.”
3. The Trinity impacts the way we worship. Paul wrote, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Even while all three persons are equal in power and glory, there is a certain order: to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. Such worship is expressed well by Paul in Ephesians 1:3-11, “Blessed be the Father…the Son…and the Spirit.”
4. The Trinity comforts us in our sorrow. When Jesus told his disciples he was going away and their hearts were troubled, the comfort he brings is through this doctrine of the Trinity, “Do you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10), “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me,” (John 15:26), and “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Sinclair Ferguson wrote, “If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, this must be it!”
5. The Trinity offers us a scope for our unity. Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:22-23). That’s what our “fellowship” or “communion” in the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14) is supposed to be like.
6. The Trinity measures to us the love of Jesus. Again, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). No wonder Paul prayed that we might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 5:19).
7. The Trinity provides us with an example. Though the Son is equal with the Father and with him and the Spirit is to be worshiped, nevertheless, for the sake of our salvation the Son submitted himself to his Father. And Paul commends this as our example, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7).
This short list demonstrates just how practical the Trinity is to our day-to-day living. What we need so desperately in our own day are self-consciously Trinitarian disciples. I think the next time someone asks me how I identify myself, I’ll happily own the label “Christian,” but will be quick to add, “And by that, I mean Trinitarian.”