The early Christians were Jews and strict monotheists – believers in only one God. But they came to believe that God should be called both ‘one’ and ‘three’ at the same time. Their belief in the Trinity became a central belief (even though ‘Trinity’ is a Latin word not found in the Bible). What persuaded them to do this?
Some New Testament Foundations
Look at the following four New Testament passages and ask, “How do they speak of some kind of ‘threefold’ (Father, Son, Spirit) action of the living God?”John 16:13-15 The Son speaks of his Father and the Spirit Ephesians 1:13-14 Our God-given salvation Romans 8:9-11 The Spirit does God’s work 2 Corinthians 13:13-14 One God of love, grace and fellowship
None of these passages “proves” the Trinity – but they do show how the one God works in a threefold way in our world. That’s why the idea of the Trinity became the heart of the Christian understanding of God. The belief says that God is relational in his very being. The one true God is social not solitary.
God as Trinity
We know the doctrine of the Trinity is true by experiencing and worshiping God as Father, and as Son, and as Spirit – rather than by working it out in our minds. God cannot be fully known by reason; but God can be fully loved and worshiped. The personal salvation we experience reconciles us to God the Father, through the life and death of God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. So, our Gospel is Trinitarian, and the Trinity is the Gospel. Our eternal life comes from the Trinity, happens through the Trinity, and brings us home to the Trinity.
Our God is not an isolated ‘individual’. Our God – Father, -Son, Spirit – is, we could even say, a ‘small group’. And in the doctrine of the Trinity we feel the heartbeat of God for salvation and mission: moving away from isolation to fellowship and community, and lovingly longing for this for others too.
The Trinity as a ‘divine dance’
This is the suggestion of Baxter Kruger in his book The Great Dance. Kruger uses the image of a ‘divine dance’ to try to explain a key word used in the early church: perichoresis. This word means ‘interpenetration’ – the way in which the concerns of one member of the Trinity become the concerns of each. So, whatever is the ‘work’ of one is the work of each – whether it’s creation, salvation, mission, making us holy, and so on. All three work together in each of these areas and the image of the three dancing is a lovely one that preserves their individuality and their perfect harmony together. So, writes Kruger,
“The logic of the incarnation and death of Jesus lies in the determined passion of the Trinity to share their life, their glory, their great dance with us – and not just with us, but with the whole creation. The dance of the Triune life is no longer just a divine dance. It is now and forever a divine-human dance.”
It’s all about ‘interdependence’ and partnership
Our God is a relational God and he intends that we reflect his relational nature in our lives. This can only happen if we move out of our isolation and into relationship with God and others. Community is not simply one aspect of human life; community is found within the divine essence of the living God. There is a relational heart to our understanding of God. Remind one another of John 3:16. From that “giving” of the Father and Son eventually comes the outpouring of the Spirit – look again at John 16:13-15. By growing the fruit of this Spirit in our lives (look at Galatians 5:22-23a, 25) we live out the message that Jesus, risen from the dead, is indeed Lord.
The self-giving life and serving of the Trinity becomes the model for the self-giving life and serving of God’s people.
The transforming difference that belief in God as Trinity makes
The argument runs like this: since we are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), God is the model and standard for humanity. The essential inner nature of God shows how we should live both as individual Christians and as the Christian community. The model does not focus on us as solitary individuals, but on ‘persons-in-community’. Nor does this life destroy our individuality. This is not independence, and it’s not dependence. It is interdependence. This becomes the ideal for us as people who are made in the image of our Triune God.
Knowing our God as Trinity influences and models the way we should act towards one another. So, what are some practical everyday ways we can partner with our God – Father, Son, Spirit – to bring God’s love and healing to family, neighbours and friends? Imagine how different our world would be if families, marriages, communities and nations lived according to the loving, serving, harmony of our one-but-three God. Now turn that imagining into prayer.
Finally, go back over what’s written above. And then prayerfully think about and respond again to the four bolded paragraphs.