Tuesday, June 26, 2012
what is the Trinity and why does it matter? pt. 3
I mentioned in part 1 of this series that salvation itself is a Trinitarian motion: God the Father reaching out to creation with his two hands, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I compared it there to hug, the Father spreading his arms wide in the Son and the Spirit, pulling us close in his embrace. Or, as one theologian put it, "It is by these two hands that God gives himself to us in love to bring us to intimate communion."
In this final post, I want to delve a little deeper into this idea. What does the Trinity really have to do with salvation?
In a nutshell, the Trinity has everything to do with salvation. The particular roles of each of the three persons and their union as one God are both essential to understanding the scriptures' claims about God's redemptive work.
For starters, John's gospel repeats over and over that Jesus is sent by the Father (for instance, see 6:38-40, 57; 8:15-18; 20:21). The Father is the initiator in God's redemptive acts in the world. Yet the Father accomplishes all of this with his 'two hands': the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There are so many ways to talk about Jesus' role in salvation. One way to describe Jesus' work is to say that in him humanity has been restored to the image of God--the image that has been tarnished by death ever since the Fall. Jesus accomplishes this because, while he is a man, he is also "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), and in him we have a human being who is whole, perfectly reflecting the image of God as we were created to do (Gen 1:26-27).
But how does this affect you and me? Just because Jesus has attained, in the Resurrection, a human life that is above the murderous power of sin, that doesn't necessarily mean anything changes for us, right?
Many people jump over this point, I think, or they see Jesus primarily as a sort of divine whipping boy and avoid this problem entirely. The key is that Jesus' life and Jesus' victory are connected to us by the Holy Spirit (the "Spirit of Jesus Christ," Phil 1:19).
Paul is always using the phrase "in Christ": 'if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation'; 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ'; 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free... you are all one in Christ'; 'the dead in Christ shall rise'--I could go on. We are made to be "in Christ," united to Christ and to the redemptive, resurrection life that he has, by the Holy Spirit. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Rom 8:11). Because the Holy Spirit is God, by living in us he fills us with the life of God--the same life that conquered the powers of sin and death through God the Son on Easter morning. It's only because of the Triune nature of God, the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as one God, that any of this makes sense.
[There are other ways to think about the Spirit's role in salvation too, especially if you want to talk about our being adopted as children of God (see Rom 8:13-17; Gal 4:4-7), but there's no space to go into that here.]
My point in all of this? Unless you want to think of salvation simply as a matter of averting God's wrath, with Jesus merely taking the blame and the punishment in our place, then the biblical picture of God's saving work falls apart without belief in the Trinity.
This doctrine that so many frequently brush off as, at best, unimportant and irrelevant, at worst, ancient Greek philosophical mumbo-jumbo masquerading as authentic Christian belief, this doctrine is a bedrock to our faith. It matters. Maybe next year, come Trinity Sunday (though I hope it won't take our preachers that long to work up the nerve to speak of the Trinity again), we can approach this holy mystery with reverence and even excitement, eager to see what our Three-in-One God would show us and how this beautiful vision of the life of God can pour some new life into us.