What's so big about the Trinity? (Hint: Everything!)

God in three Persons, Blessed Trinity.
I have a friend who, by his own admission, loves to wind up theologians. His latest method is to suddenly interject questions into conversations over meals regarding the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even though I had been forewarned by others of his trinitarian antics, it still produced the desired effect when he tried it on me: at the end of a very long day and very large meal he had me springing to life, jumping out of my chair and bursting forth into very quick, very Northern Irish, irate defences of the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith.

Now, I know my friend doesn't really disbelieve in the doctrine of the Trinity, but he did make one very pertinent point: what difference would it make to a lot of our ministries/lives if we didn't believe that God was triune? Well, let me tell you the answer: Everything.

Now, it's true that a lot of people in a lot of churches act as if the Trinity isn't really all that important. In comparison to the worship of former generations, whose hymns regularly ended with Trinitarian doxologies, few contemporary worship songs make any mention of the Trinity. And the culture of informality in worship has in many cases led to the surrendering of the classical (and orthodox!) Trinitarian structure of prayer in favour of something the 'feels' more 'authentic'. Even a Trinitarian benediction at the end of the service (like 'The Grace') surprises some people nowadays. It's odd that on the one day of the week when we gather as a people to rejoice together in our communion with the Triune God, that we so rarely make any mention of who He really is.

Perhaps even more oddly, this lack of mention of the Trinity seems like it's often linked with a greater desire to emphasise the relational nature of Christianity. But how is the mention of 'God' more relational that speaking of Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Yet, often even when we don't realise it, what we do is implicitly Trinitarian. Even though we might rarely sing Trinitarian songs, even though our prayers may be a bit confused, scratch the surface of an evangelical church service and the Trinity is what you'll find. If we didn't believe that God is Triune, things would look very different than they do now.

Why? Well, let me answer that by pointing out a few reasons why it's so essential to our lives and ministries that we hold fast to the truth of the Trinity.

1. If we didn't believe in the Trinity, we'd have no gospel.

But, isn't the gospel about Jesus dying for our sins. Yes, it is; but who is Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, sent by the Father (John 3:16) to offer Himself through the Spirit (Heb. 9:14) as the propitiation for our sin. That's Trinitarian. And what's a propitiation? A sacrifice that takes away God's wrath. So, because of the glorious truth of the Trinity, God Himself can come and offer Himself as a sacrifice to Himself to take away the wrath we deserved for our sins. Only the Triune God could both be the sacrifice and the God who accepts the Sacrifice.

And why does God come Himself in the person of the Son to free us from His wrath? The Bible says it's because of God's love (1 John 4:8-10). In John 17:26 Jesus, speaking to the Father, says that it's so 'that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.' What Jesus is saying is that He brings us into the love of the Father for the Son; He brings us into the love of the Trinity. Salvation is to be brought into the love the exists between the persons of the Trinity and to know communion with our Triune God.

2. If we didn't believe in the Trinity, we'd have no worship.

If we don't know who God is and what He's like, how can we worship Him? How can I ascribe greatness to His Name, if I don't really know who He is. He has revealed Himself as He is, the Triune God.

Trying to worship God by ignoring that He's Triune reminds me of those silly celebrities at the concert for Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee who shouted out 'Happy Birthday.' They had no idea what a jubilee was, and so no idea why they were really there. Our worship of God is much more important than a Jubilee pop concert, and so we shouldn't allow ourselves to be wilfully ignorant.

But the problem for worship goes further than just who God is. It goes right to the heart of how we can worship. Worship is a Trinitarian activity. It's not that we come to God and hope that He will somehow accept our imperfect worship, but rather that Jesus, our true worship leader, leads us into the heavenly throne room and draws us, through the Holy Spirit, into His worship of the Father. And as a result our 'feeble lays' are purified and perfected by Christ as they are offered to God. Our worship is based wholly on God's grace toward us in Christ (Heb. 12:28), both in its content and in the way it's offered.

3. If we didn't believe in the Trinity, we'd have no prayer.

Prayer is deeply Trinitarian, and only works because it is Trinitarian. That doesn't mean we have to use the perfect form of words for our prayers to be answered; in fact that's one of the great blessings for us of the Trinitarian nature of prayer. Just like with true worship, true prayer is offered through the Son, our Mediator (1 Tim 2:5, in the context of praying for people to be saved) and Intercessor (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25), who purifies and perfects our prayers and so offers them to God as a sweet smelling incense.

Tim Chester writes that:
'True prayer is thoroughly trinitarian and can only be trinitarian. The Father invites us to call upon him through the Son by the Spirit. the relationship between God and mankind only works because God is at work on both sides of the relationship: both to accept prayer and to inspire prayer.' (The Message of Prayer, p.64)

4. If we didn't believe in the Trinity, we wouldn't get the benefit of reading the Bible.

Okay, maybe you can see how fundamentally Trinitarian the gospel, worship and prayer are. But perhaps you think I've gone to far when it comes to reading the Bible. Surely we read and we learn more about God, and that wouldn't be any different if we didn't believe in the Trinity. But, is that really all that happens when we read the Bible?

The Bible is the Word of God, but Jesus is also the Word of God. And that's not an unfortunately coincidental use of language. After all, it's God who, by His Holy Spirit, has inspired the same expression to refer to both Jesus and the Scriptures, so that should tell us something.

In fact, the role of the Scriptures is to reveal Christ. On the day of the Resurrection, Jesus pointed out to the disciples on the road to Emmaus 'in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself' (Luke 24:27). Not just in some parts of Scripture, but in all the Scriptures! The enscripturated Word reveals the Incarnate Word. The Bible is (in the words of J.I. Packer) 'the Father's witness through the Spirit to the Son' (Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.43).

So when we read the Bible, it's not just that we read and we learn about God, but rather as we read we receive (by the illumination of the Holy Spirit), the Father's testimony to the Son. When we pray, it's not just that we pray and God answers, it's that Jesus takes us to the throne of grace where we offer our requests to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. When we worship, it's not just that we magnify God, but we magnify God as He is, the Triune God, and we do so as we are led by Jesus our true worship leader, so that we might worship in Spirit and in Truth (NB it's Jesus who is 'the Truth'). The Trinity is at the heart of the life of the Church.

And why is that? It's because at the heart of it all is a Trinitarian gospel. Everything we do as the Church should be grounded upon the gospel, and the gospel itself is grounded upon saving love of our Triune God.