Church Leadership

Go back

Chapter Two: Transformed by the Trinity

I have to admit, I never thought the Trinity had much personal application. The Trinity seemed like a nice theological concept but nothing more. I studied it in college, mentioned the Trinity in sermons, and of course, believed it. But a concept that might transform me? No way.

My views have changed radically. Lately, I’ve found myself meditating in wonder and complete amazement. Here are some of my thoughts:

I love and serve a God who exists in perfect relationship.

God is not a lone-ranger. He exists in community.

His communion with the other members of the Godhead is my model to follow.

I’m excited about God’s nature. He’s a relational God. He’s not an individualist. He desires community.

And then my excitement deepens when I realize that this triune God lives within me. He’s molding and shaping me from within to become a relational disciple. The Trinity resides in every believer--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s very nature, therefore, is to guide His children to form relationships with others.

God’s relational nature pours out from the pages of the Bible. Notice how many times Scripture talks about community, love, and close relationship among His people. These Scriptures simply reflect God’s character.

As mentioned in the last chapter, the culture of this world is trying to “conform” us to its values. Paul also uses the word “transformed” in Romans 12:2. He tells us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We get our English word “metamorphous” from this word “transformed.” It refers to a total change from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.

God Himself is the One doing the transforming, and His goal is to mold us into His image, as He says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. . .” Notice, the plurality of “let us” and “our image.” God is transforming us into His own image, which is relational.

Larry Crabb writes:

We were designed by our Trinitarian God (who is Himself a group of three persons in profound relationship with each other) to live in relationship. Without it, we die. It’s that simple. Without a community where we know, explore, discover, and touch one another, we experience isolation and despair that drive us in wrong directions that corrupt our efforts to live meaningfully and to love well (note 1).

What Is the Trinity?

You won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible. Scripture is abundantly clear, however, that there is only one God, and that all three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are called God. The Bible teaches that:

  • The Father is God: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
  • Jesus is God: “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever’” (Hebrews 1:8).
  • The Holy Spirit is God: Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit . . . You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4)
  • There is only one God: “ Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

One famous early church creed, the Athanasian Creed, describes the Trinity this way:

For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.

For me, the clearest statement is simply that there is one God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit.

The truth is that we can’t fully explain the Trinity. God is infinitely greater than we are, and we can’t completely understand Him.

Because of our limitations, illustrations have been used to describe the Trinity. Some are better than others. A widely used illustration is the triangle. One triangle has three corners, which are inseparable from, and simultaneous to, one another. In this sense it is a good illustration of the Trinity. Of course, the triangle is finite and God is infinite.

Augustine, the early church scholar, illustrated the Trinity from 1 John 4:16, which tells us that God is love. Augustine reasoned that love involves a lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love between lover and loved. The Father might be likened to the lover; the Son to the one loved, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. Yet love does not exist unless these three are united as one. This illustration has the advantage of being personal, since it involves love, a characteristic that flows only from persons.

The Trinity and Community

Have you ever been in a group in which you felt a clash of personalities? Perhaps one person tried to dominate the conversation. Perhaps you came face-to-face with a quirky personality that turned you off. When you’re ready to act in an ungodly response (e.g., lashing out, gossip, anger), ask God to help you to act like the Trinity. Instead of demanding personal attention, ask God for strength to walk in humility, while praying for the person.

Jesus often pointed to the unity within the Trinity as a model for His disciples to follow. Notice how Jesus describes His relationship to the Father:

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:21-22).

The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit jump out from the pages of Scripture. The New Testament reads like a living love letter between the triune God and His people:

The Father loves and delights in the Son (Matthew 3:17).

Jesus receives the love of the Father and pleases Him out of love and obedience (Matthew 12:31). Jesus says, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (John 12:44-45).

The Spirit glorifies both the Father and the Son (John 16:14). The Spirit’s job is to bring back to memory the Words of Christ (John 16:12-15).

Each person of the Trinity loves, honors, and glorifies the other and receives love and honor back from the others. Jürgen Moltmann, a famous theologian, wrote:

The three divine persons are not there simply for themselves. They are there in that they are there for one another. They are persons in social relationship. The Father can be called Father only in relationship with the Son; the Son can be called Son only in relationship with the Father. The Spirit is the breath of the one who speaks (note 2).

We are supposed to imitate God’s relational nature. Christ gathered twelve disciples and journeyed with them for three years to demonstrate and teach them about love and community. Their lives molded and shaped together was the key component of their training.

Jesus had a huge challenge to unite such a diverse group. He brought together disciples who were temperamental and easily offended. They often saw each other as competitors. It wasn’t easy for them to wash each other’s feet (John 13:14).

Jesus continually taught the importance of unity and love for one another. He told them that people outside the fold would recognize they were His disciples by the love they had for one another. He even said that the world would believe when they saw the unity the disciples showed toward one another. Jesus prayed to the Father, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

The writers of the New Testament didn’t stop talking about community. The phrase “one another” appears one hundred times in the New Testament and most of those occurrences have to do with relationships between believers and how to cultivate those relationships. The next chapter focuses on the “one anothers.”

The Trinity Working in Us

How many times have we promised by our own strength to do something and failed? So many times we’ve made promises like:

“I’m going to practice the golden rule.”

“I will love my enemy because God says to.”

“I will love my neighbor.”

The bottom line is that apart from the Spirit of God working through us, we can’t fulfill the one anothers of Scripture.

We suffer from an individualistic, dog-eat-dog mentality. We are determined not to submit to anyone. The harmony and love within the Trinity is so distinct from our own human natures that He has to transform us with that same love for community to happen.

Moving from a life of individualism toward one of community requires a powerful inner transformation. God does it through us, and it flows out to others.

I love personal devotions and even wrote a book concerning them (note 3). Yet, more and more I understand that personal devotions are not really personal. Rather a time of personal devotion is communion with the Trinity, the three in one. Devotions are all about growing in a love relationship with a God who does not act independently or in a selfish, individualistic manner. Our relationship with Him then overflows to our relationship with others.

During a quiet time, you catch a glimpse of what perfect love and unity is all about. After spending time in His presence, we can see others through His eyes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced the horrors of Nazi Germany, the embodiment of human-centered pride. Yet, in the midst of such chaos, Bonhoeffer wrote, Life Together, a treatise of God-centered community between believers. He writes:

The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God (note 4).

God helps us see His presence in others and to love them like He does. He transforms us to act like Him. Acting independently goes against His character. Community, in fact, is the very nature of God.

Our goal should be to yield to the Spirit and allow Him to mold and shape us. As we do, He will stir us to love one another, serve one another, wait on one-another, walk in humility with one-another, and to fulfill the one-another commands in the Bible. Speaking of the believer’s freedom, the Apostle Paul states “nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:24).

Endnotes

  1. As quoted in Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p. 13.
  2. E. Moltmann-Wendel and J. Moltmann, Humanity in God (New York: Pilgrim, 1983), p. 97, as quoted in Gorman, op. cit., p. 26.
  3. An Appointment with the King (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2002). Can be purchased on my online bookstore at: http://store.joelcomiskeygroup.com/allbobyjoco.html
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), . 20.