#008: Trinity: Participating in the Life of God
Isaiah 6:1-7; Psalm 29; John 16:12-15
In John 15:1-17, Jesus tells a parable that has come to be popularly known as The Vine and its Branches. In it, he talks about the fellowship of the gardener, the vine, and its branches. He says that the flourishing of the branches (fruit-bearing) depends on their participation in the fellowship between the gardener and the vine.
That the branch must be connected to the vine so that nourishment from the gardener who waters and supplies manure may reach it. It must “remain in” the vine. The word translated ‘remain’ or ‘abide’ in some translations is ménō (μένω) which means to ‘continue to be present in relationship’. In a sense, to continue participating in a fellowship. This is a reciprocal relationship: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (vs 4). You can call it mutual participation.
The branch maintains fruitfulness when it remains in a relationship with the vine because the vine is already in a relationship with it. Jesus is the true vine, his Father is the gardener, and you and I are the branches.
Simply put, salvation consists of the participation of the saved (you and I) in the life of the Saviour (Trinitarian God).
Our text today, John 16:12-15, has Jesus tell his disciples about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In vs 13, he says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.” Notice, first, that he addresses him as ‘the Spirit of truth’ because he comes to guide believers in all truth. Jesus is this truth (Jn 14:6). Second, he speaks Jesus’s words. So, he is the Spirit of Jesus. Verse 14 tells us that he (the Holy Spirit) takes what is Christ’s and gives it to us.
If Jesus is the truth, then—based on his humanity and divinity—truth cannot just be something we know. It’s not a set of facts hidden away in some booklet. Truth is a person. This then begs the question: What does it mean to be guided in all truth (vs 13)? It surely cannot simply mean outlining a few points here and there on what we consider to be the ‘undisputed facts’. It is also more than reading and memorising words on a page.
To be guided in all truth is to be drawn into a relationship. To put it differently, it is to participate in a fellowship.
The early church Father, St. Athanasius, talking about Jesus, put it this way, “For he was incarnate that we might be made god, and he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility.” What he is saying here is that Jesus came to us in human form so that we might share in the fellowship of the Trinity.
This reality is called Theosis, or deification. It means participating in the divine life of the Triune God so that we become what Christ is by nature—Children of God.
You have heard it said that salvation is about the forgiveness of sins. The early church however believed that salvation was much more than that. Granted, salvation involves the forgiveness of sins but fundamentally, it concerns itself with our adoption as God’s Children who share in the everlasting fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The life of the Christian is one of participation. Paul in Romans 6:3-7 says,
Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.
For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
We participate in Christ’s suffering and death through baptism, whether it be immersion or affusion (pouring). Three times we are immersed or have the baptismal waters poured on our heads to signify the drowning of the old man (symbolic of Christ’s three days in the tomb) and we rise from those baptismal waters as new creatures—participants in the resurrection of our Lord—after the likeness of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is the enabler of this participation
In vs 15, Jesus says that everything the Father has is his, and that which is Jesus’s the Holy Spirit will take for himself and deliver it to us. What you need to notice is Jesus shows that he is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is equal to him. This is the essence of the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed confesses that “Nothing in this trinity is before or after, nothing is greater or smaller; in their entirety the three persons are coeternal and coequal with each other.”
The Holy Spirit who is, really, God—coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Son—is able to bring us into participation with the Triune God. “…the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.” Our sharing in the divinity of God entirely depends on the Holy Spirit, he delinks us from everything else and links us to the Father, Son, and Himself.
How we participate in the Trinity
We have seen above how baptism is a symbol of our participation in the life of God. Now I want to focus your attention on the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Today, some churches treat the feast of the Eucharist as some lifeless ritual that they perform occasionally. The word they use is ‘ordinance’—a legal, mechanical, and squeaky act to confirm their obedience. But the early church didn’t think of the Eucharist this way.
The sacrament of Holy Communion was central to Christian worship. It was celebrated every Sunday during public worship, and a couple of times a week because of what it meant in the economy of salvation and daily Christian living. Paul says, “For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). To proclaim— katangéllō (καταγγέλλω) — means “to publically proclaim [with the idea of openly praising, celebrating, or commending].” As weird as it may seem, the feast of the Eucharist is a public celebration of Christ’s death for us, and consequently our death in him.
The cup and the bread are a regular memorial of the fellowship we have with the Triune God on account of Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection and the enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious joining together of our corruptible body with the incorruptible body of Christ in the natural act of eating so that “we might inherit incorruptibility” (see 1 Cor 15:50-57; 1 Peter 1:23).
What do we do with all this?
What does this mean for us today? It implies that we are one in the Lord, participating in the fellowship of the Trinity with a singular goal—to be made like Christ (deification). But sadly, the Church does not live like this is the case. A section of the church has been radicalised by ideas they claim are from God. They are so quick to spiritually police those they think do not align with what they consider ‘orthodox’ Christian values. Social media is awash with very ungracious people who do not seem to have the time to listen to others.
A while back, I was speaking to a youth group and after my talk, a 1st year Engineering student walked up and sat next to me. He then asked if learning about God and theology makes us arrogant and judgmental people. When I asked him to elaborate, he told me that he felt it was his responsibility to correct those who are not living according to the precepts of scripture. What he did not tell me, and what I think created this conflict in his heart and mind was that he felt correcting other people was both judgmental and arrogant. But he had been taught that it is his Christian responsibility to do so.
First, I asked him if he thought that was a gracious thing to do to which he responded that it was not. Second, I told him that I was uncomfortable with that language of correcting and pointing out other people’s spiritual faults before their eyes. Then I later told him that if anything, he is called to exhibit grace, kindness, and patient attention to other people and their struggles.
Then I gave him this scenario: “Suppose you went back to your hometown and realised that one of the youths in your church has an anger problem and struggles to tell the truth. You have two options; first, you can walk up to him and confront him with the ’truth’, pointing out his anger problems and listing the number of times he has lied to his friends. After this, admonishing him to change his ways. Or you can sit with him and ask about his day and how school is going. After, pray with him and regularly check in with him. You never know but he may grow to trust you so that he opens up about what is going on at home. People never wake up in the morning and commit to being angry or telling lies, there are circumstances which lead them down that route.”
I concluded by telling him that “If you choose the second option, you may help him, and his siblings create a safer environment that brings joy, not bitterness in their lives. You may also make a friend, a prayer partner, and a disciple. That is what it means to exhibit grace, kindness, and patient attention to one another.”
The mutual participation in the life of the Triune God allows us to see and care for each other because we are not just recipients of God’s gift of grace, we are also reflectors of that grace. That is what it means to participate in the Trinity.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,