The Trinity As A Story
Many people focus on the Trinity as a theological doctrine, full of the nature of God and the relationship of the three persons within a unity. The problem with this is that though the NT speaks of God as one and names Him as three, the relationship between them is not clearly marked. All too often, theologians, pastors and lay leaders have focused on what the Bible does NOT say about the Trinity, rather than what it does. The Trinity is not a theology of nature, but a story of love.
God the Father desires intimacy with people. He always has, from the very beginning, but the very ones He created, chose and sought relationship with have rejected Him. So He sent His Son, Jesus, to live out God’s love and deliverance. Jesus was God in human flesh, beginning a nation where people are both chosen to come in and choose themselves to participate. These learn about what God desires from God who was also human and they choose to live their lives as a divine path, as Jesus himself.
Jesus said that it was better for us that He leaves us. This seemed so wrong to his disciples at the time, but Jesus further explained that the Spirit could only come upon us if He leaves—we must have an absence before the Father fills us.
Although Jesus does not live among us anymore, He leaves His Spirit to all those who choose to be in Jesus. The Spirit then is God inside us, God with us, God continually dwelling. The Spirit is the promised blessing of God (Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31; Joel 2), who creates a people that is listening to God and is faithful to God. The Spirit is the final link for the chosen to be those who are intimate with God.
If the Spirit is the means of God’s ultimate blessing—intimacy with Him—then how do we achieve it? How do we live out this intimacy?
1. Listen to the Spirit
Jesus’ words are the foundation of what we know about God and how we live in God’s presence. But they are still only words from a distance. When we have a drunk come to our house in the middle of the night, how do we live out “do unto others as you would have them do to you”? Should we invite them in? Should we give them food and send them on their way? Should we decide that we need to protect our family? When someone steals from us, how do we practically live out “love your enemies”? Should we call the police? Should we give them more? Should we give them the gospel and let them go on their way? Jesus’ words don’t always give us the practical counsel we need in order to fully and precisely live out the way of God.
This is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit gives us the wisdom we need when we need it. The Spirit talks to us and gives us the truth and the practical application to live the life of Jesus in the particular circumstances we are in. The Spirit is Jesus walking beside us, living with us, giving us continual counsel and direction to live in God’s ways.
Most importantly about listening to the Spirit is that in order to obtain a word from the Spirit we must ask. If we do not ask, then we will receive nothing. Even so, if we want the Spirit or any wisdom, we must ask God for that wisdom. This means that while God initiates the conversation with Him by offering the Spirit, we must ask for the Spirit in order to receive it. Then, once the Lord has given us the Spirit, we must ask for the wisdom we desire and God will answer us. Thus is the conversation with God continuous. (I Corinthians 2:11; Romans 8:5; John 14:26; Colossians 1:9; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:5-8; James 4:2-3; Acts 16:9-10; Acts 4:29-32)
2. Pray in the Spirit
One of the most common commands about the Spirit in the Scriptures is to pray in the Spirit. Many people directly relate this to speaking in tongues. But speaking in tongues is only one form of praying in the Spirit. Prophecy is also praying in the Spirit, as is listening in the Spirit, as is praying the Lord’s prayer.
When we pray in the Spirit, first of all, we are recognizing that we are not praying in the place where we seem to be, but we are in reality praying before God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16). When the prophets were “in the spirit” they were in the spiritual realm, in the presence of God, being led by the spirits directed by God. Even so, when we pray “in the spirit” we are not reciting dead words, nor are we praying by rote. Rather, we are before God himself, in intimate conversation with Him, and our prayers have power, not just hope.
To pray in the Spirit is to pray in God’s presence. We can say “papa” to God, because He is before us and asks us to call him by that intimate name. In the Spirit, we know our prayers and heard and God can answer us immediately. In the Spirit, we go before God with a situation that we don’t know how to pray for and the Spirit will lead us to pray rightly before the Father. In the Spirit, we can cry out to God to change His mind. In the Spirit, prayer is not just an activity, it is a conversation with the King of the Universe. (John 4:23; Jude 1:20; Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:17, 26).
3. Rely on the Spirit
Our final intimacy with God is reliance. The Scripture has many different ways of saying this, “walk in the Spirit”, “live in the Spirit” “be raised in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25; Romans 8:4, 11). God tells us what to do through the Spirit, and we seek God’s power in the Spirit through prayer. God delivers the power to do His work through the Spirit and so we are able to do as He pleases.
Without the Spirit, we are weak, for we are only human. But in the Spirit, we are strong, able to do all the things that God asks us to do, without hesitation, because it is He who empowers us, He who strengthens us.
But this empowerment is not the end of the process. When God gives us the power to live for Him, we then need to live, relying on that power.
There are two ways we could fail in this. First of all, we could decide that we don’t really have the power of God, and so refuse to do as He asks. We can say “it’s too hard” or, “no one can do that”—and we would be right, except that God already gave us the ability to do it. If we deny God’s power to do His will, then we will think that we are unable to do His will, and so refuse to do it. But this is our stubborn rebelliousness getting in the way. God HAS given us the power, if we ask for it, and all we need to do is to rely on it and so do God’s will.
The other thing we often do is to ask for God’s will and then do it on our own power, which is inadequate. We think that since God told us to love our enemies, to be gentle, to heal the sick and to raise the dead and to resist the devil that we can do all of this according to the strength of our will. But we can’t. We are as weak and helpless in the spirit world as a baby. We can’t obey God, nor do miracles. We have to rely on the Spirit. This means we need to ask for the Spirit and rely on God for that Spirit, rather than relying on ourselves. We are merely human, and to be human is to be weak. But if we pray, we can have the Spirit, and He is all-powerful and ready to help us in our times of weakness.
To live in the Spirit is to affirm our own weakness, because all good things happen through the Spirit. And it gives glory to God because His strength is revealed through our weakness. (I Corinthians 2:4-5; II Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 14:38)