An Introduction to Trinitarian Faith
- In Jesus we meet God as God really is. (John 14:9).
- Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of the Father. (John 1:18).
- Through Jesus’ words and actions, we hear and see what matters most to every human being—that God the Father loves us unconditionally. (John 3:16).
- Even at our worst, God loves us. John continues. (John 3:17).
- The Father sent Jesus out of his love and his commitment to save us.
- Jesus instructed his followers to welcome people into right relationship with God by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
- The God we worship through Jesus Christ is the Triune God.
- Trinitarian faith is based on a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity (the biblical teaching that there is one God, who is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
- Jesus is the unique Word of God to humanity and the unique Word of humanity to God (John 1:1-14).
- As the representative of all humanity, Jesus responded to God perfectly.
- Jesus indicates that he is the key to understanding Scripture. John 5:39-40
- So we seek to understand the Bible through the lens of who Jesus is … for He alone is the self-revelation of God.
- Even before creation, there was a relationship of love between the Father and the Son (John 17:24).
- In Jesus, that relationship of love is extended to all humanity.
- Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has become one with us in our humanity to represent us as his brothers and sisters in the very presence of the Father (see John 1:14; Ephesians 1:9-10, 20-23; Hebrews 2:11, 14).
- Because of Jesus, God has reconciled us and renewed our relationship with him!
- As we respond to his call to us to share in that restored relationship, he comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11).
- In Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, we become God’s treasured children, adopted by grace (Romans 8:15-16).
- This means that Christian life and faith are primarily about four kinds of personal relationship:
- the relationship of perfect love shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity,
- the relationship of the eternal Son with humanity, established when the Son became human in the person of Jesus,
- the relationship of humanity with the Father through the Son and by the Spirit, and,
- the relationship of humans with one another, in the Spirit, as children of the Father.
Who is Jesus?
“Who are you, Lord?” was Paul’s anguished question on the Damascus Road, where he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:5). He spent the rest of his life answering this question and then sharing the answer with all who would listen. The answer, revealed to us in his writings and elsewhere in Scripture, is the heart of the gospel and the focus of Trinitarian theology.
The Son of God, who is united from eternity to the Father and the Spirit, is now also joined to humanity because of his incarnation — his becoming a real flesh-and-blood human being (John 1:14). We summarize this by saying that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. That fact will never change, because he remains, in his divine nature and his human nature, the one mediator between God and humanity for all time (1 Timothy 2:5). His Incarnation did not end with his death or with his ascension. It continues forever. He was resurrected bodily and he ascended bodily. He will return bodily, the same as he departed. So when we say Jesus Christ, we are referring to God, and we are also referring to humanity.
As the One who is uniquely God (Creator and Sustainer of all) and also fully human, Jesus is the unique meeting place of God and humanity. Through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, God and humanity were reconciled and human nature was regenerated — made new (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). In Jesus Christ all humans are reconciled to God (Colossians 1:19-20). As the Lord and Savior of all humanity, He has opened up the way for all to enter into an eternal union and communion with God.
Incarnation for salvation
The miracle of the Incarnation is not something that happened “once upon a time,” now long past and simply affecting one person, Jesus. What he accomplished changed human nature itself, changed history, changed how the entire cosmos is “wired” — it is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The spiritual reality is, for now, hidden in Christ, and we still experience the effects of evil that still occur in this world. The Incarnation of the eternal Son of God, entering time and space and taking on our human nature to change everything forever, reaching back through all human history, and reaching forward to encompass all time. He has now become our Lord and Savior, not as an external agent, but from the inside, in his humanity.
As Paul teaches, God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul speaks of this transformation in Romans 7:4, where he says that even while we are alive, we are already dead to the law by the body of Christ. Jesus’ death in human flesh for us, though a historical event, is a present reality that applies to all humanity (past, present and future). “You died,” Paul says to the Colossians, “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Even before we die physically, we are given new life — made alive with Jesus in his resurrection.
Christ’s incarnation and atoning work accomplished the renewal of our human nature. In Him, God has reconciled to himself every human being, even those who lived before Jesus came.
In Ephesians 2:5-6 we read that those who trust in Christ share in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Here Paul asserts that just as we are dead already in Jesus’ substitutionary death, we have also already been “made alive together with him” and we are “raised up together with him” and “seated together with him in the heavenly realms.” All this comes from God’s grace and is experienced through faith — the faith of Jesus that he shares with us by the Spirit.
Jesus, the second Adam
In Romans 5:6-10, Paul addresses believers, but he also explains what Christ accomplished on behalf of all humanity even before anyone came to faith in God through Christ. Jesus Christ died for people who were still:
God accomplished his great work for us out of his “love for us” even while “we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). The result was that even “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
Paul goes on to explain that what Jesus Christ accomplished as the second Adam counteracts what the first Adam did. Through Christ, as the new head of all humanity, “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for the many” (Romans 5:15). Paul continues:
- The gift “brought justification” rather than condemnation (Romans 5:16).
- “Those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
- “One righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18).
- “Through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
- “Grace increased all the more” so that “grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).
God did all this for us before we were even born. The benefit of what Jesus did so long ago extends to the past, to the present and into the future. Paul says, “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10). This shows that salvation is not a one-time event, but an enduring relationship that God has with all humanity — a relationship formed within the person of Jesus Christ, who has brought God and humanity together in peace.
Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Paul explains this in Ephesians 2:4-6:
- When Jesus died, we, in our sinful human nature, died with him.
- When Jesus rose, we, in our reconciled human nature, rose with him.
- When Jesus ascended, we, in our redeemed human nature, ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side.
Everything God has done in Christ shows us the mind, heart and character of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is on the side of his people and all his creation. God is for us, even before we respond to him (Ephesians 2:5). He has provided reconciliation and eternal life in communion with himself for every human being.
For all humanity
As Jesus made his way into Jerusalem for his final Passover with his disciples, the crowds shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13).
Shortly thereafter, he proclaimed his impending death to those who went up to the Temple to worship. Jesus called to the Father: “Father, glorify your name!” A voice then thundered to the crowd: “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:29).
Jesus told them the voice was for their benefit and that God’s judgment on evil had come so that the prince of this world would be driven out (John 12:30-31).
He also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus conquered evil in order to attract all people to himself. The apostles believed that Jesus died to redeem us all:
- 2 Corinthians 5:14: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
- Colossians 1:19-20: “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
- 1 Timothy 2:3-6: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
- 1 Timothy 4:9-10: “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance… we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.”
- Hebrews 2:9: “We do see Jesus, who … suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
- 1 John 2:2: “[Jesus is] the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
These passages show that Jesus died for all humanity, that is, in their place and on their behalf. Jesus did for us, as one of us, what we could never do for ourselves. This is what is meant by the vicarious humanity of Jesus (the word vicarious refers to a representative substitute).
In our place and on our behalf
Throughout the book of Hebrews, Jesus is depicted as our great High Priest, representing all humanity, providing on our behalf a perfect response to God. He is presented as the one who stands among us, in the midst of the congregation, and who leads us in worship (Hebrews 2:12-13). He represents us as our older brother. He has become one of us, sharing our very nature, learning obedience, being tempted as we are, but overcoming that temptation perfectly (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:15).
Theologian Thomas Torrance explained it this way:
Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead from within the depths of our unfaithfulness and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we may share …. That is to say, if we think of belief, trust or faith as forms of human activity before God, then we must think of Jesus Christ as believing, trusting, or having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place. (The Mediation of Christ, p. 82)
Jesus is the one who, as we respond, perfects our faith and makes us holy (Hebrews 12:2; 2:11; 10:10, 14). He acted as one of us “in our place” or “on our behalf” (Hebrews 2:9; 5:1; 6:20; 7:25, 27; 9:7).
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