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The Trinity: A Christmas Story

December 24, 2012

Alternate Title: “The Trinity: A Gospel Issue”

…The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal…

…So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God…

The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

~ Excerpts from the Athanasian Creed

How in the world does the doctrine of the Trinity have anything to do with the Christmas story? As we see from the Athanasian Creed, our understanding of each of the persons of the Trinity is that they are all equally God; but One God, not three Gods. The Trinity impacts our understanding of Christmas, and the Gospel, because of the way that the three persons of the Trinity relate to one another. God has revealed through His word that the persons in the Trinity relate to one another in this way: the Father sends the Son, the Son accomplishes the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit applies the Son’s accomplishments to His people.

The Father Sends

(John 5:37; 8:18; 10:36; 1 John 4:14)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16

Our Christmas story begins long before even the birth of Mary who would bear Christ. The story that we are celebrating began after a great tragedy at the dawn of time.

“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). All of creation, including humanity, was summed up by the words “very good”; but it wouldn’t last. Humanity, being tempted by Satan, chose to despise God’s Word and decided that they wanted to become Gods themselves and creation, along with Adam and Eve, fell under the curse of God (Gen. 3:4-5, 14-19).

But in the midst of the pain of the fall, the Wrath of God, and the consequences of sin comes a glimmer of hope. There is a promise made; a story begun. The promise of a seed that would come through a woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Here is where the Christmas Story begins and the “scarlet thread” of God’s redemption streams through history until it comes to a virgin named Mary in the form of an angel and a promise…

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:30-33)

At the heart of this Christmas story is the incarnation; the Word becoming Flesh (John 1:14), but behind the incarnation we have the Father sending the Son (John 6:39)…

“[Jesus Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
– Philippians 2:6-7

The beauty of seeing Christmas in light of the Trinity is that not only do we see the submission and humility of the Son in becoming man, but we also see the commission of the Father. God sends his Son to accomplish a purpose, namely the forgiveness of our sins through propitiation…

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins… And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
— 1 John 4:10,14

The Son Accomplishes

(John 5:30, 36; 6:38-39)

The Accomplishments of the Son are two-fold.

1) A Perfect Life Under The Law

The Law causes us much consternation because it shows what is expected from us but it does nothing by way of helping us to meet its demands. As hard as we work and strive, we still fall woefully short of meeting even the lowest requirements. Under the Law, our mouths are stopped, we are made aware of our sin, and we are held accountable by God (Romans 3:19-20).

Galatians 4:4-5  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Like us, Christ was born under the Law and was tempted, but unlike us, he was born without sin and remained without sin throughout his life on the earth (Hebrews 4:15). Throughout Paul’s letters, he continual stress the fact that the righteousness we need cannot be accomplished by our work, but that we can receive righteousness from God through faith. God takes the perfect, righteous life of His Son and gives it to us through faith (Romans 8:3-4)…

Philippians 3:7-9 “But whatever gain [righteousness under the law] I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”

2) A Perfect Death That Removes The Curse Of The Law

Galatians 3:13  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Paul powerfully reminds us that the Gospel is of “First Importance” and then goes on to summarize the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  God, the Father, accounted Christ “to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
— 1 Pet. 2:24

And from the Cross comes the Cry,

“It Is Finished”

The Spirit Applies

Both the Father and the Son send to us the Holy Spirit who teaches us truth, for He is the Spirit of truth, and He testifies to us about the person of Christ (John 14:16; 15:26).

There are several mistakes that we easily make when it comes to our Christian lives.

– Thinking that we were justified because we were smart enough to choose God.
– Thinking that we are sanctified by “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”.
– Thinking that our position before God is dependent upon our work.

We make these mistakes because we fail to recognize that our flesh is incapable of such work. We make these mistakes because we turn the Grace of God into a new Law that seems easier.

Galatians 3:2-7 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

We must realize that all the good that we do, all the “sanctification” we feel and see in our lives is a direct result of the third person of the Trinity applying Christ’s work to us. Not that we sit passively by and expect the Holy Spirit to work…. not at all… We work realizing that all the good we do is simply God working in us.

I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
— 1 Corinthians 15:10

…Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
— Philippians 2:12-13

The Doctrine of the Trinity is essential in our understanding of the Gospel and is the center of the Christmas story. God sending His Son –> so that His Son can accomplish our salvation –> so that They can send the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. To see this a little clearer, let’s take a look at Ephesians…

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

I hope that you see the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity and I hope that you see Christmas in a little different light this year.

 

Have a Very Merry Christmas…

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