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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « "God's Electing Love in Christ"- Ephesians 1:3-14 | Main | Casting the Gospel Seed Far and Wide »

    The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Goal of the Christian Mission

    The most basic application of the doctrine of the trinity to the goal of Christian mission is simply this: if the inter-relationships of the ontological trinity are indeed covenantal, then the goal of Christian mission must also be covenantal. When God first created man, it was explicitly for the purpose of showing his own image. Man was different from all the creatures in the garden because he alone was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). When man fell and marred that image, God’s purpose was not frustrated: just as he had planned to show his image in creation, so he had planned to show his image even more fully in redemption. Not only did he create all things for his glory, he also engaged in all of his redemptive tasks for his own glory (see Isaiah 43:5-7); which is simply shorthand for the display of his own nature, which is eminently glorious.

    What this means for the Christian mission is that, its ultimate goal is not simply to get as many individuals as possible off of the course of destruction, and into the bliss of heaven (as vital as that work of mercy is for displaying the character of a merciful God). On the contrary, it is all about reforming a new mankind, that will display God’s image in covenantal unity, even as the trinity exists in a covenantal love and unity. This is why, throughout the history of the Old Testament, God’s dealings with mankind were ever enacted on the basis of the covenants that he had inaugurated with them (see Genesis 9:8-17; 17:1-8; Exodus 19:3-6; 2 Samuel 7:12-16), and they ever involved the formation of an indissoluble and unified people of grace, and not merely a composite collection of persons of grace. God chose and saved the nation of Israel, not one person in ten from every nation of the world. And even now that he is expanding his kingdom to include every nation, he is still doing so by bringing representatives of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation into one new people, his own kingdom of priests (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:6; 1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 5:9-10).

    This concept has at least three applications to the goal of missions: first, a Christian missionary’s task, when dealing with any unbeliever, is not just to get him a ticket to heaven, but to bring him into a covenantal relationship with God. Christ died, not so that we might sit on clouds with halos and strum our harps, but to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). The ultimate expression of the blessings of redemption is being brought into a covenantal relationship with God himself, which is substantially similar to the inter-relationship of the eternal persons of the trinity. Jesus died, by his own confession, to keep believers “in the name” of God (John 17:11-12). What that means precisely becomes clearer a little later when Jesus prays that they would “be one in us” (that is, in the Father and the Son – John 17:21), and that he himself would be “in them” (John 17:23, 26). The final goal of the Christian mission is to bring believers into a personal relationship with God which precisely expresses the personal relationships within the eternal trinity.

    Second, the task of Christian missions is to bring believers into a mutual relationship with each other which in itself reflects the inter-relationships within the trinity. Throughout the epistles the virtue of Christian unity is espoused and urged more than almost any other virtue (e.g. Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 1:27; 2:1-5). Believers show forth the divine, inter-trinitarian image when they are united in a diverse, loving, and mutually-honoring covenantal relationship.

    Third, the goal of the Christian mission is ultimately to glorify God. If believers are to be perfectly happy, it is only to be by entering into a state similar to that of the perfectly blessed (i.e. happy) Godhead (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). True Christian joy reflects the state of unruffled blessedness that has always existed in the trinity, the persons of which bring constant and illimitable joy to each other unceasingly. Therefore, it is a joy which is primarily designed to glorify God, that is, to display the nature of God. In other words, as great as are the blessings which God has given to followers of Jesus, those blessings themselves serve the greater purpose of glorifying God. God accomplished his work of redemption in order “to show…the riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). It was “to make known the riches of his glory in vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand unto glory” (Romans 9:23). Thus, any expression of the goal of the Christian mission which stops short with the needs of the unbeliever is essentially inadequate. Missions exists to bring eternal joy and life to sinners, but only because that will bring eternal glory to God, by displaying his nature in those whom he saves. -- from How the Doctrine of the Trinity Shapes the Christian Mission

    Posted by Nathan on December 2, 2009 01:50 PM

    Comments

    Your post is a refreshing voice of Christian sanity on the implications of the Trinity for mission. Most Reformed textbooks discuss the Trinity as if its just another of the attributes of God. Most hymns and worship songs could just as easily be sung to Allah, Krishna or Baal. Most preaching is human-centered and therapy-oriented. With the focus of popular Evangelicalism more and more individualistic and all too often reflecting a Jesus-will-meet-my-needs mentality, the 'gospel' is still stuck in the Western legal paradigm that makes salvation an event rather than a relationship, giving rise to all manner of theological and spiritual mischief. Here in Kenya, the scourge of the health and prosperity heresy is springing up everywhere and in a way that holds up a sick parody of New Testament Christianity as the goal of preaching and mission. Understanding that humanity is made in the image of the Trinity begins to put the focus back where it should be - on our participation in the eternal and infinite love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the ever-expanding goal of our salvation. And our participation leads to transformation as we increasingly rid ourselves of soul-killing self-centeredness and reflect the love of the Trinity in our relationships. I believe that Jesus himself said that this would be the way the world would know that we are his disciples.

    Your post is a refreshing voice of Christian sanity on the implications of the Trinity for mission. Most Reformed textbooks discuss the Trinity as if its just another of the attributes of God. Most hymns and worship songs could just as easily be sung to Allah, Krishna or Baal. Most preaching is human-centered and therapy-oriented. With the focus of popular Evangelicalism more and more individualistic and all too often reflecting a Jesus-will-meet-my-needs mentality, the 'gospel' is still stuck in the Western legal paradigm that makes salvation an event rather than a relationship, giving rise to all manner of theological and spiritual mischief. Here in Kenya, the scourge of the health and prosperity heresy is springing up everywhere and in a way that holds up a sick parody of New Testament Christianity as the goal of preaching and mission. Understanding that humanity is made in the image of the Trinity begins to put the focus back where it should be - on our participation in the eternal and infinite love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the ever-expanding goal of our salvation. And our participation leads to transformation as we increasingly rid ourselves of soul-killing self-centeredness and reflect the love of the Trinity in our relationships. I believe that Jesus himself said that this would be the way the world would know that we are his disciples.

    Hi William, thanks for the comment. It's good to hear about what the Lord is doing in Kenya, although sickening to hear of the health and wealth heresy, which I think is alive and well on every continent. But the Word of God will ultimately prevail!

    This was just an excerpt from an article I wrote on the Trinity and the Christian mission -- if you're interested in reading the whole thing, follow the link at the bottom of the original post.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Nathan

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