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Trinity Sunday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, May 30, 2021

The Trinity Bears Witness to the Essence of God

Text: Romans 8:12–17

In the early spring of 2013, I received an invitation to go to Rwanda to hold a series of classes for pastors who had very little theological training. Our church sent people to Rwanda a couple of times a year to help with different projects that we sponsored but this invitation was for me more specific. There were many pastors in the Cyangugu Diocese who had hundreds of people attending their church and one had approx. four thousand coming to his church weekly, but they had little or no theological training. I asked the Rwandan bishop what subject he wanted us to teach on, and he said, “whatever the Holy Spirit lays on your heart.”

We were going as a team with our Senior Pastor, Scott McLucas, six lay people, and me. My job was to put together a curriculum and prepare three others who would co-teach along with me. Since I had no idea of the level of education of the pastors who would be attending, I decided to stay with the basics. I chose to teach using Third Mill’s lessons on “The Apostles Creed” and it ended up meeting a very deep need in the ministries of the 20–25 pastors who would be attending.

I wasn’t sure what influences that they were dealing with from other religions, especially native religions. In many places in Africa or Asia, animism is very prevalent. This is the belief in a supernatural power that animates the material world, and that animals, plants, inanimate objects like rocks, rivers, weather systems, and even things created by man are alive and have souls. There are often rituals that are performed to appease and befriend these forces that are very demonic in nature.

As it ends up this was not the real problem that these pastors were facing in teaching their congregations, it was the influence of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Apostles Creed was a perfect place to start because of the strong teaching on the Trinity within it. The Jehovah Witnesses teach that the doctrine of the Trinity is false because there is only one God—Jehovah. To them, the Trinity means there are three God’s and must be rejected. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, if we only believe that part of God’s word that is logical, reasonable according to our ability to understand, and totally explainable according to what we can observe, we will miss the greater part of who God is. Those dear faithful pastors knew the Lord and they knew how to praise and worship God, but they had no idea what the Bible taught about the Trinity and therefore didn’t understand how to speak about this doctrine with their people who were being challenged by Jehovah's Witnesses. Some of them knew that the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’ Creeds affirmed the Trinity, but what did the Bible have to say about it?

The classes started at 8 am and lasted until 5 pm, with occasional bathroom breaks and lunch. These men were hungry for sound Bible instruction, and some came up after the final class that week with tears in their eyes, thanking us for our teaching because now they had a firm base of things to preach from every Sunday. There was such joy once they understood how the God that they worshipped and served was much more wonderful than they had previously known.

One of the central teachings in our “Behold Your God” series is that many things about God are incomprehensible. Things like he is eternal, having no beginning or ending. He is all powerful, all knowing, and present in all places at all times. He knows the beginning and the ending of all things and is not bound by time or by space. We have seen the importance of having a larger view of God which will always lead to a lower view of ourselves. God isn’t like us and we should give thanks for that daily. Frankly, the tendency of many has been to only believe those things they can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell but there is a lot in the created universe that we take for granted but can’t see or fully understand or measure.

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus points out to Nicodemus in John 3:5–7,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

As you will remember, Nicodemus’ response was, “How can these things be?”

The Christian teaching on the “Triune God who is one” is kind of like that, but it’s important to understand that so much about God is hard to fully explain. If we believe that the Bible is God’s word (and I most certainly do) then we invite the Holy Spirit to do for us what Jesus did for his disciples in Luke 24:45, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” If they were to be the first ones to take the Gospel of Jesus to the world, they would need to understand the beauty and complexity of the word of God and be indwelled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That requirement has not changed one iota in the past 2,000 years.

This is Trinity Sunday and this morning we will briefly focus on Romans 8:13–17. My prayer is that it will ease the fear and hesitation of testifying to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as we move forward in faith into the world that is marked by unbelief, just like in the days of the early church.

Before we turn to those passages, I want to go back several verses to set the context. Listen to Romans 8:9–11,

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

In verse 9 Paul points out that the characteristic of every authentic believer and follower of Jesus Christ is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul taught in chapter 7 that the condition of the unbeliever is indwelling sin (7:17–20). The privilege of the children of God is to have the Spirit’s presence to fight and subdue indwelling sin. Jesus had promised in John 14:17 that the Spirit would dwell with and within those who turned to him by faith.

You will notice that the Spirit of God is also called the Spirit of Christ and to have the Spirit of Christ is to have Christ in us. This is not to confuse the persons of the Trinity by identifying the Father with the Son or the Son with the Spirit. Instead, it is meant to emphasize that although they are eternally distinct, they share the same divine essence and will. They are inseparable and have been eternally. What the Father accomplishes he does through the Son, and what the Son does he does through the Spirit. Wherever one is, the others are there as well.

This is so important for us to grasp as we deal with the effects of being encapsulated in our mortal bodies. As we grow older those mortal bodies continue to remind us that they are wearing out. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, a medical doctor as well as theologian, wrote in his commentary on Romans,

The moment we enter into this world and begin to live, we also begin to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take...the principle of decay, leading to death is in every one of us.

The hope of the gospel is that because of Christ's death and resurrection we have been “made alive in the Spirit” and can now live into what we were made for. The Trinity works together in a collaborative effort to restore us to our original purpose and design. The ultimate destiny of our body is not death but resurrection and that is Paul’s point in verse 11,

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Our bodies have not yet been redeemed, but they will be one day and that is our hope and what we long for. How can we be sure about this? Because the Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of life but the Spirit of the resurrection who first raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul’s conclusion is that this is how we know that he will give life to our mortal bodies. Jesus promised it and the Holy Spirit showed that he could do it by raising Jesus first. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:18, 

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Let’s now turn to Romans 8:12–15,

So then brothers we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

When we are being led by the Spirit, we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh and show that we know that what Jesus is offering is far better than what sin is offering. Sin offers us satisfaction but instead gives us guilt and shame, where the Spirit is offering us life, joy, and peace with God and that is precisely what we receive. The Holy Spirit confirms his presence when he leads us into war with our own sin.

John Piper in his book Desiring God writes,

The children of God hate sin. The children of God have the values and priorities and preferences and tastes of their Father. They are chips off the old block, as it were.

In our present culture when we speak of being at war with sin, it is seen as foolish because it is denying what our flesh hungers for. Many deny the fact of personal sin and reject that anyone has the right to set a standard that to them is arbitrary. Many today boldly proclaim that they have a right to live as they see fit but then shriek with rage when they are made to live with the consequences of their actions. To deny their rights is seen as bondage, oppressive, and narrow-minded—which for many is how they view Christianity and want nothing to do with it.

Daily we see evidence all-around of the damage and misery of giving in to whatever hungers and cravings the sinful flesh demands. Declaring God’s word as irrelevant and oppressive has brought down upon our nation a level of immorality, violence, and spiritual bondage that we would not have thought possible 25 years ago. The mental health community is overwhelmed with those who have severe depression and find themselves unable to cope with even the simplest tasks of life. They are given counseling and medication, which is fine and helpful, but it usually doesn’t address the real issue which is separation from God. Suicide among the young is happening at an alarming rate and drug addiction has become rampant in every community.

Why? Because many people feel no hope for the future and can’t see a reason to live.

A large majority of the western church has become anemic from allowing the culture of death to influence their message. They preach unity at all costs and embrace lifestyles and beliefs that promote humanistic values and perversions that emanate from the pits of Hell. They support abortion and call it good and a right of women. Their message of the social gospel is not real food but is like eating a picture of food or a Styrofoam likeness of food hoping to find nourishment. Without the life-giving impact of the Gospel message there is instead now a culture of death.

However, we can praise God that wherever there is the bold proclamation of His Holy Word there is a culture of life, and that is going on in spite of the demands of the culture. Glory be to God! Our passage in Romans 8 is calling us to be faithful to God and be involved in turning this around and focus on what it means to be led by the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh. Paul is calling us to follow the Spirits leading and guidance because there we find life as it was intended and prove that we are truly sons and daughters of God. If we fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, then we will find ourselves back in slavery to sin and fear.

There is no neutral ground here. Men and women will always follow after a spirit, the question becomes which spirit are they following, the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the anti-Christ? Paul taught that the mark of a child of God who is following the leading of the Spirit and putting to death the deeds of the flesh, is they are released from the bondage and slavery that sin brings. There is no longer fear but the joy of being in relationship with God as those who have been adopted into the family of God. Instead of a spirit of slavery we receive the Spirit of sonship (adoption). The Spirit is given to us to confirm that a legal transaction has been carried out by the Father, and we are now legally sons and daughters of God.

Paul was teaching those who identify themselves as Christ-followers (church) to realize that Jesus’ death and resurrection had bought for them a relationship with the Father that they could not have ever expected. The Spirit within them was testifying to something that was more wonderful than anything they could conceive of.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” in Luke 11:2–4 and Matthew 6:9–13. He begins the prayers with the invitation to address the Father with the same familiarity as he did. “Our Father, who is Heaven, hallowed (Holy) is your name!” This would have been unthinkable to the Jews. They would have never presumed that level of intimacy with Yahweh. Paul, a former Pharisee of Pharisee’s would have bristled at the idea of this kind of intimacy and would have considered it blasphemous to even suggest it. Now he wrote and spoke as one who in Christ was experiencing this relationship and now was alluding to this same level of intimacy that Jesus was inviting his disciples into. He assures them that those who walk by the leading of the Holy Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh will be led by the Spirit to cry out, “Abba Father!” Why? Because the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. 

What a newfound joy to those who have been in bondage to slavery and fear. When we are not following the guidance of the Spirit in declaring war on the sins of our flesh, our consciences are seared, and we instinctively fear that judgment is coming, and this produces a fear of God. However, when we are allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in putting to death the deeds of the flesh, then the Spirit within us brings the certainty that we are the children of God and that causes a profound joy to rise up within us as we cry out “Abba” which in the Aramaic means “Daddy.”

Years ago our daughter Amy attended a preview weekend at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain in Georgia. We came to pick her up and when she turned around a saw me, she came running and literally jumped off the ground and into my arms. Fortunately, I was in pretty good shape and caught her with neither of us falling down. I’ve never forgotten that moment because as a father I loved the look of affectionate recognition from my daughter. There were hundreds of other people there, but she didn’t run and jump into their arms. Why? Because I was the only one there who was her father.

When we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to deal with issues that separate us from God, we lose the joy and fulfillment of our relationship with him. However, Paul shows that the evidence that we are in a right relationship with God is the Spirit will bear witness to the Father's delight and will affirm within our spirit that we are indeed God’s children. Jewish law stated that by the mouth of two or three witnesses evidence was affirmed. When the witness of the Holy Spirit speaks to our spirit that we are children of God there is no further reason to doubt, no matter what the enemy whispers in our ears. It isn’t that we never sin but that when we do, we are quick to come to God in repentance because we long to be restored to a right relationship with him.

What is offered is a real, present experience of divine love, not just a future event. The Holy Spirit works in us to realize now that because of our love for the Son of God, we have the love of the Father and that is our motivation to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth and repentance of sin. We see in this process the collaboration of the Trinity to accomplish the will of God in our lives.

Paul points us to a more wonderful reality in Romans 8:17, 

…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him.

The promise that Paul has alluded to in this section is that because we have been adopted into the family of God, that adoption means that we are co-heirs with Jesus. We inherit the kingdom of God and all the blessings and glory associated with that. We will share in an eternity of the fulness of God’s presence, which is something that right now we have no concept of. We have nothing in our experience that prepares us to understand even remotely all that is offered to us in Christ. We depend upon the Holy Spirit to give us tastes from time to time of the joy that awaits us.

For the past 1½ years I have been involved in a weekly Zoom Bible study with other Anglican priests from around the country. We’re using a study entitled, “Growing Into Jesus’ Life.” We’ve been examining what it means to be intimately involved in the family of God, specifically living our lives in the presence of the Trinity. One of our conversations was concerning the truth of God having power without limit, complete knowledge of all things past, present, and future, and that He is present in all places, at all times, past, present and future. We were discussing Psalm 139: 2–5, I’m reading from The Message:

I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—

One of our group admitted that it was comforting that our God is all-powerful and with unlimited knowledge, but the fact that He is present wherever we are was disconcerting. We all knew what he was saying but I pointed out that if God is all-knowing then my life was a completely open book whether he is present or not.

In our Romans 8 passage the Apostle was inviting Christians to focus on the fact that God knew them completely, I mean everything about them, and still wanted to adopt them into his family. However, because we have been adopted into the family of God, we also inherit the enemies of God. While we are here, we can expect that the kingdom of darkness will do all that it can to deter us from bringing glory to God as we work to build the kingdom of God. Because this is certain, I am extremely grateful that God is all powerful, all knowing, and present in all places at all times. It means that I am never alone, even though I don’t see anyone around.

One of the most common ways that Satan stops people is by keeping them focused on everything else but building the kingdom of God and making them quite satisfied with their relationship with God right where it is. Paul is making it clear that if we are following the guidance of the Holy Spirit and confronting the sin that ensnares us, then we become a threat to the enemy and will suffer the effects of warfare.

The Apostle Paul told the Galatians, “From now on let no one cause me trouble for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17). Paul was a warrior in the kingdom of God, and he had the scars to show for it, but he still continued to fight because he was fighting for his family’s honor and glory and for the love of the Father and his elder brother Jesus. He found that if he fought in the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority given to him by Jesus, then he would win—but never without suffering.

As a church, we have been commissioned by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be the light that dispels the darkness and we have been given all the resources of our Father’s kingdom so that we can accomplish that task. It will come with a price, but one well worth paying. It’s a joyous and honorable task that has a wonderful payoff—we inherit the kingdom in the future but we live our lives with our Father, the Lord Jesus, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit now.

In addition to remembering the role of the Trinity in our lives, we are also remembering our fallen heroes on Memorial Day. I believe that as Christians we honor those who have given their lives in battle that we might enjoy freedom. We also should remember those who have gone before us in the faith and were willing to suffer and die that the kingdom of God would advance. Let us live our lives in such a way that we are examples of what it means to live and even die for the honor of our Father, the Lord Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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