The Trinity: The Triune God for Exiles
How do you explain to yourself why you are a Christian? Why do you think your life is a Christian life and not some other kind of life?
Do you tell yourself you have a Christian life mostly for social reasons? It’s good for the children. Your parents raised you in a Christian church. Your grandmother would be disappointed if you quit. Is this why you have a Christian life?
Do you tell yourself you have a Christian life because it is a great source of inspiration? It helps you reach for your dreams. It helps you think about big ideas. It helps you remain a positive person. It enables you to live your best life now. Is this why you have a Christian life?
Do you tell yourself you have a Christian life because you are working out a bargain with God? You keep giving him a part of your life and in return He keeps you reasonably happy, healthy, employed and good looking. Then, when your fateful day comes, God remembers all you did for him so he spares you from hell. Is this why you have a Christian life?
As you probably have guessed none of these ways of thinking about the Christian life are actually Christian ways of thinking. All the above scenarios are ways people think about the Christian life as their own project, taken on by themselves and for themselves.
Thinking like this not only keeps nominal Christians from coming to Christ, it infects real Christians with a managerial reflex toward the life of faith. The more I think my Christian life is a series of actions I have taken, the more I think I am in control of it all. If the Christian life is my project in the first place, then I get to manage it at every point thereafter.
The apostle Peter would have us know better. In the first words of his first epistle, he says you have a Christian life because of actions taken by God the Holy Trinity:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:2)
You have a Christian life because the Father has chosen you for salvation according to his foreknowing love. You have a Christian life because the Spirit has sanctified you, separating you from Satan, sin and the world unto God. You have a Christian life because the Son compels your obedience having purified your conscience by the blood of his covenant.
Your life is a Christian life because of actions taken by the Holy Trinity. Without these actions of God, you and I would have no Christian life.
It is quite striking how Peter does not open his letter. He does not say: “To you dear folks who have started seeking wisdom in the scriptures.” He does not say: “To you dear folks who are striving for a better life in the churches.” He does not say: “To you dear folks who are trying to stay out of trouble.” He does not say: “To you dear folks who are working to do your part for God.”
Peter does not think of your life as a Christian in terms of your actions. He thinks of your life as a Christian in terms of the actions of God the Holy Trinity. You should think this way too. If you do, there will be two enormous benefits to you personally.
First, you will welcome the life of an elect exile instead of regretting it, despising it, resisting it, and trying to avoid it. This is a big theme in 1 Peter. An exile is something like an outcast. Like Christ, the Christian is not welcome in the world. Nor do elect exiles have any lasting country here. Knowing the Trinity’s actions put you in exile frees you to welcome it because the Trinity who graciously swept you into it graciously goes with you through it. God the Trinity in exile with his exiles. The One who made us strangers and aliens on the earth is not ashamed of his new creation nor having now made it will he ever abandoned it.
Second, you will come all the way to delighting in God the Holy Trinity, a chief end of man. If you conceive of your Christian life as being all about actions you are taking, then you will never rejoice in God. He is just a principle you are manipulating. He need not even be the Holy Trinity, any old god would do. But if your Christian life issues from the actions of the triune God then you will delight in Him knowing how zealously he threw himself into his work to save you.
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.