We worship the Triune God. And we seek to understand that as much as possible. In catechism I might try to compare this concept to an egg: a yolk, that white part, then the shell—which is great if I want to say that a “one thing has three parts”. Even if we shifted to, say, the sun—it has shape, it emanates light, you feel its warmth—something like that God has three modes… But that’s not true and it’s far less than what Scripture says. We could try to be faithful to Scripture, like many theologians of old, and still get into other explanations, but all of them fall short in some way or other of what Scripture says about God.
It says a lot. Of course, it doesn’t help that it never says that word triune or trinity. That’s a word we made up because we try to gather up everything we can and systematize it—so that we can rightly speak about and teach it. We call God the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one in essence, but triple in persons. Even so, that’s not a statement for understanding as in grasping how it works. So finally, whether you cogitate with Philip Melancthon or Thomas Aquinas or Augustine, if you don’t fall off into weird false teachings, you really end up in this: “The doctrine of the Holy Trinity—i.e. the doctrine that there is only one God and that in this one God there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a doctrine that we can know only from Holy Scripture and that is in the highest sense a mystery, i.e., a secret that transcends reason.”
And that’s tough. To accept and think about and to preach on. In that part, you may have already concluded that was one of the worst sermon introductions in the history of the concept… You introduce with things that people like or find imaginative and it’s almost nobody finds doctrine books super engaging. And maybe even with the Trinity – when it transcends, it ascends above where we live sometimes… Down here where it’s baseball practice and money management and gardening and Call of Duty…
But that’s too low, isn’t it? That sells far short our experience and our desires. We think deeply and ardently about life and, ironically, don’t we often want things that transcend? That move beyond this? It’s not just video games we think about; you get stuck in the interpersonal relationships with people who are supposed to be your “friends” but sometimes act like you’re not even there—you want love or companionship/you wonder if you’re broken or unloveable. Figuring money might be your hobby; you do it, practically, because it’s 1981 all over again and inflation, paychecks, and 401K’s don’t play nice—we want to be okay, provided for, secure and you worry it’s all coming apart. And experience or feelings? You’re far more than what your senses take in; you’re questions about why the 34 year old young lady dies suddenly or why you have this medical problem even at 75 or how to fill the hole left by one who died—we want normal and comfortable and it’s almost never like that. And we actually try for it, the transcendent—what will get us above/through these things? What will we put our hope in?
If we took him in the most expansive way, we might say that, in chs.1-4 of Romans, Paul was highlighting this problem. We seek to get above all this—the disappointments, the distractions, our own difficulties—by hope in human powers as opposed to God’s divine promises. It runs the gamut. If you’re in ch.1 of Romans, we might just sink right into the mores and the norms of this world—achieve transcendence by transformation—redefine everything so nothing’s wrong and God can’t convict us. If it’s Romans 2, it’s transcendence by toil—whether it’s comparing ourselves to others or putting hope in what our hands can do and how human brains think, or, even what seems spiritual, keeping God’s laws… We boast in these. We feel we’re okay with God because we’ve done (or tried to do) what he desires.
Of course, Paul says, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law (and, be expansive: by any thing you can do); rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20) In our power and work, we’re still stuck down here in this—and worse, we find out that we’re worthy of condemnation generally and, specifically, for the kind of idolatry that ignores the God in heaven because he’s “too far above”.
Of course, right after this Paul says, “But now apart from [any of our doing] the righteousness of God has been made known…(and to summarize and foreshorten it just a bit for our purposes this morning) This righteousness is given…” Stop it right there and just consider that concept—because I think you could argue that’s the essence of Romans 4 and ch.5 today. That is, we’re not going to transcend by anything we think up or do or find here… From his transcendence, God gives everything we need.
On Trinity Sunday, it’s not about grasping ungraspable things or gasping in exasperation at the same… It’s about this: the blessed Trinity who lives and moves and wills far beyond our understanding, also blesses transcendently. And Paul highlights it for you by talking about our experience, about where we boast.
What we boast in is important, as we’ve said. In a positive sense, perhaps you might boast in your retirement assets and their diversification—you’re inflation-proof—you’re confident you’ll be good. We boast in what we have confidence and find joy in, right? Here? We’re confident and joyful in a “hope”. “Hope”is an expectation that something will turn out right for us. But what do we boast in? V.2: “in the hope of the glory of God.”
Now we’ve referenced God’s glory in weeks previous here, in Daniel, say—in the throne room of God, before his mighty, world-judging power, majesty so great prophets fall trembling before him and earthly powers that would crush us are dismissed or swallowed up in his fire. Glory like that? That’s only a hopeful place if you belong there. And, actually, a lot of what we seek to escape is of our own doing, our sinful ruin, our problems self-created that might speak a different word about us than “glorious”…
But Paul summarizes why you have confidence in a hope of God’s glory. “[W]e have been justified through faith”—that is, declared not guilty of the sins we have and have done, a status we have received by trust in something outside of ourselves. Paul says because of that, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Would you agree that “being at peace” is when things are as they ought to be – no complications, no fears, no regrets, no stress—when you feel things are “normal” even? You know, one theologian called what Paul is saying in vv.1-2 the “divine normal”? He meant we don’t have to seek it out but we already have peace—we are not God’s enemies, have no regrets, do not fear, are not guilty. Where we stand, where we live—it’s all God’s undeserved love! For us it’s normally like this: “in grace we now stand; by faith, into [this place] we have gained access…”
And what a blessed thing! This year was Platinum Jubilee over across the pond – 70yrs of queenship for Elizabeth II. You know, if you tried to just walk into the Platinum Party at the Palace and into the presence of the queen, they’d probably shoot you…you need to be invited to that. But Paul says, for you, it’s Platinum Party Palace all the time… With Jesus as our introducer, we have access into the presence of the divine king, his power covers us so that we’re safe, we belong there as servants, friends, family.
That’s a peace that fills up the present and opens up the future. A peace that provides more than this world ever can and passes even our ability to fully understand. Indeed, to put it as the Lutheran church fathers did, it lets us boast in “our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:2)”—not just, his will done, but his will done for our good!
In fact, that’s the promise here in ch.5; God in his being is at work blessing us transcendently! To go back to the middle, we boast—not only in salvation achieved by Jesus, received by us, and believed as coming—but that hope of God’s glory for us means something for us right here. Paul said, “Not only so, but we also [boast] (same verb) in our sufferings…”
I don’t have to explain those to you. They’re all the things you experience in this sinful world – the frustrations, the disappointments, the persecutions for believing God’s Word, the temptations that come from all sides and within. They’re all the things that make life feel like those moments in cinema where the camera closes in so that you can’t see what’s around, so that you’re stuck in the tight frame of fear and you know something’s coming… In the pressed, close, uncomfortable frame, Paul says, “we boast”/“have confidence”/even “rejoice”… Mind you, it isn’t as though Paul were saying ludicrous things like, “Cancer is great,” or “Depression is a blessing,” or “Poverty is a wonder!” He’s saying that, in the midst of these and all that we don’t know still to come, we’re standing in God’s grace and we know how it is there…
In grace, “suffering produces perseverance”. Maybe better would be “endurance,” because when you live in grace, things are never really about your power. Suffering produces a spirit of holding out, of waiting on the Lord. You “wait for the LORD…in His word [you put your] hope” for mercy and redemption. (Psalm 130:5, 7 NKJV) And waiting on God’s providing or redeeming produces a marked/tested character in you and me. A battle-proven faith, marked not by strength or particular wisdom other than to hold firmly onto God’s promises no matter… and Christian character like that produces hope.
Exactly the kind we’ve been talking about all along; the only kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint – not now in life or later in eternity. Why not? Because, in v.5, when the love of God is flooded into our hearts by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, he doesn’t mean your love for God. He means, that through his Word, God’s Spirit tells to our hearts the story of God’s love for us in Christ again and again; to overrun the story we’re experiencing in this world – he tells love more powerful than our sins, our status that does not change in a world that is always unreliable, our blessedness to come where, in all the glory of God, we will belong. And, as if that work were not enough, it’s all “given to us”… like a gift, beautifully wrapped; a thing just beyond your understanding, and yet entirely yours.
The Triune God is transcendent in his essence and personality. He is above my understanding. His Word says we have one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons, but “one in essence, united in will, one in a perfect loving harmony with one another…” But Paul’s saying more than just that today. He’s saying something like this today: the blessed Triune God is “one in burning desire for our salvation.” Transcendent as he is, he condescends—Father glorious, Son our Savior, Spirit Counselor of those gifts—God at gracious work. So that you and I have everything we need to move beyond all this, and even in the midst of the worst of this, to enjoy God’s glory forever.