September 18, 2018 Chris Green

Worship and the Trinity

We Do Not Worship Jesus Alone

We do not worship Jesus alone. Odd as that may sound, it is true in at least two senses. First,
worship is always necessarily a shared, corporate event, an event which happens whether we join in or not. We never, ever initiate it. From eternity to eternity, God is delighting in God,
making room in his time for us to enter the celebration. So, when we turn our hearts toward
God in praise, we find that the saints and the angels, the heavens and all the works of God’s
hands, have already beaten us to it. They are long since caught up in enjoying God’s delight
in God—and they welcome us to the party!

But it’s the second sense of the statement that is difficult to hear, of course. No doubt
you’ve already thought of the obvious objection: Jesus is God, and God is to be worshipped;
therefore, we should worship Jesus. Yes, of course, all that’s true. But we worship Jesus with
and in the Father and the Spirit—not apart from them. Notice that everything depends on
that last word: we do not worship Jesus alone. Jesus is not the end, the goal, of our worship.
He is, as he himself said, the way to God. Jesus, we might say, does not want us to stop with
him. He wants to lead us in the Spirit into the Father’s embrace.

The wonder of the gospel is this: God would rather not be God at all than to be God
without us. That is why he makes time for us, creating room in his life for us to dwell.

He makes his home in us and we make our home in him so that we find ourselves in him in the same way that he finds himself in Jesus. As Rowan Williams, reflecting on the poems of St John of the Cross, explains, The Son is not only the cause of the Father’s joy in himself; he is the potential cause of joy in other beings. The Father, rejoicing in the Son, envisages beings who can participate in the Son’s life and status, can receive the same gift that the Father gives the Son eternally. Again, the Father desires that the Son be loved by others than himself, others who will learn to rejoice in the miracle of the Father’s self-bestowal to the Son.

Just so, the Father pours out the Spirit on all flesh. God’s delight in God turns out to be the
same as God’s delight in us. This is why our delight in God can be translated into joy for
God as well.

Jesus Can Do Nothing on His Own

As you have probably noticed, as often as not our sermons and songs suggest that we
worship Jesus in isolation from the Father and the Spirit. (I’ll refrain from citing examples,
for obvious reasons, but Lester Ruth’s research of contemporary worship music shows that
our music simply never refers to God as Trinity, and only rarely refers to all three persons.
Often, the songs are addressed either to the Father, to Jesus, or to the Spirit individually.)
But the truth is that Jesus simply isn’t himself apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit. If
you were to take away the Father and the Spirit, you would have necessarily taken away
Jesus, as well. There is nothing to Jesus but his Spirit, his love for the Father. And there is
nothing to the Father but his Spirit, his love for the Son. And there is nothing to the Spirit
but the love the Father and Son share. It is not as if there are three individuals, each God, living separate lives, who then decide to be in relation with one another. No, God simply is the joyful relation of these three “persons.” To call Jesus God, then, is to say that he fully shares the divine nature, and that means he is to be worshipped with the Father and the Spirit.

Jesus made this intimacy and submission to the Father clear, again and again.
“Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” “There is none good
but God.” “Have faith in God.” “The Father is greater than I.” “My food is to do the will of
him who sent me and to complete his work.” We cannot remind ourselves too often that
Jesus prayed, a practice that reveals how even as God he lived in the need of God. On the
cross, even while he himself felt abandoned, he abandoned himself completely to the
transcendent source he called Abba: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

We cannot remind ourselves too often that Jesus prayed, a practice that reveals how even as God he lived in the need of God.

Perhaps most startling of all are these words, repeated three times in John’s Gospel: “I can
do nothing on my own.” What could this mean? If Jesus is fully divine, as we confess that he
is, how is it that he can do nothing on his own? Some have read this to mean that Jesus
“gave up” his divinity so that he could live a fully human life in dependence on the Spirit.
But the truth is he did not need to lay aside his divinity—as if this were something he could
do anyway—in order to take up humanity as his own. In God’s wisdom, the divine and the
human are compatible with each other. So, Jesus’s humanity is not at odds with his divinity,
and his life is one with the Father’s and the Spirit’s. What the Father does, the Son and Spirit

What the Spirit does, the Father and the Son do. What Jesus does, the Father and the Spirit do. There are distinctions in their shared work, but never separation or division. That is what Jesus means when he says he can do nothing on his own.

Worshipping the One God

It’s worth reiterating at this point that we worship not three gods, either individually or as a
group, but one God in three persons. The God who is personal is the God who has revealed
himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. And his tri-personal work is indivisible. In other words, it
is not as if Jesus does some of the Father’s work, and the Spirit the rest! We do not worship
the Father for creating, the Son for redeeming, and the Spirit for consummating. Creation is
the work of the one God in that all things are from the Father, through and for the Son, and
in and by the Spirit. And the same goes for redemption and consummation. To see Jesus is
to see the Father. To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Father and the Son make their
home in you.

Thankfully, Jesus won’t allow us to fixate on him. He lives for the Father’s glory. And we
can’t fixate on the Spirit, either, because he does not speak of himself, but witnesses to the
Son, always only speaking the Father’s word about the Word. Even the Father will not let
himself be the terminus of our delight. He deflects our attention back to Jesus. In short,
then, the one God is so humble, so gracious, that his life is an event of eternal deferral, each
“person” delighting in and preferring the others.

In short, then, the one God is so humble, so gracious, that his life is an event of eternal deferral, each “person” delighting in and preferring the others.

Rublev’s Trinity icon (pictured above) captures this dynamic perfectly. If we look at the Spirit’s face (the figure on the right), we see his eyes are on the chalice in the center of the table. We then follow Christ’s hand up to his face and see that he is gazing into the Father’s eyes. Looking at the Father, we have our attention turned back to the Son, and then to the Eucharist, and then to the Spirit, where the circuit begins again. In the end, then, we do not worship Jesus full stop. We worship God in him and through him. We can do that because the Spirit, in the Father’s kindness, leads us to the Son, who welcomes us into his delight in the Father. In Christ, we can offer our praise to the source of our being. Just that is our fulfillment. We are finally fully ourselves as we are caught up in God. This is what it means to live a Spirited life, a life baptized in the Spirit: Jesus makes room in his eternal intimacy with the Father for us, so that we can trust in God in the same way that he did and does. He lived the divine life humanly so that we can live the human life divinely.

And so we, with all the saints and angels, are freed to sing (a song of St Francis):

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty,
Who is and who was and who is to come.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
Worthy are you, O Lord our God, to receive praise, glory, honor, and blessing.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and divinity,
wisdom and strength, honor, glory, and blessing.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.

Let us bless the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
All the works of the Lord, now bless the Lord.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
Praise God, all of you his servants, and you that fear him, both small and great.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
Let Heaven and Earth praise his glory,
and every creature that is in Heaven, and on Earth, and under the Earth.
Let us praise and exalt him above all for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever.

Chris Green recent book Surpirsed by God: How and Why What We Think About the Divine Matters can be found on Amazon.

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About the Author

Chris Green Prior to joining the SEU faculty, Chris Green taught previously for more than a decade at several other schools, including Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN), Oral Roberts University (Tulsa, OK), and Southwestern Christian University (Bethany, OK). He is the author of several books, including most recently Surprised by God and The End is Music, both published by Cascade Press.