So far in the Triune Gospel Series, we’ve explored how Christianity is primarily relational, but we do not frame the gospel relationally. We’ve talked about how to responsibly weigh “new” teachings, and we’ve explored the Christian doctrine that describes the structure of God, the Trinity. If you’ve been tracking with us, you probably sense these ideas are building towards a re-framing of how we think about the gospel, and that is what we call the Triune Gospel, what we turn to at last in this post. (Aside – if you haven’t read the previous three posts, this one may not make a lot of sense, I would recommend doing that). The Triune Gospel is a relational reframing of the gospel prompted by the previous observations. If God’s activity in our lives flows through relationship, then the gospel should be described with the same “shape” as that relationship. (For you logic/math people out there, I’m suggesting it would wise to conceptualize the gospel as isomorphic to our relationship with God, which is isomorphic to God himself.) Put another way, if God is trinitarian, then our relational walk with him is trinitarian as well, and hence we should express the gospel in a trinitarian shape too.
I find one of the most helpful ways to track where we’re heading is to use a diagram called the Shield of the Trinity. This diagram is not original to me; it is was used in medieval Europe as a visual depiction of the trinity and yes, it sometimes found its way to the knight’s shields as a means of expressing their faith and asking for God’s protection. (Not unlike the crosses the often adorned their shields or clothing). It represents much of the critical information we explored in the article about the trinity:
This is the “shape” as it were of the Trinity; not a triangle pointed down, but the is/is-not relationships between Father, Son, Spirit, and God that this picture portrays. Given that is the case, I would propose that means we must have a walk with God that matches that same structure. More specifically, this is how I believe the gospel is shaped:
Our relational walk with the three-in-one God results in a three-in-one journey. The good news of the one-gospel introduces us to three redemptive journeys that we walk out in connection and relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Let’s dig in a little bit:
Let’s start with the “one gospel” part. The Scripture is clear that we do not have multiple gospels – there is only one gospel:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6–8
Paul wants to be so clear on this he says it twice: there is only one gospel. This is a critical point: there is only one redemptive arc that Father, Son, and Spirit are working to weave through the world. It is their work that the gospel message carries: the message that God is fixing the world, and because of his work, we can enter God’s new chapter. The good news is that God is the solution, not us, and he invites us into the solution that began with Jesus Christ and continues its outworking to our present day. (The more specific details, as we shall see, hang on which journey they are being fleshed out in more specifically).
More specifically, the three journeys all share the same structure because they are different expressions of the same WHATness of the gospel. As we’ll see when we look at these journeys in more detail, they each share the same structure:
- God’s original design
- The effects of the fall
- Jesus comes as the beginning of a new reality and reveals what it was supposed to be like
- Jesus atones and invites us into his reality
- So we are invited in faith to continue to live in this new world.
This structure plays out in different ways in the three distinct journeys, but it follows the same overall arc: that Jesus is the hero of every journey, and what he has done invites us into the new reality that has begun with him. This is the gospel; that we do not have to save ourselves, God will save us if we will accept what he has done for us. As we accept that salvation, we step into the three-fold journey of living in Jesus’ new world that we describe with the terms Relationship, Identity, and Destiny.
That being said, the oneness of the gospel means these three journeys do not correspond to three different roads to God. There is only one road to God; through the work of Jesus Christ the Son. It is the oneness of the gospel that forces the binary aspect of our faith; we are either in on God’s new world or we are not. We are either in relationship with the Father, or not, we are either a new creation, or we are not. We are either in the process of inheriting the kingdom of God, or we are not. This is the role relationship that we discussed in the last article: either our role with respect to the gospel is “in alignment with the gospel” or “not in alignment with the gospel.” There is no middle ground, and that is what makes evangelism a critical task.
That alignment with the gospel means being on the journey of relationship, the journey of identity, and the journey of destiny. The gospel is each of these journeys, and even though there is only one gospel, these journeys are distinct from one other. Said another way, we cannot have said our “yes” to Jesus’ lordship and not be on the journeys of relationship, identity, and destiny. We may not be very far along that journey, we may not even realize that is a journey we are taking, but our “yes” to the gospel means a “yes” to these three journeys. Said another way, once we say yes to the gospel, Father, Son, and Spirit are all active in our lives, whether we are intentional to cooperate with that fact or not.
These three journeys are going to be the subject of a number of future articles, so I won’t open them up too specifically here, but I do believe it’s worth exploring a few facets of them before we begin to explore each journey individually. Here are a few overall observations that are important about these journeys:
(1) These are relational journeys that we walk out
When we talk about these journeys, I think it’s important to ground what we are referring to; while there is a theological arc to each of these journeys, it’s best to think of them as relational first. These journeys are the journey of walking in relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. The way we can tell where we are on the journey is not through theological understanding, but through relational interaction; how well do we know Father, Son, and Spirit? How often do we interact with them? How well are we known by them? These are the types of questions we should be asking when it comes to these journeys.
(2) Each journey has an arc that we can trace through the Bible
That doesn’t mean that these journeys are separated from the biblical record. Far from it! As we will see, each of these journeys is us being invited to walk out an arc that we can trace from cover to cover of the Bible. These journeys are the relational walk of the very things we see demonstrated and redeemed in the Scriptures. The relational journey is the way we continue to walk out the trajectory that is articulated in the Scriptures.
(3) Because these journeys are distinct, we can be different distances ‘down the road’ with each of them
These journeys are indeed separate and distinct from one another, and that means that one of them is not a substitute for the other. Knowing and walking with Jesus the Son is not identical to relationally walking with the Father, or the Spirit. I spent a good part of my life knowing and walking with Jesus and not knowing the Holy Spirit at all. The invitation was always there, and the Spirit was active in my life, but I didn’t know him. (Thank you, Vineyard movement and The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois for that introduction!)
(4) Whichever journey is the weakest link sets the ceiling for our faith
As we will see, each of these journeys provides different spiritual and emotional nutrients to us. I believe this is what Paul was referring to in his closing to 2 Corinthians:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14
We get different things from the different journeys, and hence when we hit a point in our lives where we need something from one of these journeys we aren’t able to get, we’ve hit a place where it’s going to feel like our faith isn’t working as it should. I believe a big part of the reason people feel their faith “doesn’t work for me like it seems it’s supposed to” is because they’ve not cultivated all three of these journeys. There are times the Father has the solution for the moment, times the Son, and times the Spirit.
(5) Each of these journeys is an eternal adventure
The relationship, identity, and destiny journeys are paths that we will walk for all of eternity, because they are the relational walk with the Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s not about how far down the road we are now, or how far down the road we can get before we pass on. We are going to spend all of the rest of eternity getting to know more and more of the infinite God, who we can never know all of. As we do that, our lives will be more and more enriched with his presence and his ministry to us. We get to spend all of eternity with our lives getting better and better! I believe this is what Paul is referring to when he says an oft-quoted verse:
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)
As we will see, faith is the natural byproduct of the identity journey, hope the destiny journey, and love the relationship journey (which is the foundation for all of them – something else we will see and why Paul says it is the greatest of all of them). We will abide increasingly in these for all eternity, so don’t grade yourself on how much you do or don’t have of these journeys right now; it’s not about how far down the road you are, it’s about how much you’re invited into! Look at all the great and glorious things ahead. Truly this is good news.
With our overall framework established, next we will turn to explore the specific journeys in more detail.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman