Romans 8:12-17
12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
 
Circle Dance                                                                          June 7, 2009

Human language has distinctive limits in trying to define the divine. So rather than debating the nature of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, or whatever terms we’re using these days), maybe we should be focusing on the real essence of the Trinity — the power of relationships.

In Romans, chapter 8, Paul doesn’t try to line out a systematic theology of how God works. He uses Trinitarian terms interchangeably — the Spirit, Father, Christ (the Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ/Holy Spirit) — but doesn’t try to make it a treatise on metaphysics. Rather, Paul sees God at work in a uniquely relational way, both within God’s own nature and with humans.

 Whatever the Trinity is in being, the purpose of God, the three-in-one/one-in-three, is to bring humans back into relationship with God, rescuing us from having to try to define ourselves through self-destructive pursuits. Eugene Peterson makes the comparison of walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh in terms of "the alive-and-present God" in contrast to the "do-it-yourself life." The Spirit of Christ is the invisible but clearly present God.

Either you can try to figure out which Person of God is coming and going and doing what and when, like trying to determine a train schedule. Or, you can simply focus on the fact that God’s very nature, God’s being, God’s focus, is internally and externally relational. Our connection with the Trinity is not meant to be on an intellectual level, but a heartfelt relationship that is made real through the Holy Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (8:16).

We see the Trinity most often depicted as a triangle with three distinct sides as Father, Son and Spirit. This triangular, pyramid-based diagram and explanation about God’s nature is helpful to a point, but it's an attempt to define the divine with human constructs.

However, an alternative and better description comes from John of Damascus, one of the early church fathers who lived during the late seventh and early eighth centuries. He rejected the idea the normal definitions, calculated reasoning about the Trinity, and came up with a wholly different term for the oneness and threeness of God — perichoresis, which loosely translated from Greek means, “Circle dance.”

Circles are natural, appearing everywhere from the sun and moon to the earth itself. Makes sense then, that we should be thinking of a circle as the dominant paradigm that shapes our understanding of God’s creative and relational nature. You cannot define a circle by its points. You can only define it as a whole.
 
In other words, the Trinity is not primarily defined by the distinctiveness or unity or “substance” of the persons involved, but rather as a circle — a dynamic community defined by love. To see one is to see all — to dance with one is to dance with all, being invited into the circle and into a love relationship where we see God face to face, as children hold hands and dance with loving parents. Because we are adopted into God's family, we have a new identity and a new family.

 
Since the year 2009 is the 500th birthday of John Calvin, I have been reading a number of articles about Calvin. Dr. Derek Thomas writes the following in the most recent Reformed Theological Seminary newsletter.
 
"Since it has often been remarked that Calvin's favorite way of referring to God in the Institutes is "our heavenly Father," it should not surprise us to discover that for the Reformer, more than anything else, knowing God as our Father and speaking to Him as a family member in prayer is the distinguishing mark of genuine Christian faith." (Spring/Summer 2009). . . . "For Calvin, "the heart and goal of prayer is communion with God."
 
People are family oriented—sense of belonging, sense of identity (Jn.1:12 to all that received him he gave the right to become sons of God) Paul writes that with the Spirit his listeners have become the adopted children of God (v. 15). 
 
Now when we accepted Christ into our lives we became part of God's family. God the Father has adopted us as sons & daughters. Jesus is our big brother.
 
We can understand this passage better if we understand the full meaning of adoption. According to Webster's Dictionary, "adoption" is 1) by the parent's own selection, 2) taking a child into one's own family (relationship), and 3) it is a legal act—the child becomes legal heir.
 
According to Roman law, the adopted child/person lost all rights to the old family and gained full rights to the new family. The adopted son became heir even if natural sons were later born into the family.
 
Contrary to contemporary understandings about the way families form, in antiquity the birth of a child to a husband and wife was not enough to ensure the infant the care and protection of the family. To bring a child fully into the family, the father needed to accept the infant, invariably in a ritually determined manner.
 
For instance, the Jewish rite of circumcision brought the boy into the family of Israel. Absent such a decision on the part of the father, a child would not have a family and generally would be left outside to starve.[i]
 
It is to this sense of family formation that Paul appeals. His audience would have understood Paul tells them that through adoption they became joined to the family of God.

The spirit of adoption assures the Roman Christians of their ultimate safety. With their adoption, God, the Father of the family, is obliged to extend protection to Christians, assuring them of continuing life.
 
This would be accomplished through God’s Spirit, the expression of God’s activity. Through divine adoption, Christians become a new family, and this new status gives them assurance of eternal life, as well as the strength to overcome current obstacles in this life.

 
As children of God, we are members of God's household. The term "Abba" is one of affection, closeness, like Daddy. Communion with one another is assumed.
C.S.Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, tries to describe the action of the Trinity in his description of a Christian at prayer.
 
“What I mean is this” he writes. “An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him.
But he also knows that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God — that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening.
God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach.
God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power.
God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal.
The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”
 
The truth is that we will probably never understand the Trinity by trying to define it. Even Paul, one of the most prolific writers and theologians of his day, runs round the idea. The only way we will really “get” the Trinity is to join the circle and live into that relationship. Amen.

 
Rev. RosemaryStelz
 


[i] (Pamela Eisenbaum, “A remedy for having been born of Woman: Jews, Gentiles and Genealogy in Romans,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 123/4 (2004), 671-702).
 
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