God's Desire Is That We Be Completely Renewed!
O LORD God—the one, true God…my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, I enter Your presence filled with awe at Your majesty. Open my ears so that I might listen attentively to Your Word! Open my heart so that it might be filled with Your grace! Open my eyes so that I might see the needs of my fellow believers and reach out to them in faith and love! Amen.
John identifies all three members of the Trinity—God the Father, who has loved us; Jesus, His Son and our Savior; and the Spirit, who has been given to us!
Peter, too, identifies all three members of the Trinity—God the Father, who calls us; Jesus, in whose name we are to be baptized; and the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to every believer!
Text: 2 Corinthians 13:14
In Christ Jesus, through whom we know the Father and receive the Spirit, dear fellow redeemed:
We live in a world that is increasingly divided and troubled. People groups are divided by color and culture. Countries are divided by type of government and national ambitions. They are further divided economically into first and third world classifications, while citizens are identified as rich, middle-class, or poor. Individuals and groups are divided spiritually into Christian or non-Christian, Catholic or Protestant, Reformed or Lutheran, and among Lutherans—ELCA, LCMS, LCMC, WELS, ELS, CLC, or about a dozen other synods just here in the United States.
What causes these divisions, given the fact that God originally created just two people—Adam and Eve, and from those two people He has created every subsequent generation? The ultimate cause is sin—man’s rebellion against God and His governance in his life. That sinful rebellion separated human beings from God and blinded their eyes both to God and His truths. As Paul explains: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). By nature we do not know God, nor can we love Him. Our minds and hearts have been darkened by sin and our lives embittered by the inevitable consequence of sin—death. We do know our own hearts and our own desires, however, and our selfish pursuit of those desires puts us at odds with others and causes the divisions that we see and experience all around us in this world.
Is there a solution for the divided mess in which we find ourselves? It is interesting to note what John in the Revelation tells us: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:9-10). The divisions we see and which confront us in this life will ultimately and only be removed by God. He alone can and will rescue us. It is only when we come to know Him and embrace by faith His plan for our salvation that we can even begin to remove those divisions here in this world. That work will unfortunately always remain incomplete in this world because of sin.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven He gave us a commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). How are we to do that? We do that by baptizing and teaching. What are we to teach? We are to teach people that GOD’S DESIRE IS THAT WE BE COMPLETELY RENEWED! How is that going to happen? Paul tells us in our text by knowing Him…as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and by experiencing Him…His grace, His love, and His communion!
Our text contains Paul’s pious wish for the Corinthians and for us, that we might know and experience the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. That wish is based upon the biblical doctrine of the Trinity—that the one, true God is made up of three persons, who remain one God. Those three persons are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The natural mind of man does not understand or accept this and, therefore, objects to it in any number of ways. Some object on intellectual grounds, claiming that the concept of the Holy Trinity simply does not make sense. The Muslims, who mistakenly claim that the Trinity is made up of God the Father, God the Son, and the virgin Mary, suggest that the Trinity is simply thinly veiled polytheism, or the worship of three gods instead of one God. The Jehovah Witnesses declare in their publication Let God Be True: “Neither the word (Trinity) nor the idea is in God’s Word the Bible.” While it is true that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible, it is hardly true that the idea is not found in the Bible. The Jehovah Witnesses assume we humans should be able to understand the nature of God. In their view because we cannot intellectually understand how three persons could be one God, therefore it cannot be true. But, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. Therefore He tells us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). Think about this for a moment—if you and I could understand God, that would make us just as smart as God; and if God is only as smart as we are, we are all in trouble! We cannot expect to comprehend the nature of God, but He has clearly revealed Himself to us in Scripture, and He has revealed Himself to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Others suggest that every human being should be free to conceive of God in his or her own way. This is the teaching of the Masonic Lodge and of the Boy Scouts, or the conclusion of those practicing the religion of the Baha’i. That, however, is a sure recipe for failure! Our minds do not create God, but rather God has created our minds! Consequently, the claim that all gods are essentially the same is ridiculous, for the myriad of gods developed by human minds throughout the ages are obviously all different—the sun, the moon, the earth, the sky, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, the Buddha, Allah, Krishna, or Vishnu. In one way, however, they are all the same—they are idols!
Still others claim that there is no such thing as god, and so consider themselves to be atheists, or they claim that we cannot be certain that there is a god, and so consider themselves to be agnostics. Such people, however, are identified within the Bible as fools—“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Ps. 14:1) They are fools, for they reject the natural knowledge of God placed within their hearts. To look at nature and to fail to see the design of its Creator is to deny the obvious. To fail to heed the call of conscience and to recognize our responsibility to a higher power is quite frankly simply a matter of willful resistance and denial.
Indeed God has revealed Himself in Scripture to be the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Athanasian Creed accurately summarizes clear, biblical teaching: “The Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” It is when the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring us to repentance over our sinful rebellion and to believe in the Son of God, that we become the children of God. We are renewed by faith, so that we can both recognize and accept the identity of God. GOD’S DESIRE, my friends, IS THAT WE BE COMPLETELY RENEWED by knowing Him…as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
That can only happen, secondly, by experiencing Him…His grace, His love, and His communion! Knowing that the one, true God is the Holy Trinity is of vital importance, but as the apostle James notes, “even the demons believe (that)—and tremble!” (James 2:19b) In order to benefit from that knowledge, we need truly to experience our Triune God, and we can do that when we understand the concepts of grace, love, and communion. It is through an understanding of these concepts that the Spirit of God brings us to both believe and place our trust in the Triune God.
Before we go further, however, we must understand that these characteristics of God are not limited to the individual persons. The Bible, for instance, does not connect grace solely to the Son, nor does it connect love solely to the Father. God the Father is also gracious, and Jesus certainly loves! But let us consider what these characteristics of our Triune God mean for us.
Paul prays, first of all, that the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ…be with you!” Paul both begins and ends many of his Epistles praying that the grace both of the Father and of Jesus Christ be with his readers. Grace is above all and before all undeserved love! It stands in stark contrast in Scripture with the merit men hope to earn by works. Consider one of the most familiar of all New Testament passages: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Jesus came into this world to save us—not because we were worthy of such a salvation, but rather in spite of the fact that we were not! It was His grace that moved Him. Think of Jesus’ disciples on Maundy Thursday evening. They all pledged that they were willing to die for Jesus rather than to deny Him (cf. Mt. 26:35), but within hours they had all forsaken Him, while the one who pledged himself most boldly, Peter, had denied Him three times (cf. Mt. 26:56b, 75). Surely, they did not deserve Jesus’ love. Think even further of the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross, who cruelly taunted Him, and who then callously rolled the dice to divide His possessions as He hung dying (cf. Lk. 23:33-37). They surely did not deserve Jesus’ love, yet Jesus pleaded with His heavenly Father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!” (Lk. 23:34) So it is for each of us! We sin and we do so repeatedly. We do not deserve the love of our Savior, yet He loves us with a deep and abiding love. His grace brought Him down from heaven above to live on this earth, to share in our sorrows, and to bear the burden of our sins upon the cross. It is that grace that Paul in our text wishes might dominate our minds and hearts on a daily basis as we live our lives in this world!
Paul prays, secondly, that the “love of God…be with you!” This highest form of love—the agape love identified in Scripture, is a love of understanding and purpose. It is a love that seeks to know a person’s greatest need and then seeks actively to fulfill it. It is the love that motivates God in His dealings with us. “For God so loved the world,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). This is the love that is to animate our lives. John writes in his 1st Epistle: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:7-11). This is the love that brings God’s richest blessings into our lives on a regular basis, and Paul wishes that we might recognize this and receive those blessings with joy and a spirit of thanksgiving!
Paul prays, finally, that the “communion of the Holy Spirit be with you!” The word “communion” is also translated “fellowship” in Scripture. Its root meaning is to be united with someone or something, or to share with someone or in something. When we are led to faith through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, we enter into communion with the Holy Spirit as well as with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit takes up residence within our hearts, for as the Bible says, our bodies become His “temple” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). That is a powerful thought which brings even greater meaning to a passage such as this: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ!” (Phil. 1:6) If God the Holy Spirit lives in communion with us and, therefore, always abides within our hearts, then we are never alone. We are never without the source of a power that far exceeds our own. We, therefore, need never fear, but rather can live our lives with joy and confidence in the hope of the future God has promised and which then surely will come!
My dear friends, GOD’S DESIRE IS THAT WE BE COMPLETELY RENEWED by knowing Him…as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and by experiencing Him…His grace, His love, and His communion! May we be led boldly to confess the truth of the Holy Trinity and then experience His powerful love and abiding presence! Amen.