Why do we naturally gravitate toward religion? It’s because we often are worshiping ourselves even the midst of looking religious.
If you recall, one of the consequences of sin from Romans 1 is that we exchanged the glory of God for idols. And one of the most prominent idols of our era is individualism.
John D. Rockerfeller, oil tycoon, served the idol of money. He was the first American billionaire, he was the richest man in the world before Bill Gates came upon the scene.
And John D. Rockerfeller was asked in an interview, how much money do you need to be content? His answer — just a little bit more.
Marilyn Monroe was the first sex symbol of the modern era. Her image is still iconic in many places. She had affairs with Frank Sinatra and President Kennedy. She served the idol of sex. And she died of a drug overdose. Many believe that it was a suicide. This quote from Marilyn is very telling.
Marilyn Monroe said, “A sex symbol becomes a thing. I hate being a thing. I never liked sex myself. I never think I ever will. It seems just the opposite of love.”
Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist for the band Queen, served the idol of celebrity. He was one of the most well known human beings in the Western world. His songs were great anthems like “We Are the Champions.” He sang in the 70s and 80s, but we still know his songs decades later.
Freddie Mercury died of AIDS and toward the end of his life, he said this and I quote, “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the bitterest type of loneliness. Success has brought me worldwide idolization and millions of pounds. But it has prevented me from having what we all need. A loving, ongoing relationship.”
He died alone and so do so many people in our generation. This idol of individualism is the great curse of our age. It’s all about me. My life, my rights, my future. Just look at Apple’s line of products: I-pod, I-phone, I-pad, it’s all about I, it’s all about me.
There’s an unbelievable loneliness in our culture. It is because we have fallen victim to the idol of individualism.
That’s why we so easily gravitate toward religion. It’s just between me and God. God has spoken to me, God has called me, what God is going to do through me. How can I build up my spiritual resume so that I can be used by God? This is our individualistic mindset. And when it is up to us to determine which religious guidelines we want to follow, it’s quite easy to feel good about ourselves. Because we answer to nobody but ourselves and we make up the rules.
Because of this idol of individualism, I suspect that all this talk about the importance of a local church and belonging to one another and loving and serving one another in community may be a concept that is hard for many people these days to understand. We miss the core of Scripture fundamentally because we have been so blinded by the idol of individualism. So much so that fundamental things like living out our faith in community these days is viewed as something that is optional. I have God, but church, that may work for you, but it’s not for me.
So if Christianity is not a religion, then what is it? You’ve heard it many times before — Christianity is not a religion, it’s about a relationship. I want to explain the relational side of Christianity in a slightly new way than I’ve ever shared about it before.
Simply put, Christian life is a dance. When I became a Christian, I wanted to arrange an all brothers dance party. Because sometimes we gather around and share in a small group and we are so somber and serious. And I look around and wonder, is this the Christian life? Don’t you feel like sometimes you just want to let loose and dance, same gender of course so that we maintain purity. You know what I mean. Christian life is not just prayer meetings and repentance over falling short and sinning, and beating ourselves up all the time. The Bible describes Christian life as a joyous banquet feast, a wedding, with laughing and food and wine.
Why do I refer to Christianity as a dance? The dance of God. It points to the communal nature of God. The Trinity, Three Persons in One. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of those things that are difficult to comprehend. It makes our brains overheat and overloads the mental circuitry. More and more, I feel like this doctrine of the Trinity is so essential in Christian life, and sadly, due to the difficulty in understanding it, the Trinity is hardly talked about. Many people don’t like theology. They just want to hear an emotionally charged, practical, engaging sermon. And theology sounds so dusty and technical and it should be reserved for the academic types or seminary students. But if this doctrine captures the nature of God, how can we not talk about it?
The earlier verses of Romans 12 talk about a diversity of gifts and a unity in spite of this diversity. And this unity in diversity reflects the very character of God who is also by nature, diverse in his Personhood but still one God. Each Person in the Trinity is equal, all 3 — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit — each one is fully God, yet they perform different roles. Unity in diversity.
But you might say, I thought God is one god. Three Persons? Sounds like tri-theism where we have 3 separate gods. No, the Trinity is not tri-theistic. It is one God, not 3. Nor are we talking about a uni-personal god where there is only one entity expressed in 3 different forms like the analogy of water existing in liquid, gas and solid forms, although some have tried to explain the Trinity this way. These analogies utterly fall short. No, it’s one God in Three Persons, diverse in Personhood but unified.
And this doctrine of the Trinity is bristling and exploding with life-shaping, glorious implications. It’s certainly not a religion.
If it is true that this world has been created in the image of a triune God, then ultimate reality is a dance. Mark 1 where Jesus is about to begin his earthly ministry depicts a scene where the Trinity is on full display. God envelopes the Son in His loving affirmation from heaven. And the Spirit envelopes the Son with power. Read Mark 1 later on when you get a chance. Because Mark gives us a backstage view into the very heart of reality. Each person in the Trinity is glorifying each other in self-giving love and this has been happening in the interior life of the Godhead for all eternity.
And when I refer to this interaction in the Godhead as a dance, I am borrowing an idea posed by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He writes, “…God is not a static thing — not even a person — but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”
The essence of God is this dynamic, pulsating activity of persons communing with one another in a kind of divine dance. And following this idea, Cornelius Plantinga, systematics professor and President of Calvin Theological Seminary, describes this interaction in the Godhead as each Person harboring the others in the center of His being. And he goes on to explain how each Person in the Godhead exercises a mutual self-giving love.
On the other hand, selfishness, or a self-centered life is a static thing where everything revolves around you. You help the poor not out of a sincere love for the poor but because helping them makes you feel good. Helping the poor is not an end in itself, it is just a means to feel good. Everything you do culminates and everyone else is simply a means to some selfish end. My interests in the end. That’s what matters. Everything revolves around me. And this is static because there is no movement because there is no love coming out of me.
The Godhead is different – God is characterized by a mutually self-giving love. Each Person in the Trinity centers around one another. They serve one another. They defer to one another. They circle and orbit around each other.
If you revolve around me, there’s no dance. Life is static. But a dance involves revolving around, orbiting around others. Pouring adoration to the other. Serving the other.
And so it’s a dance. There’s a movement of self-giving love and honoring of others among the Three. And that is why we describe the Trinity as a pulsating activity, a dance.
If you are making up religion, would you invent the doctrine of the Trinity? Who would believe this? No, you wouldn’t do it. First of all, we wouldn’t even be smart enough to think up something like this. What if God were not trinitarian? For example, if God were uni-personal, meaning just one God essentially in 3 different forms, do you realize what this means? It means, before the world began, there was no love. It means love and relationship is not the essence of God. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer church in NYC said, if we had a unipersonal god, then the essence of God would be power and greatness. And following a unipersonal god who is only all-power and all-greatness would produce moralism. You better not mess up because this unipersonal god will pounce on you. In other words, you have religion. There would be no love because love would not be the essence of this god.
If this world were made by a triune God, then relationships of love are what your life is really about. No God? Then you are here by blind chance, natural selection, that’s why you are here. Love is just a chemical condition in the brain. And we just need to pass on genetic code by the mechanism of survival of the fittest. You feel love because you need to pass on your genes. Love is chemistry. Love is secondary. Love is not the essence of God, nor the universe.
But one thing we learn about God from the Bible is that God is love (1 John 4:16).
Love is the definition of who God is. And this makes sense because this universe was created by a community of persons loving one another.