‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen’ (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).
I once heard a pastor say, ‘I don’t care what doctrine people believe, as long as they love Jesus’. Does it really matter what you believe? Can we love Jesus without believing the Bible’s teaching about Jesus?
Jesus certainly never drives a wedge between love for him and knowing and believing his doctrine as revealed in all Scripture (John 10:35b). He is ‘the truth’ (John 14:6; Ephesians 4:21), and he says, ‘If you love me,you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).
This is wonderfully exhibited in the apostolic benediction, or blessing. This flows entirely from the Trinitarian nature of God. It ‘plainly proves the doctrine of the gospel, and is an acknowledgment that Father, Son, and Spirit, are three distinct persons, yet but one God; and herein the same, that they are the fountain of all blessings to men’ (Matthew Henry, Commentary).
To love the real Jesus, we must grasp the essential Christian doctrines, not only of God, but of man, salvation, the church and the last things. And without a sound doctrine of Scripture in the first place, we will never begin to know Jesus. A faith without doctrinal content is no more real, alive, believable and life-changing than a ‘faith without works’ (James 2:20).
The benediction encapsulates the practical application of the doctrine of the Trinity. God is not some ‘man in the sky’ or formless entity ‘up there’. Nor is he a vague mystical feeling inside us. He is the one living God, in three persons, as revealed in the Bible.
God relates to us and our salvation in distinct ways relative to each of the three persons. In his dealings with us as creatures, the Father is the source (John 5:17, 19); the Son is the wisdom and mediator in dealing with us (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2); the Holy Spirit is one who effects his operations within our heart, mind and life (Genesis 1:2; 1 Corinthians 12:11) (James Ussher, A body of divinity).
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’ takes us to the cross, to the way we come to have a blessing in the first place. It is the grace of Christ as the Redeemer, dying on the cross to bear the penalty of sin in our place, which saves us (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 2:8).
‘The love of God’ takes us to eternity and the decree of God to save sinners chosen in Christ ‘from before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). It is the love of God that sends Christ to be the Redeemer, a love all the more amazing in that it is for the unlovable, and such love that God is willing to sacrifice his own Son (John 3:16).
‘The communion of the Holy Spirit’ is the means by which we enjoy the grace of Christ and the love of God in the experience of personal redemption. He guides us into all truth (John 16:13). He is the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ (Romans 8:15).
God teaches us in the benediction, writes Matthew Henry (Commentary), ‘to have an eye by faith to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to live in a continual regard to the three persons in the Trinity into whose name we were baptised, and in whose name we are blessed’.
He concludes, ‘We can desire no more to make us happy than the grace of Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost’.
Gordon Keddie served for 40 years in pastoral ministry with Reformed Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh (PA); Wishaw, Scotland; State College (PA); and Southside, Indianapolis. He is a well known writer and conference speaker.