By Sean Cole, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Sterling, CO
Have you ever doubted your salvation? Have you ever wondered if God stopped loving you because you failed for the umpteenth time with the same besetting sin? For many years I struggled with understanding my identity in Christ. I knew that Jesus saved me by grace and that I would one day spend eternity with Him in heaven, but I did not have a full grasp on the richness of the gospel. As a teenager and young adult, I lived my life trying to please God through my own effort to somehow achieve this higher plane of spirituality and victory over all known sin. After numerous failures and trips to the altar to “rededicate my life,” I often questioned my salvation. I lacked both the assurance that God had saved me and also wondered if I would ever make any progress in holiness.
Through my own personal Bible study, struggle with sin, the encouragement of godly mentors, and the writings of great theologians, I have grown in understanding my identity in the Trinity. In the opening pages of his famous book The Confessions, St. Augustine writes, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because you have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” That described me for many years. I was restless because I did not entirely rest in what the Triune God accomplished for me in redemption.
We exist to display God’s glory, declare God’s gospel, and disciple for God’s Great Commission. Instead of embracing these truths, many Christians have believed the lie that their identity in Christ does not affect how they live their lives in obedience to Him. The gospel tells us that “being” (identity) comes before “doing” (obedience). This truth hit me for the first time as I sat in one of Dr. Allan Karr’s Church Planting classes at the Rocky Mountain Campus of Gateway Seminary in the early 2000’s. This new “paradigm” struck a nerve with me, because at that time in my life, I found my validation and security in what I did as a youth pastor in ministry and excelling as a seminary student—not in who I was as an adopted child of the Father. “Being before doing” has stuck with me ever since and I pray daily for God’s grace to live in the freedom of this reality.
This lack of understanding our gospel identity frequently results in either legalistic pride or frustrating guilt. In order to help believers understand this concept of “being before doing,” I wrote a book entitled Your Identity in the Trinity: Discovering God’s Grace in the Gospel recently published through Wipf and Stock and available on Amazon (foreword written by Dr. Jeff Iorg, President of Gateway Seminary). The gospel indicatives in the Bible serve as the fountain, motivation, and power for obeying the moral imperatives in the Bible. The gospel roots our assurance of salvation and motivation to obey God in our identity, not in moralism; which elevates our performance instead of exalting the finished work of Christ.
The thesis of the book is that we find our identity in the Trinity: We are chosen, adopted, and accepted in the Father; purchased, forgiven, and righteous in the Son; and regenerated, indwelt, and sanctified by the Spirit. I hope that believers grow in their assurance of salvation and gain a better understanding of the sovereignty and grace of God in the gospel. I pray that readers will learn who they truly are in the Trinity, faithfully kill sin by the power of the Spirit, and grow in their practice of the means of grace—Scripture saturation, prayer, Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and evangelism.
I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in fully understanding my identity in the Trinity. I am also not an expert in wholehearted and joyful obedience to the Lord, as I fail many times. Yet I am a pilgrim on a journey to go deeper into the depths of the gospel so that I can fully enjoy the One God who has revealed himself to us in three distinct persons—namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I pray that we as Colorado Baptists would joyfully discover our identity in the Trinity and then serve our great God with grateful obedience!
Sean Cole is Lead Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sterling, CO. He has a D. Min in Expository Preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an M. Div. from Gateway Seminary. He also serves as an adjunct instructor of Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, and Biblical Interpretation at Colorado Christian University. He hosts a podcast called “Understanding Christianity.” His wife is Dawn and they have two boys, Aidan and Zachary.