St. Pete Beach

Using one of the most famous icons of angels representing the Trinity, Presbyterian pastor B.J. Woodworth invited some 75 Presbyterians at the Presbyterian Mission Agency-sponsored Disciple Making Conference here to make space for God, recognizing, as St. Augustine once said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” 

Conference goers were invited to consider the Trinity icon as their prayer for the day. They were encouraged to see God the Father looking forward, raising divine arms, as if blessing the Son. They were urged to recognize Jesus pointing toward the Spirit, whose hands were pointed toward humanity—toward us. 

“This icon lays out the vision for Christian life as a disciple,” says Woodworth, of the Open Door, a missional church community in Pittsburgh. “We are invited and sent to participate in what is seen here as the divine life of the Trinity.” 

According to Woodworth, this mystical union with God through Christ is one of the greatest themes in the New Testament. In letters attributed to the Apostle Paul alone, he said, it is mentioned 164 times. Referencing Colossians 3:3, Woodworth asked, “Where is your life right now?” He added, “Listen, because this Scripture is in the present tense: ‘Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’” 

Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity) by Andrei Rublev

Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity) by Andrei Rublev —Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, Public Domain

Citing part of the creation story, Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”), Woodworth pointed to his head and called the verse “mind-blowing.” This mystical union, he said, “was the intention at creation” that Jesus was sent to restore, so that we might have “fellowship and commune in the love of the Trinity with God’s own self.” 

“The whole Christian story can be summarized with one preposition,” he says. “With . . . in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. We were with God! But we chose to live without God, separate, independent—so the prophets spoke of God coming to be with his people. God with us, Emmanuel, which we just celebrated at Christmas.” 

Woodworth cautioned that as we participate in the divine life of the Trinity, we are not participating in the essence of God— that would abolish the distinction between God and humanity. Rather, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, through his grace, and through the Holy Spirit giving us divine energy. This, Woodworth said, enables us to participate as adopted children in God’s glory and life, in God’s love, virtue, and power. 

“We are becoming more and more what we were created to be,” he said, referring to 2 Corinthians 3:18, that speaks of “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror  . . . being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 

Disciple Making Conference goers dig into what the Word of God says about “our mystical union with Christ” and “our partaking God’s divine nature.”

Disciple Making Conference goers dig into what the Word of God says about “our mystical union with Christ” and “our partaking God’s divine nature.” —Paul Seebeck

“I want you to experience what we have at or fingertips,” Woodworth said. “If someone asks, ‘How’s it going?’ say, ‘I am ever increasing at God’s glory today.’” 

In closing, Woodworth used an image from author and Villanova University Professor Martin Laird to help those at the conference picture what this mystical union with God might look like. Laird writes that our relationship to God “is like an ocean sponge”: once immersed in the ocean depths, whether the sponge looks in or out, it sees only the ocean—which is what we are like with God.  

“This amazing creature is completely porous to the ocean,” says Woodworth. “You can squirt a green dye into the ocean water, and see it go in and out of the sponge. This is the reality of our oneness with God: whether we look in or out, we are surrounded by and filled with God.”


The Disciple Making Conference ends this morning. It is being held in conjunction with a training event for 1001 New Worshiping Community coaches and an Office of General Assembly and Mission Agency immigration consultation.