Understanding Christianity: Trinity

What do Christians believe? Why is the cross the symbol of their faith? In this series Pastor Tim Schouten of the Prince George Canadian Reformed Church explains some of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. Questions? Email pastortim@pgchurch.ca.

Did God die on the cross?

Over the centuries, Christians have given different answers to this question. Some have said yes, but the large majority have said no. The majority, in this case, are correct. God is eternal and the source of all life. He cannot die. If he did, everything would die with him.

Nevertheless, this question is a window into a very important Christian teaching about God: the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine says that God is one in essence, but three in persons. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet he is only one God, not three gods. 

You may have noticed (in part seven of this series) that Jesus was referred to as “the divine Son of God.” The word “divine” was meant to imply that Jesus is not simply a man. Instead, Christianity teaches that Jesus is truly God – the second person of the indivisible Trinity. When a humble Jewish carpenter died on a cross some 2000 years ago, he was somehow both man and God.

If you are not sufficiently confused, we must add to this the Christian teaching about the Holy Spirit. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is also God – the third person of the indivisible Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence in the world. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit brings the presence of God into the hearts of those who believe in Jesus Christ.

How do Christians make sense of this? The short (and honest) answer is that they don’t. They simply accept it. They accept that, although God cannot die, Jesus Christ died on the cross. They accept that, although God cannot be divided, God the Holy Spirit lives within individual human beings. They accept that God’s wisdom and mercy are far beyond our understanding. They rejoice (and marvel) that God was willing to become one of us in order to rescue us.

In another way, however, some Christians do try to make sense of the Trinity. Some Christian philosophers have pointed out that the unity and diversity of the Triune God is a very logical foundation for the unity and diversity of all reality. Others have pointed out that the relational nature of God explains the relational needs of people, who are made in his image. Just as the three persons of God love, share, and work together perfectly, so people desire the same.

For Christians, the most important part of the teaching about the Trinity is that each person – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has graciously acted on their behalf. We’ve already seen how this is the case for the Father and the Son. Next time, in our final lesson, we’ll focus specifically on the Holy Spirit.

Author Rev. Tim Schouten

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