March 2, 2015 — by Mark Patterson


Holding A Doctrine To Be True Vs. Living A True Doctrine

There is a profound difference between holding a doctrine to be true and living a true doctrine. We Presbyterians are, rightly so, rigorous in our Trinitarian understanding of God. We hold this doctrine to be essentially and vitally true. Yet we must acknowledge that sometimes our actual living of this doctrine is arguably more “binitarian” than Trinitarian. Regardless of word, we might declare our Trinitarian affirmations look more like “FATHER! SON! and Holy Spirit.” 

The Holy Spirit may indeed be the “shy member of the Trinity” (F. Dale Bruner) but even so, he remains an equal member of the Godhead and thus God. As such, the Spirit must be seen as a vital part of our relationship with God and a necessary part of any ministry done in his name. It is true that the Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity. But it is equally true that there is no limit as to how far the Spirit will go to glorify Jesus and expand his kingdom.

Our Trinitarian faith requires a dynamic role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works equally as powerfully, wonderfully, and practically as the Father and the Son. To ignore or annul this, for any reason, is to damage our doctrine of God and limit our experience of God. Jesus’ life revealed the power of the Spirit. Indeed, Jesus lived and ministered under the power of the Spirit. And He died that we might be given the same Spirit (Jn. 16:7) and live and minister after his example.

Through all the years of my pastoral ministry I have invited people forward after worship for prayer. I have seen countless miracles of the Holy Spirit touching lives with the redemption of Jesus and the grace of the Father.

One Sunday a deeply hurting woman came forward and asked if I would pray for her. I knew her and had talked with her often. Her husband had left her some months before and she had lost her job. As people filed out of the sanctuary she sat on the front pew and sobbed and sobbed. As I prayed for her I placed my hands on the sides of her face and ask God to touch her. I ask him to fill her with his peace, to give her a sense of his love and presence, to give her a new job and a new hope. I keep my eyes open when I pray like this to see what the Father is doing, that I might pray as he works and leads (Jn. 5:19). As I prayed, I felt the Spirit’s presence and watched her fill with the Father’s peace. Where she had been tense, weeping, and shaking when we began, she was increasingly relaxed and calm. As God’s peace settled upon her she leaned more and more into my hands on each side of her face and as the minutes passed I found I was supporting more and more of her weight. I kept praying: “Thank you Lord Jesus; give her more of your touch Lord; fill her Lord…” And with each minute of prayer she sank further and I held more of her weight. I was kneeling on the floor, ill-prepared and wrongly positioned to support her in the way that was becoming increasingly necessary. My back began to burn and my arms began to quiver as she leaned ever further upon me. And it was in the swirl of God’s descending peace and my growing discomfort that God through the Spirit spoke to us both.

Even as I prayed out loud asking God to give her more, in silence I was praying, “God, I don’t know how much longer I can hold her up!” Instantly the Spirit said, “You are holding her for me.” These words had no sooner entered my head when she said, “I feel like God himself is holding me up!”

We both left worship that morning deeply touched by the love of God. She had a new hope and peace (and in the next weeks a great job). I felt God use me, flow through me, touch me as he touched a precious child with his love and so deepen the redeeming work of Jesus.

We serve and minister to people with sin, wounds, and problems far beyond our ability to heal. But they are not beyond the tender might of our great God. Our lives and work are meant to reveal the healing love of the Father, the saving grace of the Son, and the transforming power of the Spirit. And for this to occur, we need all three members of the Trinity to fill our lives and work in and through them to the glory of God. 


Mark Patterson

Rev. Dr. Mark Rayburn Patterson is the lead/teaching pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura, Ca.
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