The Trinity: Applying the Doctrine of the Trinity

Let's face it, in common parlance pastoral means practical.  What is more, people want the practical.  I don't blame them.  I just had the joy of reacquainting with a young woman who has recently experienced conversion.  The next day I gave her Alistair Begg's, Pathway to Freedom: How God's Law Guides Our Lives and she was delighted.  She said, "I need to learn how to live my faith!"  She might well have said, "I need something practical."  She needed to learn not only what to do now that she professed faith in Christ but how to do the what.

Now for the inevitable question, "How is the doctrine of the Trinity practical?  How is it pastoral?" Let me get to the point. How does a new believer apply the doctrine of the Trinity? Let me attempt an answer to that question - the beginning of which is going to appear very unpractical!

Theologians agree that Christ is not a mode of revelation like any other.  The incarnation rises above all classification and is sui generis or "of its own kind."  Thus, we might say that the Old Testament prepares for and the New Testament is the fruit of the incarnation.  Or we might say that the incarnation is the summation of all theophanies, visions, prophecies, and concursive operations of the Spirit's inspiring work.  However, if Christ is the summation of all revelation then it is also true that revelation is sealed up in Him.  In other words, from Him flows the knowledge of God (John 1:18, 17:3). This means two things.

First, it means that the fundamental proof that God is Triune flows from the incarnation and consequently, the outpouring of God's Spirit.  As Benjamin B. Warfield said, "In a word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity."[i]  Now, an architectonic idea emerges from this single point.  The believer is to find the Triune nature of God summarized in the New Testament and proven with clarity and force in the whole mass of evidence that the New Testament provides for the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the activity of Christ and the Holy Spirit bring a climax to the preparatory revelation in the Old Testament, which is to say, Christ is the source of Old and New Testament revelation. 

This leads to the next point.  There is no formulaic expression of the Trinity - even in the pages of the New Testament - because the writers of the New Testament everywhere presuppose the Triune nature of God.[ii] Warfield says that the revelation of God's tri-unity "was already the common property of all Christian hearts."[iii]  That is to say, the authors of Scripture spoke out of their common Trinitarian consciousness built upon previous revelation, and reminded one another of their common fund of belief.[iv]

Now, I know what you're thinking, "When are we getting to the practical stuff?" Well, what would you say if I told you that we were already there?  What do I mean?  Well, think about it.  If what I have been saying is consistent with the Scriptures, then we need to understand that the Trinity is not something that we learn so that we can affirm orthodoxy. If we are orthodox, we will affirm it! But think about it. If the Trinity was part of the consciousness of the New Testament authors, then as we stand on the Scriptures it is part of our consciousness as well, which means that God - the Triune God - is the object of our worship, the One we thank, and Him to whom we pray.  Our salvation by and communion with God are bound up in our Trinitarian consciousness.  Look at Paul as our model.  He continually interweaves the three Persons of the Godhead into his prayer, praise, and instruction.  In other words, what Paul did and taught grew out of his understanding that God is Triune. 

But how do we get back to that way of thinking?  Let me give you three places to start.  First, read the Bible with sensitivity.  Read with an eye to how the author mentions the Father, the Son, or the Spirit using that or other nomenclature. Read with an eye to the deity of Christ and the Spirit.  Second, I would encourage you to read John Owen's book, Communion with God.[v]  Owen will walk you through the relationship that you enjoy with God and he will help you develop your Trinitarian consciousness.  And third, pray to the Father, through the Son, by the aid of the Spirit that you might delight in Him - our Triune God.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.


[i] Benjamin B. Warfield, Works, v. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 146. ("Trinity," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, v. 5, 1915.)

[ii]Ibid., 145.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] The Banner of Truth has an abridged version of Owen's work in their Puritan Paperback series.


Jeffrey Stivason