************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 1 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 28, 2009

Belgic Confession Article 1
Psalm 113
"The Only God"
[This series of sermons on the Belgic Confession is highly dependent upon "with Heart and Mouth - An Exposition of the Belgic Confession" by D. Hyde]

Listen to three texts, all from the Old Testament, and all about God:
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

(Ps 89:6) For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings?

(Ex 15:11) "Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

Biblical texts like these are the basis upon which the Belgic Confession begins. Such verses fill our hearts and minds with wonder and awe before our great covenant God. And, such verses inspire us to be faithful witnesses to this God in our sin-darkened culture. And, let there be no mistake about it ours is a sin-darkened world.
A recent survey indicates that 97% of Americans claim to believe in "god." But, now, let us break this down:
-3% believe there are many gods
-4% believe everyone is god
-7% believe that god is the total realization of human potential
-11% believe that god is a state of higher consciousness
In other words, there is a sizable group of people who do not believe in the God of the Bible.
While almost everyone in our culture believes in "god," 25% of our fellow citizens have a god in their own image! As someone once said, "In the beginning God created man in His image, and man has been returning the favor ever since."

Do you know what we need today? We need a church that is not afraid to proclaim the God of the Scriptures. And, that God is not me, He is not you, He is not higher consciousness, He is not the realization of human potential. Rather, based upon Scripture, He is the God confessed by the opening article of the Belgic Confession of Faith.

I In the Beginning, God
A Like Scripture, the Belgic Confession of Faith begins with God. Remember the opening words of Scripture? "In the beginning God ..." (Gen 1:1). In a similar fashion, the Belgic Confession of faith begins with:
We all believe in our hearts
and confess with our mouths
that there is a single
and simple spiritual being,
whom we call God.
I want to observe that in starting this way, the Belgic Confession of Faith is not merely imitating Scripture; it is also following the example of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. What we have in front of us, then, is nothing more than a restatement of the Scriptures and the faith of the early church.

The Belgic Confession of Faith is a theological statement, a theological document. In this first article, then, we are being reminded that all theology begins with God. We need to understand the who and what of God before we can serve and worship Him.

B Notice what is not being done. The Confession does not ask the question, "Does God exist?" That question is not asked because its answer is assumed. But, then, Scripture is the same way. Scripture assumes the existence of God. Scripture assumes there is a God Who is over all of creation. Scripture does not need to prove God's existence because it testifies that everyone knows there is an almighty God (Rom 1:20).

C We confess belief in God. But now the next question, "What is this God like?"

We need to acknowledge that mere man cannot possibly know what God is like in and of Himself. As Luther puts it, we cannot know God "in the nude." All of our knowledge of God is dependent upon what God reveals to us. God is so holy, so other, so mighty, so glorious, we cannot possibly comprehend Him as He is. God, as it were, has to stoop down to our weakness by covering Himself with a veil. In this light, consider Moses' encounter with God on Mount Sinai. Moses begged to see God in all His glory. Remember what God said? "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Ex 33:20). Instead, God covered Moses with His hand until He passed by and showed Moses His back (Ex 33:23).
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

What is God like? In answering this question, we will first look at the nature of God and then we will look at the attributes of God.

II The Nature of God
A The Belgic Confession of Faith tells us three things about the nature of God: God is one, God is simple, God is Spirit.

First, God is one. The Confession affirms that there is only one God. In doing so, the Confession echoes the earliest creed of God's people:
(Deut 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
There is only one Lord, and He alone is God.

How many gods are there? Dualism says there are two gods, two competing principles: good and evil, yin and yang, light and darkness. Polytheism says there are many gods. Pantheism says everything and everyone is god.

How many gods are there? Like the Bible, like the Apostles and Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the Belgic Confession of Faith says there is only one God. The so-called gods of the nations are nothing; they are nothing but idols fashioned by the hands and minds of men; they cannot speak, see, hear, smell, handle, or walk (Psalm 115:4-8). There is only one God. God is one.
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

B Second, God is simple. When we say this about persons, it is not meant as a compliment. It means someone is deficient in brain power, in the ability to think and reason. We confess God is simple; but, this does NOT mean God is simplistic.

What, then, does the term "simple" mean? Man is not a simple being. We are composed of body and soul, or body and spirit. Consider what happens when a Christian dies. We believe the soul or spirit separates from the body; the body is put in the ground and the soul or spirit goes to be with Christ. By way of contrast, God is not composed of various parts. God cannot be divided up like a piece of pie, one part being the Father, another part being the Son, and a final part being the Holy Spirit; each person of the Trinity is 100% God. Or, God cannot be divided into love, justice, and holiness; the whole being of God is 100% love, 100% just, and 100% holy. God cannot be divided because He is simple.

Now, you may be saying, "What a strange doctrine to confess. Why spend so much time on something that appears to be meaningless?" The answer is that throughout church history, including today, there are errors in what people say and believe about God. For instance, many people pit the love of God against all His other attributes; as far as these people are concerned, the love of God is His most important attribute. The simplicity of God means there are no tensions among the different attributes of God. The simplicity of God means the characteristics of God cannot be played against each other. Yes, God is love; but, He is also just, holy, righteous, wrathful, and good. None of these cancel out any of the others. Unlike us, God is simple.
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

C Third, God is spirit. As the Confession puts it, God is a "spiritual being." As Jesus says, "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24).

God is spirit. Meaning what? Meaning He has no body. Meaning the Mormons are wrong when they teach and believe that God the Father is a glorified man with a body like ours.

God is spirit. Meaning what? Meaning that God is different from us. There is nothing earthly about God, nothing creaturely except in Christ. He is the Creator. He is above creation.
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
God stands alone. No other person or thing is like Him. He, and He alone, is God.

III The Attributes of God
A The Confession tells us God's nature: God is one, God is simple, God is Spirit. The Confession then turns to God's attributes.

God's will is that we "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). The study of the attributes of God is one of the building blocks of our faith so that we do grow. So, we want to study, meditate upon, and think about God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

The Confession, following classical theology, divides the attributes of God into incommunicable and communicable attributes. We confess that God has incommunicable attributes attributes that cannot be communicated, or given, to His creation; these attributes belong to God alone and clearly distinguish Him from all that He has made. God also has communicable attributes attributes that are communicated, or given, to man; with these attributes, man faintly reflects what God is like; with these attributes, man images God.

First, I want to discuss God's incommunicable attributes. Now remember, these attributes distinguish God from His creation; they express how God is different from us. So, God is eternal, but we are temporal; God is incomprehensible, but we are comprehensible; God is invisible, but we are visible; God is unchangeable, but we are changeable; God is infinite, but we are finite; God is almighty, but we are weak.

1. The first incommunicable attribute: God is eternal. Positively, this means God is and was and is to come (Rev 1:8). Negatively, this means God is not limited by time; He has no beginning and no end. God always lives. He lives forever (Dan 4:34). From everlasting to everlasting He is God (Ps 90:2).

God is eternal. Catechism teachers sometimes make the mistake of picturing God's eternity as a timeline, with arrows pointed in opposite directions arrows that go on forever and ever. But God has no time. God is above time. God is beyond time. He is the Alpha AND Omega. He is the beginning AND end. He is first AND last. He is eternal.

2. The second incommunicable attribute: God is incomprehensible. Isaiah speaks of this attribute:
(Is 55:8-9) "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. (9) "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Paul also speaks of this attribute:
(Rom 11:33) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
We also read about this attribute in Job:
(Job 11:7-9) Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (8) They are higher than the heavens--what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave --what can you know? (9) Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.

God is incomprehensible. We do not know everything there is to know about God; nor is this possible. The only One Who fully knows and understands God is God Himself. As for us, what we know and see is but a poor reflection as in a mirror (1 Cor 13:12).

3. The third incommunicable attribute: God is invisible. Although we know God, we cannot see God. "No one has ever seen God" says John (1 Jn 4:12). Or, remember what God said to Moses, "no one may see me and live" (Ex 33:20)?

What about texts that seem to say the opposite? Moses, for instance, saw God's back (Ex 33:23). Isaiah saw the King of glory (Is 6:5). Abraham hosted God and two angels (Gen 18). This is divine condescension. This is God stooping down to our level to make Himself known to us. When the saints of old saw God, they were not seeing Him in His essence; rather, they were given a vision of God in the likeness of a man, an angel, or another created form.

4. The fourth incommunicable attribute: God is unchangeable. The great image the Bible uses to describe this attribute is that God is a rock (1 Sam 2:3; Ps 18:2, 19:4; Is 26:4).

God is unchangeable. God is unchangeable in His nature. God is unchangeable in His attributes. God is unchangeable in His counsel. What is said about Jesus is true for God:
(Heb 13:8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
So, the Lord God says about Himself, "I the LORD do not change" (Mal 3:6).

God is unchangeable. We do not believe in open theism or process theology. God is constant and consistent. He is reliable and trustworthy. We can count on Him.

5. The fifth incommunicable attribute: God is infinite. This means God is not subject to limitations. You and I can be in only one space at one time. But God is immense, He is everywhere present, He fills all of creation, yet He is more than creation.

6. The last incommunicable attribute: God is almighty. His is all power and all might. The Old Testament uses the title "LORD of hosts" 280 times; He is the LORD of the heavenly armies, the commander in chief. He is sovereign. He is in complete control of all things. Which means He is more than able to do exactly what He promises. That is why an old Sarah could bear a child. That is why a virgin can give birth.

These are God's incommunicable attributes attributes that belong to God alone and clearly distinguish Him from all that He has made.
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

B Second, I want to discuss God's communicable attributes. Now, don't forget, these are attributes that God gives to man.

1. The first communicable attribute: God is completely wise. What is wisdom? Wisdom is taking what you know and using it appropriately. For God, this means that all He knows which is everything is used to bring about the greatest glory for Himself. As God's image bearers we also are to be wise; God expects us to use our knowledge for His glory.

2. The second communicable attribute: God is just. That means He punishes sin and wrong. Our culture, by and large, does not believe in the justice of God. This goes against our modern idols of toleration, relativism, and inclusivism in which everyone is saved and no one is lost. As God's image bearers we also are to be just; God expects us to have absolute standards of right and wrong.

3. The third communicable attribute: God is good and the overflowing source of all good. Don't we see and experience the goodness of God every single day? Daily, He showers blessings upon us. Daily, He gives us more than we ever deserve. As God's image bearers, we are expected to be a blessing to those around us.

Now, of course, we are but faint images of God. After all, we are not God. And, we are sinful and fallen. So, for instance, we may have wisdom, but God has complete wisdom. We may be just, but God is absolutely just. We may be good, but God is the overflowing source of all good. So, again, we say with the psalmist:
(Ps 113:5-6) Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, (6) who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

When we look at God, we need to keep the attitude of an Isaiah:
(Is 6:5) "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

Furthermore, we need to remember that a study of God's characteristics is not a mere academic pursuit. Rather, it is a study of our God. This God Who is one, simple, and Spirit wants a relationship with us. This God with His communicable and incommunicable attributes covenants with us. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that graceful?
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