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

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 3, 2019

Belgic Confession Article 1c
John 4:19-26
"God is Spirit"

The church has been joined by God in a wonderful and mysterious sevenfold unity:
(Eph 4:4-6) There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Like I said, a sevenfold unity.

What does this mean for us today? It means that in Christ and because of Christ the church is essentially the same in every age. And her message remains the same in every generation. Individuals may differ radically in their understanding of the truth. Large sections of the church may deviate from the truth and forsake the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). Even at her best the church in this world knows only in part and prophesies only in part (cf 1 Cor 13:9). But the truth about God remains unchanged.

One of the unchanging truths about God is that He is spirit. Lots of people don't want to believe this. Throughout the ages people have wanted a god they can see, measure, weigh, and comprehend; that's why idol gods of wood, stone, and gold have always been so popular. But throughout the ages the church has declared the one only true God is not this way. He can't be seen, measured, or weighed because, as Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24). Or, as the sound doctrine of the church says in article 1 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:
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 God is Immaterial Spirit
A What do we mean when we say "God is spirit" or a "spiritual being"? That word "spirit" is difficult to understand. In ancient days the word for spirit was also used for the words "breath" and "wind." For instance, when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born of the Spirit, He said:
(John 3:8) "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
Elsewhere in Scripture we read that Jesus "breathed" on His disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). And, at the beginning of time God "breathed" into man the breath of life and man became a living being or spirit (Gen 2:7). The work of the Spirit is like the working of the wind. So, when we say God is spirit we are saying He works like the wind. That is, like the wind God is mysterious and powerful.

B Does this mean that God is mere breath or wind? Cartoons and movies would have us believe this for they present spirits as some ghostlike substance, a gaseous form of matter. Are we, then, to think of God as a kind of gaseous matter?

The conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well answers this question for us. This conversation grew out of an ongoing debate between the Samaritans and the Jews about the true center of worship. As the Samaritan woman said,
(John 4:20) "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus replied,
(John 4:21,23) "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... (23) a time ... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth ..."
Jesus is making the point that because God is spirit His presence can never be contained in or confined to one place. One of the greatest mistakes we can make is thinking that God's presence is limited to the four walls of this building. You know, the sons of Eli made a similar mistake. They thought God was confined to the Ark of the Covenant so when they took the Ark into battle against the Philistines they thought they were taking God with them. Not so. God's presence is not limited to any single place because He is spirit. God is spirit. He is not confined, bound, or limited to one place at one time. Therefore to say "God is spirit" means we cannot say God is some ghostlike substance, a gaseous form of matter; for, gaseous matter can easily be confined into something like a balloon.

How different God is from man. Man is also a spirit but our spirit is confined to our bodies. Wherever our bodies go, our spirit goes. If I want to go to Hawaii, I can't send my body and leave my spirit at home. My spirit is contained within my body. It lives where I am. Unlike God, my spirit is confined, bound, and limited to one place at one time.

God is spirit. He is nonphysical. He does not have a body. He is immaterial. Yes, the Bible does talk of God in physical terms. It tells us that He comes and goes. We are told about His face, eyes, arms, hands, legs, and feet. But these are purely figurative expressions which God uses for our sake, in order that we might more readily understand Who He is and how He works.

God is spirit. He is nonphysical. He has no body. We can say God has no extension. Matter is defined as that which has extension -- it has size. A body, for instance, has extension: 6 feet high, 36 inch waist, 190 pounds. But God has no extension. He cannot be measured. He cannot be weighed. He takes up no space.

Many people say that something with no extension has no being; it is not real; it does not exist. One of the Christian's boldest assertions is that there is a reality which goes beyond the physical world. We accept and believe there is a spiritual world. We accept and believe there is a nonphysical, immaterial, spiritual being whom we call God.

God is spirit. If God were not spirit, He could not be perfect, nor infinite, nor eternal, nor independent, nor omnipresent. But God is spirit so He not limited by dimensional restrictions. He can exist in all places at one time.

II God is Invisible Spirit
A God is spirit. This means not only that He is immaterial but also that He is invisible.
A teacher asked her group of 1st graders to draw something on their papers -- whatever they wished. The teacher came around and saw little Frankie was busy at work. She asked, "What are you drawing?"
Frankie responded without hesitating, "I'm drawing a picture of God."
The teacher, knowing her theology, said, "Well, Frankie, no one has ever seen God; no one knows what He looks like."
Without looking up, Frankie said, "They will when I'm finished!"

If only Frankie was correct! Countless numbers of people would love to see God as He really is, in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty. Remember when Moses asked to see God? He was on the top of Mount Sinai. He wanted God to come out of hiding. He wanted to see all there is of God and to see it now. "Now show me your glory," Moses said to God (Ex 33:18). "Show me your face; show me Yourself in all Your glory, power, might, wisdom, honor, and blessing. Let me see You, God."

God agreed to this request. However, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Ex 33:20). So in a cleft of rock on Mt. Sinai, in a mysterious and wonderful revelation, God showed Moses what he wanted to see. The Lord passed by Moses and let Moses see His back and hear His name.

We do not know exactly what Moses saw and experienced on the mountain top. But whatever he saw and experienced must have been fantastic and awesome, the deepest religious experience of his life. So do you remember what Moses had to do when he came down from the mountain? He had to put a veil over his face (Ex 34:33). After speaking with the Lord his face was so radiant that the people were afraid to come near him (Ex 34:29,30).

Is there anyone of us who aren't like Moses? Who here would not be willing to sell everything to see God, to hear His voice, to walk in a garden alone with Jesus, to talk with Him?

The disciples walking the road to Emmaus some twenty centuries ago had this experience. The risen Christ unexpectedly joined them and walked and talked with them, though they did not recognize Him. What was their experience like? When their eyes were finally opened and they recognized the Lord, He suddenly vanished. And they said to one another,
(Luke 24:32) "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

How great and wondrous it must be to see God and His Christ!

B The truth is, though, that none of us can see God. I can't even see His shadow. He leaves no footprints in the sand, no fingerprints on the doorknob, no lingering aroma of deodorant in the breeze. God is spirit, invisible spirit. Paul says,
(1 Timothy 1:17) Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(1 Timothy 6:15-16) God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, (16) who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

And Jesus Christ Who was once visible to human eyes has left this planet with His bodily presence. Yes, He is still with us in His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit, but we can no longer see Him.

C God is invisible spirit. And we human beings generally do not like that. This creates problems for us. We are sensual creatures. We respond to what we can see, hear, and touch. Like Thomas we want to place our fingers into Jesus' wounds and verify with our senses that He really is alive. We have a saying, "Out of sight, out of mind." Unfortunately this is even true when it comes to God. It is hard to keeping loving and serving someone we have never seen or heard.

God is invisible spirit. So, when we face troubles or when we do not "feel" His presence we think He is absent from us. "Are You there, God?" has been the question of more than one person.

D If God is invisible spirit how do we know there is a God? If we can't see Him, if He has no physical body, how do we know He is real? People don't see God because their eyes are blind to a God Who is invisible, immaterial, without composition or extension. But we know because of the universe. This universe testifies to both the presence and the power of God. Keep in mind what Paul writes to the church at Rome:
(Rom 1:20) For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ...
We can't see God but we see what He has made and what He has done. The created universe testifies to both the presence and the power of our invisible God.

III God is Personal Spirit
A God is spirit. This means not only that He is immaterial and invisible but also that He is personal. Says Jesus to the Samaritan woman,
(John 4:24) "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
Think about it! Why would God demand worship? Because He is a personal spirit. An impersonal spirit, one which doesn't think, and feel, and act would not demand our worship; for such a god, worship is meaningless. But our God wants and demands our worship. He is a personal spirit.

B God is a personal spirit. This means we can have a personal relationship with Him. And, in that relationship what we say, do, and even think matters to Him. If God is impersonal, it would not matter to Him how we behave, what we say, or what we think. He would not care because He could not care. He would be totally unconscious of who we are, let alone what we say and do and think.

There are some people on this earth who hope with all their might that God is not a personal spirit. Do you know who these people are? They are unrepentant sinners. If God is not personal, they need not fear that He take their sin against Him personally. If God is an impersonal spirit no one needs to fear the Last Judgment.

C God is immaterial and invisible. The only way we can have a relationship with such a God is because of Christ. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is God with us. In Jesus the Father is known. As John writes:
(Jn 1:14, 18) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth ... (18) No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

Do you want to know God? Do you want a relationship with God? The only way for this to happen is through Jesus. Come to Jesus and you come to know God.

God is spirit: He is immaterial and thus has no body; He is invisible and thus we cannot see Him; and He is personal and thus wants our worship. As we will be singing shortly:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, your great name we praise.

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