************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 8 & 9 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on August 16, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 8 & 9
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
For the past number of weeks we've been looking at the doctrine of scripture. This evening we turn our attention to the doctrine of God. Articles 2-7 told us many different things about scripture; its inerrancy, its authority, its sufficiency, etc. But notice we didn't begin with Scripture.
Remember that the very first article of the Belgic Confession began by telling us about God. It began by telling us two very important things. Our God is simple and our God is immense. He is completely clear and easy to understand in how He has revealed himself to us. Yet on the other hand He is completely unfathomable and incomprehensible in how He is in Himself.
Think about space. When we look up at the stars, we understand what space is. We know what is up there. We know that there are many stars, many planets, many galaxies. However, when we really try to fathom how deep and large space truly is, it is nearly impossible. Think about how much more that is the case with our Lord.
Now I use that illustration for two reasons. The first is because I think it is pretty helpful. The second is reason is so that I can tell you that it is the last illustration I will be using. I say this because we can often be tempted to use illustrations to understand the Trinity, but when we do, they always come up short. They are always incorrect.
When I was young I remember hearing that God is like an egg, made up of the shell, white, and yolk…just like the Trinity. Or God is like H2O, He appears as liquid, gas, and solid but is always H2O. These illustrations all fall short, and when truly pressed represent heretical viewpoints.
So as we approach articles 8 & 9 of the Belgic Confession we find the idea of God's simplicity & immensity so clearly put forth in the doctrine of the Trinity. Obviously as Christians we find the Trinity of utmost importance. Certainly we do here. Our church's name is Trinity United Reformed Church after all. This doctrine has always been maintained throughout the church's history as fundamental to her catholicity.
Therefore it is fitting that in article 9 we find the approval of the three ecumenical creeds we recite in church: the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. The main issue at the core of those creeds was in one way shape or form a defense of the Trinity. So as we look at these two articles and our reading for this evening what should we take away? What do we learn about our God?
1st His Oneness 2nd His Offices, and 3rd His Triune Nature.
I. His Oneness
In Deuteronomy 6:4 (the 10 commandments) we find the statement "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." We serve one God in heaven, not thousands of gods as the Hindus worship, nor even three separate Gods. No, though we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are One True God.
A. One God
Ours is the one true God. To confuse this point in any way is to muddle the whole picture. It is to strip away our hope. If there is three, who is more powerful? Who is more worthy of praise? Who should we pray to? If three gods, why not more? An inappropriate view of the Trinity, leads to a hierarchy of divinity. A form of this is even seen in the Roman Catholic church, where saints and Mary are venerated to a nearly semi-divine status.
B. God is one and He stands against all other gods.
The oneness of God also serves to show that He stands alone as the true God against all the false gods that would assail us, and that would be trusted.
Think about the prophets of Baal squaring off against Elijah in I Kings 18. Our God stood as the one true God against this false god that were not real, that could not stand, that failed his followers.
Though we may take this oneness of God for granted today, this article is still so important, and we must remember its roots that are grounded deeply in the church's history. Early heresies abounded that church had to rigorously fight against.
Marcion was an early church leader who taught that there were two different gods entirely: A god of judgment in the Old Testament, and a god of love in the New Testament.
Mani led a movement setting God and Evil up as two co-eternal powers in conflict.
And while we may not think so, these ideas still infect the church today. We set God up against Himself, or ignore some of His attributes that we don't like, creating a God that we desire.
"Hear O Israel…the Lord our God, the Lord is One." As our God, He is a God who works. He is the God who performs His tasks. These offices also give us insight into who our God is.
We've seen the Oneness of our God.
Next let's look at the Offices of our God.
II. His Offices
Understanding the Trinity doesn't only tell us who God is, it also tells us what God does. Here we understand how our God works. The Belgic speaks clearly about the offices of our God. Each person of the Trinity is associated with a different task. Obviously we can't so separate the Trinity that the various persons act independently of the others, but it is clear that we are to associate different divine functions with different persons of the Trinity.
In Article nine we're told the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Spirit is the Sanctifier. In article eight we're given further definitions of each person's work. Let's look more closely at the offices of our God.
A. The Father Our Creator
The Belgic uses three similes to reiterate the work of the Father. He is the cause, the origin, and the source we are told. These are all associated with His creative work. He is the cause behind all that has come into being. He is the origin of all things both visible and invisible. He is the source of you and of me. The Father is the creator.
B. The Son Our Redeemer
The Belgic uses the terms word, wisdom, and image to describe the Son, Jesus Christ. When we hear the ‘word' we are immediately reminded of John chapter one. "In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became man." It was Christ who came as the living word to do the work of redemption. As that word Christ also came with the full wisdom of God, seen in His teaching and preaching. He also came in the image of His Father, as He told Phillip in John 14 whoever had seen Him had seen the Father. This work of the wise, image-bearing, word was to save His people from their sins.
C. The Spirit Our Sanctifier
The Belgic speaks of the Holy Spirit as having power, might, and proceeding. The first two of these descriptions, power & might, speak to the Holy Spirit as the person of action in the Holy Trinity. I thought one author gave an apt description for a way you might describe the Trinity at work including the Holy Spirit's Power:
"In speaking of creation we confess that the Father made all things through His Son in the Power of the Holy Spirit."
We must associate the person of the Holy Spirit with the power of God, and especially with the power of sanctification in our lives.
These offices of God are so important. They help us to understand what God has done, is doing, and will do. They help us understand His love for us. Though His works are many, these help us to understand that One God is behind them all.
And on the other side of the spectrum, the fact that there are three offices help us to better understand what it means that there are three persons in the Trinity. It helps us better understand God's triune nature, and that is our third and final point.
III. His Triune Nature
A. Three Distinct Persons
We are told that the three persons in the Trinity are really, truly, and eternally distinct. These three definitions stood in the face of many in the early church. Again the Belgic confession is making sure to affirm the Historical Christian faith. It does so against the major heresies of the early church's day such as…
Judaism – that did not affirm the Trinity
Muslims – that followed Allah and not the God of scripture
Praxeas – who followed a Modalistic view of the Trinity, that is to say that the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different phases of God rather than three simultaneous, co-eternal persons.
Sabellius – held a similar Modalistic view
Paul of Samosata – held a view known as Dynamic Monarchianism where the
Son was viewed as a man, and the Spirit was really only a term meaning grace.
Arius – held a view that Christ was created. He coined the famous phrase, "there
was a time, when he [Christ] was not."
The Nicene Council, whose creed we affirm, met to define the relationship between the Father and the Son in the face of the Arian controversy. It was here where the definition that the Father and the Son were of the ‘same substance' came to be. Rather than two gods, they were shown to be two persons. So too the Holy Spirit was confirmed as the third member of the trinity.
B. Three Persons (I Corinthians 12:1-11)
Our text for this evening shows this doctrine with clarity by pointing to the various persons while making clear that they are one God. The Father is the generator.
The Son is the generated or begotten. This is an eternal act, yet ever completed. This is a way to speak of the relationship between the Father and the Son, rather than some sort of finite event that would make the Son created. This is seen a number of places in Scipture (Psalm 2:7, Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5 "You are my Son. Today I have become your Father")
The Holy Spirit can be said to be proceeding from the Father and the Son. Here too is another eternal act describing the relationship between the three persons, ever happening and ever completed. Between the Father and the Spirit this is seen in John 15:26 "The Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father." Between the Son and the Spirit this is seen in John 16:7 "I will send Him to you."
This is very important because so few believe in the Holy Spirit today in the same way they believe in the Father and the Son.
George Barna did study asking a number of questions of today's Christian community. 70% of the surveyed affirmed the actual Coming of Christ, where 55% rejected the Holy Spirit as a true living entity. 61% Affirmed the Holy Spirit as a symbol of God's peace and presence.
These denials and affirmations would show that many of the heresies of old are creeping back into the church of today. In I Corinthians 12:4-7 we're given a very different picture of the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all cited here as three persons that give different gifts, doing different works, but these three persons are ONE, TRUE, LIVING GOD.
Can we really understand all this perfectly? Absolutely not! But we hear the words of the Belgic Confession once more: "although this doctrince surpasses human understanding, we nevertheless believe it now, through the Word, waiting to know and enjoy it fully in heaven."
This doctrine does have major significance. It shows us the might of God, His incomprehensibility, the beauty of redemption, the work of our Lord, and His desire to still communicate Himself to us His finite creatures.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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