************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 8
"We are getting married." "We are having a baby." "We put an offer in on a house." "I got a scholarship." When family and friends share news like this with us, we feel special. At the heart of the Gospel is that God has shared with us.
In Article 1, we confess our belief in God. In the next five articles the Belgic Confession lays out how God is known to us, how He reveals Himself to us, how He has shared with us. In Article 7 the Confession proclaims that everything one must be believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in this revelation. If God had not shared Himself with us we would never have known who He is and could never be saved.
Think about this: the God of the universe has shared Himself with us. The eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, wise, just, and good God has shared Himself with us. He has shared Himself with us specks of dust. Next to God we are insignificant and inconsequential beings; yet, the immeasurable God has shared Himself with us. Isn't this humbling?!
Article 8 deals with more knowledge about God. However, in this article we are dealing with something that is impossible to explain and understand. Because it is so important we can't ignore it or skip over it. And even if we can't explain it or understand it, we can discover what the Bible says about it. What is the knowledge the Confession is talking about? The Confession of Faith declares God has shared with us that He is triune.
I God is Three in One
A "We believe in one God, who is one single essence," says the Confession. At the same time it adds, "in whom there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct." The three persons are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is these three persons who work salvation in us sinners. It is these three persons who make up what we call the Trinity.
Trinity means the presence of three. You can have a trinity of rings on your finger -- which means three rings. You can have a trinity of dogs on your dairy -- which means three dogs. You can have a trinity of children in your house -- which means three kids.
There are not three gods. There is only one God. But this one God is triune. This one God is three persons. Maybe you have heard of the comparison between an egg and the doctrine of the Trinity. An egg consists of three parts -- the shell, the yolk, and the white -- and these three parts together make up the egg. In a similar way, the three persons make one God. Another comparison is water. Water exists as a solid block of ice, as a liquid, and as a gas or steam. I give these two examples but realize there is no adequate earthly comparison to the Trinity. For instance, no one would ever say that the shell of an egg is fully an egg; how would you like it if I gave you egg shells for breakfast. Yet, each person of the triune godhead is fully and completely God.
"We believe," says the Confession. We may not understand it. We may not be able to explain it. But this is what we confess because this is how God has revealed Himself in the Bible. Think about our Bible reading this evening. Do we baptize in the name of God? Do we baptize in the name of the Father alone? No, we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because all three persons are fully and completely God.
B We are little people with little understanding. So, we might wonder why God has revealed Himself to us as one and triune. If we cannot understand this mystery, why did He tell us? I can think of at least four reasons.
First, we should be exceedingly glad that God has revealed Himself as one God in whom there are three persons because otherwise we too easily break the second commandment. The second commandment, remember, deals with images of God. We can easily sin in our mental images of God. When we think of God, our mental image of Him needs to include that He is one and He is triune.
Second, the Trinity cannot be understand by our finite minds; it can only be adored. This requires childlike faith. Like Moses, we are standing on holy ground and we need to bow before Him in humility, in faith, and in awe. You know, the greatest moments of our lives is when we spontaneously praise and worship the Lord. When the very walls and ceiling of this building cannot contain our praise to and for God. The more and better we know God, the more and better we praise Him.
Third, we need to know God is one and triune to fight off heresy and falsehood. If we don't know this about God then we fall for the untruths of the JWs, the Mormons, the Unitarians, and anyone else who tries to deny the truth of God. I know many voices today oppose this approach saying, "Don't talk about what divides us. Rather, speak about the love of God and of unity in the Lord." This is either very naive or very cunning, for it asks us to close our eyes and live by our feelings. Before we know it, the sharp edge of truth is gone and we are left with a god who is not the triune God of the Bible. The church is called to be a confessing church -- a knowledgeable and vigilant church -- that speaks the Word of God. I repeat, we are a confessing church. Now, congregation, don't confuse confession with profession. To profess something is to say with; to confess something is to say against. So we profess God's trinity with true believers everywhere. We confess God's trinity against heretics and unbelievers everywhere. Article 8 does not explain the secret of the Trinity, but defends it against all the attacks of heretics and anyone who would obscure the truth of God. Beware, congregation. Beware of all sweet talking that tries to strip you of your confessional garments and promises the "simple truth" of the Bible.
Fourth, at stake in the Trinity is our salvation. From the Bible we come to know the triune God as the Father who sought us, the Son who saves us, and the Spirit who sanctifies us. To quote the Athanasian Creed,
That we worship one God in trinity
and the trinity in unity ...
This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.
Yes, the doctrine of the Trinity is not simple and easy to understand. Much of what passes for the Christian religion today is superficial, shallow, requiring little commitment and little faith. But this is not the faith of the Bible and it is not the faith of the Belgic Confession.
II God is One
A We believe God is triune. But we also believe God is one. "We believe in one God," says the Belgic Confession. We believe there is one only true God. Not because we made it up, but because the Lord tells us this in His Word.
(Deut 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.Paul states in 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God."
(Eph 4:5-6) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The Old Testament especially reveals the unity of God. The three persons are present, but the unity of God is highlighted. Israel, amidst all the heathen nations who had many gods, had to learn there was only one God; this was a very difficult lesson for them. Israel did not really learn the lesson of God's unity until the captivity, an experience that explicitly showed them the danger of going after other gods. Only then did they stop their worship of Baal and Ashteroth.
B "We believe in one God, who is one single essence" says the Confession. What does that mean? The term "essence" is not used in Scripture. The church uses this word to emphasize the unity of God. There is only one essence; this one essence, this one God, exists in three persons.
In the middle of Article 8 we confess, "Nevertheless, this distinction does not divide God into three." The Bible does not teach that the one God is three Gods, or that one essence is three essences. But it does teach that the three persons are one essence. It does not teach that the Father is one-third God, the Son one-third God, and the Holy Spirit one-third God; rather "that these three persons are only one God."
C How gracious of the Lord to teach an Israel surrounded by idols that God is one. We need to learn this too. What a multitude of gods is served in our land: money, pleasure, materialism, drugs, alcohol; country and flag and military might; community, service, family; and, of course, because of freedom of religion, we have every kind of god and religion scattered throughout our land. Over and against the paganism of our land we confess there is one only God. With true Christian believers throughout the world we profess there is one only God. With this in mind, how powerful is the conclusion of Article 8:
There is neither a first not a last,
for all three are one
in truth and power,
in goodness and mercy.
III God is Three
A This brings us to our third point. God is three in one, God is one, and God is three. The Belgic states it this way:
We believe in one God
who is one single essence,
in whom there are three persons,
really, truly, and eternally distinct
according to their incommunicable properties --
and Holy Spirit.
This is a mystery we cannot penetrate. We can begin to describe it, but we cannot really get inside of it. If we think we can unravel this mystery we will become lost because God is too great to be enclosed by our little minds. What we need here is childlike faith and acceptance. We would like to take this mystery apart like a jigsaw puzzle; we would like to show JWs and Mormons how wrong they are; but we really can't. Nor do we need to because God does not need our help. He explains Himself in His Word and if any do not wish to accept that explanation, they will be forever lost.
Faith cannot explain everything, dear friends, but it does know there is a triune God and that only because God is triune can I be saved.
B The Belgic Confession states the three persons are "distinct according to their incommunicable properties." This means the Bible says things about the Father that do not apply to the Son or Holy Spirit, it says things of the Son that cannot be said of the Father or Holy Spirit, and it says things of the Spirit that are not true of the Father or the Son. Thus, it was the Father, not the Son or the Spirit, who is the cause, origin, and source of all things. And, it was the Son, not the Father or the Spirit, who became man. And, it is the Holy Spirit, not the Father or the Son, who is designated as the Comforter of the church. This distinction between the three persons is reality. We indeed confess that they are "really, truly, and eternally distinct."
A corruption of this teaching is the heresy of Sabellius. Sabellius, a third-century priest, said the one God successively revealed Himself throughout time -- first, He revealed HImself as the Father in creation; then, He revealed Himself as the Son in redemption; and, finally, He revealed Himself as the Holy Spirit in sanctification. The result of this heresy? God is NOT triune from eternity to eternity. God appears as distinct persons but never all three at the same time.
Always and forever, from eternity to eternity, God is three in one, God is one, and God is three. Between the three persons of this one God there is perfect communion. The first chapter of John confirms this for us:
(Jn 1:1-2) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning.The Word was with God. The Word is the Son. So, the Son was with the Father. Think of what this means: We are being told the Son was not the same as the Father but was with Him. Next, John tells us the Word was God; the Father, and the Son who was with the Father, are one God. This is true for all three persons of the divine godhead.
Difficult and impossible to understand? Absolutely! But we don't need to understand it! What we need to do is believe it. Believe it with childlike faith. And be in awe of this God. What a privilege, what a blessing, to know Him. What a privilege, what a blessing, to know the one only true and triune God. What a privilege, what a blessing, to know He is the God Who saves us.
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