************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 11
"The Deity of the Holy Spirit"
I was on a ride with the cycling club. We were in the hills behind Woodlake. We ended up in Yettem. It was my first time in Yettem. Was I ever surprised to see an Armenian church. As far as I knew the major ethnic groups in the Visalia area were Hispanic, Portugese, and Dutch; obviously, I had to add Armenian to my list.
The St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church of Yettem is part of the Eastern Orthodox family of churches. The Eastern Orthodox family of churches. I emphasize that because most people have no awareness or knowledge of this family of churches. If asked to list the major groups of Christianity, most people think Protestant and Roman Catholic. Others might break it down further and say Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel, and Roman Catholic. But rarely will you hear someone mention Eastern Orthodox -- one of the oldest of all the Christian groups in existence. This is a huge group of churches with millions of members -- mostly in Eastern Europe. By God's grace they survived seventy or eighty years of oppression under the godless communists. Some of the churches included are the Armenian, Greek, Russian, and Ukranian Orthodox churches.
You might wonder what any of this has to do with the deity of the Holy Spirit and Article 11 of the Belgic Confession of Faith? Let me tell you.
I A Bit of History
A The emperor of Rome, Constantine, moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople (now Istanbul). One of the results was that there was now a Western section of the church centered in Rome and an Eastern section of the church centered in Constantinople.
Now, one of the questions debated in the early centuries of the church was whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only, or from the Father and the Son? The Eastern churches held that only the Father sends the Spirit, while the Western churches correctly taught that both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.
Realize that the Nicene Creed was formulated, adopted, and accepted by all the churches together. In 589 AD the Western churches added a term to the Nicene Creed -- the term "filioque" which means "and the Son." The new reading of the Creed now said "The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son." This change was done without consulting the Eastern churches. So half of the church was given no say in a change to a Creed of the whole church.
Not surprisingly, this created a good deal of tension between the two sections of the church. The conflict grew until 1054 AD when the rupture between the west and east was finalized; it was at that time that the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. This was the first major split in the church. Since 1054 AD, millions of Christians within the Eastern churches have been separate from the Western churches.
Why do I say all this? To highlight the importance of knowing rightly the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The error found in the Eastern Orthodox church is a fundamental error concerning the Spirit.
B You might wonder why the Confession says so little about the Spirit? The reason is simple: there was no real disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church when it comes to the Spirit. Roman Catholics and Protestants agree that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, who proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. Both agree He is true and eternal God. That He is of one and the same essence as the Father and the Son. That He is clothed with the same majesty and glory as the Father and the Son.
II The Person of the Spirit
A From a bit of history we look at the person of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead. This declaration is especially apparent in the incident involving Ananias and Sapphira.
(Acts 5:3-4) Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? (4) Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."As Peter makes evident here, the Holy Spirit is God.
Throughout the ages there have been those who explain the Spirit as nothing but a power that proceeds from God. We need to disagree with that. The Spirit is a distinct person in the Godhead.
B As a person, the Holy Spirit is given names in Scripture. His name is Lord, Comforter, Witness in heaven, power from on high, Counselor, Advocate.
As a person, the Holy Spirit has attributes. Scripture indicates the Spirit is present everywhere. Psalm 139:7 asks, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" Like God, the Spirit is infinite. Like God, the Spirit is completely wise, knowing all the things of God (1 Cor 2:10). The Spirit is almighty (1 Cor 12:11).
As a person, the Holy Spirit performs personal and divine works. He teaches, judges, reveals, searches out, speaks, and prays in us and with us.
(Jn 16:8,13) When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment .. (13) But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
(Rom 8:26-27) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (27) And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
Did you know the Spirit was active in God's creation of the heavens and the earth?
(Ps 33:6) By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.We know that in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and in the Greek of the New Testament, the word "breath" can be translated as "spirit." We know from Genesis 1:2 that in the beginning "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." And the Spirit remains active in preserving what He has created. Based upon Psalm 104 we sing, "Thy Spirit O Lord, makes life to abound; the earth is renewed and fruitful the ground." We confess that due to the activity of the Holy Spirit rain falls, crops and flowers grow, trees produce blossoms and fruit, and the hillsides are covered with grass.
As a person, the Holy Spirit receives honor when we are baptized and blessed in His name.
III The Procession of the Spirit
A The Confession, based upon the Bible, teaches us that the Spirit eternally proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Proceeds. Eternally proceeds. The purpose of such language is to show us and tell us how the Spirit relates to the other members of the Trinity.
Don't forget, the Son is eternally begotten -- meaning and applying there was never a time when there was not a Father-Son relationship between the Father and the Son. Meaning there was always a Father and always a Son. In the same way, the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. So, like the other two persons of the divine Trinity He has always existed and will always exist.
We cannot understand the Spirit's eternal procession; we just need to believe it. The Bible teaches that the Spirit proceeds eternally -- that is, He was not made, nor created, nor begotten; He proceeds eternally. Telling us, reminding us, God cannot be divided. Telling us, reminding us, the three persons of the divine family can never be separated from each other. We know this as the simplicity of God.
B The Bible teaches that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. This is why the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is ascribed to both the Father and the Son.
(Jn 14:16-18) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- (17) the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (18) I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.Jesus says the Father will give you another Counselor. And, Jesus says "I will come to you."
Two other important verses teaching that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son:
(Jn 14:26) But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
(Jn 15:26) "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
There are also a host of passages calling the third person of the Triune Godhead the Spirit of Christ:
(Rom 8:9) You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
(Gal 4:6) Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."
(Phil 1:19) for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
These passages make clear that the Spirit is referred to in various ways and that He is sent by both the Father and the Son. If we disconnect the person or work of the Holy Spirit from the person or work of the Father and the Son, we end up with all kinds of heresies.
IV The Work of the Spirit
We said earlier that the Spirit works in creation; He is the author and sustainer of natural life. But what He does in the realm of nature, He does even more in the realm of grace. The person of the Holy Spirit is vital for our salvation.
One of the questions I deal with in Pastor's Class is whether one needs to be born-again to be saved. More than once class members look surprised when I declare the answer is yes. Yes, unless you are born-again you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Jn 3:3). The miracle of regeneration and rebirth is the work of the Spirit.
It is the Spirit who leads us to repent of our sin, who enables us to see our guilt and our need for the Savior.
It is the Spirit Who unites us to Christ and all the blessings of salvation. It is He Who makes us partakers of the grace earned for us by the Lord Jesus. It is the Spirit who applies everything Christ has earned by His death and resurrection.
A new heart and a new will shaped to conform to God's will comes from the work of the Spirit. The Spirit leads us in the path of righteousness. It is a narrow, steep path surrounded by three enemies constantly on the prowl: the devil, the world, and our very own sinful flesh. As Christians go through this life they would never complete the journey were it not for the Spirit's guidance. It is the Spirit who equips us with the armor of God. It is the Spirit who lifts us up when we fall. It is the Spirit who comforts believers in all their afflictions, puts their doubts to shame, causes their fears to flee, rebukes them for their little faith and many doubts, and admonishes them when they stumble and fall.
The Spirit applies what the Father has ordained and what the Son has acquired so that the church will be saved.
The net result of all this work of the Spirit is the fulfilment of Jesus words in our Bible reading:
(Jn 16:14) He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.
"We believe and confess" says the first line of Article 10. We believe and confess the Spirit is true and eternal God, the Almighty.
Two implications. First, if this is what you believe and confess then you invoke, worship, and serve the Spirit (cf Article 10). Second, you love Jesus.
"We believe and confess." Is this what you believe? Is this your confession?
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