************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 30, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 11
"The Deity of the Holy Spirit"
According to a survey, 70 percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return. According to the same survey, 61 percent of Americans say, "The Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power, but is not a living entity." And, according to the survey, 55 percent of "born-again Christians" reject the existence of the Holy Spirit.
Do you know what this tells me? Despite the influence of Pentecostalism and its emphasis on the Spirit, most Americans and even many Christians are totally ignorant about the person and work of the Holy Spirit!
I Proceeds from the Father and the Son
A So, what do we believe about the Holy Spirit? Every week, millions of Christians around the world recite from the Nicene Creed and say about the Holy Spirit, "He proceeds from the Father and the Son." Or, as the Belgic Confession puts it, "the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son."
What do we confess about the Spirit? We confess the Spirit's eternal procession. The Spirit is different than the Son. As we heard last week, the Son is "eternally begotten." The Spirit, however, "eternally proceeds." What's the difference?
The Son is "begotten." The language of "begetting" is used when someone becomes a father and has a child. For instance, Jake Soerens beget a baby daughter this past week. Furthermore, the Son is "eternally" begotten. Which means He has always been the Son, and the Father has always been the Father, and they have an eternal Father-Son relationship with each other.
The Spirit, as I said, "proceeds." Meaning what? The language of procession or proceeding has to do with being sent. So, for instance, in our Scripture reading, did you catch what Jesus said about the Spirit?
(Jn 14:16) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever ...The Spirit is given. The Spirit is sent. And, we see this, don't we in the baptism of Jesus: the Spirit descending like a dove. And, we also see this in the story of Pentecost: the Spirit poured out from heaven,
(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.
descending like tongues of fire, and resting on each of the apostles (Acts 2:17,33). Not only that, but the Spirit "eternally" proceeds. Which means that before He was poured out, before He descended upon the church, He was proceeding, He was being sent. From eternity, the Spirit was proceeding from the Father and the Son; and, from eternity the Spirit was proceeding from the Father to the Son; and, from eternity the Spirit was proceeding from the Son to the Father. It is part of the Spirit's nature. Just as it is the nature of a frog to croak, just as it is the nature of a dog to bark, just as it is the nature of a baby to cry, so it is the nature of the Spirit to proceed and the nature of the Son to be begotten.
B Now, I need to mention something for a moment. I need to mention that not everyone agrees with this. Everyone agrees the Spirit proceeds from the Father but not everyone agrees that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son. None of the branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church make this confession. So, their version of the Nicene Creed does not contain the phrase "and the Son."
C However, as the Belgic Confession puts it, we confess "that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son." Why do we make this our confession? Because it is the clear teaching of the Scriptures. We note, for instance, that the Spirit is called both the Spirit of the Father (Matt 10:20) and the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19). Furthermore, Jesus affirms "All that belongs to the Father is mine" (Jn 16:15).
Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that Christ is the bearer of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament already we see this connection:
(Is 11:1-2) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (2) The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD ...
(Is 42:1) Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him ...
As you know, Christ did not start His earthly ministry until He was baptized with the Spirit (Lk 3:22) and it was only in the power of the Spirit that Jesus did His earthly ministry. Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus said in His home town of Nazareth:
(Lk 4:18-19) "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Cf Isaiah 61:1-2)
But Jesus is not only the bearer of the Holy Spirit; He is also the giver of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter makes this point in his Pentecost day speech to the crowds of people:
(Acts 2:33) Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.According to John the Baptist,
(Jn 1:33) The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.And, in explaining to His disciples why He must leave them and ascend into heaven, Jesus said,
(Jn 16:7) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (cf John 15:26)The Apostle Paul said that Jesus, by His resurrection, became "a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).
Lastly, we can mention that the Spirit is Christ's personal presence with us and in us. Remember what Jesus said in the Upper Room? He said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). Imagine that: in and through the Spirit, Christ is with us even as He promised; in and through the Spirit, Christ is not absent from us for even a moment; in and through the Spirit, Christ watches over us in such a way that not even a hair can fall from our head without the will of our heavenly Father; in and through the Spirit, Christ comforts us and gives us security and strength.
Because of these and similar teachings of Scripture, then, we believe and confess that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father AND THE SON.
D Is this important? Does it make any real difference? Or, is this just another case of theological hair-splitting?
At heart is the question of how the Spirit works in man. Does the Spirit work directly, immediately or does He work through Christ and His body the church? Or, to put it another way, can we separate the work of the Spirit from the atoning work of Christ?
Scripture tells us that the Spirit never works the saving grace of God apart from Christ. The Spirit is Christ's Spirit. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is only when one believes in Jesus that he or she is given the Spirit. We think of Cornelius and his household as an example: they hear and believe the message of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 10:44).
The Spirit always points away from Himself and to Christ, as is evident already at Pentecost. On that day, filled with the poured-out Spirit, Peter and the other disciples did not explain Who the Spirit is, but Who Jesus is. When a person is born of the Spirit, he or she does not shout out, "I have the Spirit," but "I know Jesus." When a person is born of the Spirit, that person speaks not of the Spirit but of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
It also is clear from Scripture that there is the most intimate connection between Christ and the Spirit. We see, for instance, that the Spirit is to Jesus as Jesus is to the Father. Just as Jesus is the Father's gift to mankind, so the Spirit is Jesus' gift (John 3:16; 15:26). Just as Jesus represents the Father, so the Spirit is sent in Jesus' name (John 5:43; 14:26). Just as Jesus remained with and guided the disciples, so will the Spirit (John 14:16-18). Just as Jesus taught them the truth because He was Truth, so the Spirit of Truth would lead them into all the truth about Jesus (John 14:6,17; 15:26; 16:13). Just as Jesus did not draw attention to Himself but set out to glorify the Father, so the Spirit glorifies the name of Christ. Jesus bore witness to the Father (John 8:14) and the Spirit bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26,27).
The Spirit, then, proceeds from the Father and the Son. And, it is only through the Son that He does His great work of rebirth, conversion, and faith in the lives of God's children. It is only through the Son that He sanctifies us and glorifies us.
II Third Person of the Trinity
A According to the Belgic Confession of faith, we also profess that the Spirit "is the third person of the Trinity." Like the Father and the Son, we are to think of the Spirit as a distinct person. Certain heretics persist in regarding the Spirit as an impersonal influence. To this day some still speak of Him as "it" rather than as "He." The Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, say the Spirit is not a distinct person, a "somebody." Just as my own spirit is not somebody but a power within me, so God's Spirit, they say, is just a way of speaking of God's power.
In many places the Bible recognizes the distinct personhood of the Spirit. He does, feels, and experiences things that only persons can do, feel, and experience. For instance, "He gives" and "He determines" (1 Cor 12:11). We can "grieve" Him (Eph 4:30), which means to cause Him personal pain. We can lie against the Spirit, which is lying against God (Acts 5:3,4). It is possible for people to commit "sin and blasphemy" against the Spirit (Mt 12:31). The Bible also tells us that the Spirit creates (Gen 1:2); strives with the spirit of man (Gen 6:3); teaches Christ's disciples what they ought to say (Lk 12:12); brings to mind the Savior's words (Jn 14:26); convicts the world in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8); gives commands (Acts 8:29); and intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Rom 8:26). All of these great and gracious activities of the Spirit require personhood.
B We not only believe and confess that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, but also that He is
of one and the same essence,
with the Father and the Son.
The last time we looked at the Belgic Confession of Faith we talked about the deity of the Son; Robert reminded us that Jesus is "one in essence with the Father" (Belgic Confession, Article 10). Now we hear that Spirit has "the same essence" as the Father and the Son. Do you hear the repetition of that word "essence"? What does that word "essence" mean? Jesus is of the same essence as the Father. This means Jesus is not just like God but, rather, He is God. Similarly, the Spirit is of the same essence as the Father and the Son. This means the Spirit is not just like God but, rather, He is God.
The Spirit is of the same essence as the Father and the Son. That's why the Bible does not hesitate to identify Him as God (Acts 5:3-4) or to ascribe divine perfection to Him. Thus David speaks of the Spirit as being everywhere present (Ps 139:7-10), while Isaiah and Paul tells us that He knows and sees all things (Is 40:13-14; 1 Cor 2:11). All power belongs to Him to perform signs and wonders (Rom 15:19). He is called eternal (Heb 9:14) and holy (1 Thess 1:6). He is said to be involved in creation (Gen 1:2), the renewal of the earth (Ps 104:30), spiritual rebirth (Jn 3:5-6), and the resurrection from the grave (Rom 8:11). All in all, as the third person of the triune Godhead, He is of the same essence as the Father and the Son.
III True and Eternal God
A It shouldn't surprise us that those who deny or question the deity of the Son also reject the deity of the Holy Spirit. Arius, for instance, maintained that the Son was created by the Father and the Spirit was created by the Son. And, in line with Arius, the Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of both the Son and the Spirit.
In opposition to Arius, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and other heretics, the Reformed faith declares that the Holy Spirit "is true and eternal God."
B We confess that the Holy Spirit "is true and eternal God." What does this mean in our life today? It means that if anyone claims to know God, that person should also know the Holy Spirit. You see, we know, or should know, God in a three-fold fullness. First, we should know God as the God-above-us: the Creator, the Sovereign Lord, the Law-giver, the Father. Second, we should know God as the God-for-us: the Mediator, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Son. And, third, we should know God as the God-in-us: the Sanctifier, the Renewer, the Spirit.
The Spirit is God-in-us, the Sanctifier, the Renewer. We are dependent upon the Spirit to sanctify us. I've noticed a tendency over the years: we think of justification/salvation as God's work and sanctification/holiness as our work. In fact, though, sanctification is the work of God the Holy Spirit in us and through us. Think of it this way:
Suppose I am holding a plastic pail. How do I get the air out? I cannot suck it out, because the pail will collapse. How do I get the air out? By filling the pail with water.Within Reformed circles, Christians too often forget or neglect this. We talk so readily about the Father and our creation, the Son and our redemption, but we don't have much to say about the Spirit and our sanctification.
Now, instead of pail think person. And instead of air think sin. And instead of water think Holy Spirit. How do I get the sin out of my body? By being filled with the Spirit. It's as simple as that.
C We confess that the Holy Spirit "is true and eternal God." What else does this mean in our life today? The highest goal in life is to know, worship, love, and adore God. This means that the heart's desire of each one of us is (or should be) to also worship the Spirit. About the Spirit, the Nicene Creed says, "He ... with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified." So we say and we sing, "Father, Jesus, Spirit, we love you, we worship you, we adore you, glorify your name in all the earth."
With the church of all ages we say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit." I believe in the Spirit Who proceeds from the Father AND THE SON. I believe in the Spirit Who is the same essence as the Father and the Son. I believe in the Spirit Who is true and eternal God.
This Spirit I should know as God in me, filling me, sanctifying me.
This Spirit is worthy of my worship, praise, and adoration.
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