************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 6, 2012
Nicene Creed 02
"We Believe in One God"
After my first message on the Nicene Creed I heard from more than one person that they turned to their old blue Psalter Hymnal in order to memorize the Creed. That was your first mistake. I have no idea why, but the old blue Psalter wrongly states "I believe" instead of "We believe." The same mistake is also found on the URC website. You can find the correct wording of the Nicene Creed in the grey Psalter Hymnal and on our website.
In studying for this message I reread Issue 51 of Christian History magazine: "Heresy in the Early Church." This issue reminded me of remarkable or little-known facts about the Nicene Creed.
For instance, did you know the Nicene Creed arose out of heresy and controversy. It has been said, "God writes straight with crooked lines," meaning God has allowed heresy to arise to help Christians clarify what they believe. Strange as it may sound, heretics often provided a great service to the church. For example, Marcion rejected the Old Testament and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, thus forcing the church to define the books of the New Testament. Arius, in denying the deity of Christ, made the church articulate the doctrine that lies at the heart of the Nicene Creed.
During his 45 years as bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, the champion of Nicene, was exiled five times by five emperors, for a total of 17 years. Though his views on Christ's deity were to become the official teaching of the church, when he died, it was still not clear if his views would prevail.
In the Nicene Creed, the key word used to describe Christ's relation to God – homoousion, meaning, "of the same substance" – had been considered heretical a century earlier.
Now, as we look again at the Nicene Creed, we see that it starts with a radical and important profession: "We believe in one God." This is the root out of which the rest of the Creed grows.
"We believe in one God." We confess two things in saying this. First, we are saying God exists. Second, we are saying God is one.
I God Exists
A "We believe in one God." First, we are confessing God exists.
"We believe in one God." The basis for this goes back to the opening words of Scripture: "In the beginning God ..." (Gen 1:1). Scripture assumes the existence of God and looks at all of life from that assumption. Our short Scripture reading makes the exact same assumption. "To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority ..." (Titus 1:25).
B Throughout history people have made many different professions about how they view reality. Some state there is life on other planets. Some believe that unicorns exist. Some declare this is a tri-lateral commission that manipulates human history and world events. Some say the world is square. Some believe in evolution. They all are simply opinions. Maybe odd opinions, but still opinions.
"We believe in one God." This statement suggests there is a power beyond our own and outside our control, beyond our sight and touch, which must be taken into account. To affirm the existence of God, then, means to affirm that the physical world, which can be measured and weighed, is not all there is. There is more to reality. Furthermore, the word "God" suggests that this more cannot be grasped or measured or weighed or poked.
C "We believe in one God." This statement determines our posture toward everything else that exists. Everything else depends on whether there really is a God. With this profession we are stating how we view reality.
"We believe in one God." This statement explains the existence of the world. The existence of God does not diminish the worth of the world. Just the opposite: it teaches us to see the world as the most marvelous gift, a gift that, once given, can be studied, contemplated, and celebrated because it is freely given and not simply "there."
"We believe in one God." This statement explains the existence of man and the purpose of man. It doesn't diminish the worth of man. Just the opposite: it helps us to see how special man is as an image-bearer of God.
D "We believe in one God." To profess this is to declare that agnosticism and atheism are fundamentally flawed ways of looking at and living in the world.
Agnosticism doesn't believe in God because, it claims, God's existence is unknowable. But, as Christians, we believe in one God because God has revealed Himself to us – in general revelation and in special revelation.
Atheism, as you know, denies the existence of God. We can identify at least three kinds of atheists. The first kind worries that believers deceive themselves into thinking there is more to life than what we see.
A second type of atheist rejects belief in God because of the presence of evil in the world. They point to the horrible deaths suffered by innocent children, the agonies of lingering and incurable diseases, the destruction of populations by random catastrophes or ruthless extermination. They take their stand against this by saying "There can be no God if there is such evil."
The third type of atheism is the worst. This is the atheist who says in his heart, "There is no God" (Ps 14:1), and on the basis of that denial, lives a life of corruption and wickedness (Ps 14:1-7). These atheists have only one intention – to live for themselves. To live in their sin and misery. To make idols of themselves.
"We believe in one God." Remember the opening words of Scripture I already quoted? "In the beginning God ..." (Gen 1:1). Not, "In the beginning we aren't sure ..." Not, "In the beginning the big bang ..." Not, "In the beginning the primordial ooze ..." Not, "In the beginning nothing ..." But, "In the beginning God ..." This is what we confess and profess to an unbelieving world.
II God is One
A "We believe in one God." First, we are confessing God exists. Second, we are stating that God is one.
"We believe in one God." We find a good biblical basis for this confession in our Scripture reading: "to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" (Jude 1:25). This belief in one God, of course, has its roots in the ancient confession of Israel, "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut 6:4). It also reflects the Christian struggle to place the experience of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit within a larger story – a story that begins in the Old Testament.
"We believe in one God." Let's be clear about this. The God of Israel in the Old Testament is also the God of the church in the New Testament. It is the same God and the same story. It is not a different God and it is not a different story. It is impossible to understand what the Creed says about Jesus and the Holy Spirit apart from the Old Testament. Likewise, it is impossible to understand the Old Testament apart from Jesus and His Spirit.
"We believe in one God." We mean the God we meet in Scripture, the Living God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"We believe in one God." Think of what this says to an early Christian heretic by the name of Marcion. Marcion was bothered by the problem of sin and evil. His solution? He solved the problem of evil by distributing power between two Gods and two realms of being. Material being is evil and spiritual being is good. The creator God of the Jews, described in the Old Testament, is responsible for everything evil. The God of Jesus, described in the New Testament, has nothing to do with material reality, but is entirely spiritual and good. "No," says Nicea, "We believe in one God." Whether it is God the Father in the Old Testament or Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, it is all one God. The one God confessed by Christians is the God of creation as well as the God of salvation. The New Testament story of redemption through grace continues the Old Testament story of creation and of covenant. The same God creates the world and re-creates it through the work of Jesus his Son. As Jude puts it, "to the only God our Savior ..." (Jude 1:25).
B "We believe in one God." This one God is better than all other gods that man may worship. The Lord God Jehovah stands as the first among many gods (see, e.g., Ps 29:1; 82:1-6; 86:8-10; 89:5-8; 91:11). For instance, when this God created a people out of nothing in the exodus from Egypt He showed Himself superior to the gods of Egypt. Likewise, when this God conquered the inhabitants of Canaan He again showed Himself superior to all other gods (see, e.g., Ps 44:1-8; 47:24; 59:5; 66:3-7; 68:1-10; 76:4-9; 78:11-16; 83:9-18): "The Lord is a great god," sings Psalm 95:3, "and a great king above all gods."
I cannot help but think of the declaration of King Nebuchadnezzar after the Lord God saved Daniel's three friends thrown into the fiery furnace. At that time Nebuchadnezzar said,
(Dan 3:29) Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.Exactly. He alone can save. He is better than all other gods. He is the only god worth having and serving and worshiping. Again, as Jude puts it, "to the only God our Savior ..." (Jude 1:25).
C "We believe in one God." Meaning, of course, that there is no other god. All the beings that the nations call gods are simply idols, the works of human hands. They have no real existence. They are unthinking, non-acting, unmoving, unfeeling idols. They cannot save but can only enslave their worshipers (see Is 40:12-31; 42:5-9; 45:12-21; see also Ps 96:4-5; 135:5-18). "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god" declares the Lord (Isa 44:6).
D "We believe in one God." Whether it is the children of Israel in the Old Testament or the early church in the New Testament, the people of God have always been surrounded by peoples who believed in many gods. Everyone back then agreed that divine power was distributed among a group of heavenly beings. We know this as polytheism – the belief in many gods.
The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic with Zeus and Mars and Venus and Neptune and so on. But their gods were really nothing more than exaggerated humans who were bigger, stronger, and lived forever. Polytheism is the projection of human thoughts and ideals onto divinity. By way of contrast, Christianity takes its thoughts from the mind of God. Heaven speaks to earth and creatures are to look up and listen, responding with worship. This speaking is especially centered upon Jesus Christ the Son of the living God.
E "We believe in one God." Does this mean Christianity is no different than Judaism and Islam, because they also believe in only one God?
Let's begin by saying that Christianity agrees with Judaism and Islam that there is but one ultimate power that is the source and goal of all that exists. But let us also say that Christianity differs from them in its profession that God not only is one but He is also Triune. For Judaism and Islam, God's oneness is equivalent to God's singleness. But Christianity proclaims a triune God, a God Whose oneness contains plurality.
Both Judaism and Islam reject any hint of plurality in God's oneness. For instance, Jewish texts condemned as heretics those who spoke of "two powers in heaven." And, the Qur'an denies divine status to Jesus precisely because "it does not befit Allah to have partners."
So, then, while Christians confess the oneness of God with Jews and Muslims, they also confess the plurality of that oneness in the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What do you believe? What do you believe about God? Do you believe He exists? Do you believe He is one?
I grieve for those who do not believe there is a God. What are they left with? The idols of the heathen? The polytheism of the Greeks and Romans? They are left with gods who are nothing and can do nothing.
I grieve for those who do not believe there is a God. Because if they don't believe in the one only true God they are without the only source of salvation. And, they remain in their sin and their misery.
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