************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on September 2, 2012

Nicene Creed 13
Acts 2:1-21
"We Believe in the Holy Spirit"

"We believe in the Holy Spirit." That's what the church of all ages confesses in the Nicene Creed. "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life."

It is fitting that the Creed should direct our attention to the nature and work of the Spirit before turning to its statements on the church. Much is at stake. Unless what the Creed says about the Holy Spirit is true, then the church is simply one organization among many others: a social club, a service club, or even a dating service. It is because of the Spirit that the church is a living organism and it is because of the Spirit that we represent God's presence in the world.

Before we look at the Creed's statements about the Spirit let me give you a bit of history. At the meeting of the Council of Nicea in AD 325, expressing belief in the Spirit was not especially controversial. Indeed, the Council affirmed one single sentence, saying simply, "We believe in the Holy Spirit." The more developed formulary we have today was (mostly) added at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381:
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
The reason for these additions? From the time of Nicea to Constantinople the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, like the doctrine of Christ, came under serious and relentless attack. So, the church, found it necessary to add to her confession about the Spirit.

I The Divinity of the Spirit
A "We believe in the Holy Spirit." It should come as no surprise that those who denied the divinity of Jesus also denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

So you realize what is at stake, we need to go back to two promises. First, the promise of Christmas given by Isaiah and explained by Matthew:
(Mt 1:22-23) All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: (23) "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" which means, "God with us."
(cf Is 7:14)
Second, we need to keep in mind the promise of Jesus to His disciples before He ascended into heaven:
(Jn 14:18) I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
"Immanuel" "God with us." "I will not leave you as orphans." With Christ in heaven, both of these promises are fulfilled in the Spirit of Christ. It is in the Holy Spirit that we have the comfort of Christ's presence. Without Jesus we would have no hope and without the Spirit we would not have Jesus.

B Do you remember the Arian controversy? Arius, and his followers, denied the full divinity of Christ. They proclaimed Jesus to be a third kind of being less than God and more than man.

The Council of Nicea in AD 325 was a most bitter disappointment to these heretics. We already looked at what Nicea proclaimed about Christ:
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
In other words, the Arian viewpoint was denied and rejected as heresy.

After Nicea the Arians were no longer able to directly attack the divinity of the Son. So, they attacked the divinity of the Spirit. Because they correctly discerned that if the Spirit of Christ at work in Christians is only a creature and not God, then the Son is not God either. In other words, they attacked the divinity of the Spirit because that was their only way, at that time, of attacking the divinity of Christ.

But the Arians were not the only ones questioning the deity of the Spirit. One early church theologian famously asked, "Is the Spirit God?" (Gregory of Nazianzus).

C The problem for those who crafted the original version of the Creed was that the profession of the Spirit as God was not self-evident from Scripture. The Old Testament clearly proclaimed the Father to be God, but the Son more darkly. The New Testament clearly revealed the Son to also be God, but the Spirit more darkly.

Does this mean Scripture is not clear? Does this mean the church's confession of the deity of the Spirit is suspect? Not at all. What we need to recognize is the truth of Jesus' words: that the Spirit of truth "will guide you into all truth" (Jn 16:13). It is because of the Spirit's guidance through the Word that we are able to profess the Spirit more fully than the early Christians.

D "We believe in the Holy Spirit." Notice the overall structure of the Creed. So far we have confessed belief in one God, the Father Almighty. And, we have confessed belief in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. Now, we confess belief in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

Notice what the Creed does? It puts the Spirit at or on the same level as God the Father and God the Son. Telling us what? Telling us the Spirit is divine.

II The Lord and Giver of Life
A "We believe in the Holy Spirit." Notice what comes next: "the Lord, the giver of life." The Creed is stating its belief that it is through the Spirit that we have life. The Holy Spirit brings beauty and order to that which is formless and void. Do you remember this from our study of Genesis?
(Gen 1:1-2) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (2) Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Did you notice the five things we are told about the earth in verse 2? First, it was "formless" or unformed. It did not yet have the physical features which would make it livable or recognizable. Second, it was "empty" or unfilled no plants, no animals, no bugs, no oxygen, no atmosphere, no nothing. Third, it was enveloped in "darkness" no light, always night. Fourth, the earth was covered with "waters" deep waters, still waters, water and only water. Fifth, "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."

Question: What was the Spirit doing there? Notice, the Spirit was "hovering over the waters." An image is in mind here: the image of a mother eagle hovering over her nest. Something is about to hatch. Something needs the protecting care of God's Spirit. That's the image here. It is the Spirit that brings beauty and order and life to that which was formless and empty.

In Genesis 2 we see more of this life-giving work of the Spirit. Remember what we are told about the creation of Adam?
(Gen 2:7) the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
What an image! It was not until the breath or Spirit of God was breathed into the first man that Adam became a living being.

B What the Spirit did in the beginning it continues to do now. That is what the Creed confesses. The Spirit continues today His work as the Lord, the giver of life. Paul tells us that in Christ, God has made a new creation (2 Cor 4:3-6; 5:17). Paul uses imagery from the Genesis account to illustrate this new creation. Man is born a sinner; like the first creation, he is formless and empty and dark. The Spirit of God convicts and moves in men's hearts even as He hovered over the first creation. The result is that we who are dead in transgressions and sins are made alive in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives life to spiritually dead sinners.

We see a beautiful instance of this on Pentecost Sunday. The Spirit descended and about three thousand were taken from death to life.

C At the time of Nicea, and before, the key issue concerning the Spirit was whether He was a person or a force, a part of the eternal Godhead or simply a power. Nicene affirms that the Spirit is God: He is Lord. He is not a force or a power. Like the Bible, Nicene refers to the Spirit with the personal pronoun "He" and not "It."

How we need to hear this today. Thanks to eastern forms of religion, many today think not just of the Spirit but even of God as an impersonal force. Movies, like "Star Wars," have popularized the notion that divine forces live and move in all of us all the time. This is not a Christian belief. Rather, the Holy Spirit is God Himself. The Holy Spirit cannot be detached from the essence of God the Father or God the Son. So, Nicene properly identifies the Spirit as "Lord." This is the divine name for God that is also ascribed to Jesus. The Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead.

Think, for a moment, of the mistreatment that has happened when someone is defined as less than a true person. The Nazis regarded Jews as less than true persons and look at what they justified. Southern slave owners considered their slaves as less than human and used this to perpetrate various abuses against them. Abortionists redefine unborn babies as something other than personal beings and as such kill them as a bothersome glob of unwanted tissue. Likewise, if we think of the Holy Spirit as something other than a personal being as an it, as a power, as a force we are headed for trouble.

III Procession and Worship
A "He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified."

There is a huge theological controversy on the matter of procession. The formulation that we find in the Nicene Creed was added to the Creed by the Third Council of Toledo in AD 589 more than 200 years after the Creed was finalized by the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. This addition led to the schism of the Greek East from the Roman West in AD 1054.

B "He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified." The point the Creed wants to make is that the Holy Spirit is not a creature but is God. And, as God, the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship and glory.

As you know, God alone is worthy of worship. Remember what happened to Paul and Barnabas in Lystra? Paul was used of the Lord to heal a man who was lame from birth. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted, "The gods have come down to us in human form" (Acts 14:11). And, the people brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates to offer as a sacrifice to them. When Barnabas and Paul heard of this they were horrified; they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting not to do this (Acts 14:14 ff).

Remember what the Apostle John tried to do? God sent His angel to John with one wondrous vision after another. John was overwhelmed by all that he saw and heard. So what did he do before the angel?
(Rev 19:10) At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"
A couple of chapters later we see the same thing again (Rev 22:8-9).

God alone is worthy of worship. Not Paul. Not Barnabas. Not an angel. Not even the mightiest or greatest of angels. But only God. Yet, along comes Nicene and says the Holy Spirit, too, is worthy of worship and glory. Telling us what? Telling us the Holy Spirit is fully and truly God. And, as God, the Holy Spirit not only deserves but should also receive our worship and praise.

IV He Spoke Through the Prophets
A With the church of all ages we also confess it is the Spirit Who "spoke through the prophets." With this in mind consider our Bible reading from the book of Acts. When did the disciples begin to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Only after the coming of the Spirit. Before that point they were silent, scared, and inward looking. But once the Spirit came they became alive and began to witness.

How necessary is this ministry of the Spirit? You know what the Apostle Paul says:
(Rom 10:17) ... faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
(Cf Rom 10:14-15)
Apart from this ministry of the Spirit we cannot be saved.

B I've pointed out a number of times the importance of the line we find in the middle of the Creed: "for us and for our salvation." This line applies not only to the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ but also to the coming and work of the Spirit. It is necessary "for us and our salvation" that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets.

C When we look at the structure of the Nicene Creed we cannot help but notice that the Holy Spirit is the link between the risen and ascended Christ and the church. Telling us what? Telling us that it is only through the Spirit that we experience the power of Christ's resurrection and are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Telling us that the richness of life with Christ is ours only by means of the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit we have God Himself coming to us and redeeming us.

D The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets. They were God's mouthpiece.

Today, we are experiencing a massive campaign of horoscope-type prophets who will predict your future success or failure, especially in your business or your love life. But this is nothing new. Many of you have heard of Nostradamus. Supposedly he predicted the Kennedy assassination and even charted the events that lead to the end of the world. Or, you might have heard of the Delphic Oracle.

All of these so-called prophets remind me of the prophets of Baal during the days of Elijah. They yelled, they screamed, they danced, they cut themselves. But no one heard, no one answered (1 Kings 18). By way of contrast, Biblical prophets were not given to narcotics, ecstatic excess, or wildness. They did not work themselves into any kind of wild frenzy in order to see visions or to hear from God. They simply spoke the Word of God and did so not on their own but through the Spirit.

E There are lots of people who believe the Spirit gives new or additional revelation today revelation that goes beyond what we find in Scripture. For instance, Pastor Godfrey has mentioned more than once a book that is highly popular among Christians, especially on college campuses. The title of the book is "Jesus Calling" and the author is Sara Young. Let me say this loud and clear: Sara Young is a heretic. She takes the very words of Scripture, mixes in her own words and thoughts, and presents the whole package as though it all comes from God.

The Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets." Notice the past tense. The Holy Spirit spoke through Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and the Apostles. But the Holy Spirit does not speak in the same way today. Why not? Because today the Spirit speaks to us through the Word. With the Word we no longer have a need for Old Testament type prophets. With the Word there no longer is even a need for extra revelation because in the Bible, through the Spirit, we have all we need for us and our salvation.

With the church of all ages, what do we believe, what do we profess?
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
This is our confession to the world.
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