2010-09-12 (pm) BC art 8 Matthew 3:1-17 Proverbs 8:22-31 All Three Are One
Perhaps you’ve heard it said, maybe even by well intentioned Christians, that Christians and Muslims and Jews all worship the same God. But that is not at all a true statement.
The argument in favour of this well-intentioned statement comes from the fact that Jews and Muslims ascribe worth, or worship the God who revealed himself to Abraham, at least they do so in name. But that’s where the similarities end. The Koran’s depiction of Abraham’s God is completely different from the Old Testament’s depiction. Also, no self respecting Jew or Muslim would ever agree with such a statement. Nor would they be at all comfortable welcoming a Christian into their fold.
For Christians worship one God in three persons, the Trinity. This is rejected by Jews and Muslims. But what we worship, is truth, it is the full revelation of God.
The reason we worship God in three persons is because that is precisely how God has revealed himself in scripture. Now, you’ll recall that so far, in our study of the Belgic Confession, we began with a basic definition of God, Article One. Then we saw the means by which we come to know God, through general revelation, or the universe we’re a part of, and special revelation, the Bible. Articles 3-7 described scripture’s authority, truthfulness and accuracy in teaching about God.
Articles 8 and 9 examine the doctrine of the Trinity, then the confession looks at the deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Trinity is interesting because it came about as a response to heresy. In the early 300’s Arius began to teach that Jesus was the first created being, that he and the Holy Spirit were not equal in eternality with the Father. The church, responded by articulating, in as precise language as possible, the truth concerning God, as revealed by scripture. Not only do we see a Trinitarian structure even in the Apostles’ Creed, the oldest of the three creeds we subscribe to, but it is clear that the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds are working very hard to establish true Biblical teaching regarding the Godhead.
Now, we might want to pause for just as second and ask, “why is this important?” Suppose your friend wanted you to meet his best friend. You’d probably say, “Okay, what’s he like?” To which he replies, “well, he’s about 6’ tall, has a head full of hair, is very outgoing and a tremendous amount of fun.” But then, suppose you meet this guy only to discover that he’s short, bald and introverted!
It is important, if we want to know God, to understand God, what he’s like, that sort of thing. The doctrine of the Trinity seeks to do just that.
Someone might object that the word Trinity doesn’t appear anywhere in the scriptures. That’s true, but really what we have in the doctrine is the boiled down result of what all of scripture teaches.
We begin our study of the Trinity by asserting that our God is one. The Jews learned at an early age to recite the Shema, or Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Just in case you were wondering, it is called the Shema, because that’s Hebrew, it is the first word of Deut. 6:4, translated as “hear” in English.
Paul echoes Deut. in 1 Cor. 8:4-6,
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
And again, we see Paul state this in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Therefore, we do not confess that we believe in three Gods, but rather one God in three distinct persons.
This is why we confess in article 8, “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—namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The three persons we confess are not three Gods. In essence, they are one. Do you remember when we looked at the incommunicable attributes of God? These attributes are those which are unique to God and God alone, they are: eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite and almighty. These things are essential to God, they are equally present in each person, and together make up the one God.
Having looked at some of the passages that highlight or emphasise God’s oneness, we turn now to those passages, such as our NT reading, which highlight God’s threeness. At Jesus’ baptism, we see Father Son and Holy Spirit together in one place. Since we know that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, we know that Jesus is God.
But apart from that name, we see it in Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!” After he put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side, making absolutely certain that the Jesus standing before him was no impostor! We see it also in Jesus’ own words, when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He wasn’t merely talking about his eternality, but he also invoked the use of the divine name, suggesting, clearly, that he is God. And finally, we have the charges levelled by the sanhedren, which finally stuck, the charge of blasphemy, claiming to be God.
The Trinity is described in several places, there’s 2 Corinthians 15:14, a greeting I often use, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” There’s the great commission given by Jesus himself, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Notice we baptise into the name, singular, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So, having established, in ariticle 8, the oneness and the threeness of God, the article continues to teach about each member of the Trinity.
The Father is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible. The Son is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
We notice in the Bible, that a recurring theme concerns the Fatherhood of God. God is the eternal father to the Son. He is the father that all earthly fathers reflect. In our Old Testament passage, we see that the Son was eternally with the Father. The Son always existed, and the Father always existed. There never was a time when the Father was without his Son, nor his Son without his father.
We see the fatherhood of God in the description of his relationship to the people of Israel. That same theme is carried into the NT where, in Romans 8, Christians are described as being Children of God. While the doctrine of the Trinity might be difficult to comprehend, it is not hard to understand and relate to a heavenly Father, nor the Son, who brings us to him.
The Son’s eternality, described in our OT teaching, is reinforced by passages like John 1, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Colossians describes the Son as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
And the Holy Spirit is likewise identified as a member of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Spirit is not an impersonal force, or simply God’s power, but rather he is a person, who has his very own ministry, to testify concerning the Son.
Article 8 concludes by describing the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. In so doing, it guards against the errors which people tend to fall into.
God is not divided into three—this argues against tri-theism. Tri-theism seeks to explain the Trinity as a union of three Gods. The confession continues, and since the scriptures teach that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have their own personal existence—this argues against modalism. Modalism suggests that God is one essence, which becomes three different things, as need arises, just as water can appear in three modes, ice, liquid water and water vapour, so God can take on whatever mode is needed. And yet, God though three persons, are but only one God, which is against Unitarianism, which denies the deity of the Son and the Spirit.
Charles Hodge helpfully describes the Trinity like this:
The Father says I; the Son says I; and Spirit says I. The Father says Thou to the Son, and the Son says Thou to the Father; and in like manner the Father and the Son use the pronouns He and Him in reference to the Spirit. The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit testifies of the Son. The Father, Son and Spirit are severally subject and object. They act and are acted upon, or are objects of action. Nothing is added to these facts when it is said that the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons; for a person is an intelligent subject who can say I, who can be addressed as Thou, and who can act and be the object of action. The summation of the above facts is expressed in the proposition, The one divine Being subsists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This proposition adds nothing to the facts themselves; for the facts are (1). That there is one divine Being. (2). The Father, the Son and Spirit are divine. (3). The Father, Son and Spirit are in the sense just stated, distinct persons. (4). Attributes being inseparable from substance, the Scriptures, in saying that the Father, Son and Spirit possess the same attributes, say they are one in substance; and, if the same in substance, they are equal in power and glory.
In this article, then, we see the importance of seeking to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. We must be careful though, not to succumb to the temptations to explain the three in one through modalistic terms, like an egg or an apple, because those explanations, those analogies simply fail to do justice to the complexity of the Trinity.
Rather, we should follow the teaching of the confession which describes the economic Trinity. The confession at this point simply highlights the pertinent passages in Scripture which teach us how the Triune God acts to save us from our sins. The emphasis being not so much on God himself, but on God’s actions. This is how God reveals himself to us in redemptive history.
God the Father is usually described as our creator, God the Son, Jesus Christ is described as our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as our sanctifier. The Father did not take on flesh, nor did the Spirit, only the Son was incarnate so as to take on human flesh to die for our sins. Only the Son possesses a human nature to save us from God’s wrath.
Thus the doctrine of the Trinity is not abstract nor academic, but necessary, foundational to our salvation. Upon this understanding of God, we live our lives in thankfulness, for all that God has done for us in Christ.
The Father decrees our salvation and send his Son to save us. Jesus’ obedience wins salvation for us. Then the Father and the Son send the Spirit to sanctify us. The Spirit opens our minds and our hearts to see and understand the Good news. The Spirit regenerates us, moves us to faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross and his promise to give everlasting life to those who seek him. In all this working, among the persons of the Trinity, we see God’s amazing power, grace, goodness and mercy. We believe and confess that God is our Father, Jesus is our Saviour and the Holy Spirit is our sanctifier. This confession presupposes that God is one in essence though seen to be three distinct persons, having disctinct personal properties, all of which work together for our salvation.
Therefore, not only is a confession, or even a suggestion that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God blatantly false, it attacks the very means of salvation for sinners. This is not Allah, nor the God of modern Judaism, which rejects that the God of Abraham was Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God we worship as true, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.