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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The one true God and how we know him
Text:BC 1 and 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:General and Special Revelation
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-12-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1,2

Psalm 19:1,2

Psalm 46:1,5

Athanasian Creed, singing Hymn 4 between articles 28 and 29

Hymn 3:3-5

Scripture reading: Romans 1

Catechism lesson: Belgic Confession articles 1 and 2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

This afternoon we’re beginning a short series of sermons on the Belgic Confession.  We know the Heidelberg Catechism fairly well, but the Belgic Confession is not as well-known as it should be.  So it makes sense that we spend some time over the next little while getting better acquainted with this part of our confessional heritage. 

The Belgic Confession is the oldest of our confessions.  It dates back to 1561.  It was written by Guido de Bres, a Reformed pastor from what we today call Belgium.  The Belgic Confession was originally written in French, the language of the southern part of Belgium.  But it was soon translated into Dutch and many other languages. 

From the beginning it was written as a confession of the Reformed Churches.  It wasn’t just the personal work of Guido de Bres.  He wrote it on behalf of the Reformed Churches.  It was written in the context of intense persecution.  The Spanish were in control of that region and, because they were Roman Catholic, they hated the Reformed faith.  The Spanish put many Reformed pastors to death, including Guido de Bres.  The Belgic Confession was written to share the gospel with people like the Spanish Roman Catholics.  In its original form, it was like an evangelistic tract – a little booklet containing the gospel.  The hope was that the Spanish and others would read this and hear the voice of God in the gospel.  They’d then realize the Reformed churches were simply preaching the Word of God.

In other words, the Belgic Confession shows how the Reformed faith is simply based on the Bible.  It doesn’t replace the Bible, but it does give a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches.  We can be thankful for the Belgic Confession and use it to help us continue learning about the Christian faith. 

This afternoon we’re starting with the first two articles.  I should say that we’re not going to look closely at every single article through this series.  My plan is to cover it in about 11 sermons.  But in those 11 sermons we’ll get to everything important.  That begins this afternoon by looking at what we confess about God and how he reveals himself to us.

In the context of the last 2000 years of church history, there’s nothing controversial or unusual about article 1.  This is just standard Christian theology drawn from the Bible.  This is a summary of what the Bible says about who God is, what he’s like.

What we find here is a list of some of the attributes of God.  Attributes are characteristics; attributes tell us what God is like.  Most of these attributes mentioned here don’t need much explanation.  For example, God is eternal – he exists beyond time.  God is incomprehensible – we can’t understand everything there is about God.  God is infinite – he can’t be confined to a particular space.  God is almighty – he can do anything which fits with his nature.  God is good – morality is defined by God’s upright nature.  God is invisible – we can’t see him in his essence because he is a spiritual being.

So most of these are clear.  But there are a couple of attributes that could use some further explanation.  For example, we confess that God is a simple being.  What does “simple” mean here?  It doesn’t mean God is deficient in understanding or lacking in intelligence.  Rather, it means that God isn’t made up of parts.  God can’t be divided.  As a result, there are no contradictions between the various attributes of God.  For example, you can’t pit God’s love against his justice.  You also can’t say that one cancels the other out.  Our confession of God’s simplicity guards against that.  God is simple means that there is complete unity within God and nothing in him contradicts anything else. 

We also confess that God is immutable.  When we say that God is immutable we mean he doesn’t change.  From age to age he remains the same.  You can depend on him from day to day.  He’s not fickle and arbitrary.  God said it about himself in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”  James 1:17, the classic passage from the New Testament, is quoted in the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  “There is no shadow of turning with thee.”  This quality of God is directly related to his personal name Yahweh:  “I am who I am.”  God is being.  He is who he is.  He doesn’t change and become something or someone else.  Everything God is and everything he does will stand firm forever. 

But what do we do with those passages of Scripture that seem to suggest otherwise?  For instance, in 1 Samuel 15:11, we read of God saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king…”  Doesn’t that sound like God has changed his mind?  Doesn’t that sound like he once thought Saul was a good idea, but as Saul went downhill, God had a reversal?  It does sound like that, doesn’t it?  Yet Scripture teaches in Psalm 33:11, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever.”  From outside of time, in his eternal counsel, God decides what will be.  Still, from our human perspective in time, it appears that God has changed.  In himself he hasn’t.  It’s only in the way we experience him and his revelation to us.  Theologians have described this as accommodation.  John Calvin spoke of it as God lisping to us, using baby language we can understand and grasp. We also recognize that God deals with us in time and reacts appropriately to human behaviour as he has promised to do in his Word.  When we sin or repent of sin, God is seen by us “to change his mind” concerning the outcome of the situation, whether blessing or punishment.  The important thing to grasp, though, is that God in his essence doesn’t change.  He is immutable.     

There’s one more thing I want you to learn from article 1.  It’s that we confess that “there is only one God.”  In principle Christians are what we call monotheists.  Monotheists believe there’s only one God.  That’s opposed to polytheism, the belief in many gods.  The idea that there’s only one God is clearly taught in Scripture.  For example, it’s in the First Commandment where God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  God says in Isaiah 45:5, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” 

Now I said that Christians are monotheists in principle.  But in practice, we’re often not.  We confess monotheism, but we often practice polytheism.  You see, we’re all idolaters by nature.  John Calvin famously said that we’re all idol factories.  We can take anything good from God’s creation and we can make it ultimate, we can make it into an object of worship.  Whether it’s money, good times, sex, food, or fishing – all these things are good, but they can easily become gods to us.  That’s wrong.  It’s wicked and sinful. 

This disconnect between our confession and our conduct is why we need the gospel.  This disconnect is why we need Jesus and the good news of what he’s done for us.  When you look at Jesus you see someone with perfect consistency between creed and conduct.  What he said he believed he lived perfectly.  Christ confessed that there was only one God and he lived accordingly.  He did that in the place of sinners like you and me.  His obedience belongs to us when we believe in him.  When you believe in Christ, God sees perfect consistency between your confession and your conduct.  When you’re in Christ, God sees a perfect and consistent monotheist.

But the gospel also promises us that in Christ we have forgiveness for every time our idol factories have been busy.  Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we’re forgiven for creating and worshipping our many gods.  We have peace with the God we’ve offended by our inconsistency and hypocrisy.  So, loved ones, continue to look to Christ as your Saviour so you can have this comfort and assurance the gospel promises.

Then also strive to live in Christ.  Aim to live like Christ.  In love for God, in love for Christ, work to put idols to death in your life.  See them as the wicked inconsistency they are and hate them and flee from them.  You confess that there is only one God – desire to live as if there is only one God.  Ask for the Holy Spirit to help you to do that each day.  

So article 1 is all about who God is.  Article 2 then goes on to speak about how we know him.  Obviously we do know God, but how does that happen?  The Bible teaches us that there are two ways.  There are two means of revelation.

Some time ago I was listening to a radio program which mentioned the famous atheist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins is the biggest and loudest voice against believing in God.  He believes that religion is toxic and everything connected with Christianity is harmful.  Yet this radio program pointed out that come every Christmas, Richard Dawkins goes to his local Anglican church to listen to the choral evensong.  He can’t help himself.  He’s still drawn to it.  Why? 

Or think of the writer C.S. Lewis.  He too once claimed to be an atheist.  After becoming a Christian, Lewis wrote about that time:  “I was at this time living, like so many atheists or antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions.  I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with him for creating a world.”  How can you be angry with someone who doesn’t exist?

Both Dawkins and Lewis illustrate what Scripture tells us.  We sang Psalm 19.  Psalm 19 tells us that there is revelation out there in God’s creation.  The whole universe testifies to a Creator who is powerful and glorious.  That revelation is there as an objective reality.  It’s impossible to ignore it.  It’s possible to deny it, to refuse to acknowledge it.  It’s possible to pretend you don’t see that revelation, but it’s impossible to ignore.  God’s fingerprints are everywhere in his world.  From majestic mountains to powerful thunderstorms to the intricacies of the human eye to the stars and galaxies above, all of it is pointing us to God’s eternal power and divine nature. 

Paul notes that in Romans as well.  People sometimes demand evidence for the existence of God.  The evidence is everywhere.  People just don’t want to acknowledge it.  That’s why it says in Romans 1:18 that human beings suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  The truth is there, but they push it down and don’t want to speak about it.  What can be known about God is plain, because there is revelation in creation.  That’s why Paul can even say in Romans 1:21 that they “knew God.”  Every human being has received what we call natural or general revelation.  This is not only outside of us -- it’s also inside of us.  Deep within every human being knows that he or she is a creature of God and will be judged by God.  That’s why it says in Romans 1:32 that “they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die.”

What this natural revelation does is leave people without an excuse for their unbelief.  When all this revelation is out there in creation, it’s irrational and nonsensical to deny it.  You have no defense for denying it.  It’s evil to deny it.  At the end, God will judge you for denying it. 

It’s much better to acknowledge it.  The only way we can do that is through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He works together with the other way of revelation to bring some human beings to an open confession of who God is. 

The Bible is that other way of revelation.  Our Belgic Confession says that in the holy and divine Word God “makes himself more clearly and fully known to us.”  You see, natural or general revelation is limited in what it tells us.  You can’t go to the mountains and understand from the scenery God’s plan for our salvation.  Beaches are beautiful, but they won’t tell you about God’s covenant promises or their fulfillment in Christ.  There are limits to what creation can tell us about God.  Because of those limits, we need the Bible. 

In the 66 books of the Bible, God tells us everything we need to know for this life.  He tells us what we need to know about our salvation in Christ.  God reveals to us our sin and misery with his law.  He shows us how we can be saved from the hell we deserve through what Jesus has done for us.  Then he shows us too how to live for his glory each day.  Everything we need to know from God and about God is revealed for us in Scripture.

Now there’s something important I want you to see.  God makes himself known – he reveals himself.  We can know God from his Word.  But what does it mean to know God?  After all, Romans 1 tells us that even unbelievers “know” God in some sense.  But it doesn’t do them any good.  In John 17, Christ prays and says, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Jesus was speaking about knowing God in the most meaningful way, knowing him in a relationship of fellowship.  You see, there’s a difference between knowing about God and knowing God in communion with him.  You can know about God from creation.  You can also know about God from the Bible.  But that doesn’t mean you know God in the way that a child knows his or her father.  You can only know God in that relational way through faith in Jesus Christ, through resting and trusting in the only Saviour. 

That brings me to one last important thing about God’s written revelation.  It’s all meant to point us to Christ and to call us to faith in him.  God has given us his Word in order to draw us into a loving and intimate family relationship with him.  He wants us to look to Christ in faith and then see him as our Father, and us as his children.  The Bible is a book designed to draw us into communion with God, so we’ll be living for his praise and glory.

If you’re going to be in a healthy relationship with someone, you have to know who they are.  Both creation and Scripture reveal to us the beauty and wonder of who God is and what he’s done.  Especially from Scripture we learn that God is the one who creates, who redeems.  God is the one who sanctifies, glorifies and perfects.  Learning that leads us to worship.  God is awesome, amazing, and impressive.  So we worship with the Psalmist of Psalm 113 and say, “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”  AMEN.

PRAYER

O God, the one and only true God,

We worship you for being eternal and incomprehensible.  We praise you for being immutable, infinite, and wise.  There’s no one as good and just as you are, and so we adore you.  Thank you for revealing yourself to us in Creation.  You’ve shown us your eternal power and divine nature in the stars and galaxies, in the mountains and rivers, in all the beauty around us.  This is a beautiful world and it reflects your majesty.  But best of all, we know you from the revelation you’ve given us in Scripture.  Thank you for showing us our sin and misery.  We’re grateful that the Bible shows us our Saviour Jesus.  Help us with your Holy Spirit to place all our hope and trust in him.  In your Word, you’ve given us everything we need to know to live for your glory too.  So please apply your Word to our hearts and lives with your Spirit.  Help us to have more consistency between our confession and our conduct.                                                           




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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