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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Confessing the Triune God leads us to worship
Text:BC 8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-12-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100

Hymn 4

Hymn 82

Hymn 1

Psalm 96:1,2,7,8

Scripture readings:  Matthew 28:16-20, John 15:18-16:15

Catechism lesson:  Belgic Confession article 8

* 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,

John Eliot was an early missionary to the First Nations of North America.  This was during the 1600s.  He lived in present-day Massachusetts, on the east coast of the United States.  John Eliot’s missionary work involved the Algonquian First Nations people.  He was instrumental in the conversion of many of them.

The story is told of an occasion where John Eliot was teaching some native people about the Trinity.  He was trying to tell them how there is one God, but three persons.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are those three persons in the one God. 

One of the men was listening carefully.  He thought about what the missionary was saying.  He said, “I believe I understand you, Mr. Minister.  The Trinity is like water, ice, and snow.  The water is one, the ice is another, and the snow is another.  Yet they are all one water.”  It sounds like a good illustration of the Trinity. 

When I was in seminary, one of our professors taught us that every illustration of the Trinity involves a heresy.  This one of the water, ice, and snow is no different.  This illustration involves a heresy known as modalism.  Of course, the native man responding to John Eliot couldn’t have known that.  I’m not blaming him, not at all.  He’d have to be taught further about who God is.  But that doesn’t change the fact that this illustration involves or leads to the heresy of modalism.  This heresy says that God manifests himself in three different ways.  It’s like the one God has three different masks that he wears.  Sometimes you see his Father mask, sometimes his Son, and sometimes his Holy Spirit mask.  Similarly, a given quantity of water can only be one thing at one time.  If I have a glass of water, it can only be water.  It can’t be a glass of snow or ice at the same time.  But with the Trinity, the one God is always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time.    

That’s why it’s better to stay away from illustrations of the Trinity.  They can mislead us about the truth of who God is.  It’s better just to stick with the facts.  God is one and three.  There are three persons in one being.  There’s no contradiction in that, because God is three in a way that’s different to the way he’s one.  He exists in three persons and he exists in one being.  That’s what the Bible teaches.  Though we might struggle to understand it, it’s the truth of how God has revealed himself.

With the help of the Belgic Confession, we’re going to look at the biblical doctrine of the Trinity here this afternoon.  It’s a wonderful Bible teaching.  If we understand it properly, it leads us to adore God more.  So I’ve summarized the theme for the sermon:  Confessing the Triune God leads us to worship.  We’ll learn about the wonder of his:

  1. Persons
  2. Works
  3. Relations

When we say that the Trinity is made up of three persons, the word “persons” doesn’t mean human beings.  That word simply refers to a “someone.”  It refers to a subject who acts and speaks.  Human beings are persons and so are angels.  So are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  As article 8 says, these three persons are “really, truly and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties.”  What are “incommunicable properties”?  Those are the things that uniquely belong to each person.  The Father has certain unique characteristics, and so do the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Because this is true, they can be distinguished from one another.  While they are all one God, they are still three distinct persons.  Let’s look at each one for a moment. 

The Bible uses the term “Father” in different ways.  Especially in the Old Testament, it’s sometimes used for God as the one God.  We have to be careful that we don’t automatically read God the Father whenever we see the word Father.  Especially in the Old Testament, it’s used to describe God as Father.  So not the first person of the Trinity, but the whole Triune God together as Father.  One example of that is in Isaiah 63:16, “…you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”  There are a few instances where the term “Father” is used the same way in the New Testament.  For example, when Christ teaches us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven,” he wasn’t teaching us to pray to the first person of the Trinity, to God the Father.  He was using the language of the Old Testament, teaching us to pray to the Triune God as our Father.

But then there are also clear instances where the term “Father” is referring to the first person of the Trinity.  One of those is in Matthew 28.  In the Great Commission, Christ sent out his church to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  There the Father is clearly a distinct person from the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We see the same thing at the end of our reading from John 15.  The Son of God is speaking about the Holy Spirit whom he will send from the Father.  There are three distinct persons mentioned there and one of them is the Father.         

The second person of the Holy Trinity is the Son of God.  After he took on human flesh, he also received the personal name Jesus.  Throughout history there have been those who’ve denied that Jesus is God.  In our own day we think of groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But the Bible teaches clearly that Jesus is and always has been God.  You could think of how it’s implied in Matthew 28.  The Son is put right next to the Father in the baptismal formula.  You would think that implies that he’s on the same level.  But there are explicit passages too.  There’s Titus 2:13.  In Titus 2:13, the apostle Paul says that believers are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  There are other places in the New Testament saying the same thing.  Jesus is the Son of God, he is God, he is the second person of the Trinity.  For more on that, you could look for yourself at article 10 of our Belgic Confession. 

The third person of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit.  His status as God has also been questioned by groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But again note how he’s mentioned too in Matthew 28, put on the same level as the Father and the Son when it comes to baptism.  There’s also 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”  That’s addressed to the church at Corinth.  It’s saying that the church is God’s temple.  The church is God’s temple, because the Holy Spirit dwells in the church.  God and the Holy Spirit are identified with one another there. 

So we have three persons who are each God and who together make up the one God.  As we confess in article 8, they are all equally God:  “For these three, in one and the same essence, are equal in eternity.  There is neither first nor last; for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and mercy.”  That language is borrowed from the Athanasian Creed.  The Athanasian Creed has something that’s not mentioned in our Belgic Confession:  “Thus in all things, as has been stated above, both trinity in unity and unity in trinity must be worshipped.”  We’re to worship this Triune God, both the individual persons, and the one essence.  God deserves our worship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the only true God.  We’re to pray, to sing, and to live for his glory.                     

We’re given more reason to worship as we learn about the works of the Triune God.  Let’s briefly look at the works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God the Father is revealed in Scripture as our Creator.  In Ephesians 3:14-15, Paul says that he bows his knees before the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”  That’s to say that God the Father is the Creator of all creatures.  Our Belgic Confession says “The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible.”  That’s not to say that the Son and the Holy Spirit were not involved with creation.  The Bible teaches that they were. Article 10 refers to John 1:1-3 which says God created through the Word, through Christ his Son.  But in theology we say that the work of creation terminates upon the person of the Father.  What that means is that creation reaches its goal or end with the specific person of the Father.  So creation is then the work attributed to the Father.

God the Son is revealed in Scripture as our Redeemer.  He’s the one who comes into the world.  God the Son takes on a human nature so he can suffer and die for us on the cross.  Again the other persons of the Trinity are involved in our rescue.  For example, the Father has elected us from before the foundation of the world.  Nevertheless, the work of our salvation is attributed to the Son because it terminates upon him.  It reaches its goal or end with the specific person of the Son.  The work of salvation is focussed on the person of the Son of God. 

The Bible reveals that God the Holy Spirit is our Renewer or Sanctifier.  According to Jesus in John 3, the Holy Spirit is the one who causes us to be born again so we can have faith.  Then the Holy Spirit is also the one who is constantly renewing our lives.  He works holiness in us.  Now again, the Father and the Son are involved in these works too.  Anything one person of the Trinity does, the others are always involved with as well.  But the work of renewal and sanctification reaches it goal or end with the specific person of the Holy Spirit.  Again, we say that this work terminates upon the person of the Holy Spirit. 

So, creation is attributed to the Father, redemption to the Son, and renewal/sanctification to the Holy Spirit.  There are more works I could mention.  But these are the headline items associated with the three persons of the Trinity.  Pondering these works ought to lead us to worship. 

Creation is amazing.  Some time ago I was walking through a nature reserve and I saw a pair of birds, they were beautiful firetails.  The red on their tails was so bright.  I couldn’t help but stop and admire them and then also give praise to God the Father for these beautiful creatures.

Our salvation is so wonderful.  As you think about what you deserve because of your sins, and then think about what you’ve been given in Christ, how can you not worship?  How can you not give praise to the Son of God?  He loved us, even though we’ve given him every reason not to.  He deserves to be lifted up and honoured with our lips and with our lives.

What the Holy Spirit has done and is doing is truly magnificent.  He took my cold dead heart and brought it to life.  He is responsible for raising the dead, the spiritually dead.  Not only that, but he continues to live in me and helps me to desire holiness.  I’m so grateful.  I want to worship him.  Loved ones, praise the Holy Spirit for his mighty works in your life too.

Finally, we’re going to learn about the relations within the Trinity.  I’m talking here about the relationships between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

When it comes to the relationship between the Father and the Son, we use the biblical word “begotten.”  As we confess in article 10, Jesus Christ is the “only-begotten Son of God.”  That term comes from the Bible, from places like John 1:14.  It’s easier to say what the term doesn’t mean than what it does.  It doesn’t mean that there was ever a time when the Son of God didn’t exist.  He is the eternal Son of God.  He is eternal along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  When we say that Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, we don’t mean that the Father was somehow involved with an act of reproduction, spiritual or otherwise.  So what does it mean?  This begetting or generation is something spiritual.  It means that the Father gives of himself to the Son.  This is something that takes place perpetually.  It didn’t just happen once.  The begetting of the Son is eternal.  The first person of the Trinity didn’t become Father at a certain point, and neither did the second person of the Trinity become the Son.  The Father has always been Father and the Son always Son. 

When it comes to the Holy Spirit and his relationship to the Father and the Son, we use the biblical word “proceeding.”  We confess from Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  We find that in the Nicene Creed and it comes back in article 8 and article 11 of the Belgic Confession.  In John 15:26, Jesus says that the Spirit of truth proceeds from the Father.  However, Jesus also says that he will send the Holy Spirit.  The Father sends the Holy Spirit and the Son sends the Holy Spirit.  That happens at Pentecost.  How and why do both send the Spirit?  It must be because the Holy Spirit proceeds from both.

Well, what does it mean that he proceeds?  How is that different to begetting?  That’s a question that has stumped theologians for centuries.  Augustine was one of the early church fathers – he lived from 354 to 430.  He wrote, “…I do not know, nor do I have the skill to say, what the difference is between ‘generation’ on the one hand and ‘procession’ on the other.”  All we can say is that somehow the Father and the Son give of themselves to the Holy Spirit. 

In this regard, I want to mention something you might come across if you do some reading on this.  In his book on the Trinity, Augustine said that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.  So the Holy Spirit is the bond of love connecting the Father and the Son.  Augustine’s view has had a lot of influence over the centuries.  It’s an interesting idea, but the problem is that the Bible doesn’t support it.  The Bible does say that love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit – that’s in Galatians 5.  But when it comes to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son, Scripture speaks in terms of proceeding or sometimes, sending.  We should be careful and do likewise.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another in the most intimate way.  It’s a beautiful relationship.  With the Triune God, you can’t have one person without having the other two persons.  With the Triune God, you can’t have any one person of the Trinity without having the fullness of God.  That’s how close they are.  They indwell one another.  Thinking about this leads you to wonder at how beautiful God is, how incredibly worthy of our worship.  Just ponder this statement from Augustine: “Each are in each, and all in each, and each in all, and all are one.”  The persons of the Trinity are forever in and with each other.  Yet they don’t merge, they don’t blend, their persons stay distinct.  The more you think about it, the more awesome it becomes.  The more you think about it, the more awe you have for our Triune God.

The Trinity is such a basic teaching of the Christian faith and it’s been that way for hundreds of years.  In fact, in the time of the Reformation, what the Belgic Confession says about the Trinity would have been uncontroversial.  Roman Catholics would have recognized this teaching as the same teaching held by the church for centuries.  Thankfully, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t corrupted through the ages.  Today we continue to uphold that biblical teaching. It’s important that we do.  It’s important because the Bible teaches it as the truth about God.  It’s also important because as we see God biblically, we’re lead to worship him more eagerly.  AMEN.    

PRAYER

O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We worship you as the one true God.  We praise your name for who you are and what you do.  We adore you for all your perfections and the beauty of your being. 

Father, we worship you as our Creator.  We praise your name for this beautiful world you’ve made.  When we see your amazing creatures, we’re filled with awe at who you are and what you’ve done in creation. 

Son, we worship you as our Redeemer.  Thank you for taking on our human flesh, for suffering and dying on the cross in our place.  We worship you for loving us and saving us. 

Holy Spirit, we worship you as our Renewer.  Praise be to you for causing us to be born again so we could believe.  We adore you for how you continue to dwell in our hearts so we can grow in reflecting Christ in our lives. 

O LORD God, as we contemplate who you are, we stand in awe.  There’s so much about you that we can’t comprehend.  What we do understand impresses us.  Please impress us more and more with the wonder of who you are so we would love you more and worship you more fervently.    




* 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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