For the next few weeks I plan to preach a series of sermons on the church’s Statement of Faith. Now a Statement of Faith does not have the authority of the Bible. In fact a Statement of Faith is useful only in so far as it faithfully reflects the overall teaching of the Bible. A Statement of Faith which does that well provides us with a helpful summary of Christian doctrine or teaching.
A good Statement of Faith can also help us avoid certain dangers. Such a Statement shows us the wisdom of past generations of Christians as they have read and thought about God’s Word and the conclusions they have come to as to what is of most importance. Now this is not to minimise the importance of us reading God’s Word for ourselves but it helps to protect us from our own individual blind spots. A good Statement of Faith provides us with a framework we can use to see whether or not we are thinking about all the things that really matter.
Statements of Faith come in many shapes and sizes: you have heard of some of them. One of the most famous is the Westminster Confession of Faith. This particular Confession is made up of 33 chapters some of which contain as many as 8 separate paragraphs. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 is similar with 32 chapters. Independency is represented by the Savoy Declaration of 1658 also with 32 chapters. And of course the Church of England has its Thirty Nine Articles of 1562.
As a church we here at Sunnyhill are members of the FIEC and all the member churches adhere to a simple straightforward Statement of Faith that includes just 9 articles. So the plan is to preach one sermon on each of these articles.
We are not going to try to learn everything that our Statement of Faith says but we will use it to help us get something of an overview of things that have most importance in the Bible.
The first article of faith in our Statement concerns God. Let me read it to you:
"There is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct but equal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is unchangeable in his holiness, justice, wisdom and love. He is the almighty Creator; Saviour and Judge who sustains and governs all things according to his sovereign will for his own glory."
The Basis of Faith of The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
The Fact of GOD
Turn on your TV or radio and it probably won’t be too long before you’re confronted with one of those modern day sceptics or atheists whom the media seem to love. We can easily be duped into thinking that their voice is important. In reality theirs is very much the position of an exceedingly small minority
Throughout history the vast majority of the human race has had, and continues to have, a consciousness of the divine. Men and women have expressed that consciousness by exercising belief in one or more deities.
So as soon as we start to think about God we are forced to consider a number of questions:
How many gods are there – One or many?
What is God like?
What does God do?
Is it possible for us to know much about him? Is it possible for us to have a relationship with him?
Where are we to start and how are we to proceed?
Well the obvious place for us to start as Christians is with the Bible and there we immediately find some very interesting information – but we must let the Bible deal with the matter in its own way.
You see if we go to the Bible expecting it to try prove the existence of God we’ll be disappointed because the Bible simply doesn’t do that.
According to the Bible men and women don’t need to be taught about the existence of God; their needs lie elsewhere. And so the Bible opens with those magnificent words that simply take for granted what we all know deep down:
Gen.1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Evidence then for his existence is to be seen everywhere and because we are made in his image for a relationship with him we recognise his handiwork all around us. We look up to the skies and we know that the "heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps.19:1).
Men and women all know God exists though not everyone wants to acknowledge this openly and some instead try to deny it. These folk don’t want to honour God or to thank him so they suppress the truth that they have. It is not that they don’t know but that they don’t want to know!
Rom.1:18-22 "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,"
There are consequences too for this deliberate, wilful suppression of the truth: God does not tolerate such fools gladly, instead he gave them up:
To impurity Rom.1:24
To dishonourable passions Rom.1:26
To a debased mind Rom.1:28
What can we know about GOD
But how can we proceed this morning in our thinking about God? Happily, we are not left to our own devices and so obliged to come to our own conclusions based on nothing more than personal preferences. The Bible has so much to say about God and it is the teaching of the Bible that must determine our thinking. (Even had we the time to consider every single verse that spoke to us about God we would never be able to gain more than a partial view of the God who is infinite. That fact should help keep us humble – we need God to tell us about himself otherwise we would remain almost totally in the dark about him and his ways. The fact that the best we can hope for is just partial knowledge must not hinder us in our studies – after all partial does not mean wrong. God has revealed truth about himself he just hasn’t revealed everything!)
The Christian position is sometimes described by others as being arrogant when it affirms the truthfulness of one set of ideas against what it refers to as errors or falsehood in others. There might be some truth in that accusation if Christians had simply formulated their own personal views into a system that they then sought to impose on others. But that is not the case. The Christian allows his own ideas to be informed and directed by God’s Word – to hold on to and to share with others what God says is not arrogance but faithfulness.
Now there is no single passage we can turn to in the Bible that contains all the information that is summarised in the article of faith. It would be possible, I suppose, to work slowly through the "Article of Faith" looking up lots of different verses that illustrate each successive point. But it would be somewhat tedious to do that in a sermon as it would make it more of a lecture than anything else. (I have in fact made a selection of verses that do illustrate the successive points and I have printed copies for you to take away a copy afterwards.)
"There is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct but equal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God is unchangeable in his holiness, justice, wisdom and love.
He is the almighty Creator; Saviour and Judge who sustains and governs all things according to his sovereign will for his own glory."
Instead we are going to turn our attention to the passage we read earlier: Jn.1:1-18 and highlight three truths about God that are to be found there.
Three truths about GOD from Jn.1:1-18
As we begin it is well worth noting that consistent with the rest of the Bible the underlying assumption is once again that God simply is, he exists. In fact the way John begins his gospel is reminiscent of Gen.1:1
Jn.1:1-2 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
John looks back as far as it is possible to look, to the beginning, and there at the beginning God already was!
There is but One God and the One God there is, is complex.
At the beginning there wasn’t a group of competing gods or forces but just one God. The fundamental message of the Bible is a monotheistic message about the One True Living God (1Thess.1:9). All other objects that men might worship are nothing more than mere idols and not the God who is there.
It is this One True Living God who reveals himself to us and who calls us to come and enter into a vital living relationship with him.
Now what are the truths about this God which are shown to us in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.
Jn.1:1-2 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
Right at the outset we find that God is spoken of as being there at the beginning. At the same time the Word is spoken of in personal terms as being there with God and this Word is then clearly identified as not only being with God but as God! The identity of this Word who is described in personal terms is revealed as the passage continues. This Word became flesh (v.14) it is of course Jesus Christ (v.17) God himself (v.18).
We are here touching on the doctrine of the Trinity. The full doctrine is not developed in this chapter as the Spirit of God is not mentioned but here we have the Father and the Son both equally described as God. Later on the Spirit too will be similarly described as God. Three distinct persons and yet just One God.
Don’t ask me to explain how that is possible, it surpasses human understanding. But then isn’t that what we would expect when we start to think about God? If little people like us with our limited intelligence were able to fully understand God that would suggest that God really was pretty small and perhaps not worthy of being called God at all.
No, the Bible doesn’t try to explain but simply tells us these truths for us to receive, to believe and to worship.
It took the church 300 years to formulate its doctrine of the Trinity as it wrestled with Bible truth. In the end the doctrine doesn’t explain how God is Trinity but simply organises the relevant texts and then considers every view which fails to match up as being false.
Is this complex doctrine really important? Is it helpful to begin a statement of faith with such a teaching? Wouldn’t it help men and women if we presented them with a simpler picture?
Part of the human problem is that we want to imagine ourselves to be at the centre of everything and o see ourselves as the measure of all things. But confronted with God as he really is serves to cut us down to size.
The doctrine of the Trinity may be difficult but it does help us to comprehend something fundamental about the nature and character of God. In Himself He is "a community of relationships" and as Father, Son and Spirit he is entirely content within himself. He was never lonely, he is never lonely and never will be.
He nevertheless invites us to enter into this "community of relationships", he calls us into that relationship as he makes us sons of his love:
Jn.1:12-13 "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
1Jn.4:19 "We love because he first loved us."
While what has been revealed to us is true this great God is nevertheless so much greater than we can conceive of. We can catch a glimpse but we can’t fully comprehend him in the complexity of his being and in the wonder of his threefold personal nature. This is a God who is not to be theorised about but a God who is to be worshipped, honoured and glorified.
How careful we must be not to be like those described in v.11:
Jn.1:11 "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."
Let us rather seek to receive him as those mentioned in v.12:
Jn.1:12 "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,"
God is sovereign
God reigns and rules: that is the next truth that is revealed here.
The Father has created all things through the agency of the Son who is his Word:
Jn.1:3-4 "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men."
This means that God owns everything; he is the source of all life. We also see that he has a will and a purpose for all things.
He exercises his will in creation but he also exercises it in salvation sending light, sending messengers and giving new spiritual birth to the lifeless and spiritually dead. This life is rich and full involving as it does the awesome privilege of being made a child of God and thus welcomed into this "community of relationships" which is the Living God
How comforting we should find this to be! We are not in a universe where things happen hopelessly by uncontrolled chance. We are not presented with a little limited god who is racing around hastily trying to plug up holes in a breaking dam – as fast as he plugs one hole another bursts open.
No, it means that God is sovereignly in control of everything and that includes our lives. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily will understand just what he is doing in and through every specific event that comes our way but we can trust him in the difficult times just as we can enjoy his blessings in the good.
This is a God worthy of our trust, our worship and our service!
God is glorious
The Word became flesh – the Word of God, the Son of God, came into our world as a man, the man Jesus Christ and he came to reveal the glory of God.
Jn.1:14 "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
The word glory carries the idea of weightiness – and so Jesus in revealing the glory of God shows us something of the "weightiness of God" that is, his worth and value - grace and truth being underlined in particular at this point. And the grace he both revealed and brought was not brought in some niggardly manner – he generously offered and offers overflowing grace to those who will receive it as he makes God known.
As we think about God let us be careful about just how we think:
Remember our own smallness and limitations
Remember his greatness and don’t be satisfied with small views of God
Remember that while everyone knows instinctively that God exists we all need him to reveal himself
Remember that this self-revelation of God is to be found in the Bible and supremely in the Word of God, Jesus his Son – don’t allow the thoughts and ideas of men who reject Jesus determine your thoughts about God.
Remember that this personal God who is calls us into relationship with him
Respond to that call in repentance and faith and enjoy your high calling to be a child of God!