God: Three in One - Another Article for my Local Paper

[This is the full text of an article that I recently wrote for our local paper.]

We will look at the Apostle's Creed in more detail this week in our series on the Heidelberg Catechism. From a close look at the outline of the creed, we can see the doctrine of the Trinity clearly displayed.

Question and answer 24 read, “How are these articles divided? Into three parts: God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.”

The catechism introduces us to the three Persons of the Trinity and their role in our salvation when we have true faith. Almighty God, the Father of all Christians, creates us and sends the Son and the Spirit. God the Son, Jesus Christ, delivers us from our sin and misery by His life and death. In addition, God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, empowers us for the Christian life and makes us holy.

Question and answer 25 clearly state the nature of the Trinity, “Since there is only one divine being (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6), why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Because that is how God has revealed himself in his Word: (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:18-19; Luke 4:18 (Isa. 61:1); John 14:26; 15:26; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 4:6; Tit. 3:5-6) these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.”

In the words of another famous catechism, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Does that sound like anyone you have ever met? There is only one Being like this, and it is awesome to think about Him.

Why should we expect Him to be just like us, having one person in one being? Should we not expect Him to be so much more? God is, as C. S. Lewis put it, “beyond personality.”

There is nothing like God, and there are no good examples that help explain this doctrine. As I know from trying to explain the Trinity to my eight-year-old daughter, it is very hard to describe. That is why the catechism carefully states the doctrine and does not try to explain it.

God is one in Being or Essence, but three in Person. His being is what He is. His person is who He is. He is not one in being and three in being; that explanation would be nonsense. It would be like saying it is raining outside and not raining outside at the same time. He is not one in person and three in person; that would be nonsense too.

God is one in one way and three in another, one in being and three in person. It is like saying it is raining outside in one place and not raining outside in another place across town. That description is not nonsense. It seems strange, but it can be true.

It is fitting that we begin our journey through the Apostle’s Creed with this doctrine because it humbles us and makes us see the limits of our own thinking. Next week, we will begin to explore what the doctrine of God the Father means to us.


2012 Bible Reading Plan

Having accomplished much of what I had planned to do in 2011, I have now turned to the Bible reading plan I will use in 2012. I hope to get back on track with a regular, through-the-Bible reading plan. My sporadic reading of the Bible in 2011 left me unsatisfied.

My plans are to tackle Reading God's Story: A Chronological Daily Bible arranged and authored by George Guthrie. The organization of the Scripture text in this book’s format intrigues me. It claims to have a memorable format organized by acts and scenes like an unfolding play.

It will be interesting to see how this organization plays out, and especially what the over-arching theme of the “play” will be. I may abandon it if the theme does not prove to be the story of Jesus.

I also wish Reading God's Story was available in something other than the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. It will also be interesting to see how this translation compares to the ESV that I normally use for detailed study and close reading.

I am reading through The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones with my eight-year-old daughter. This book has reinforced my thinking on the story of Jesus Christ as the main theme of the Bible. I hope to read through The Jesus Storybook Bible with her several times this year.

Please see last year’s post at this link to find other reading plans that are available on the web. God bless the time you spend in His Word in 2012.


True Faith: Another Article for My Local Paper

[This is the full text of an article I was able to publish in the local paper.]

I hope you have been following Soli Deo Gloria’s series on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is a collection of questions and answers written in 1563 and used to instruct children and adults in the faith.

As we continue the articles, we approach Lord’s Day 7, which contains four questions and answers. These four questions and answers reference 27 passages of the Bible in the original catechism.

Question and Answer 20 reads, “Are all people then saved through Christ just as they were lost through Adam? No. Only those are saved who through true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his benefits.”

We must hold this truth near and dear to our hearts. Some teachers say that people can be saved without conscious faith in Christ, or even without direct knowledge of what Christ did in His perfect life and sacrificial death. It is an awful sin to fail to tell someone the gospel because we incorrectly assume he is saved based on the way he lives his life. We must call others to “true faith.”

Question and Answer 21 define the “true faith” mentioned in 21, “What is true faith? True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.”

“True faith” is a “sure knowledge.” It holds the facts the Bible teaches to be certainly true, including facts about how to live one’s life. “True faith” goes beyond mere head knowledge, however. It moves into the area of “wholehearted trust.” Belief in certain facts is not enough; one must trust that “God has freely granted…forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness and salvation” not just to people in general, but “to me” in particular.

“True faith” is to depend on Christ alone, to depend on what He earned for us in His perfect life and sacrificial death. It is to trust in Christ “solely.” That is, to trust what He did without trusting in anything or anyone else; not my good works, not my baptism, not the Lord’s Supper, and certainly not some aisle that I walked down or some insincere prayer that I said.

“True faith” is to acknowledge that only God’s grace can save me. Grace is completely unearned favor. Grace can be explained with an acrostic: G-R-A-C-E, God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. It can be explained in Latin, “De Favor Dei Propter Christum,” the favor of God on account of Christ.

“True faith” and all it entails are “gifts of sheer grace.” Faith is a free gift of God’s grace alone, and it is not dependent on my own reasoning that helped me make a good decision. Faith is something that the Holy Spirit “creates in me.”

Question and answer 22 says, “What then must a Christian believe? All that is promised us in the gospel, a summary of which is taught us in the articles of our universal and undisputed Christian faith.”

The Heidelberg Catechism will have none of the modern Christian notion that only a few minimal facts must be known and believed in order to be saved. A person must understand the Christian faith and trust in what it reveals before they can be a Christian.

People express these facts in many ways, but The Apostle's Creed is probably the oldest short statement of them. The catechism gives that creed as the answer to question twenty-three.

Question and answer 23 read, “What are these articles?

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic [ or universal] church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”

The next set of questions and answers in the catechism will explain the words of the Apostle’s Creed in more detail. Please continue to read these Soli Deo Gloria articles because there are several parts of the creed that many have misunderstood.

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