A confessing community: The living and true God

Christian worship can be defined as a reverent response to divine revelation. To properly worship God, therefore, requires that we properly understand the nature and character of God as it is revealed in Scripture. The Sola 5 Confession of Faith begins with a definition of the God in whom we believe. He is the source of our devotion and worship, and it is imperative that we properly understand what the Bible teaches about him if we will respond to him in worship.

There is one living and true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10; 1 Corinthians 8:4–6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9), who exists in three distinct persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Each person is fully God, yet the Godhead is one and indivisible (Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Acts 5:3–4; 1 Corinthians 3:16–17). (The Sola 5 Confession of Faith 1.1)

The Confession begins: “There is one living and true God.” This is affirmed by a number of texts. Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Jeremiah rejects the existence of other gods by telling us, “The LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King” (10:10). Other gods are “false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish” (10:10). First Corinthians 8:4–6 tells us that “an idol has no real existence” and that “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” Elsewhere, Paul contrasts “idols” with “the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

In a televised interview on The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert challenged British comedian Ricky Gervais’s atheism. Gervais responded by saying that “about three thousand” gods have been posited throughout human history, and while Stephen Colbert rejected 2,999 of them, he simply rejected one more. Since Christians cannot prove the existence of the one God, said Gervais, he chooses not to believe his existence.

When it comes to searching for proof of God’s existence, we must look at what God has provided. God does not prove his existence by appearing in physical form to every person who wonders about his existence. According to Romans 1:18–23ff and Psalm 19:1–6, he has given creation to testify of his existence. The Bible assumes God’s existence, and our faith ultimately rests on Scripture, not on clever arguments or philosophical reasoning.

Ultimately, our confession is a confession of faith. Faith, in itself, is not necessarily unreasonable, and the Christian faith is certainly not so. Nevertheless, our faith rests on God’s revelation, not our investigation. Faith is acting on God’s word because of confidence in God’s character.

Critics will accuse Christians of circular reasoning in this regard. Circular reasoning assumes the truth of the position it affirms. According to this definition, faith in the existence of the God of the Bible may well be considered an act of circular reasoning. But we should be careful of assuming that circular reasoning is inherently illegitimate. Everybody engages in circular reasoning to one degree or another, but circular reasoning is often a far more valid form of argument than some might like to admit.

The one living and true God “exists in three distinct persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These three persons are clearly set forth in texts like Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14.

While (the KJV’s Johanine comma notwithstanding) there may be no single, plain statement in the Bible that teaches the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated by theologians, Trinitarian teaching abounds in Scripture and leaps from the pages when we take all of Scripture seriously. Biblical support for the Trinity can be summarised in five points:

  1. There is only one eternal God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10–11; 44:6–8; 45:5; 1 Corinthians 8:6; etc.);
  2. the Father is eternal God (John 3:16; 17:5; etc.);
  3. the Son is eternal God (Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:15–20; 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 4; etc.);
  4. the Spirit is eternal God (Acts 5:1–10; 13:1–2; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Corinthians 2:10–11; Psalm 139:7–10; etc.); and
  5. therefore, while they are distinct persons, they are one God.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that one God exists eternally in three distinct persons. This is genuine mystery, which cannot be adequately explained by any human analogy. Various analogies can explain certain aspects of the doctrine, but every analogy ultimately falls short.

In the early centuries of new covenant church history, various teachings arose that tried to explain the mystery of the Trinity. Some of these teachings were a direct attack against actual Trinitarian theology.

Monarchianism (third century) taught that there was one God who manifested and worked at different times in different modes. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not distinct persons within the Godhead, but were the different modes that God took and in which he operated. Sometimes, he worked as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit. The biblical teaching, by contrast, is that God is three in one. He does not at different times take different forms or become divided into different parts (shell, yolk, white). He is always three-in-one, each person operating independently, yet never divided.

Arianism (third century) posited that the Son and the Spirit were not, in the fullest sense of the word, God, but were creatures who did not always exist but were begotten by the Father at some point in time. The Son and the Spirit were therefore not equal with the Father but subordinate to him. The Bible, by contrast, makes it clear that the Son and the Spirit are fully and eternally God.

Various groups in the early centuries suggested that that the three persons of the Trinity were in fact three distinct, powerful gods, operating together with a common purpose. But since the Bible is clear that there is only one God, it is impossible for three gods to exist. Father, Son, and Spirit are one God, though existing eternally in three persons.

In contrast to some of the above heresies, the Confession states: “Each person is fully God, yet the Godhead is one and indivisible.” God revealed his simplicity to Moses when he said, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Centuries later, Jesus claimed, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11). Paul added, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, they lied to God (Acts 5:3–4).

When the Confession states that “the Godhead is one and indivisible” it speaks of God’s essence, not merely his purpose (though his purpose is also one and indivisible, which flows from indivisibility of essence).

The Nicene Creed, adopted at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, affirms Christian belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages … begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.” The Son is of the same essence (“begotten”) as the Father, rather than being created (“made”) by the Father. He shares the divine nature—as does the Spirit.

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