There is only one God. He is the God Who made and governs the world, the God Who revealed Himself in Jesus, and the God made known in Holy Scripture. There are no other gods besides Him. This was God’s Word to His Old Testament people, Israel, in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.” Because God is God alone, idolatry is both foolish and wicked. Idolatry is the sin of worshiping other gods besides the God revealed in the Bible. The first commandment that God gives in His law forbids idolatry: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
Idolatry is foolish, for the other gods that men worship are non-existent; they are mere figments of man’s imagination. The Old Testament prophets ridiculed the worship of other gods. Those other gods cannot see; they cannot hear; they cannot speak; they cannot save those who pray to them and trust in them. They are mere nothings-vanities: “his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, and the work of errors” (Jeremiah 10:14, 15).
But idolatry is also horrible wickedness. For the one, true God requires man’s worship. As God, He is worthy of praise and honor. He alone must be worshiped. After Deuteronomy 6 has said that “the Lord our God is one Lord,” it goes on to admonish God’s people: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” The following verses then call us to obey the law of this true God. Idolatry robs God of the honor which He deserves and gives His honor to gods that do not even exist. Idols are abominations.
It is not the case that idolatry is limited to pagan nations who still worship the sun or bow down to animals or images of wood and stone. Idolatry abounds in our own educated, “civilized” America. The true God is not worshiped. Of this, the widespread desecration of the Sabbath is living evidence. The services of the worship of God on the Lord’s Day are neglected. Instead of God, the idols are worshiped: Success; Power; Fame; Money; A Good Time; Sex; and more. Men seek these things as ultimate goals of life and devote themselves to these things with slavish service.
There is even a revival of the open worship of the Devil. In reality, every form of idolatry is a worship of devils, ultimately a worship of the Devil. Behind every fictitious idol stands a very real demon; every idol is a mask of Satan. Referring to the heathen’s sacrificing to their idols, the apostle says, “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God” (I Corinthians 10:20). But some openly profess and practice a cult of Satan. There is a real Devil. There is a crafty, powerful spiritual being with a mind and a will who works in the world in opposition to God, God’s Christ, and God’s Church. Revelation 12, 13 represents him as a great, red dragon and forewarns us that in the future all the world will worship the Devil, except those whose names are written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. But the Devil is not God (although this is his ambition), nor is he a god alongside God. He is a mere creature of God, dependent for. his very existence upon God and subject to God’s Almighty power. Therefore, also the cult of Satan is both ridiculous foolishness and abominable wickedness.
The truth that God is God alone greatly comforts the believer. It delivers him from all fear of all the idols, their forces, and their apparatus—Satan included: “Be not afraid of, them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah. 10:5). He cannot help but laugh a little at them: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:5).
There is yet another, subtler form of idolatry. This consists of changing the truth about God, as that truth is set forth in the Scriptures. God has revealed Himself in the Bible. When someone changes what the Bible teaches, he is actually changing God, making God over into something that that man prefers, and producing an idol. (Of course, no one can really change God, but this is what a person who corrupts the truth of Scripture is trying to do.) An example of this form of idolatry is the popular conception of God as only a loving God and not a God of righteousness Who punished the sins of His people in the cross of His Son and Who punishes the sins of His enemies in an everlasting hell. One of the perfections of the true God (love) is played off against another (righteousness). The result is an idol-god as grotesque as any Dagon or Baal—a god who allows his son to be crucified for no good reason; a god who disdains to vindicate his goodness against the attacks made on it by sin; a god who receives into his heaven men and women whose unworthiness has not been removed and for whom no worthiness has been obtained by the payment of their debt and the satisfying of his claims; a god who can be marshaled against the punishment of the worst criminal (“The loving God does not approve of capital punishment”); and a god who not only does not condemn but even approves the vilest behavior. The practical effects of this idolatry are disastrous—as we see on every hand: absent in the god of the world, righteousness promptly disappears from the world.
The oneness of God includes that all of His perfections are one in Him. God’s Being cannot be divided by playing off one perfection against another. They all stand in beautiful harmony. Theology calls this God’s simplicity. The Belgic Confession of Faith begins, in Article I, with the confession “that there is one onlysimple and spiritual Being, which we call God.” Tampering with God’s simplicity is idolatrous.
It is plain then that idolatry confronts us on every side. For good reason, the apostle John ended his first epistle with the warning: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).
The Church of Jesus Christ is not tolerant of idolatry. Because the corruption of the truth amounts to the making of another, idol god, the Church is not tolerant of false doctrine. Today, tolerance of every kind of religious teaching is glorified as the supreme virtue of a church. If a church is intolerant of teachings which are contrary to the Word of God, it is regarded as bigoted. But the true Church cannot be tolerant. As she loves and confesses the one, true God, she hates and condemns all idols. This does not mean that, she tries to get the civil authorities to imprison or to kill those who hold .erroneous views. But it does mean that she both confesses the truth and condemns the lie. It also means that she puts those who teach false doctrine and who will not repent when warned outside of her fellowship. Christ has given the Church a spiritual power called the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:19). By this power, the Church purges herself, God’s Kingdom, from the idolatry of false doctrine.
Reformed and Presbyterian Churches have, historically, displayed their love for the truth by a holy intolerance of teachings that oppose the truth. This is simple obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10).
One of the essential truths that we Reformed people confess and defend, in agreement with the Christian Church down through the ages, is the truth of the Trinity. God is three in Persons. In the one, undivided Being of God, there are three, distinct individuals Who say, “I”: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are distinguished from each other, in the Being of God, by their personal properties: the Father is the eternal source of the Son and the Holy Spirit, begetting the Son and causing the Spirit to proceed from Himself; the Son is the eternal image and revelation of the Father, being begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit is the eternal power of the Father and the Son, proceeding from the Father and the Son. This is not some strange, abstract doctrine to the believer; every believer has experiential knowledge of the three Persons of God—he feels the distinct operations of the three distinct Persons in himself: He knows his creation and election by the Father; he knows his redemption by the Son; he knows his sanctification by the Holy Spirit.
This “threeness” of God does not contradict His oneness. On the contrary, denial of the three Persons, i.e., denial of the Trinity, necessarily leads to the compromising of God’s oneness. For Scripture plainly teaches that Jesus is God (cf. John 1:1-14 and John 20:28). If Jesus is not one of the three Persons of the Godhead, the one God Himself, He must be another god alongside of God; and then there are two gods. One of the antichristian cults which deny the Trinity, recognizing that John 1:1 destroys their doctrine, have sought to break the Word of God by translating the text this way in their private version (perversion) of the Bible: “and the Word was a god.” Thus do they blunder into idolatry; their religion has at least two gods. God’s threeness does not conflict with His oneness, because He is three in Persons, whereas He is one in Being. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three Beings (Gods), but one Being (God).
We do not confess this truth because we understand it fully. We understand it, but we do not comprehend it. We confess it by faith; we believe the doctrine of the Trinity. Nor is it at all strange that, as regards God, we believe something that we do not completely understand. “Behold, God is great, and we know him not” (Job 36:26).
We believe the Trinity because God has revealed Himself as Triune in His Word. The very first chapter of the Bible indicates the plurality of Persons in the one God. According to Genesis 1:26, just before He made man, God said: “Let us make man in our image”—”letus” and “our image.” How many Persons there are and Who they are becomes plain in the New Testament. In Matthew 28: 19, Jesus told His disciples: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” There are three, distinct divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Spirit). But they are not three Gods. Rather, they are one God, for there is but one name into which believers and their children are to be baptized.
From the earliest days of her history, the Church confessed the truth of the Trinity and defended it against the attacks of the enemies. She gave expression to her faith in several great creeds: the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. In these creeds, the Church condemned the denial of the Trinity as heresy.
This raises the question, whether the truth of the Trinity is of real importance and whether denial of the Trinity is a serious error. Many church people are asking again today: Is the Trinity worth knowing, worth preaching, worth defending?
The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the Christian religion. Loss of the doctrine of the Trinity would be the destruction of Christianity. A person who denies the Trinity is not a Christian; he is lost.
The significance of the truth of the Trinity is that God is not a lonely God, existing in cold isolation. God does not merely exist, but He lives; and His life is a warm, rich, and joyful life of fellowship. The only begotten Son is eternally towards the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), and the Father eternally delights in His beloved Son in the Holy Spirit. God did not create and redeem His people-because He needed friends to alleviate His loneliness, but because He graciously willed to share His friendship with us. This friendship with God—the covenant—is salvation. All of the fellowship that makes our existence life—the fellowship of marriage, the fellowship of the family, and the fellowship of the saints—is grounded in the Trinity of God.
The significance, secondly, is that only if the doctrine of the Trinity is true can the Savior, Jesus, be true God. If there are not three Persons in the Godhead, Jesus was only a man, This was the great issue at stake in those early days when the Church fought for the doctrine: Is Jesus the Christ, God? Then the Church listened carefully to Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Understanding that God alone could save her, she confessed with Thomas: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Thus she honored the Son: “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:23).