I Believe – The Christian’s Confession
“I believe ... “ In the Latin, it’s one simple word – Credo. It begins each of the three sentences of the oldest Trinitarian confession of faith in Christendom. We call it The Apostle’s Creed.
- Credo – I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
- Credo – I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord.
- Credo – I believe in the Holy Spirit.
This simple, succinct, and clear affirmation of faith will be the focus of our attention through the rest of the summer. It’s a confession free from elaborate phraseology, yet powerfully outlines the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. For almost fifteen hundred years The Apostle’s Creed has been used for teaching Christians the basics of the Christians faith, as a baptismal confession, and as a confessional reading in worship. On most Sundays this church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, it is congregationally read as an affirmation of our faith in Christ.
In preaching through the doctrinal statements of The Apostle’s Creed, I have several goals in mind.
- First of all, it is my desire to anchor the specific statements of the Apostles' Creed in the text of Scripture. We don't use creeds or confessional statements simply because they are the tradition of the church. We use it because we believe it is faithful to Scripture. I want you to see clearly that the Bible teaches these truths.
- Secondly, I also want to address contemporary deterrents to belief. Many professing believers simply do not know the Scriptures. The apostle Paul says that such people are “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that comes along.” On top of that, we live in an unusual age. The Christian faith has always had its challenges, and challengers. There has never been a time when believers were not challenged in some way in their faith, but we live in a strange time when the very concept of belief is under fire. If you believe something to be absolutely true, you are considered intolerant, and the root problem of all the problems in the modern world. And so, we as Christians need to respond to the cultural forces currently arrayed against historic Christian teaching. And I hope to do some of that as we work through this creed together.
- Thirdly, I want to affirm your confidence in historic Christian understanding of biblical truth. I want to encourage Christians to whole heartedly embrace the teaching of Scripture in these areas despite the fact that we are being very counter cultural when we do it.
- Fourthly, it is my hope to arrest Christian defection from biblical truth. In every age of church history, there have been those within the body of Christ who have denied the Scriptures. Sadly, we have many professing Christians today who are working harder than some non-Christians to make Christians doubt these truths. We need to respond to that and I hope to do something along the way of doing that as we work through some of the clauses of the Apostles' Creed.
- Finally, I want to apply these biblical truths to the specific situations of our daily lives. I want you to see how good theology serves the good life. I want you to see how the faith informs the Christian life, how doctrine informs practice, how those things are tied together. That will be among some of our goals as we pursue this study.
To that end, I want us to navigate our way through one of the oldest confessions of faith that has guided the church is called “The Apostle’s Creed.” It is a simple confession:
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I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, inborn of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he arose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of the Saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting
I. GREAT CONFESSIONS ARE ROOTED IN CONCRETE HISTORICAL TRUTH
- this morning, we begin with the simple beginning affirmation, “I believe ... “
- the Apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Christians at Rome: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, ... " (Romans 1:16, NASB95)
- but belief by itself is not the most important factor
- what we believe in is
- in the very next verse the Apostle declares: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”" (Romans 1:17, NASB95)
- what is the in it that the righteousness of God is revealed in?
- “It” in vs. 17 does not refer to faith or belief
- “It” refers to the Gospel of Jesus, who is the Christ
- have you ever noticed that the most popular New Testament title for people of the Christian faith is believer?
- faith does not exist in a vacuum
- faith in faith will not save you
- the Christian confessing the Apostles' Creed begins with the statement "I believe .. ”
- it implies that there is a body of belief – some kind of propositional truth – that we believe in
- it means that faith is connected to concrete historical truth
- the Holy Spirit does not call us to faith in general, but to faith in particular – to faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ
A. OUR FAITH IS BUILT ON NOTHING LESS THAN JESUS’ BLOOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
- writing to his friend, Theophilus, the Evangelist Luke affirms that the facts of the Gospel
- Luke had personally set himself to the task of a careful and accurate tracing down of the life of Jesus
- "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4, NASB95)
- what he preached was the sure word of prophecy revealed in the person of Jesus
- "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:16-19, NASB95)
- he tells us what he had seen with his eyes, and handled with his hands, concerning the Word of Life
- his First Epistle rings with the words we know
- "We know that the Son of God is come."
- "We know Him that is true."
- "We know that we have passed from death unto life."
- "We know that we shall be like Him."
- ILLUS. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he arose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
II. GREAT CONFESSIONS HELP US TO UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF FAITH
- the Christian faith is rooted in the historical reality of the life of Christ
- but it also profoundly touches the human will
- a believer must not only be aware of the content of confessional Christianity, but must also give intellectual assent
- to be a Christian, I must know that Jesus died on the cross and then believe that his act is sufficient to pay the penalty for my sins and bridge the chasm between me and the Father
A. SALVATION DOES NOT CONSIST MERELY OF OUR BELIEF ABOUT CHRIST, BUT OF OUR TRUST IN HIM
- faith in the New Testament sense begins as a thinking response to God’s divine activity in the person of Jesus
- suppose that I clearly knew and understand the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ and was willing to acknowledge that all of it was indeed true?
- is that saving faith?
- not according to the Bible
- Luke records that the first beings to recognize the true identity of Jesus were not faithful disciples
- Demons were the first to see past his disguise of Godhood wrapped in the veil of human flesh, and recognized instantly that he was the Son of the most high God
- and although they recognize the truth about God, they hate that truth
- the apostle James uses this point to distinguish between dead faith and vital faith
- sarcasm drips from the apostle's pen when he writes ... "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" (James 2:19-20, NASB95)
- to give intellectual assent to the things of God only elevates a person from the status of pagan to the level of the demon
- it advances the soul not a centimeter into the kingdom of God
- faith is belief in the propositions of Scripture and trust is believing upon the person of Jesus Christ
- Christianity knows nothing of blind leaps of faith
- ILLUS. Many of you remember the scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He is after the most important artifact in Christendom – the Holy Grail – the cup from which Christ supposedly drank at the Last Supper. He is being guided by his father’s diary. In the climatic scene at the movie’s end, Indiana’s father has been shot by the bad guys, and that forces Indy to make the treacherous way to the cavern where the Grail is being guarded by a knight from the First Crusade. To get there he has to circumvent a number of deadly booby traps. Finally, he gets to the end of the passage and finds a yawning chasm between him and the entrance to the Grail’s location. There is no visible way across. Do you remember the scene? Indiana is faced with the impossible. All he sees is the sheer cliff edge and the vast gulf beneath him. Then, as he studies his guidebook, his face relaxes in realization, and he says, "It's a leap of faith." With his father whispering, "You must believe, boy, you must believe," Indiana looks straight ahead, gathers his courage, and slowly raises one foot into the empty air in front of him. With a thud, his foot lands on solid ground. The camera pans to show Indiana standing on a narrow rock bridge, deceptively carved to match the exact outline of the ravine beneath it.
- ILLUS. Let me illustrate the nature of true faith this way: You and your best friend are mountain climbing in the Rockies. You’ve taken the lead and you’re picking you way up the face of cliff. Suddenly a late-summer storm moves in. At the altitude you find yourself at, the wind is cold and biting. There is a hint of snow in the air. A thick fog has come in and cut you off from one another and there is no visible contact between you, and your friend. You are tied together by a rope and your friend is safely down on a ledge below. But because of the fog you cannot see him or the safety of the ledge. Your friend is standing there and he says, "The only way you are getting down is to jump." You respond, saying "I can't see the ledge." Your friend says, "I'm standing on it. Jump or you'll freeze to death." Now it is not blind faith for you to trust your friend to jump down to where he is at. You cant' see him or the ledge. Faith is not sight, but it's also not blind, and it's also not foolish. You trust your friend. That's your best friend and he's saying, "Jump. I'll get you. The safety of the ledge is here. Jump." You can't see it but it is a reasonable thing to do to trust your friend.
- it is a response to God's revelation
- it's not asking you to contradict all known laws of rationality
- to be a Christian, I must know that Jesus died on the cross and then believe that his act is sufficient to pay the penalty for my sins and bridge the chasm between me and the Father
III. GREAT CONFESSIONS LEAD US TO WORSHIP THE TRUE AND LIVING GOD
- meaningful faith has content – it involves the mind believing certain truths about the person and work of Jesus
- meaningful faith involves the will in a volitional acceptance of the content of the Gospel story
- not only do I believe the story is true, but I will stake my eternal destiny on it by rejecting all other claims upon my soul’s allegiance
- but great confessions also impact, touch and involve my affections in a serious way
A. THE GODLY HEART DELIGHTS IN THE THINGS OF GOD
- the psalmist said the righteous person's delight focuses on God
- the believer’s belief is authenticated when we joyfully embracing God's sovereign rule over our lives
- the ungodly person, by contrast, is characterized throughout Scripture by personal estrangement and hostility
- quoting Isaiah 29:13, Jesus remarked, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matt. 15:8)
- confessional Christians set their heart affections on God
- they pursue, they seek, they press into the kingdom
- those without true faith remain indifferent, aloof, or hostile
- therefore, faith is more than persuasion of truth
- faith delights in Christ and loves to lift up God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in praise
- Great Confessions Lead Us to Worship the True and Living God
IV. GREAT CONFESSIONS HELP US APPLY SCRIPTURE TO OUR DAILY LIVES
- The apostle Paul told a young minister named Timothy that Scripture has two primary characteristics
- First, all Scripture is God-breathed
- the King James version translates the same word as inspired
- either way you translate it, Paul’s emphasis is that Scripture comes from God
- I believe that it is truth without any mixture of error
- I believe that men, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible
- I believe that God used each authors unique characteristics and personalities to reveal exactly what He wanted us to know
- through the written word, God has revealed the mystery of the Living Word – Jesus Christ
- Secondly, the apostle Paul tells us what the Scriptures are good for – that is, what their practical purpose for our life is
- God gives us the Scriptures to reveal to us Correct Doctrine
- now, I know that “doctrine” is a word that turns many believers often these days, but doctrine is important
- the word refers to a body of knowledge and principles that give guidance to us in our everyday living
- everyone is guided by a set of doctrines – the question is, whose doctrine is guiding your life?
- ILLUS. A saying in our culture says, “You are what you eat.” But the Bible teaches that; “You are what you believe.” Start with your behavior. Where do your actions come from? From your feelings. Where do your feelings come from? Your attitudes. Where do your attitudes come from? Your values. Where do your values come from? Your beliefs. Trace it back far enough and it always comes out at the same place. You are what you believe.
- the doctrines given to us in the Scriptures are God’s patterned for correct thinking and correct living
- when we fail to measure up to God’s ways, we need reproving
- through the Bible God scolds us when we are in the wrong
- if we accept God’s chastisement, then the next logical step is to be Corrected in our behavior
- God says “This is how you blew it, now let me explain to you the right way – my away – of doing things.”
- God moves beyond merely correcting us
- God continues to instruct us through the word, so that we might know the mind of Christ, and understand his ways so that when we are confronted with an unexpected situation, we will instinctively know how to respond and behave
- convenient religion is when you believe and keep the parts of the Bible you like, and you throw away the rest
- ILLUS. Some years ago, Linda and I went on vacation out East to Virginia to tour Williamsburg and the surrounding area. One of the highlights of the trip for me was our visit to Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home. In his library, under glass, is what has come to be called the “Jefferson Bible.” Jefferson was a true son of the Enlightenment. Though he believed in God, he did not accept the miraculous. But he did like the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus. So Jefferson ‘cut-‘n-pasted’ his own gospel. It contains all the teachings of Jesus, but omits all the supernatural events surrounding his life.
- that’s convenient religion
- convenient religion says, “As long as you believe in Jesus, it doesn’t matter what else you believe.”
- it stands as an important corrective to the “me-centered” theology of the present day
- there are boundaries to the Christian faith
- not everything is negotiable – truth is not up for grabs
- some things must be believed if you are to call yourself a Christian
V. GREAT CONFESSIONS HELP US DEFEND THE FAITH
- today, practically every religion is respected and approved – except a faith that speaks of absolute truth and narrow roads of obedience
- a. an “I believe ... “ confessional faith is one of those exceptions
- to stand with other people of like-minded faith an pronounce those words “I believe“ and then to enunciate those beliefs articulated in the Apostle’s Creed is a very counter-culture thing to do
- our age is uncomfortable with absolutes
- in fact, according to the modern mind, the only absolute in our culture is that there are no absolutes
- and if you dare to believe in absolutes, our age declares you as a menace to the culture and as the root source of the world’s problems
- if we could just get rid of all the people who think they've found absolute truth, the world would be a much nicer place
- but confessional Christians stand up and say, "We don't simply believe this to be true for us, but we believe this to be the truth-the truth about God, the truth about Christ, the truth about the Holy Spirit, the truth about the Church, the truth about reality.”
- that's a very threatening thing to a world that likes to live in the relative and in the subjective
- some of you young people who want to ‘live on the edge’ – who want to be known as something of a rebel – than be a confessional Christian!
- be willing to stand up for the fundamental doctrines of your faith
- ILLUS. Declare, like Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms, In April 1521, Luther appeared before Emperor Chrales V to defend what he had taught and written. At the end of his speech he declared, "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me."
One final word. The Apostles' Creed begins with the words "I believe." Why doesn't it say, "We believe?" The answer is simple. True belief is always personal. I can't believe for you and you can't believe for me. No wife can believe for her husband and parents can't believe for their children. You must make up your own mind. You can't live on the faith of those around you. The church is more than a gathering of people or a collection of Christians. At its heart, the church is a community of believers who are joined together by their common faith in Jesus Christ. That's why the church has affirmed the Apostles' Creed. It expresses our common faith in Christ.
True belief is utterly personal. The Creed begins with two simple words: "I believe." Do you? No one can sit on the fence forever. I end with this thought: A Christian is a person who truly believes in Jesus. Do you? Do you? Eternity hangs on your answer.