Any time one says, “I believe,” he or she is implying that there is an object or truth in which he places his confidence.
“I believe in doctors,” means that one has confidence in medical practitioners and, when one is sick, he will consult one and follow his or her prescribed treatment. “I believe in education,” means that one has confidence that the training of the mind and the skills of an individual transmitting the knowledge of the past through instruction and practice is a beneficial thing to do. One believes that people are better off by this process.
In November millions of Americans went to the polls. They did this because they believe in the democratic process. The very act of voting is evidence of their faith. They voted for the persons they believe will promote what they perceive to be the program this country should pursue.
Faith also has a focal point. The genuineness of one’s faith is expressed not only by verbal assent or agreement but by acting upon that faith.
The person who when sick does not consult a physician, does not really believe in doctors. The person who does not send his children to school or at least provide private tutoring for them does not believe in education. The person who does not vote, when given the chance to do so, does not really believe in the democratic process.
There is a story I heard when I was a young boy which impressed upon me the reality of what true faith is. There was a man who was a great acrobatic performer who specialized in walking on tightropes. On one occasion he stretched a wire across Niagara Falls; thousands of people came to see him walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope with a long balance beam in his hand, gingerly finding his way across that narrow strand of wire.
When he got back to the starting place, he got a wheelbarrow and pushed it across the wire and back to his starting place. The crowd cheered his performance. Then he took two heavy sandbags, placed them in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it across the rope and back. The crowds were just ecstatic with excitement over his performance.
Then he turned to the crowd and asked, “Who believes that I can cross the wire with a person riding in the wheelbarrow?” As thousands of hands went up, he selected someone in the front row, inviting him, “Would you please get in?”
The reality of our faith comes right down to whether or not we are going to put our obedience into that to which we give intellectual assent. Do we really believe?
If we really believe, then our actions will be based upon that which we say we believe. The Christian faith is a religion and the Christian’s faith as personal experience come into focus in the person of Jesus Christ.
To profess faith in God is to believe in abstract deity, and there are many people around the world who believe in God. If one asks them to explain who their God is and what he is like, he would find very quickly that they believe in a different kind of god than the One in Whom we have come to believe.
To say that we “believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” is to profess faith in a great philosophical First Cause, or, the Ground of our Being. But that is not enough for the Christian. So, when we way, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” our faith is narrowing its focus down to that One Who makes us Christian.
As Paul writes in
When the Christian Indian mystic the Sadhu Sundar Singh was asked by his fellow-countrymen what he had found in Christianity that he could not find in the religions of his native India, his reply was: “Jesus Christ.”
So, in this article of the Apostles’ Creed we affirm that not only do we believe in God, Whom we call “Father,” Whom We call “Almighty,” Whom we understand is the One Who created the heavens and the earth, but we also understand that this infinite God has come down to a particular point in history and shown Himself to us. We understand that God has entered upon the stage of human history in the person of One we call “Jesus the Christ.” If we want to know what the invisible God is like, look at Jesus.
What, then, are we affirming when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord?” Let us break that simple affirmation down into the four components of words or phrases contained therein.
First of all, we say that we believe in Jesus. The Name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means “Jehovah saves!” We remember the great leader of the Israelite people in the Old Testament who followed Moses, Joshua, who led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. The Name “Jesus” is the Greek form of that Hebrew, and this name says to us that God in Jesus Christ does what is necessary to save those who trust Him.
We remember Mary was told by the angel that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that she would conceive in her womb and bear a child. When Joseph heard about it, he was prepared to divorce her. (That was the process which was used in the Jewish culture even before marriage, for the betrothal or the engagement was a much more serious kind of commitment than our current understanding of engagement. The only way they could break a betrothal was by divorce!)
Joseph was prepared to divorce Mary when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “Joseph, you are to marry Mary, and you are to name the baby “Jesus,” because He will save His people from their sins.”
John the Baptist, seeing Jesus come to him said: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the World.”
In the Name of Jesus we understand that God has made provision for the salvation of lost mankind. Paul understands this when he writes in our scripture reading, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The salvation which God offers the world is wrapped up in the person and work of this One in Whom we affirm faith. That One is Jesus.
The second affirmation in this phrase is that Jesus is “the Christ.” The word “Christ” means “the anointed one,” or “the messiah.” In that title we have wrapped up the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies which God gave to the prophets that there would come One, His Anointed One Who would be in the lineage of David and would be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The tragedy of the misunderstanding of the Jewish people was that when God said that there would come another king like unto David, the only way that the people could think was in terms of politics, armies, economics, and geographical boundaries. They were not prepared for a king whose kingdom would not be a geographical, political, economic kingdom.
When Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world,” there were many people who wanted His kingdom to be of this world, and consequently they rejected Him. But, the kingdom which God set up in Jesus Christ is a kingdom ruled by One Whose subjects understand Him to be king. They seek to follow Him and to understand that “of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
So we believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior Who is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the fulfillment of all God’s ancient promises to establish a kingdom, the citizens of which are the citizens of heaven.
The third affirmation we declare in this phrase from the Apostles’ Creed is that we believe that Jesus, Who is the Christ, also is God’s only Son.
We live in a world where we understand a son to be not only the logical but the sequential follower of a father. A male offspring resulting from the union of a husband and wife is called son. In our way of thinking a father in point of time precedes a son. That makes it hard for us to understand that our God is not limited by time.
Here we get into the mystery we call the Trinity. How can we believe that there is one God, and yet this God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?
In this portion of the Apostles’ Creed we are saying that we understand that if God is the Father eternal, then He had eternally to have a son. If the Son is eternal, He had to be eternally related to the Father. The relationship of the Son to the Father is that of a relationship of honor: as the only Son, the One Who is the inheritor of what the Father possesses.
The Son also is of the same substance as the Father. When we say that we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, we also are implying not only that He is of one substance with the Father, but that we believe Jesus is divine.
Now, what does that mean? There are two primary views in the stream of Christian thought. One of these goes back to Friedrich Schliermacher in the last century and was popularly voiced by Harry Emerson Fosdick of this century. That is that in Christ man becomes God. Jesus Christ demonstrates for us how fully to utilize and to develop that divine spark with which all of us are born, and by following His example and listening to His teachings we too can experience that growth into the divine that Jesus pointed the way toward and set the pace in. In Christ, man becomes God.
Now there is certainly an element of truth in this, because the Bible does tell us that Christ has set us an example on how to live. Anyone who claims to be a Christian, says one of the New Testament writers “… ought himself so to walk even as Christ walked.” Jesus Himself said, “I have set you an example, you are to love one another as I have loved you.” He said that, knowing that His love was going to lead Him to a cross.
Yet, the preponderance of Scripture indicates that that is only a partial view. Jesus Christ does set us an example. He does teach us about love; He does show us how to sacrifice and to give for the sake of others, but there is much more than that. If that is all which Jesus Christ did, He leaves us in hopeless despair, because who in the world can follow that example? The more orthodox, traditional view which has its roots firmly founded in the New Testament is that “… in Christ, God became man.”
My friends, it makes all the difference in the world as to which of these we believe! Does Christ merely show us how a man can become God? I would suggest to you that is the most despairing, bad news we could have. Who in the world can successfully follow that example?
The good news is the truth that in Christ God became man. The invisible God took upon Himself flesh and blood and showed us what the invisible God is like. If we want to know what God is like, we are to look at the Son. If you want to know what it is to be loved by the Father, we are to accept the love of the Son. If we want to know what it is to be a part of the family of God, we are to accept the gracious gift of the Son’s salvation.
We do not have to earn it; we simply accept it. That, I suggest, is really good news! This puts the responsibility upon us; but it is not a responsibility of despair, it is a responsibility of duty, a duty by which we live. However, when we fall flat on our faces, He is still there to say, “I love you. Get up! Try again!”
When the church confesses to believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, she confesses with Athanasius: “As the spring is not the stream, so the stream is not the spring. And yet both contain the same water which flows from the spring into the stream, even so the deity passes on from the Father to the Son without separation.”
In other words, we do not call the sun and its rays two lights. Yet the sun and its radiance are two, but the light is one, which proceeds from the sun and shines in all directions in its radiance. So it is that the deity of the Son is the same as that of he Father.
There is a mystery in this that we cannot begin fully to comprehend. But, I want to suggest that it is the very heart of the mystery of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ, that God pre-existent, eternally pre-existent as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, chose to step into this world and that the One we know is the Son comes into this world in human flesh.
He took up residence here, but Bethlehem was not his beginning; it was merely the beginning of His independent existence as a man, as a human being.
As the apostle Paul said: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be hung on to, but emptied Himself and became a man and took upon Himself the form of a servant and being found in fashion as a servant He became obedient unto death even the death on the cross.”
What Paul indicates is that before Bethlehem, the Son had to make a decision and His decision was to be obedient to the eternal counsels of the Father. He chose to come and be born; He lived as a servant and died for you and me. In that marvelous fact is the good news that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
There is one final affirmation made here. We affirm that we believe in Jesus, in Jesus the Christ, in Jesus Christ Who is God’s only Son, and that He is our Lord!
It is interesting that in the Apostles’ Creed the only reference to Jesus as Savior is found by implication in the “Jesus.” The affirmation we make in this confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord.
One of the dangerous traps in the area of evangelism into which it is very easy to fall is that of thinking that a simple recitation of a formula indicating belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is adequate for eternal salvation. In itself this is good but inadequate.
Let us remember that the emphasis placed by the Apostles’ Creed is not on Jesus as Savior, but rather, on Jesus as Lord. After all, no one wants to go to Hell. If by repeating some formula we can affirm that Jesus is our Savior and think that thereby we have somehow secured eternal fire insurance, what we have really done is no more than latched on to Jesus Christ to do something for us.
But when we say (and mean what we say) that we believe that Jesus is our Lord, we are bowing prostrate at the feet of the One Who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! He is our ruler; He is our Sovereign; He is the One Who is to have absolute control of our lives. We thank Him for taking control over our lives, for we know that His plan and purpose for life is better than anything we could dream.
In declaring Him our Lord we are acknowledging that we are merely the stewards of what He puts into our hands–our time, our talent, our gifts, our influence, everything we have belongs to Him. My friends, I can promise us that if Jesus Christ is our Lord, we do not have to worry about Him being our Savior. But, if He is not our Lord, there may be some very real question about whether He is our Savior.
Jesus said: “Not every one that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father, Who is in Heaven.” What does it mean to do the will of the Father Who is in heaven except to accept His revealed will and act upon it, and what is that but obedience? What is obedience but to concede the running of our lives into the hands of our risen Lord?
“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord.” Let us think about the tremendous implications of those words for our lives today. If Jesus Christ is Lord, as the New Testament teaches He is, He is Sovereign. Thus, the focal point of our faith is this One Who invaded this world in that manger so many years ago, Who lived, Who taught, Who performed miracles, Who died on a cross and on the third day rose again. Who now has ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty and Who, if He is our Lord, we can trust to be our Savior!