Credo: Believing in Something to Die For [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ray Prtichard
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Pastor Ray Pritchard examines the Apostles' creed line-by-line, point-by-point. His explanations are vibrant, thorough, accessible, and firmly rooted in Scripture.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2009
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You Are What You Believe:
Why the Apostles' Creed Matters
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Why bother with the Apostles' Creed?
There are three good answers to that question. First, it is the oldest and most widely accepted creed, recognized by all branches of Christianity--Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. For two thousand years it has served as a succinct statement of the irreducible minimum of the Christian faith. Second, it offers a broad survey of Christian doctrine. It starts with creation and ends with eternal life. That's about as broad as you can get. As we will see, it is not comprehensive, but everything it covers is important. If you want to go back to basics, this is a good place to begin. Third, the Creed offers a radical challenge to the skepticism of this generation. The people of the world doubt that we can be certain about anything. Over against that uncertainty we have the first two words of the Creed: "I believe," and that is good for the soul.
[Footnote 3: In preparing this chapter, I have received a great deal of help from the sermon "I Believe" by Peter Barnes, September 12, 1999, www.fpc boulder.org/Sermons/Sermon9-12-99.htm.]
THE NECESSITY OF THE APOSTLES' CREED
The key phrase of the book of Judges, although written over three thousand years ago, could have been written last week: "Everyone did what Credo was right in his own eyes" (21:25). It would be hard to find a more fitting description of modern American life. If you ask people on the street what they believe, you will receive a bewildering array of answers. Consider this quote from a twenty-something backpacker in Boston when asked what he believed: "I believe there's some Higher Power, I think. But I don't know. Like right now I'm at a point where I don't know what to believe, but I'm open to everything. So I like to believe in everything, because I don't know what it is I truly believe in." That strikes me as a totally honest statement, and I think he speaks for a whole generation.
No "Bible Thumpers"
If we ask people on the street how they determine what they believe, almost everyone will point to their opinions or feelings and say, "This is my best guess." Feelings trump everything else nowadays. A friend sent me the following e-mail:
My brother recently announced that he was now engaged to a woman he met on a "Christian" Internet dating service. During our dinner conversation he told me all about her and said that one of his qualifications for a wife was that she had to have Christian beliefs, but not act like a "Bible thumper." He explained this statement by saying that he wanted a woman who believed in Christian values but not necessarily someone who was a Christian and lived out her faith.
I asked him what his views were on Christianity and he replied that he was a Christian and believed that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He went on to say that he agreed with all the findings of the "Jesus Seminar." Among other things, he said he believed that Christ was not born of a virgin, he did not physically rise from the dead, and that there was nothing wrong with gay pastors. I asked him what he based his beliefs on and he explained that they were based on his own understanding of who God is.
That strikes me as a fairly convenient religion. You keep the parts of the Bible you like, and you get to throw away the rest. This is one reason why we desperately need the Apostles' Creed.
The Creed stands as an important corrective to the me-centered theology of the present day.
The Creed reminds us that there are boundaries to the Christian faith--not everything is negotiable. Some things must be believed if you are to call yourself a Christian. You can choose to live outside those boundaries, but if you do, you aren't living as a Christian, and you shouldn't call yourself one.
Not everything is negotiable. Some things must be believed if you are to call yourself a Christian.
This leads us to a vital truth point: Christianity is a doctrinal faith. You can't just fill it in with whatever content you desire. Christianity is a life based on the doctrines of the Bible. We must never say, "As long as you believe in Jesus, it doesn't matter what else you believe." Unless the Jesus we believe in is the Christ of the Bible, he's not the real Jesus at all.
This means that Christianity is more than a conversion experience.
There are things to learn, and there are doctrines we are required to believe. That's why the Apostles' Creed is so important in the history of the church. Truth is not up for grabs, and it is not decided by what we feel or by a majority vote or by the latest opinion poll. The Creed reminds us that truth comes from God, and that is where we must start in our spiritual journey.
THE HISTORY OF THE APOSTLES' CREED
The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which means, "I believe." Originally the Apostles' Creed was not a formal, written document. It began, in the earliest days of the Christian church, as a baptismal formula. Whenever I perform a baptism, I always ask each person four questions before I baptize him or her:
+ "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?"
+ "Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead?"
+ "Are you trusting Jesus Christ and him alone as your Lord and Savior?"
+ "And do you wish to be baptized and live for him?"
I ask the candidates to speak loudly so the congregation knows why they are being baptized. Their answers form the public profession of faith that precedes their baptism. If a candidate ever refuses to answer or if the answer is incorrect (that hasn't happened yet in all the years I've been a pastor), I will not baptize him or her. That's how important those questions are.
Early Christians followed a similar practice, but their questions were slightly different. Evidently they asked questions like:
+ "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth?"
+ "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Lord?"
+ "Do you believe Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead?"
From those early questions the Creed developed into its current form over many generations.
[Footnote 4: William Barclay says that the Creed most likely took its earliest form "not long after AD 100," in The Apostles' Creed (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 4.]
The Word Comes First
Since this book is about the Apostles' Creed, I want to be clear up front that we don't base our faith on any creed or statement of faith.
Our ultimate source of authority is the written Word of God.
Because the Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), the Word is true in all its parts and is entirely trustworthy. No creed can make that claim for itself. Think of it this way: First there is God who gives us his Word. Then from the Word come the creeds and confessions of the church. The church believes the creeds and confessions because they reflect what God has said in his Word. This doesn't mean that everything found in every creed or confession is correct. But it does mean that creeds and confessions of faith are helpful as long as they reflect what the Word of God actually says.
Faith is not a coin that you put into a vending machine, so that if you put in enough you will get what you want from God. Faith is the empty hand of a beggar reaching out to receive the gift of a king. (Rodney A. Stortz, DANIEL: THE TRIUMPH OF GOD'S KINGDOM)
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE APOSTLES' CREED
Let's begin with six fast facts about the Creed: First, as we've seen, it is very old. Scholars believe that its earliest form can be traced back to A.D. 120. Second, surprisingly, it was not written by the apostles. It is called the Apostles' Creed because it summarizes what the apostles taught. Third, it is brief. Most English translations contain 110-120 words. Fourth, it is God-centered. In fact, it is Trinitarian. The first thought deals with God the Father, the second with God the Son, the third with God the Holy Spirit. Fifth, it is selective. The Creed touches on the central issues of the Christian faith, but there is much it passes over. It says nothing about Satan, angels, demons, predestination, baptism, church government, or the details of Christ's future Second Coming. Sixth, it is easy to memorize.
Here's a handy way to think about the Creed. Let's suppose that before you leave on vacation you purchase a book of maps to help you find your way. That book of maps contains separate maps for all fifty states, and there will be smaller inset maps for all of the larger cities in each state. At the front of the book there is a large, two-page map of the United States. If you live in the Los Angeles area and you want to drive from Downey to La Habra, the U.S. map won't do you any good. And the state map won't help much either. You'll need to consult a map of Los Angeles. But if you want to drive from Miami to Seattle, you'll keep the book open to the map of the entire United States. The Apostles' Creed is like that large map. It gives you the big picture of what Christians believe. We believe more than what the Creed says, but we don't believe less than that.
If you've read this far, you may wonder, "What does all this have to do with me?" Good question. After all, we live in a practical age Credo when people want to know how the truth impacts them personally. The answer is found in the first two words of the Creed: "I believe." That's a very powerful assertion. It's not the same as saying, "I know" or "I think" or "I feel."
To say, "I believe" means that you are making a personal commitment to the truth.
Romans 1:16 declares that the gospel is "the power of God" that brings "salvation to everyone who believes." And Romans 10:9-10 adds the concept of believing "in your heart," which means to believe from the depths of your being. That's why the Gospel of John declares more than eighty times that salvation comes to those who believe. In a deep sense, you are what you believe.
What you believe determines your destiny.
John 3:16 tells us that God gave his Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. Your eternal destiny depends on whether or not you believe in Jesus "in your heart."
What It Means to Say "I Believe"
The Greek word translated "believe" in the New Testament is pisteuo, which means to "believe into" something or someone. Now, if I say, "I believe it's going to rain tomorrow," that's nothing more than a hunch. If I say, "I believe George Washington was the first President of the United States," that refers to a settled historical fact. But if I say, "I believe in Jesus with all my heart," I have made a different sort of statement altogether.
Suppose a doctor tells me, "I'm sorry, but you have cancer that is life-threatening. Chemotherapy can kill the cancer, but it is likely to make you sick. But if you're willing to take it, you can be cured." In that case, to say, "I believe in my doctor" means something very specific. It doesn't mean "I believe he really is a doctor" or "I believe he's right when he says I have cancer" or even "I believe the chemotherapy can cure me." You don't truly believe in your doctor until you roll up your sleeve and let that life-saving medicine enter your veins. To believe in your doctor means to trust yourself completely to his care, accept his diagnosis, and put your life in his hands.
Believing in Jesus means to trust him completely with your eternal destiny.
It means to trust Christ so completely that if he can't take you to heaven, you aren't going to go there.
In the nineteenth century the greatest tightrope walker in the world was a man named Charles Blondin. On June 30, 1859, he became the first man in history to walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Over twenty-five thousand people gathered to watch him walk 1,100 feet suspended on a tiny rope 160 feet above the raging waters. He worked without a net or safety harness of any kind. The slightest slip would prove fatal. When he safely reached the Canadian side of the Falls, the crowd burst into a mighty roar. In the days that followed he walked across the Falls many times. Once he walked across on stilts. Another time he took a chair and a stove with him and sat down midway across, cooked an omelette, and ate it. Once he carried his manager across riding piggyback.
On one occasion he asked the cheering spectators if they thought he could push a man across in a wheelbarrow. A mighty roar of approval rose from the crowd. Spying a man cheering loudly, he asked, "Sir, do you think I could safely carry you across in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes, of course." "Then get in," the Great Blondin replied with a smile. The man refused.
It's one thing to believe a man can walk across by himself. It's another thing to believe he could safely carry someone across. But it's something else entirely to get into the wheelbarrow yourself. Believing in Jesus is like getting into the wheelbarrow. It's entrusting all that you are to all that he is.
Believing in Jesus is entrusting all that you are to all that he is.
I spoke with a man whose father died recently. Although his father went to church and often heard about Jesus, the son worried about his father's salvation. I reminded the man that it's not the amount of faith that matters; it's the object of faith that makes all the difference. Weak faith in a strong object matters more than strong faith in a weak object.
It's not a matter of how much you believe--what's important is whether or not you are trusting the Lord Jesus Christ to save you.
In 2 Timothy 1:12 Paul says, "I know whom I have believed." As Spurgeon puts it, it is as if he says, "I know the person into whose hand I have committed my present condition, and my eternal destiny. I know who he is, and I therefore, without any hesitation, leave myself in his hands. It is the beginning of spiritual life to believe Jesus Christ." You cannot keep yourself safe. Your only hope is to entrust all that you are and have to Jesus.
[Footnote 5 : Charles Spurgeon, "Confidence and Concern," www.spurgeon.org, August 21, 1859.]
A few years ago I used the following illustration in one of my books. Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump off. How many are left on the log? All three of them. Deciding to jump is not the same thing as actually jumping. A man in prison read that illustration and wrote to tell me how much it had impacted his life. Until then he had many times decided to believe in Jesus. But as long as you are just deciding, you haven't believed yet.
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. You can't live on the faith of those around you.
At its heart, the church is a community of believers who are joined together by their shared faith in Jesus Christ.
That's why the church for two thousand years has affirmed the Apostles' Creed. It expresses our common faith in Christ. The Creed begins with two simple words: "I believe." Do you? No one can sit on the fence forever. Remember, a Christian is a person who truly believes in Jesus Christ. Do you? Eternity hangs on your answer.
Think About It!
1. Can a two-thousand-year-old creed really have meaning for us today? Why or why not? What are the specific values of the Apostles' Creed?
2. Do you agree or disagree that Christianity is more than a conversion experience? What does it truly mean, according to the Bible, to be a Christian?
3. Why is what we believe so important? Have you personally believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior? What does this mean to you? What difference has it made in your life?