What we now know as the Apostles Creed descended from an earlier form of the creed, known as the Old Roman Symbol. The beginning of the creed dates from as early as the second century. We do not have any direct evidence that it was penned by any of the apostles, but it is an admirable summary of the apostolic teaching.
Most of the sermons preached at Christ Church are expositional, and seek to unfold and apply the meaning of a text of Scripture. Sometimes the messages are topical, and various passages of Scripture are brought to bear on the selected theme. This is a bit different. It is an expositional message of an uninspired text, but the thing that makes it a sermon is that this uninspired text is going to be used as the basis for the selected themes we will then treat, gathering the teaching of Scripture from all over as we go. We are going to be working through the Apostles Creed, phrase by phrase.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
The first two words of the Creed are individual and personal. I believe. The Creed began as the confession that men and women would make upon their baptism, and so it is, as baptism is individual, so also the confession is individual. I believe.
The noun form of this word in the New Testament is pistis, and the verb form is pisteuo. In order to get the same connotations in English, we have to use words with different roots. The word faith presupposes genuine faith, but believe doesn’t quite have the same force. “Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.” To get the force if the New Testament usage, we would say something like I trust.
In Scripture, the sole instrument for apprehending all God’s blessings is faith. This begins in the first instance with justification, but it extends throughout our lives. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
But it is not the case that faith is some kind of a nanosecond thing at the beginning of the Christian life, disappearing immediately after. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). We walk as Christians the same way we became Christians, which is by trusting God.
The Spirit is the one who enables us to do anything worthwhile, and He accompanies us throughout our lives. And the power of the Spirit is available to us through faith, and only through faith. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17).
There are two crucial things to note here. One is that the righteousness of God is revealed by faith, from first to last. There is no other way for it to be revealed. The second is that faith undergirds absolutely everything spiritual in our lives—the righteous will live by faith.
The Elements of Faith:
There are three elements to genuine faith, or to genuine believing. They are knowledge, assent, and trust (notitia, assensus, and fiducia). The first is awareness of the content of what is to be believed. The second is intellectual assent to it. The last is trusting in it. When you have all three together, and the object of faith is the truth of God, you are looking at a gift of God.
A Gift of God:
In our own fallen nature, we are incapable of trusting God. This is a moral inability, not a natural inability. We cannot trust God because we don’t want to trust Him. But our hearts are fully capable of trusting. They just aren’t capable of trusting anything good. If I could repent and believe with my old heart, then it is plain that I wouldn’t need a new heart.
This is why Scripture teaches that saving faith is a gift of God. We don’t gin it up ourselves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8–9). “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Phil. 1:29). “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
The Object of Faith:
You have heard a number of times from me that there is no virtue or strength in a transitive verb. Everything depends on the nature of the direct object. What would you rather have? “I have bigfaith in puny object,” or “I have punyfaith in big object”? What is the difference between the early inventor with Batman wings jumping off a bridge, and a nervous and panicked little granny flying across the country in a 747? If we compared the size of their faith, the guy on the bridge has more.
Sara was able to conceive because “she judged him faithful who had promised.” (Heb. 11:11). And this is why Jesus taught us the mustard seed principle. “And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Luke 17:6).
Is your faith alive? And is it resting in the appropriate object? And of course the only appropriate object of faith is Christ Himself.