Affirming the Apostles Creed
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by J. I. Packer
Description: The Apostles' Creed, the oldest and most beautifully succinct summary of Christian beliefs, is also a deeply personal profession of faith. Noted theologian J. I. Packer examines the meaning and implications of each phrase of this great creed, providing insightful material for personal and group study and devotional use.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [160 KB]
Reading time: 65-92 min.
I Believe in God
hen people are asked what they believe in, they give not merely different answers, but different sorts of answers. Someone might say, "I believe in UFOs"--that means, "I think UFOs are real." "I believe in democracy"--that means, "I think democratic principles are just and beneficial." But what does it mean when Christian congregations stand and say, "I believe in God"? Far more than when the object of belief is UFOs or democracy.
I can believe in UFOs without ever looking for one and in democracy without ever voting. In cases like these, belief is a matter of the intellect only. But the Creed's opening words, "I believe in God," render a Greek phrase coined by the writers of the New Testament, meaning literally: "I am believing into God." That is to say, over and above believing certain truths about God, I am living in a relation of commitment to God in trust and union. When I say "I believe in God," I am professing my conviction that God has invited me to this commitment and declaring that I have accepted his invitation.
The word faith, which is English for a Greek noun (pistis) formed from the verb in the phrase "believe into" (pisteuo), gets the idea of trustful commitment and reliance better than belief does. Whereas belief suggests bare opinion, faith, whether in a car, a patent medicine, a protégé, a doctor, a marriage partner, or what have you, is a matter of treating the person or thing as trustworthy and committing yourself accordingly. The same is true of faith in God, and in a more far-reaching way.
It is the offer and demand of the object that determines in each case what a faith-commitment involves. Thus, I show faith in my car by relying on it to get me places, and in my doctor by submitting to his treatment. And I show faith in God by bowing to his claim to rule and manage me; by receiving Jesus Christ, his Son, as my own Lord and Savior; and by relying on his promise to bless me here and hereafter. This is the meaning of response to the offer and demand of the God of the Creed.
Christian faith only begins when we attend to
God's self-disclosure in Christ and in Scripture, where we meet him as the Creator who
"commands all people everywhere to repent"
and to "believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ."
Sometimes faith is equated with that awareness of "one above" (or "beyond" or "at the heart of things") that from time to time, through the impact of nature, conscience, great art, being in love, or whatever, touches the hearts of the hardest-boiled. (Whether they take it seriously is another question, but it comes to all--God sees to that.) But Christian faith only begins when we attend to God's self-disclosure in Christ and in Scripture, where we meet him as the Creator who "commands all people everywhere to repent" and to "believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ ... as he has commanded us" (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23; cf. John 6:28ff.). Christian faith means hearing, noting, and doing what God says.
I write as if God's revelation in the Bible has self-evident truth and authority, and I think that in the last analysis it has; but I know, as you do, that uncriticized preconceptions and prejudices create problems for us all, and many have deep doubts and perplexities about elements of the biblical message. How do these doubts relate to faith?
Well, what is doubt? It is a state of divided mind--"double-mindedness" is James's concept (James 1:6-;8)--and it is found both within faith and without it. In the former case, it is faith infected, sick, and out of sorts; in the latter, it belongs to a struggle either toward faith or away from a God felt to be invading and making claims one does not want to meet. In C. S. Lewis's spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, you can observe both these motivations successively.
In our doubts, we think we are honest, and certainly try to be; but perfect honesty is beyond us in this world, and an unacknowledged unwillingness to take God's word about things, whether from deference to supposed scholarship or fear of ridicule or of deep involvement or some other motive, often underlies a person's doubt about this or that item of faith. Repeatedly this becomes clear in retrospect, though we could not see it at the time.
How can one help doubters? First, by explaining the problem area (for doubts often arise from misunderstanding); second, by exhibiting the reasonableness of Christian belief at that point, and the grounds for embracing it (for Christian beliefs, though above reason, are not against it); third, by exploring what prompts the doubts (for doubts are never rationally compelling, and hesitations about Christianity usually have more to do with likes and dislikes, hurt feelings, and social, intellectual, and cultural snobbery than the doubters are aware).
In worship, the Creed is said in unison, but the opening words are "I believe"--not "we": each worshiper speaks for himself. Thus he proclaims his philosophy of life and at the same time testifies to his happiness: he has come into the hands of the Christian God where he is glad to be, and when he says, "I believe," it is an act of praise and thanksgiving on his part. It is in truth a great thing to be able to say the Creed.
FURTHER BIBLE STUDY
Faith in action:
+ Romans 4
+ Hebrews 11
+ Mark 5:25-;34
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
+ What is the essential meaning of faith (Greek pistis )?
+ What is the importance of the word "I" in the Creed's opening phrase?
+ What doubts about Christianity have you had to deal with in yourself and others?
+ How can the approach outlined in this chapter help address doubts and questions we may have?