Catechetical Refresher - The Apostle's Creed
The second of Dr. Martin Luther’s six chief parts of Christian doctrine as found in the Small Catechism is the Apostle’s Creed. You will get the most benefit from this essay if you have your catechism open as you read. Online readers click here for the Small Catechsim.
In the Creed the perfect grace of God for sinners, in Christ, is laid before us. To know it, believe it, and profess it aloud fills the Christian with peace, joy, gladness and delight come what may!
If the Ten Commandments (the Law) show our sins (SOS) and condemn us; the Creed (the Gospel) shows our salvation (SOS) and relieves us of the guilt, condemnation and grim sadness that our sins incur. (Remember: Law and Gospel.)
The Creed proclaims God’s love and faithfulness for sinners in three articles: Creation, Redemption and Sanctification. It teaches us that God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve; but that he has pity and mercy on us even in, especially in, our fallen condition. Moreover his mercy will never run out. Even in eternity God will continue to care for us; and keep us full of joy as his children forever. This is what is meant in the post-communion versicle: O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good; and his mercy endures forever. (Psalm 118:1)
Creed come from the Latin “credo” which means “I believe.” This title reminds us of the chief article of the Christian religion: that sinners are justified by faith in Christ and not by their own good behavior, sufferings or sacrifices. Those things have their proper place, and are indispensible following faith. But only one sacrifice justifies the sinner before God and releases him from the guilt, shame and judgment that sin otherwise incurs. The sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world by his suffering and death on our behalf. (John 1:29) To believe this is life; to deny it is death. As St. John writes, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18). In baptism this faith became yours! (Romans 8:1-4)
The Creed comes, as we said, in three articles which speak about the Holy Trinity (Triune God): God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) For Lutherans the explanation of each article is as essential an element of our faith as the Creed itself – and so I ask you to open your catechism and to read and study it each day. If you don’t have a catechism: ask and it will be given.
In the first article we confess the love of God in creating and sustaining humanity, and “all things visible and invisible.” This necessarily eliminates the hopelessness that results when people think that they are nothing more than cosmic accidents and with no eternal or lasting purpose.
You are not an accident, or an animal! You did not evolve! No wonder people are so depressed and hopeless and see life as a dead end. But faith in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” fills the human heart with light, hope, goodness, beauty and truth. It makes us alive again, truly alive!
Moreover, if you are worried about anything, anything at all, follow this prescription: read the first article (aloud is best) and its explanation, and your fears will vanish. Read it enough times and faith, not fear, will be your first response to trouble. It is a blessed way to live.
In the second article we confess the love of God in redeeming us. In this article we learn of the Person and Work of Jesus. To know the second article, and its explanation is to have the soul of the Gospel at your finger tips. It is the sure cure for the sadness of sin, guilt, shame and fear of judgment. It promises you the remission of sins, reconciliation with God, and unending life in heaven. It proclaims that no matter how terrible or destructive your sins are they are pardoned by the sufferings and death of Christ on the cross. “The blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from every sin.” (1 John 1:9) There are no exceptions.
Are you afraid to die? Are you dismayed or overwhelmed by the profuse evil that occurs in the world? The redemption we have in Christ, so beautifully stated in this second article, puts evil and death into divine perspective. It teaches us that whatever happens, Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life, who suffered, died and rose again, has the final word; and it will be a good word. And so in the words of Jesus, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)
In the third article we confess the love of God in sanctifying us. It is one thing that Jesus came into the world and redeemed us from sin and death. But if we did not know it, or were not baptized into it, it would do us no good.
But we learn here that the Holy Spirit awakens us to spiritual life. That by him we obtain the blessings of the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of our own bodies, and life that never ends .
Other Christian denominations have a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but none is as clear, sure and comforting as you will find in Luther’s explanation to the third article. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith …”
Here we learn two things: the limitations of the sinful heart in spiritual matters: it is dead, deaf, blind and lame (Jeremiah 17:9); and the unlimited power of God the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:37) This article, among other things, makes us humble before God, and before one another. Your faith and salvation are a gift that God gave to you, and not the result of your own intelligence or wisdom. As Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15:16) You did not obtain salvation, or even look for it. But Jesus came “to seek and to save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10) We are those once lost people, who are now found and saved.
We learn all this, and much more in the Apostle’s Creed and it’s explanation. Study it. Revel in it. Praise God for it.
One final word on “credo” “I believe”. To believe is not simply a mental exercise. It necessarily involves instruction, study, baptism, participation in the church’s worship, and the revamping of your life: to live for the love of God and neighbor.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
Peace be with you. Amen.