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Reflecting on Truth #31

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New City Catechism Question 31

Q: What do we believe by true faith?

A: Everything taught to us in the gospel. The Apostles’ Creed expresses what we believe in these words: We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Why does this matter?

It is not uncommon to hear that “doctrine is not important” or that “what matters is that I have a relationship with Jesus” in our modern time. While it is true that we should not be doctrinal perfectionists who demand complete and total agreement on every single point of doctrine that could be gleaned from the Scriptures, but we recognize from 1 Corinthians 15 that it is possible, if not necessary at times, to summarize the gospel in the form of a creed.

Despite its name, the apostles in Scripture did not formulate the Apostles’ Creed. Rather, it is called the Apostles’ Creed because it contains in summary form the doctrine of the apostles as taught in the New Testament writings. In short, the Apostles’ Creed is useful to explain the essence of the gospel in just a few sentences.

However, does this mean that the Apostles’ Creed contains everything that we ought to believe? Of course not. D.A. Carson is helpful in reminding us that historical creeds were written in a specific context, answering the questions of the time which might change a little bit from one time period to the next. For example, the creedal statements during the time of the Reformation ask and answer different questions because the main points of debate at that time were the sufficiency of Scripture and justification by faith alone. In light of this, the Apostles’ Creed has withstood the test of time in answering the question “What is the gospel?” and continues to be a standard and basic component in the statement of faith of churches all over the world.

What does this mean for us?

First, as with all historical creeds and confessions, we ought to remind ourselves that all of these useful and important documents are not Scripture. Even though we recognize that the Apostles’ Creed and other historical documents are accurate in their explication of various points of doctrine, we cannot ascribe to these documents the attribute of divine inspiration. These are man-made documents that were meant for the edification of the church and the preservation of sound doctrine, but should never be regarded as being equal to the God-breathed Scriptures.

Second, how do we respond when asked about the gospel? Do we struggle to explain in an accurate and concise manner what the gospel is? If so, the Apostles’ Creed could be a helpful tool in helping us to understand the gospel better for ourselves, and also to communicate the gospel to those around us. Go over each sentence of the Apostles’ Creed, search the Scriptures to see where each point is taught, and meditate over these biblical truths that have not changed for over two millennia.

Third, let us remind ourselves that Christian faith is a God-given conviction wrought in the heart that these things are true. It matters not if we merely assent intellectually to the Apostles’ Creed, or any other creeds for that matter, and do not have faith. We believe in the gospel truths by faith. These gospel truths change us and our manner of life only when we walk in light of eternity. Therefore, let us not separate theological truth from true Christian living, for when we walk by faith, we walk in light of the doctrinal gospel truths that are summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.

May the Lord help us in our unbelief, strengthen our faith when it is weak, and train us to walk in righteousness and holiness, for He is our God who fulfills all His promises according to His eternal Word.