I can think of several reasons why we need to study the Apostles’ Creed.
We all know that good theology can save your soul, but in a time of trouble, if you know and remember the truth, what you know and remember can save you from despair. During an interview on a radio station in Dallas, we took a call from a woman who was going through a hard time in her marriage, with her health, and with some family relationships.
As I listened, I realized she was a Christian who felt overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t solve her problems in two minutes. So I told her that she needed to go back to the first principles and remind herself of those things she knew to be true. “Good theology can save your life,” I told her. What “first principles” are we talking about?
Here’s a short list:
• God is good.
• God is faithful.
• He will never leave me.
• His mercy endures forever.
• What’s happening to me is not a mistake.
• God has a purpose.
• He is working out his plan for me.
• God still loves me.
• The Holy Spirit indwells me.
• Jesus is alive today.
• He will return to earth for his people someday.
Before a worship service one Sunday, I chatted with a friend I hadn’t seen for many months. He and his wife had been through a series of incredibly difficult experiences over the previous two or three years. Although he had no idea what I would be preaching on, he grabbed my hand and said, “Tell the people that God is faithful. Tell them those three words: God is faithful.” Then he added, “I haven’t always been faithful, but God has been faithful to me.” Good theology saves you from despair when hard times come.
In 1923 J. Gresham Machen wrote a groundbreaking book called Christianity and Liberalism in which he demonstrated the fundamental difference between biblical Christianity and liberal Christianity. Near the end of the first chapter, he explains the importance of truth to the Christian faith:
Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. But if so, it is rather important that the Christian worker should tell the truth. When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.1
Today many people who claim to know Jesus don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I want to help people find a personal relationship with the Christ revealed in the Bible. Salvation is life-changing precisely because it is based on the truth.
If you think about it, Christians believe something very profound and radical. In an age of moral and spiritual anarchy, we believe there is a God in heaven who has spoken to the human race, and he has not stuttered. He has made himself clear in his Word, the Bible. Writing in the Manchester (England) Guardian, Christina Odone nails this down:
We believe in authority. In an era that prizes individual freedom, Christians believe in a supreme being who dictates our words and deeds. To modern ears, the concept sounds outrageously autocratic. From when to die to when to give birth, from whom to have sex with, to how to spend their money, the chatteratis believe they should enjoy unlimited freedom. But for the Christian, freedom is not an end in itself. Unfettered individualism can mean greed and selfishness, the evasion of personal responsibility, the destruction of the family. Christians believe that from an all-powerful authority stems a clear system of judgment which teaches that there is a right and a wrong.2
The church must once again declare the truth of God with boldness.
To a world that rejects authority, the church must declare the authority of God. The world says, “We want freedom.” God says, “If you want freedom, obey my Word.” Today the world follows the false trinity of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. Our task is to proclaim the truth of God even to those who reject it because that is what sets men free.
“Build yourselves up in your most holy faith” (Jude 20). We see here the sacred nature of the Christian faith. Our faith is “holy” because it comes from a holy God. We do not have the right to change the Christian faith just because we find it uncomfortable or unpopular. We are to take our faith seriously because it comes from a holy God. Secondly, spiritual growth is not optional. Every Christian is called to grow in God’s grace, his undeserved kindness toward us (2 Peter 3:18). Ephesians 4:15 tells us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” and Colossians 2:7 says that we are to be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” God expects us to grow in grace. A year from now, we ought to be further along in our spiritual journey than we are today.
Most people make some sort of fitness-related resolution each January. Maybe you’re tired of carrying extra pounds and having your clothes not fit. Maybe you have decided to get in shape physically. Even though I’m no expert in this area and I don’t have any fitness videos to sell, I know this: If you’re going to lose weight this year, you can’t keep on doing what you’ve been doing. If you don’t make a change, you’ll still be overweight and out of shape twelve months from now.
The same is true if you want to grow spiritually. At some point you have to change your schedule and rearrange your priorities. That may mean getting up earlier so you have time to read the Bible and pray. It may mean joining a Bible study group or getting involved in a teaching ministry to children or visiting prisoners or volunteering at a local pro-life center. We are commanded to build ourselves up in our most holy faith, but spiritual growth is not magic. It requires a serious commitment from us or it won’t happen.
Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to the world. We must not let the world squeeze us into its mold. We need Christians who will stand out because they don’t go with the flow.
But that verse also tells us how to be radical nonconformists. We are “transformed” by the “renewal” of our minds. Spiritual growth begins in the mind as we learn the truths of God. Then we are ready to show the world who Jesus is.
That’s where the Apostles’ Creed comes in. As the oldest statement of Christian faith outside the Bible, it deserves our close attention. Because it is recognized by all branches of the Christian faith, it offers a foundation of Christian unity that transcends denominational differences. Because it is both brief and concise, it offers us a broad outline of all the major areas of Christian doctrine. In this book we’re going to consider it slowly, phrase by phrase, sometimes even word by word.
The moral and spiritual confusion of these days offers an incredible opportunity to the church of Jesus Christ. If the people of this generation do not find God’s truth, they will believe Satan’s lie. After all, a starving dog will eat whatever you put in front of him. Something has to fill the void within. And that means we have a great opportunity. It’s not enough to simply protect our children. It’s not enough to learn what is true and what is false. We have an obligation that goes beyond the walls of our churches and beyond our own families. God has made us debtors to the whole world. It won’t be enough in the Last Day to say, “But, Lord, I took care of my family. I told them about you. See, we’re all here.” The Lord will say back to us, “My child, what did you do for your friends and neighbors? What about that man who came to your door? What about your sister, your daddy, your boss, your pals at work? Did you even try to tell them about me?”
We live in the greatest days of human history. It may well be that we are the final generation before the return of Christ. That would explain why Satan has made such an energetic effort to spread his lies. A battle is going on between God and Satan. But where sin abounds, grace super-abounds. The very fact that we live in such spiritual darkness means that when the light shines, it really shines. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of the task. Instead be encouraged by the opportunities of this hour. Our task to is to know what we believe so that, being grounded ourselves, we have something of eternal value to share with others. If that sounds exciting to you, turn the page and let’s get started.