I believe (sermon 9-2-18)

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September 6, 2018 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon at Central Church of Christ for September 2, 2018.

We began a twelve-week series, using the Apostles Creed to help explain Christian basics.

The texts were Psalm 25.1-6 and Romans 1.16-17.

This week’s lesson focused on the first two words of the Apostles Creed: I believe.

The two main resources I’m using in this series are:

Ben Myers. The Apostles’ Creed: a Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018.

and Matt Chandler’s sermon series from the Village Church, which you can access here.

A live audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen.


Series Intro

Today we’re beginning a twelve-week series based on the Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed is an ancient statement of what Christians have always believed.

I’m incredibly excited for us to take this journey together. But I suspect some of you may be a little nervous about it. Maybe you’re wondering, Why do we need to talk about a creed? Isn’t the Bible good enough for you?

I totally understand your concern. It’s that slippery slope, right? One week we’re talking about the Apostles Creed. Before you know it, I’m up here in a robe and the place is full of incense and we’re reading all our prayers out of a book.

But I want you to understand, I’m not planning on preaching the Apostles Creed. Instead, I’m going to be using the Apostles Creed to help me preach the Bible. I would hope you wouldn’t be concerned because I use lexicons, Bible commentaries, and books about theology to help me preach. The Apostles Creed is just one more resource.

Here’s one way to think about how the Apostles Creed works. If you’ve ever been bowling, you’ve probably seen these. The bumper guards.

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The whole point of those bumper guards is to help train children who haven’t developed the strength or hand-eye coordination for bowling. They keep the ball from going in the gutter. That way, kids can enjoy the game while they’re learning.

The Apostles Creed is like bumper guards on our faith. As we strive to live out what we believe, and interpret and apply the Bible to our lives, the Apostles Creed keeps us from falling into the gutters of heresy and unhealthy doctrine.

So hopefully now you can appreciate the value of the Apostles Creed, and you’re more comfortable with it.

But maybe some of you are still saying, Yes, I can see why the Apostles Creed is a good idea, but do we really need to spend twelve weeks talking about it?

I totally get that.

I started putting this series together several months ago with all of you in mind. For one thing, we’ve had quite a few baptisms in the past couple of years—even in the last couple of months. So we’ve got a lot of baby Christians and toddler Christians. They’re still learning, and they need this kind of basic teaching. Remember the bumper guards in the bowling alley? These twelve weeks are all about building up bumper guards to keep our younger Christians safe and happy while they’re learning.

But I wasn’t just thinking about new believers. This also came from conversations I’ve had with some of you who are basically womb to tomb Christians. Or things I’ve overheard you asking about. Or questions and concerns I’ve heard you raise in Bible classes.

Some of you have been believers for 25 or 50 years, and you’re wondering about the Trinity. How there can be one God in three persons.

A lot of you have been just craving more teaching about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and in our world. Because you feel like you’ve been shut off from a whole person of the Godhead. So you know that means your relationship to God has been unbalanced. You’re missing so much comfort and empowerment the Spirit brings into our lives.

And some of you have questions about our hope for resurrection, and the life to come.

These are all very basic—and absolutely essential—elements of the Christian faith. And you know you need to learn about them.

Keeping all that in mind, again, why are we spending twelve weeks with the Apostles Creed? My short answer is: Because you asked me to.

When I heard you asking questions about the Trinity. And the work of the Holy Spirit. And our resurrection hope. What I heard you asking was, Jeremy, let’s do a twelve-week study with the Apostles Creed!

Because everything you’ve asked me about is in there. And more. Much, much more.

So now, let’s begin our journey into the scriptures with the Apostles Creed.

I believe …

The first three words of the Apostles Creed are: I believe. Let’s listen to the Creed and hear what it says Christians everywhere have always believed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe 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;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy, universal church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

So now I just want to make four observations about what the Apostles Creed teaches us. And these four points all flow from those first two words: I believe.

I believe; not I know, I think, or I do

And that’s basically the first big thing we can learn from the Apostles Creed. Pay attention to those first two words. It doesn’t start off with I know. It also doesn’t begin with what I think. No—it says, I believe.

Here’s why I’m making this big distinction between knowing or thinking, and believing. In today’s world, belief usually has to do with weighing the facts, weighing the options, and and making up your mind about something. Based on this logical, rational calculation you’ve made. I’m going to believe the facts. I’m going to believe the evidence.

But that’s not what the Bible means when it talks about believing. In the Bible, and in the Apostles Creed, believing isn’t something that you do with your intellect. It’s not just accepting that certain facts are true.

Here’s one another thing the Apostles Creed doesn’t say at the beginning. It doesn’t say, I do. In other words, it doesn’t give you a list of rules to follow.

So let’s talk about what the Bible means when it talks about believing. The Bible uses a few different words that can be translated as believe or belief.

And those words have several different nuances, or shades of meaning. Real quick, I want us to take a look at the different textures of the biblical words for believing.

In the Bible, to believe can mean faith or, better yet, faithfulness. Another way of putting that is loyalty. The Bible words for belief or believing can also mean trust or trustworthiness. And also reliance, reliability, and commitment

Now, what do all these words have in common?

They’re all relationship words. Trust, faithfulness, commitment, loyalty. These are all words that describe the foundations of healthy relationships.

When the Bible talks about belief, it’s something you feel in your heart.

And when you believe from your heart, it will transform how you think, and what you do. It works in that order.

Here’s an example from the Bible. It’s from Romans 10.9-10. Listen carefully to what Paul wrote:

if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith—in other words, if you believe in your heartthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

What did Paul say? He said you believe from your heart. You believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. You believe in your heart that God will also raise your body from the dead one day. You believe with all your heart that right now, the same God who raised Jesus from the dead can also raise you up from your spiritual death.

It’s that relationship of trust, between you and God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, that saves you. It’s your faith reaching out to God. It’s God’s faithfulness embracing you, clinging to you, holding onto you.

And it’s that same belief, that same trust, that allows you to confess that Jesus is Lord.

Not just Lord in your heart, or Lord over your life. But that Jesus is Lord over all creation. That God has given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth.

In the next verse, Paul goes on to explain it some more:

Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation.

Trusting with your heart leads to righteousness. In other words, your relationship to God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, transforms you, from the inside out. You form new habits of the heart. You think differently. You behave differently. Believing God, trusting that God is faithful to his promises, gives you boldness to confess Christ.

So, to sum up, the first thing the Apostles Creed teaches us is that saving faith is born in your heart. When you say, I believe, it’s an expression of deep, powerful, committed, obedient trust in God. It’s a heart belief, not just a head belief.

This first point—that we believe from the heart, not just with our minds—leads directly to the second point.

Who you believe in comes before what you believe in

The Apostles Creed reminds us that what we believe is secondary to who we believe in.

Think about it this way. I’m pretty sure at some point we’ve all told someone we love that we believe in them. You’ve told your spouse or your child or your best friend: I believe in you.

What does it mean when you tell someone you believe in them?

It means you trust them. You have complete confidence in them. You know that they are capable and dependable and reliable. You count on them to have your back, and they can count on you to stand by them.

When you tell someone you believe in them, you’re really talking about the quality of your relationship. You don’t just believe nice things about them. You believe in them. As a person. For who they are.

The Apostles Creed doesn’t first tell us what to believe. Instead, it reminds us who we believe in. Christians believe in God.

And specifically, the God Christians believe in is the Trinity. One God in three persons:

God the Father Almighty;

Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

and the Holy Spirit.

And it’s only after affirming that we believe in this God that the Apostles Creed reminds us what we believe about our God, and why we believe it.

We believe in God the Father because he created us. We believe in Jesus Christ the Son because he redeems us. And we believe in the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is re-creating us.

So we trust God. We have complete confidence in God. We know God is on our side. So we pledge to remain faithful to this God. Because God has always been faithful to us. That’s what it means to say, I believe in …

A balanced belief

A third thing the Apostles Creed does for us is, it helps us make sure our faith is balanced.

Here’s what I mean by that. The Apostles Creed reminds us of what Christians everywhere have always believed in. And it says: This is not a buffet line where you get to pick and choose. If you believe in any one of these things, you have to believe in all of it.

For example, the Apostles Creed reminds us that you can’t just have a relationship with Jesus. If you believe in Jesus—you trust Jesus, you’ve fallen in love with Jesus—then you also have a relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Remember, God is kind of a package deal. Christians believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It reminds us that we don’t just believe in 8 lb., 6 oz. cuddly baby Jesus. Or the Jesus who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and embraced outcasts and sinners. We don’t believe that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. We believe in the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Who is fully human and fully God. Who is reigning over the universe right now at the Father’s right hand. And who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The Apostles Creed tells us that we don’t have a balanced faith if we don’t have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. You can’t have a balanced faith if you’re ignoring a whole person of the Trinity!

It even tells us you can’t believe that the church isn’t important. You can’t say, I don’t need the church; I can be a Christian all by myself. The Apostles Creed reminds us that Jesus died and was raised so the church could be born. And that the Holy Spirit is active and moving in the church.

The Apostles Creed only reminds us what the Bible actually teaches. So when you say, I believe, along with the Apostles Creed, you’re saying: I believe in all of this! And if you take away any of it, or minimize any of it, your faith is unbalanced. The Apostles Creed helps us stay balanced.

A life of trust

Finally, the fourth thing the Apostles Creed teaches us. And this is so incredibly important. When you say, I believe, you are committing yourself to a life of faith. 

In other words, you’re going to trust God with every part of your life, for the rest of your life.

That’s what we heard in our reading from Romans 1.17 today. It says: The righteous person will live by faith

Faith isn’t just a decision you make at a certain point. It’s not a one-and-done deal. It means you’re all in.

Faith is a process. It’s an adventure. It’s a journey. It’s a way of life.

When it says, The righteous person will live by faith, that means trusting God is as essential as the air you breathe; the food you eat; and the ground you walk on.

So when you say, I believe, those aren’t magic words that are going to save you, and then you can go on doing whatever seems good to you until you die and go to heaven.

That’s not how any of this works.

When you say, I believe, you’re telling God: I believe in you. I trust you. So I’m surrendering to you.

And then you let yourself go. And you do a trust-fall into the arms of your Almighty Father. And you feel his sweet embrace. And you have confidence in the deepest depths of your heart that, even when you’re not strong enough to hold onto him, he will cling to you.

You put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus Christ, the Son, God-in-the-flesh. And you walk with him. And he walks with you. And even in the dark, scary times when you don’t know how you’re going to make it, you can feel his hand gripping yours. And you can hear his footsteps walking with you.

You feel the gentle breeze of Holy Spirit stirring inside you. Refreshing you. Guiding you. Nudging you. Comforting you. Reassuring you. And you go where the Spirit is leading you to go. And you do and you say what the Spirit is whispering to your heart.

Because you believe.

An invitation to believe

And this is where I want to stop and make the application to our lives today.

I’m not going to tell you a thing you can go home and do this week. Instead, I’m going to challenge you to start thinking in a different, very counter-cultural way. To reorient your heart and your habits.

See, we live in a culture where we expect quick answers and simple fixes to all of our problems. And sometimes those expectations even find their way into churches. Sometimes we think the preacher should send us home with a few simple life-hacks from the Bible that will fix our problems. Right now.

And I’m sorry. I can’t give you that. And any preacher or anybody else who says they can is either lying to you. Or they’re incredibly arrogant. Or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

If it’s taken you 40 years to jack up your life. Or 20 years to ruin your marriage. Or you’ve raised your children for 18 years and now they’re a hot mess—you can’t expect me or anyone else to fix it in 30 minutes, once a week. We’re not living in a sitcom.

But you know who can and will fix it? Who can and will fix you? God. In God’s time. In God’s way.

So here’s what I’m going to challenge us to do over the next twelve weeks.

Just accept that you are not the center of the universe. Not your expectations or desires. God is.

That’s ultimately Big Idea of the Apostles Creed. It reshapes our hearts and minds. It forms our thinking and our habits. Away from ourselves, our whims, and our wants. So that we can live fully trusting God. With every part of our lives. For the rest of our lives.

And it begins with the two words we find at the beginning of the Apostles Creed: I believe.

With those two words, we commit to taking the focus off of ourselves, so we can focus on God. With those two words, we begin a process, a journey, and the greatest adventure with God. Confident that God’s got us.

We fall into our Father’s arms. We place our hand in Jesus’ hand. And we are led by the Holy Spirit.

We begin to live by faith. And that’s not just a life-hack. It’s a way of life.

 

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