The Apostle's Creed: I Believe
The Christian school student began his argument with an unassailable assertion: “I feel like I knew the answer.” Funny, though, he marked an incorrect answer. In fact, the question was about a factual statistic recorded in the text we had read; hardly in the gray area of opinion. Yet, according to his opinion, his feelings outweighed his factual ignorance. I should have given him credit for knowing what he in fact did not know. Objective reality be gone—feelings, nothing more than feelings. Sadly, this way of thinking seems to control many who claim Jesus as Savior. In part, it is a testimony to how much the broader culture—“the world”—controls too many professing Christians.
The issue, though, is not whether we should or should not recognize and express feelings. Yes, God created us in his image with feelings. God’s written word is filled with passionate appeals, agonizing pleas, and joyous affirmations. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord and truth! God has the authority and power to require us to feel particular emotions and not others! How radical is that!? Of course, rejoicing is not merely about expressing a feeling, but it is at least that. Everyone, regardless of what they confess to believe, has feelings and actions united to their beliefs. The issue is not whether our beliefs, feelings and actions are united, but whether we recognize what marks their union, and to what degree we participate with the Lord Jesus in his rescuing them from the power and presence of sin.
All this strikes at the heart of what is the Christian faith and life. The Christian faith and life is the power of God’s eternal life given by God the Father through what God the Son accomplished and applied by God the Holy Spirit. This means, among other things, that the Christian is God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10). The true Christian is the demonstration, the result, the product of God’s actions that are not merely in the past, but ongoing—forever! The gospel is, therefore, not merely an idea, a mere set of concepts or simply a new way of thinking, even as it gives birth to ideas, concepts and a new way of thinking. But it is more than these! It is the power of eternal life! Among other things, this means that the content of what Christians are to believe that is necessary for their salvation is alive.
It is easy for true Christians to become reactionary. After all, we are commanded not to love the world or be conformed to it (1John 2:15; Rom. 12:2). In a world drunk on feelings and stressed about what to do next it can be very easy to overreact, like a golfer who overcompensates for their repeated slice and then hooks their next tee shot. I fear that many “conservative” Christians, who have rightly placed a great stress on doctrine, or what to believe, have allowed the drumbeat regarding feelings and actions to drive them to an understanding of beliefs and doctrine that is a distortion of what Scripture teaches on these matters.
The Christian faith and life we sometimes hear is “not about our feelings” and “it’s not about what you do!” At best, this is an oversimplification. At worst, it can actually be a denial of the very faith we claim to believe. After all, the Christian faith is the power of God’s eternal life pulsating through the thoughts, feelings and actions of a previously deadened sinner. You see, it really is true that God’s word is living! God’s word written is a living reality! We really, truly live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Mt. 4:4). We are able to because God’s word, and the doctrines that it requires we believe, do not merely inform our intellect, governing our rational processes, but alter the very condition of our eternal soul, changing us. Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
Since salvation through the Lord Jesus truly means his eternal life is within a previously deadened sinner, then the confession we must make in order to be saved is a living confession, the demonstration of God’s power for life (Rom. 10:9)! The confessions and creeds that are faithful to what Scripture teaches are not then mere documents setting forth some human ideology; they are not mere statements to be memorized and recited. A parrot can recite!
Every Sunday our congregation confesses either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. As we do, we do not merely recite or read them, though some have them memorized. Rather, we confess them. We confess what we believe as redeemed children of the living God, because he has caused us to see the truths expressed in those creeds as believable and beautiful! We confess joyously what the living word of God causes those who have inherited eternal life to see, to know, to experience! We willingly confess what we believe because through that content of belief rooted in the living word of God, God the Holy Spirit has enlivened our will causing us to be born-again to a living hope on account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because, you see, what we believe is who we believe—the eternal Triune God.
David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.