Confessing the Creed: I Believe
The Apostles’ Creed is a 2,000 year old confession of the basic contours of the Christian faith. From the earliest beginnings of the New Testament Church, the Church began articulating a “pattern of sound words” (2 Tim 1:13) of what Christians believe. When leading our congregation in affirming our faith, I preface it with the question, “Christian, what do you believe?” In turn, the congregational response begins with the opening words of the Creed, “I believe.” While a basic fixture in many worship services, we must ask ourselves the following important question: "Have I really grasped the importance of these words?
The first word is a personal word, “I.” The Apostles’ Creed is a personal declaration of faith. This is something that must be held at the first-person singular level. It is not enough to merely be near faith. It is something that must be comprehended and affirmed as an individual. And yet with this very personal and individualistic declaration of faith, the one affirming his faith is joining in with the Communion of Saints which stretches across millennia and continents and cultures. We say “I believe” but we are also acknowledging that our personal and individual belief is but a part of the faith of the catholic (i.e. universal) Church. One letter into the Creed and we have already made the profound declaration that the faith is both something intimately personal and inherently communal. “I” believe means that we must own our own faith but never see it simply as our own.
The Christian begins the Creed by confessing, “I believe.” What follows is a verbal description of the broad shape of that belief. This belief has a content. It includes certain propositions and excludes others. R.C. Sproul says, “The Holy Spirit does not call us to faith in general, but to faith in particular.”1 The Scriptures are clear that we are saved by faith (Rom 3:20-28) but they are also clear that we are not saved by faith in just anything. We are saved by “faith in Jesus” (v.28). The Creed’s opening words declare that we do not accept a relativistic or universal faith; rather, our faith has definite and specific content. We do not believe in just anything; rather, we believe in the Triune God whose glories are declared from Genesis to Revelation.
When we speak about “belief” in the opening of the Apostles’ Creed we’re actually talking about three aspects of belief: knowledge, assent, and trust. The first component of belief is knowledge. We can only believe in that which we know. Note, this doesn’t mean a comprehensive or exhaustive knowledge. I believe in airplanes even though my knowledge of aerodynamics is inadequate. But I do know the basics of how planes fly and that knowledge allows me to believe in them in a way that prevents me from believing in time machines. Peter encourages the Christian that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his glory and excellence…” (2 Pet 1:3, emphasis mine). We have to have a knowledge of God in order to believe in God.
But knowledge alone is not sufficient for belief. Belief also requires assent. Assent means that you not only know something to be true but you agree with that truth. The person who is afraid to fly probably knows that airplanes can fly. They would likely let friends and family members fly. But they cannot give their personal assent to flying. The mind must not only know the content of faith but it must also give an intellectual assent to the truth of that content in order to say, “I believe.”
Thirdly, belief requires trust. It is not enough to have a knowledge and acknowledgment of what is true. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man with an unclean demon cried out, “Ha, what have you do with us…I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” This demon certain had a knowledge and intellectual assent to the reality of Jesus Christ. But the demon could not say, “I believe” because he did not trust. Trust is not only knowing an airplane will fly and giving intellectual assent to that truth. Trust is buckling yourself into the seat and flying.
Each of these components is crucial when we say the words, “I believe.” When knowledge, assent, and trust are increasing there is an emotional reaction in the heart. Our affections will deepen and our love will grow. True belief is more than persuasion, but it is a love and delight in the object of that belief. Truly affirming the “I believe” of the Creed means loving and delighting in the Triune God of the Creed.
1. R. C Sproul, Renewing Your Mind: Basic Christian Beliefs You Need to Know (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), p. 19.