“The Creed: ‘I Believe in God'”

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 1, 2023

“The Creed: ‘I Believe in God’”

In a survey taken by the Pew Research Center in September of 2021, 91% of Americans say that they believe in God or a higher power. Well, whoop-de-do. That doesn’t say much. Which God or higher power do they believe in? And what do they mean by “believe”?

Maybe they believe that there is only one God, not many gods. OK, but that does not say much. In James, it says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!” In other words, even the demons know that much, that there is only one God. But just knowing that doesn’t help them. Instead, they tremble with fear! That kind of “believing” is not the same as believing in God in the way we confess in the Creed.

We just said, “I believe in God.” But what does it mean to “believe”? I mentioned the Pew Research Center’s survey. So let’s do a little “pew” survey of our own: This wooden bench right here–do you believe that this is a church pew? “Yep, I believe that that is a church pew. I really believe that it exists.” Well, that is not belief or faith in the biblical sense. No, if you truly believe in that pew, you will come over and sit down on it! You will entrust your life to it; you will place yourself in it, trusting that it will hold you up and support you. That is more the idea of “I believe” as we say it in the Creed. Not just that you know that God exists, but that you are trusting in him for your life and salvation.

To believe that God exists does not yet tell you who this God is or how he is disposed toward you or how you are put right with him. Luther explains it like this in the Large Catechism: “Even if all people outside Christianity–whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites–believe in and worship only one true God, they still do not know what His mind toward them is and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him. Therefore, they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

In the Creed, therefore, we’re saying much more than just “there is a God who exists.” We are saying that God has revealed himself to us, so that now we know him and trust in him. We know what his mind toward us is. We know we can expect love and every blessing from him. This is Christian faith, and it is created and nurtured by the revealed gospel.

To begin with, we’re saying that God is our kind and loving heavenly Father. He created us, he provides for us, and he preserves and protects us. But how would we know this, except that God has revealed himself to us as such in the gospel? Otherwise, we might think that God is kind and loving toward us if we have plenty of money, our health is good, and everything is sunshine and roses. And then we might think that God is treating us well because of how good we are.

But what about those times when our finances are tight or the doctor’s diagnosis is grim and the sunshine and roses have turned to gray clouds and thorns? Well, then we might think we have to try harder to get back into God’s good favor. We might offer up sacrifices to the gods and really work hard on our behavior. But we would always be uncertain. We could never be certain that we had done enough to please God and be right with him. And death would always be lurking out there ahead of us as the Great Unknown.

But this is why Jesus came, to rescue us from that monster of uncertainty. It is only through Jesus Christ that we know a gracious God in all circumstances. Christ, the Son of God, came from the Father’s side to reveal God to us. Jesus makes known to us the Father’s kind and loving heart. This is what Jesus taught his disciples: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Jesus taught the love of the Father, and he put that love into action. He did this by going to the cross for us. This is how we can be sure, in all circumstances, that we have a God who loves us: Look to the cross of Christ. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In other words, if God has shown us the greatest love of all by sending his own Son to suffer and die for our salvation, then we can be absolutely sure that God loves us, even when things aren’t going so well. God’s love for you is sure and certain. Look to the cross of Christ. See there the Father’s heart of love for you.

Christ came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. On the cross he died in your place, taking the judgment and death you earned by your sins. Christ sets us free from the eternal death that would otherwise be our lot. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

So we come to know the love of the Father only through his Son. This is why Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is why the apostle John writes: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. . . . Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

OK, so we know and believe in a loving heavenly Father only through his Son, Jesus Christ. But how do we know Christ? Now we move from the Second Article of the Creed to the Third Article and the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice how Luther begins his Explanation of the Third Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.” Think of that! “I believe . . . that I cannot believe!” And that’s true. You and I would know nothing of Christ except that the Holy Spirit has given us that faith. The Spirit has created saving faith in our heart. It’s all by grace: both Christ dying for you and the Spirit giving you the faith to believe in him. It’s all a gift.

The Holy Spirit brings Christ to you, with all of his benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. What Jesus won for you on the cross, the Spirit delivers to your doorstep, to your address, with your name written on it. How does the Spirit do this? Through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament. In other words, through the ministry of the church. This is why you need to be in the Word constantly, regularly, living in your baptism, fed with the Sacrament–continually being strengthened by the gospel, so that your faith will remain strong to the end.

So now we come full circle. We know a kind and loving heavenly Father who cares for us even when it looks like he doesn’t–we know the Father only through his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ makes known the Father’s heart of love to us. And we know Christ only by the Holy Spirit, who brings us to faith in him through the gospel. Luther sums it up like this, again from the Large Catechism: “God has given to us His Son and the Holy Spirit, who brings us to Himself. For we could never grasp the knowledge of the Father’s grace and favor except through the Lord Christ. Jesus is a mirror of the fatherly heart, outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But we couldn’t know anything about Christ either, unless it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit.”

So here it is: We know the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. In the gospel, we come to know the true God, the Holy Trinity, as he reveals himself to us. And now in the Creed, we gladly confess this faith, to one another and for all the world to hear.

Dear friends, today the month of March has come in like a lamb, with such nice, pleasant weather. But how will it go out? We don’t know. March may have come in like a lamb, mild and gentle, but it could go out like a lion, wild and ferocious. You just don’t know.

Well, that’s how life is like for people who do not know God. When life is going well–they’re doing well financially, their health is good, relationships with friends and family are fine–at those times, people may think that God is nice to them and rewarding them because they are such good persons. But at other times, when life is not going well, they get mad at God or they think that God is punishing them. And they’ve got to do something to appease God, to get him back on their side. Well, those people are just guessing, they don’t know anything for sure, and they are really and truly lost, in every sense of the term.

But that is not the case with you, dear friends. You are Christians. You are baptized. You know who the true God is, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You believe in God, not just that he exists, but that you trust in him. You know, with certainty and confidence, that God is for you, no matter what your circumstances may be. How did you come to know this? Through the gospel. In the gospel, God has made himself known to us. He has worked faith in our hearts. We know that God is our kind and loving heavenly Father, in any and every circumstance. We know that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, died and rose for us, that he is our Savior from sin and death and hell, and that he will bring us to heaven to live with him forever. And we know that the Holy Spirit will keep us strong in this faith through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament.

So this is not guesswork on our part, when we say, “I believe in God.” We know who God is, and that’s a good thing. We don’t have to worry about whether the gentle lamb on our coming in will turn into a ferocious lion on our going out. No, the good Lord will watch over you and keep your coming in and your going out from this time forth and forevermore.

Published in: on March 1, 2023 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: