[B04] The Apostles' Creed: Christian Faith

It is by faith alone that man is able to appropriate the salvation which God has prepared for him in Christ Jesus. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Right after this splendid, comforting passage, the Divine record proceeds thus: “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Here we have one of the most decisive, of the many emphatic, and oft repeated, Biblical statements that apart from Christ there can be no spiritual, no eternal life for man; and that Christ, with all His gifts and blessings, is received alone by faith.

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4. Christian Faith

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. — [St. Mark] 16:16.

Man, the one who says “I” in the Creed, is of right royal descent. The King of heaven is his Father, and he once bore the Father’s image. Even in his ruined, lost estate, man still bears some vestiges of his origin and original character. And though he steel his heart against his Father, refuse all His proffers of help, and sink down to endless perdition, man will forever carry with him some few evidences of his divine sonship. But it is the one who can truly say, I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, who has started on the way the end of which means the complete recovery of his long lost heritage, the restoration of the Father’s image.

“I believe in God.” Only those on whose minds and hearts there has fallen the warming, life-giving Spirit of God, only those who have learned to know God through Christ Jesus, can truly say these words. Nature, as a mirror, reflects the glory of God; but there is nothing here which corresponds to man’s, “I believe in God.” “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” And in many things the members of the lower animal kingdom show that they are acting on the impulse of divinely implanted laws. But to none of them is it given to say anything like man’s confession, “I believe in God.” And brutish men, those whose souls are cluttered and clogged with thoughts of only material things; those whose minds and hearts are seared by the fires of lust, — none of these can truly say: “I believe in God.” Only where the Spirit of the living God Himself has brushed away the cobwebs from man’s brain, and burnished the windows of his soul, can the “I,” that which constitutes the true inner man, look out into the face of that unseen but all-embracing Love, and say, “I believe in God.” It takes true manhood, womanhood; it take an “I” which has come into consciousness of its true self, as to its origin, present condition, and future possibilities, to say aright, “I believe in God.”

The words believe, and faith, are such fundamental ones in the Creed and all Scripture, that every Christian ought to be vitally interested in the subject. So much depends on faith that we should earnestly seek to know all that we can about it. Let us, then, today take up for further consideration the vitally important subject of Christian Faith. Let us see what the Word of God has to say about its necessity, its nature, its content, and its conquests.

1. The Necessity of Christian Faith

The necessity of Christian faith no one can question who knows and accepts Scripture teaching. From the words of our text we learn that belief is one of the indispensable conditions of salvation. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:6), the Apostle says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” In this chapter we have an account of a line of the heroes of the faith, some of the men and women who, from the beginning of human history, have been bound together into one glorious company by this great controlling principle of human life, faith in God.

Just preceding the aforementioned passage in Hebrews there is a statement concerning Enoch. If we go back to the account of Enoch’s life, as briefly given in Genesis, we find no statement concerning his faith. Why, then, is he mentioned here as one of the lights in this brilliant galaxy of the heroes of the faith? I think the Apostle explains himself. He says, “Enoch had this testimony, that he pleased God.” What a simple, but withal, what a beautiful and significant statement, “He pleased God.” These words are a commentary on the necessity of faith in that they show why the unbeliever cannot please God. He does not walk with God, he has not the mind of God, he does not trust God. Faith is just walking with God, as the child walks with a parent; it is enjoying the Father’s company, leaning on the Father’s arm, listening to the Father’s counsel, joyously running the Father’s errands. This is faith, this is spiritual life, which two things, in the final analysis, are practically one.

It is by faith alone that man is able to appropriate the salvation which God has prepared for him in Christ Jesus. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Right after this splendid, comforting passage, the Divine record proceeds thus: “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Here we have one of the most decisive, of the many emphatic, and oft repeated, Biblical statements that apart from Christ there can be no spiritual, no eternal life for man; and that Christ, with all His gifts and blessings, is received alone by faith.

Indeed, a considerable portion of God’s Word would have to be transferred to this page if we wished to give the passages which treat of the necessity of Christian faith. By faith do we become Christians; with the begetting of the first spark of faith by the brooding Spirit of God, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ. Faith is the secret of growth in the Christian life. Only to those who have faith comes the peace and joy which was Christ-bought and is Spirit-given. Only to those who have faith in Christ are the portals opened which admit to the endless blessedness of heaven.

We might at this point pause to illustrate the fact that the whole fabric of human society reveals the necessity of faith. In dealing with things purely temporal and earthly there is scarcely a step in human life which does not demand the exercise of faith. We simply leave this thought with you for your own easy verification; and for further elaboration elsewhere. But how this emphasizes the rationality of faith in the sphere of religion.

2. The Nature of Saving Faith

The nature of saving faith is a point of vital importance. The necessity of faith receiving such an emphasis as it does from the lips of God Himself ought to lead every interested person to investigate carefully as to what this thing is to which so much importance is attached.

Men have often been mystified by regarding faith as a quality or action of the soul exercised only in religion. In every walk of life men exercise faith. It is a principle of the every-day life. The chief difference between Christian faith and the faith of the every-day life is not in the nature of the thing itself; but in the cause awakening the faith, and in the things on which it lays hold.

Without faith, as men and things are now constituted, there could be no coherent, progressive society. When thinking people marry and establish a home it is a venture based on faith. Every business undertaking, however carefully the probabilities may have been weighed, and the elements of chance eliminated, is made in faith; faith in the continuance of ability to meet requirements, faith in the stability of present conditions, or in the regular development of conditions anticipated. The young people who sacrifice ease, and spurn the frivolities to the pursuit of which so many give themselves, and live laborious days, because they are preparing for the future, are building on faith, — the faith that future rewards will more than compensate for the present sacrifice. The farmer sows his fields, and in faith awaits the harvest.

In all these things of the world, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In all these things men are building for the future, basing their judgment on what they know of the laws operating in the past. Thus we work by faith seeing the harvest in the future, and enjoying it by anticipation.

Christian faith has marks differentiating it from non-Christian faith; but to remember the things they have in common, to remember the motive power of any kind of a living faith in a man’s heart, should effectually dissipate the stigma with which the unthinking would brand Christian faith.

Christian faith, like all real faith, has in it an element of knowledge.

“How can they believe in Him of whom they have have not heard?” “Faith cometh by hearing.” Where there is no knowledge there can be no faith. But we do not confine knowledge solely to intellectual comprehension. And, indeed, there is comparatively little of our Christian knowledge which is demonstrable. Faith is a Divinely-wrought living experience of the soul of man. Faith is not a cold, speculative, indifferent acceptance of the theory concerning God; but the surrender of the heart to the personal Being who has created, redeemed, called, enlightened, and saved us. Faith, at least where it has come to some degree of maturity, is not an uncertain, trembling waiting for deliverance; but, while it is the cause, it is also the blessed experience of it.

Christian faith is not built on reasoning merely, as is the faith concerning the affairs of the world of which we have spoken. Men everywhere, and in all ages, have concluded that there must be an adequate cause for the phenomena around us. From the study of our own hearts, our fears, our longings, our aspirations, our hopes, men have concluded that we are not the sporadic children of chance; but the offspring of a common Father, who is anxious to help us realize our soul’s dearest hopes. But Christian faith, while it thankfully appropriates all the benefit from the aforementioned considerations, is characterized by this that it is based on the revelations which God has made of Himself, His plans, and His work in His Word. And our faith in this Word is Spirit-wrought; it is not something to which we come by the processes of mere human study and meditation. But the means which the Holy Spirit uses in awakening Christian faith is the Word of God.

3. The Content of Christian Faith

The content of our Christian faith is another subject worthy of our serious consideration. In other words, what is it that we are to believe?

So far we have spoken of faith as a principle dwelling in the Christian’s breast. In theological language, we call this the subjective faith; that living, appropriating, moving principle which dwells in the soul of man, the believing subject. This faith in the soul is begotten by, is based on, and nurtured by certain principles or truths which have an existence in themselves outside and independent of man. These truths form the content of our faith. They are the things believed. This is sometimes called the objective faith.

Not all religious faith is Christian faith. The Mohammedan, the Buddhist, and the Confucian each have a faith, they believe something; but it is by no means Christian faith. Neither are the unfounded opinions of men concerning religious things deserving of the name Christian faith, though too large a part of the so-called faith of many people is but little more than this. Indeed, not a few people think that it does not matter materially what a man believes, just so he believes; thus making the benefit to lie in faith as an act of man, rather than in the objects which man appropriates by faith.

The content of Christian faith, reduced to its simplest terms, is Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Savior. It is written that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). When one knows himself to be a poor lost sinner, deplores and confesses it; and recognizes Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin, and with the confidence of his heart, weak and trembling though it be, reaches out to lay hold of Jesus as his Savior, that man has faith; God receives that man, forgives him, justifies him, makes him an heir of all His spiritual blessings.

There is, however, a larger content of Christian faith. Every word of God has been given as a proper object of faith. And as the child of God grows in the knowledge of revealed truth, the Bible, these truths, all of which are more or less closely related to Christ Jesus and His redemptive work, become part of the content of his Christian faith. There are degrees of faith, both as to the range of things believed, and the strength with which they are held. In both it is the earnest Christian’s purpose to increase his faith. And this growth comes from careful, prayerful study of God’s Word, by faithful attendance at the table of the Lord, and by Spirit-wrought obedience to God’s expressed will.

As to the Apostles’ Creed, the words “I believe” refer to every statement therein contained; and they present a summarization of all Divinely revealed truth. And this is a personal confession. Each one says, this is my faith. Is it so in very truth? Is the repetition of this ancient summary of the Christian faith a mere form with us, or is it the sincere expression of what in our hearts we truly believe?

4. The Conquests of Faith

And now just a word as to the conquests of faith.

Not a few people look on faith as a thin, nebulous, bloodless something, much as the stuff of which dreams are made, and, consequently, having very little power for the accomplishment of practical things of moment. It is evident that such persons do not know what faith is, either by experience, or by way of its actual achievements as they have become records of history. A real faith is the greatest motive power that can find lodgment in the human breast. Faith is a burning power, a tremendous energy. It produces boldness and richness of character. The man who has most faith does most. This is true in every walk of life. It is especially true in the sphere of religion. And the secret of it is this, Christian faith does not only mightily spur men on to action, it draws sustenance and power from the very heart of God. Christian faith is not only man’s truest self, the highest life of the soul; it is a wonderful God-given faculty by which, as with a thousand tentacles, man’s soul lays hold of the life and power of God, to which God gives Himself to be used of man in the accomplishment of His own great work.

Faith does not only make men valiant in action. What is in many respects much harder, it makes men courageous, and patient, and even joyful, when called on to endure. It is never easy for men and women to bear affliction; but to those of an active, impetuous temperament it is especially difficult. Their souls cry out for action. It is hard to think even, as we say, of being laid on the shelf. The natural tendency, under such conditions, is to fret and chafe. But faith which knows the fatherly love of God, and the wise benignity of His overruling providence, makes strong to bear all burdens. And to bear them, not with the helpless despair of utter weakness, but oft with a finer courage than is often seen in the strong and active, with a calmness and inner joy which impels the resigned soul to sing songs of victory in the darkest hours.

The first great conquests of faith are wrought in the heart, the inner life, of a man. Faith is the eye of the soul by which that unseen to the physical senses becomes visualized and certain. God, and heaven, and eternal life and glory are brought into the living present. And the coming in of the Divine drives out the carnal, the weak, the vicious. Faith purifies the heart (Acts 15:9). The man of a living Christian faith cannot be little, mean, or vulgar. Faith chains up the base passions, or by Divine alchemy changes and harnesses them for godly service. Faith transforms the vilest sinners into saints; saints first of all by the appropriation of Jesus Christ with His righteousness, saints also in the ever growing realization of the Christ-ideal in the life and living of the believer. By faith the soul, dwelling in the secret chamber with God, is unmade and remade; old things lose their hold, new things, the things of God, take root and grow in the new soil of the soul. Faith overcomes the fascinating allurements of the merely material and sensuous; because it realizes their intrinsic littleness, transitoriness, and fatuity; and, in contrast, the immeasurableness, permanence, and power of the spiritual and Divine. Everywhere are to be seen the moral victories, the spiritual triumphs, the lasting achievements wrought in the lives of individuals, who have been taught by faith to build, on the ruins of their own dead lives, higher, better, more lasting, eternally beautiful things.

By faith the narrowness, hatred, and vindictiveness of Saul was changed into the wide-eyed vision, the world-embracing love, and the astonishing energy of Paul. This same faith is the secret of that astonishing determination which led a frail body to perform miracles of constructive work in building up God’s Kingdom. By faith the superstitious, fearful, trembling monk of Erfurt became the increasingly fearless and powerful Reformer, who brought spiritual and civic liberty to half the world, and greatly weakened the fetters which bind the other half. And the same essential internal transformations have been going on, and are still going on, in the souls of ten thousand times ten thousand of the sin-fettered sons and daughters of men all the world over. Mighty is the power of a real, living Christian faith. It wields the power which created and rules the world. This power is limited only by the weakness of the vessels which contain and use the treasure. Not till Christ, the Mighty Son of God, has lost His power shall those who livingly lay hold of Him be utterly weak.

What splendid victories have been won in the world by the power of Christian faith. An hour before Gethsemane Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” He broke the power of evil, and made it possible for every disciple of His to become victor over all the powers of darkness. In the faith of the Son of God what victories have been won. Humanly speaking, how insignificant and inauspicious was the beginning. What successful attacks Paul made, single handed, on the very citadels of godlessness. And soon empires yielded to the attacks of the few faith-filled disciples, armed only with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and fired with faith in its power. Faced by all the serried ranks of the allied hosts of evil, the conquests have continued. Temporary reverses come, as the Master plainly foretold. At times the old weakness reasserts itself, and, in the face of the menacing threats and seeming victories of the devil-led hosts of greed and lust, we ask, — are we making progress? Is ultimate victory assured? Avaunt such littleness of faith! Get thee behind me, satan! We shall win, for “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Luther's Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles' Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

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