[B27] The Apostles' Creed: The Christian's Debt of Gratitude

When truly evangelical Christians speak of debts owed to God, it is never to be understood in this sense that we consider man capable of making an adequate return to God for what He has done for us. Salvation is not a subject of barter. All the combined efforts of all men would not suffice to purchase salvation for one soul. Salvation is God’s free gift. But God has done so much for us, and is still doing so much for us, that some return ought to be made, not in the way of paying a debt; but in the form of free, loving, grateful service.

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27. The Christian’s Debt Of Gratitude

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. — 2 [Cor.] 5:14, 15.

We have been studying, at considerable length, the person and work of our blessed Redeemer. Everything which He did and endured had a purpose. God is never an aimless workman. So far as the Word enlightens us, there was no other purpose in all which our Saviour did and endured than to benefit mankind, and through serving and saving men to glorify the love and mercy of the everlasting Father.

The purpose of Christ’s redemptive work is not set forth in so many words in the Creed itself, though it is contained in the word, “Our Lord.” But the whole tenor of the second article presupposes this purpose. Luther in the explanation makes this very clear. Let us repeat again Luther’s explanation to the second article: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that I might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” Here we have the purpose clearly expressed, “that I may be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” This is what we owe to our Saviour for what He has done for us. The debt is there whether we ever attempt to pay it or not. Honest people, grateful, appreciative people, try to meet their obligations. Above all other obligations, we should try to discharge those duties which the gift of life, of salvation, imposes upon us. Let us consider today, the Christian’s debt of gratitude to Christ for his redemption. It calls for

Complete Self-Surrender to Christ

When truly evangelical Christians speak of debts owed to God, it is never to be understood in this sense that we consider man capable of making an adequate return to God for what He has done for us. Salvation is not a subject of barter. All the combined efforts of all men would not suffice to purchase salvation for one soul. Salvation is God’s free gift. But God has done so much for us, and is still doing so much for us, that some return ought to be made, not in the way of paying a debt; but in the form of free, loving, grateful service.

The first thing which Christ’s matchless redemptive work for us should prompt us to do is to make the complete surrender of ourselves to Him. This is the purpose for which Christ lived, and wrought, and died, that we might be His own. And the highest honor that can come to any human being is to be able to say, I belong to Christ Jesus; in body, mind, and soul I belong to Him. To be in bondage to any man is a badge of shame. But the noblest spirited men who have ever lived have owned themselves the servants of Jesus, and have gloried in being known as such. Human masters often abuse their authority. And sometimes assume authority where they have none in order to use it to their own advantage. Not so with Christ Jesus. His lordship over us has but one aim, our good. For this He died; for this He lives and plans and works. Christ is a Master who rules by love, and not by force. Such a Master seeks but the good of those who submit to His rule.

Surrender to Christ! What does it mean to surrender one’s self to Christ? It means to recognize the rightful sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the God-man, over our whole life. It means that His will becomes our will, the law of our life. When a person has surrendered himself to Jesus Christ it means that the ever present question of his life is, — what would Jesus have me be? What would Jesus have me do? The life surrendered to Christ brings every achievement that is worth while and lays it down as a trophy at the feet of Jesus. The Christ-surrendered life is a life which, like that of the Master, is actively interested in the welfare of others; it is an unselfishly ministering life.

Brother, sister, has the purpose, the first, the highest purpose of Christ’s redemption been accomplished in us? Have we become Christ’s own? Have we surrendered ourselves wholly to Him? If so, nothing we can do for Him, or his, will be a hardship. If our life has been surrendered to Christ then hatred, and malice, and unneighborliness will be foreign to our spirits; we will help to bear the infirmities of the weak, we will be patient and longsuffering.

Young people, you who are today going to make your Christian profession before all the world, what is the purpose by which you are moved? Does it mean that you are surrendering your life to the Saviour to be ruled by Him? Is He your only hope of salvation? Is His Word the content of your faith, and your rule of conduct? Is He to be the great example for your imitation? Do you know, and is it your purpose increasingly to know, the Master’s mind and the Master’s spirit? Are you, like the Saviour, willing to be humble, obedient, patient, loving, forgiving, helpful? Are you, like the Master, willing to practice these virtues toward the froward, impertinent, and ungracious also? This, all this, is what your step should mean.

When we are Christians we no longer belong to ourselves. We have been bought with a price. We belong to Christ. We are not to live for ourselves, to do our own will, to pursue our own whims, but to live for Christ, to do His will.

And who is so worthy of lordship over us as is Jesus Christ? Who so deserves our praise? History tells us of many persons of worthy character, who have rendered splendid service to their brethren of mankind. We honor humanity, we do ourselves an honor, when we honor such worthy people. But not one of them is comparable to Jesus Christ. As the splendor of the noonday sun exceeds the feeble rays of a wax taper, so does the character of Jesus exceeds the character of the noblest of the mere children of men. And of all the elements of His character, the most sublimely splendid was that of his condescending love, and the service it prompted. Christ’s sufferings and death, which some regard as only the unfortunate sequel of a struggle for great ends, which others regard as simply an example of the way we should all be willing to make the supreme sacrifice for an ideal, was in reality the sublimest spectacle on which the heavens ever looked down. It was the God-man, in the fullness of His power, wisdom, and love choosing the way of service, of the cross, that thereby a world-wide human emancipation might be wrought. It was the Lord of glory dying to save the childden who had sold themselves into a foul, debasing slavery. And now that He has secured our release, broken our fetters, healed our wounds, cleansed us of the marks of base servitude, clothed us with the robe of sonship which admits us into the ranks of His own Father’s children, do we not owe Him something? Though He is a brother, as well as a Lord, do we not owe Him reverence, and humble service? This is the plea of our text. It is the plea of all the Gospel.

Let us further notice that our debt of gratitude calls for active

Membership in Christ’s Kingdom

Jesus, by His redemptive work, purchased us to “live under Him in His Kingdom.” It is by the Spirit-wrought surrender of ourselves to Christ that we become members of this Kingdom, so that this subject is in reality contained in the former one; but there are some additional points of such importance that it will be time well spent if we give them a special emphasis.

Christ’s Kingdom of power extends over all things, and all things will some of these days have to acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. But unquestionably the Kingdom here meant is the Kingdom Jesus died to establish, the Kingdom of Grace, the Christian Church. This Kingdom Luther calls, as the inspired Word calls it, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It was not established by any man; it does not belong to any man, or body of men; men have no right to dictate its principles; it is the Kingdom of Jesus, the Son of God.

The Second Article of the Creed tells us that Jesus Christ came into the world; He lived, and died; He conquered sin, and death, and hell, in order to establish this Kingdom, in order to bring you and me, and all men, into this Kingdom. It is the only Kingdom in which men are trained in spiritual citizenship. It is the only Kingdom from which men are promoted to the heavenly Kingdom. My friend, are you in this Kingdom? If not you are allowing Jesus to have lived, and died in vain so far as you are individually concerned. And you are doing despite to that love of Jesus which yearns for you as a mother yearns for her child.

There are some thoughts equally as serious for those of us who are professedly in this Kingdom. Remember, the concluding part of the explanation to the Second Article tells us that Christ’s work was done with this one end in view, that we might live under Him. To live under Jesus Christ! Do I need to explain what that means? It means to own Jesus as our King. It means to be ruled by His authority. Is this true of us as members of Christ’s Kingdom? Do we think as much about Jesus Christ, the King and Saviour of our souls, as we do about the rulers of earth? Are we as careful about infringing on His holy laws as we are about violating the laws of the land in which we live? Are we as zealous in reverencing Jesus as we are in honoring those who have distinguished themselves in the affairs of our civil government? Most of us would feel most highly honored if we could contrive in some way to receive a missive from the president of our country, and would preserve it as a precious memento. Jesus Christ, the King of kings, has gone to the trouble to have written to us letter after letter, in which He reveals to us the deepest thoughts of His mind, the tenderest feelings of His heart. And He has signed and sealed it, not with ink, but with His own blood. Do we reverence this message? Not in a superstitious way, not to the extent of costly bindings and imposing clasps; but by prayerful study and meditation? Are we always, when possible, in the house of God, where the letters of Jesus are read and explained; and praise and thanksgiving rendered for them?

Those who live under Jesus in His great, blessed Kingdom do not live alone. There are other members of this Kingdom; and these members all form a family. All these members, who are, at the same time, brethren and children of the King, are to honor and serve the King by honoring and serving their brethren of the great household. Some are weak brethren, and the Master says: “Bear ye one another’s burdens. And again, “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. … For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee, fell on me” (Rom. 15:1, 3). Again, this King of our says: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:13, 35). Fellow citizens of the Kingdom, are we showing to the world by the uprightness of our lives, by the considerateness with which we treat our brethren, even the thoughtless, the inconsiderate, and those lacking self-control, that we are living in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? And that we have the spirit of Jesus in our hearts?

Young people is this an outline, it is, indeed, but a very brief outline, of what Church-membership means to you? Are you going to allow Jesus to rule in your minds and in your hearts? Are you going to serve Him in serving humanity? That is what your promises mean. To live up to them, to allow Jesus to have His way in your lives is the surest way to a useful, respected, honored manhood and womanhood. To take Jesus Christ as your King, to surrender yourselves wholly to Him, does not mean the loss of the brightness and beauty of youth. It means the directing of your energies into right channels. It means the avoidance of pitfalls. It means the addition to your lives of more than mortal power for the eradication of evil impulses and tendencies, and the implanting and unfolding of all that makes human life beautiful and worth while.

Our debt of Christian gratitude will never be fully discharged. Eternity will be too short to pay it. This debt, therefore calls for continued

Service in the Realm of Glory

Christ’s redemptive work was not only to achieve a temporary purpose. It has results, indeed, for this world. Sad would be our condition were this not true. There has never been another power in this world so potent for the general good of humanity as the cross of Christ. It has made it possible for the great burden of guilt-consciousness to be lifted from human souls. At the same time it takes the sting out of all our crosses, making our yoke easy, and our burden light. Where the burdens cannot be altogether removed, the cross of Christ changes them into blessings. The cross of Christ is the tree which sweetens the Marah’s of life (Exod. 15:23). But Christ purchased and won us for something beyond this world. The effects of His redemptive work extend beyond the border of time into eternity.

Christ’s life went from Bethlehem, by way of Calvary, to Olivet, and the eternal throne of glory. And those who surrender themselves to Christ, and serve Him here below in His Kingdom of grace, unite their lives and their destinies with His, and are carried by Him into the Kingdom of bliss and glory.

In the Kingdom of glory, and fully realized bliss, the life of the redeemed is still to be a service rendered to Christ. But it will be a service different from that rendered now. Here it is fragmentary, there it will be perfect. Here even our righteousnesses, our good deeds, are like stained and tattered garments; there all shall be in the beauty of holiness. Here the word service ordinarily bears something of the sense of drudgery. Though even here below when service is rendered to a cause or a person we love it loses the sense of drudgery, and comes near being a beatitude. So up there our service shall be like that of the angels, not a burden producing weariness; but the natural, exuberant, joyous expression of our new life, with its God-filled love and energy.

This, brethren, is the purpose for which we have been redeemed. This is the final meaning of our faith and our service. And if we live for Christ now, we shall live with Him then. If in our moments of spiritual transport, which are after all the sanest moments of our lives, when our feeble vision is borne aloft on the wings of faith to view the beauties and blessings prepared for those who love the Lord, we are lost in wonder, love, and praise, what shall be our experiences when, with unclouded eyes, we are given the beatific vision?

“My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Saviour Divine:
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
Be wholly Thine.

“May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire;
As Thou hast died for me,
O may my love to Thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be,
A living fire.

“When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold, sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll,
Blest Saviour, then, in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul.”

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.

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