Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent week 4, Faith
Volume 8 No. 465 March 2, 2018
IV. Featured Articles: Faith

On Abraham's Faith

by Pope Benedict XVI

"Saying 'I believe in God' means founding my life on Him"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to start today to reflect with you on the Creed, the solemn profession of faith which accompanies our lives as believers. The Creed begins, "I believe in God." It is a fundamental affirmation, deceptively simple in its essentiality, but one that opens onto the infinite world of the relationship with the Lord and with His mystery. Believing in God implies adherence to Him, the welcoming of His Word and joyful obedience to His revelation.  "Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself" (CCC no. 166). Being able to say that one believes in God is therefore both a gift – God reveals Himself, He comes to meet us – and a commitment, it is divine grace and human responsibility, in an experience of dialogue with God who, out of love, "speaks to men as friends" (Dei Verbum, 2); He speaks to us so that, in faith and with faith, we may enter into communion with Him.

Where can we listen to His Word? The Holy Scripture is fundamental, in which the Word of God makes itself audible for us and nourishes our life as "friends" of God. The entire Bible recounts the revelation of God to humanity, the whole Bible speaks about faith and teaches us faith by telling a story in which God carries out His plan of redemption and comes close to us men, through many bright figures of people who believe in Him and entrust themselves to Him, up to the fullness of revelation in the Lord Jesus.

A beautiful passage relating to this context is chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews, which we just heard. Here it speaks of faith and highlights the great biblical figures who have lived it, becoming a model for all believers: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The eyes of faith are thus able to see the invisible and the heart of the believer can hope beyond all hope, just like Abraham, of whom Paul says in Romans that He "believed, hoping against hope" (Hebrews 4:18).

And it is precisely on Abraham that I would like to focus my attention, because He is the first major reference point for talking about faith in God: Abraham the great patriarch, the exemplary model, the father of all believers (cf. Rom 4:11-12). The Letter to the Hebrews presents him in the following way:

"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
(Hebrews 11:8-10).

The author of Hebrews refers here to the call of Abraham, narrated in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. What does God ask of this great patriarch? He asks him to leave his country and go to the country that He will show him, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). How would we respond to an invitation like that? It is, in fact, a departure in the dark, not knowing where God will lead him; it is a journey that calls for a radical obedience and trust, accessible only through faith. But the darkness of the unknown – where Abraham must go – is illuminated by the light of a promise; God adds to His command a reassuring word that opens up before Abraham a future of life in its fullness:

"I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
(Gen 12:2-3).

The blessing, in Holy Scripture, is linked primarily to the gift of life that comes from God, and manifests itself primarily in fertility, in a life that is multiplied, passing from generation to generation. And the blessing is linked also to the experience of owning a land, a stable place to live and grow in freedom and security, fearing God and building a society of men loyal to the Covenant, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (cf. Ex 19:6).

So Abraham, in the divine plan, is destined to become the "father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:5; cf. Rom 4:17-18) and to enter into a new land in which to live. Yet Sarah, his wife, is barren, she is unable to have children; and the country to which God leads him is far from his native land, it is already inhabited by other peoples, and will never truly belong to him. The biblical narrator emphasizes this, though very discreetly: when Abraham arrived at the place of God's promise, "at that time the Canaanites were in the land" (Gen 12:6). The land that God gives to Abraham does not belong to him, he is a stranger and will remain so forever, with all that this entails: not aspiring to possess, always feeling his own poverty, seeing everything as a gift. This is also the spiritual condition of those who agree to follow Christ, of those who decide to start off, accepting His call, under the sign of His invisible but powerful blessing. And Abraham, the "father of believers," accepts this call, in faith. St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans:

"Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become 'the father of many nations,' according to what was said, 'So numerous shall your descendants be.' He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised."
(Rom 4:18-21).

Faith leads Abraham to tread a paradoxical path. He will be blessed, but without the visible signs of blessing: he receives the promise to become a great nation, but with a life marked by the barrenness of his wife Sarah; he is brought to a new homeland but he will have to live there as a foreigner, and the only possession of the land that will be granted him will be that of a plot to bury Sarah (cf. Gen 23:1-20). Abraham was blessed because, in faith, he knows how to discern the divine blessing by going beyond appearances, trusting in God's presence even when His ways seem mysterious to him.

What does this mean for us? When we affirm: "I believe in God," we say, like Abraham: "I trust You; I entrust myself to You, Lord," but not as Someone to run to only in times of difficulty or to whom to dedicate a few moments of the day or of the week. Saying "I believe in God" means founding my life on Him, letting His Word orient me each day, in the concrete choices, without fear of losing something of myself. When, in the Rite of Baptism, we are asked three times: "Do you believe?" in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church and the other truths of faith, the triple response is in the singular: "I believe," because it is my personal existence that must go through a turning point with the gift of faith, it is my life that must change, convert. Each time we attend a Baptism we should ask ourselves how we are living out the great gift of faith each day.

Abraham, the believer, teaches us faith; and, as a stranger on earth, shows us our true homeland. Faith makes us pilgrims on earth, placed within the world and its history, but on the way to the heavenly homeland. Believing in God therefore makes us bearers of values that often do not coincide with what's fashionable or the opinions of the times, it asks us to adopt criteria and engage in conduct which do not belong to the common way of thinking. The Christian should not be afraid to go "against the grain" in order to live his faith, resisting the temptation to "conform". In many societies God has become the "great absentee" and in His place there are many idols, first of all the autonomous '"I". The significant and positive advances in science and technology also have caused in man an illusion of omnipotence and self-sufficiency, and a growing self-centeredness has created many imbalances in interpersonal relationships and social behaviors.

However, the thirst for God (cf. Ps 63:2) has not vanished and the Gospel message continues to resonate through the words and deeds of many men and women of faith. Abraham, the father of believers, continues to be the father of many children who are willing to walk in his footsteps and set out on the way, in obedience to the divine call, trusting in the benevolent presence of the Lord and welcoming His blessing to become a blessing for all. It is the blessed world of faith to which we are all called, to walk without fear following the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is sometimes a difficult journey, that knows even trial and death, but that opens onto life, in a radical transformation of reality that only the eyes of faith can see and savor in abundance.

To say "I believe in God" leads us, then, to set off, to go out of ourselves continually, just like Abraham, to bring into the daily reality in which we live the certainty that comes to us from faith: the certainty, that is, of the presence of God in history, even today; a presence that brings life and salvation, and opens us to a future with Him for a fullness of life that will never diminish. Thank you.

From the address of then Pope Benedict XVI delivered on January 23, 2013.
Translation by Peter Waymel

Source: Zenit News Agency

The Apostles' Creed, Part 1: Introduction

by Jared C. Wilson

As the earliest extra-biblical Christian confessional document, the Apostles' Creed has stood the test of time as the preeminent testament to creedal orthodoxy. This is for good reason, even apart from its primacy. The creed attributed to the earliest missionary followers of Jesus distills the basic outline of what it means to be a Christian into a short summation that belies the depth and richness of what it proclaims. It is quite possible that in years of rote recitation, the creed has appeared dry to us and flat. But let's look at it again, perhaps with fresh eyes.

Here is the text I will be working from during this series:

We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
(He descended into hell.)*
On the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of God the Father;
from which he will come to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

It's possible that we have become so familiar with the creed that we've become blind to some of its unique qualities. First, notice that the creed is not merely a catalog of doctrines but is phrased as a confession. "We believe" it urges us to say. Sincere recitation of the creed requires faith in the God who has accomplished these great things and belief that these great things were accomplished. In this way, the Apostles' Creed is not just theology, but doxology, and as it is so often included in the liturgy of Christian worship services, it is meant to be recited together, as a body of believers, as an act of worship.

The Apostles' Creed is not simply textbook theology; it is hymnbook theology! It is the song of a liberated heart, similar to the biblical confessions and doxologies, the eruption of personal confession that is faithful profession. The creed is a confession in the truest sense of the word: Christians confess with the creed that these are things they must believe to be saved.

When G.K. Chesterton wrote of confessional orthodoxy, he made an important point in proclaiming, "I did not make it. It is making me," (a line Rich Mullins made sure to include in the chorus of his sung version of the creed on his album "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band"). Why is this an important point? Because it asserts that the Apostles' Creed is not the invention of theologians, just as it was not the invention of the apostles. It was formulated by them, of course, but it came from what really happened in history and what really happened in their hearts and lives as a result of what really happened in history.

At our best, apart from God's intervention, we would not have created a philosophy that confessed God's supremacy and glory. Our creed would have asserted (not confessed) the accomplishments of ourselves. It would include the phrases "We think" and "We feel." But the supernatural saving power of the gospel at the center of the Apostles' Creed is the shaper of the lives who confess it. It "makes" the confession "We believe."

Secondly, speaking of the gospel, notice the narrative shape of the creed. It tells the gospel story! Beginning with the one true God - who is self-sufficient and needful of nothing - creating the universe. It then goes on to detail the incarnation of God in flesh, giving us the historical detail of Christ's birth and life and death. Then it moves on to the next plot point in the grand tale of redemption: the resurrection; then the ascension. And this is why the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the triune Godhead, equal in deity and one in substance with the Father and the Son, doesn't appear until the latter portion of the creed. Confession of the Spirit coincides narratively with the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost after the ascension of Christ.

The Spirit empowers the gospel of Christ then to build the church, unite the saints in their spirits, and save the lost. Finally, the creed ends with the new beginning, the "end of days" part of the Bible's gospel story, when the dead in Christ are raised incorruptible and the Lord's return ushers in the eternal joy of the new heavens and the new earth. This is what "the life everlasting" corresponds to, in great keeping with the biblical forecast of Jesus' renewing all things, not simply our receiving a ticket to heaven when we die.

When we read the creed in this way, then - as doxological confession and as proclamation of the gospel storyline of the Scriptures - we help ourselves see the powerful depth and beauty in the old familiar lines.

The Apostles' Creed, Part 2: God the Father Almighty

by Jared C. Wilson

In the introduction to our walk through the Apostles' Creed, we learned how this ancient document does not merely reproduce historical facts but tells them according to the shape of the Bible's gospel story. And we also learned how the creed is not simply theology, but doxology - a confession of faith as an expression of worship. "We believe" the creed has us say, and this belief begins where the gospel story and our worship ought to begin, with the one who has no beginning (or end): God himself. Here is our focus text for this installment:

We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the maker of heaven and earth ...

As a faith statement, this confession is not unlike that of the Israelites' Shema - "Hear, O Israel: The Lordour God, the Lordis one" (deuteronomy 6:4) - which was perhaps the believer's very first creed. Recited by the faithful Jew at least twice a day, typically rehearsed with their children at night before bedtime, the Shema reminds the faithful children of God of who God is, what God is, and how God is (which is to say, what he's like). In an echo of the Shema, the opening clause of the Apostles' Creed does the same.

"We believe," the Creed says, not in some gods (as if multiple deities exist) or in a god (as if God is some vague, unrelational higher power we don't so much believe in as we hope he exists). "We believe," it says, "in God." Our God is the only God. He is the one true God. The way the confession is phrased asserts exclusivity and identity. This God is the God.

We are not "the maker of heaven and earth." God is. Heaven and earth didn't just appear in a magical moment of self-actualization; they didn't just always exist; they didn't just develop by a long, random chain of geological and inter-planetary happenstances. They were made by God. That's who God is: the maker of everything. That's (part of) what makes him God.

But, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, "We don't believe just because a God exists; we believe because this God exists."

Who is this God? First, God is a Person, by which we don't mean that he's a human being. He's not a mortal person or a created person. He is not "people." God is spirit, so he is a perfect, eternal, spiritual Person. He is personal; he has a personality. God is not a "life force" or some impersonal mystical vibe floating around outer space or the aether. He thinks things and says things. He relates to his creation. He takes joy, he is jealous, he is love, he is just, he has anger and wrath, he has grace and mercy.

The creed gives us a tremendous insight into the personal way our God relates to us. We believe in God, the Father. The personal God relates to us as a dad to his children. When Jesus began teaching his disciples how to relate to God, he referred to God with the word "abba," or "father." More literally, "abba" is similar to our words "dad" or "daddy." Now, the concept of God as Father wasn't new to the people of Jesus' day, but it certainly was not so commonplace, and it wasn't the dominant way people referred to God. But Jesus came to show us what the one true God is like, and the Apostles' Creed reflects the special relationship that God has with his worshipers: a loving father to dependent children.

God as Father shows us that his God-ness consists of paternal love, mercy, and patience. But the Creed reminds us that this God, while being Father, is still God. He is "the Father Almighty." Traditionally, Christian orthodoxy has expounded God's might with these classical attributes found in the Bible:

1. Omnipotence. God is all-powerful. jeremiah 32:17 is a good example. God is eternal, and there is nothing impossible for him. The "maker of heaven and earth" made them from nothing, simply speaking them into existence.

2. Omnipresence. God is all-present. Because God is sovereign and spirit, he literally sees everything at once and is everywhere at once. He is not subservient to his creations, not even space and time. See jeremiah 23:23-24, 1 kings 8:27, and psalm 139 for some good proclamations of omnipresence.

3. Omniscience. Because God is all-powerful and all-present, he is all-knowing. psalm 147:5, proverbs 15:3, and hebrews 4:13 give us a sampling of his omniscience.

4. Sovereignty. God is truly all-mighty, and therefore he is in control. proverbs 16:9 tells us that "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." In exodus 4:11, God claims responsibility for muteness and speech, sight and blindness. In psalm 115:3 we learn that he does whatever he wills. And because God is sovereign, he can even work our sin for his good purposes (see Joseph's story, or Job's). God cannot be thwarted precisely because he is God.

5. Holiness. God is utterly perfect, utterly "other," and utterly just. In revelation 4:8 we encounter the great exultation, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God almighty, who was and is and is to come."

"Holy, holy, holy" we cry. Why? Because God is three-times holy, which means he is perfectly holy. But embedded in this three-fold cry is something else important about the one true God. He is one God, but this one God exists in three Persons. The opening clause of the creed confesses the Father. It also confesses the Bible's revelation of the fullness of the Godhead, consisting of the Son and the Spirit, both equally and eternally God, yet distinct from the Father. In our next installment, we will turn to the Christian's confession of "Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord."

The Apostles' Creed, Part 3: Jesus Christ

by Jared C. Wilson

As we have seen in our previous installments in this series (part 1, part 2), the ancient Apostles' Creed is a wonderful igniter of twenty-first century worship. Both the doctrinal content of the creed and the biblical narrative it reflects make this document rich with gospel.

As such, it makes perfect sense that roughly half of the creed centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose accomplishments became the gospel. In this portion of our walk through the creed, we will focus on the initial confession of belief in Jesus, the second Person of the triune Godhead.

After we confess belief in God the Father Almighty, we pair that confession with this statement:

"…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord"

There is good reason for pairing confession of God the Father with God the Son in this instance. It helps the creedal confessor affirm that the Son, while proceeding from and submissive to the Father, is nonetheless equal to the Father. We pair the Father with the Son because we only know the Father through the Son (Matthew 11:27), because the Son does the Father's will (john 4:34, 10:25), and because the Son is equal to the Father (john 5:18)

We know these things not primarily from the creed but from the Scriptures the creed summarizes. When the Apostle Peter proclaims, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (matthew 16:16), Jesus affirms his conviction and promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church that holds to this doctrine (matthew 16:17-18). Here is the Apostle Paul's confession:

"God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord"
(1 Corinthians 1:9).

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul has just told us three important things about Jesus that the creed affirms: he is Son, Christ, and Lord.

Jesus the Son

The Bible speaks of Jesus as "son" in two primary ways: Son of Man and Son of God. Both are important titles that are alike in some ways but also unique. The title "Son of Man" traditionally carries apocalyptic significance. It is a messianic title, and although it has been applied to multiple figures, as it pertains to the Christ, it typically conveys a sense of divine royalty and messianic fulfillment. When the Bible prophesies about the coming Son of Man, foretelling the arrival of the Christ, it refers to the climactic appearing of the divine king ordained by God to set his people free and set all to rights. It is not, strictly speaking, a designation of divinity - meaning "Son of Man" does not inherently mean that the bearer of the title is God. But the other main way the Bible speaks of Jesus' sonship in fact does.

The title of "Son of God" speaks not just to Jesus special relationship to the Father but to his unique nature shared with the Father. Another ancient document of the orthodox faith, the Nicene Creed explains:

. . . the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

In one sense, of course, all believers are sons (and daughters) of God. But not in the same essential sense that Jesus is God's Son. In fact, john 1:12 tells us that it is only through Jesus' Sonship (which John 1 and other texts teach us is eternal) that we receive the right to become children of God ourselves. But Jesus didn't have to qualify that way. He has this Sonship unequivocally and unconditionally - again, eternally.

When the Scriptures say Jesus is the Son of God, then, they are not just pointing out that Jesus is in relationship to the Father as a son is to his father but that Jesus is in relationship to the Father as very God to very God. Even the Pharisees understood this: "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (john 5:18). And in John 10, when Jesus says that he and the Father "are one" (v.30) the grumblers don't hear him to be merely saying he's in agreement with the Father but that he and the Father are of the same essence, which is why they take up stones to kill him for blasphemy (v.33). They say, "You a man are making yourself out to be God."

Therefore, when the Bible (as in 1 Corinthians 1:9) and the Apostles' Creed refer Jesus as Son, they are confessing his deity. Jesus the Son of God is the second Person of the Trinity.

Jesus the Christ

Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:9, the Creed refers to Jesus' royal title as well: "Christ." It is very common for people to know the name "Jesus Christ" but not to understand the meaning of this name. "Christ" is, as it happens, not Jesus' last name! No, the word Christ (which means "anointed one") is a reference to Jesus' kingship. Like the designation "Son of Man," the title "the Christ" refers to Jesus' role as messiah of Israel.

Calling Jesus "the Christ" bestows on him the fulfillment of the Jewish expectation of the coming King, the one sent by God to finally set all to rights, restore the kingdom, and usher in the age of shalom.

But biblically speaking, Jesus' kingship is not on par with the kings who came before. And while the Jews did not expect that the messiah would be God - a common anachronistic mistake of contemporary Christians - the truth revealed in the new covenant is lurking in the shadows of the old covenant nonetheless. Throughout the prophets, God promises to be Israel's king himself. See Isaiah 43:15 and Isaiah 44:6 for example.

The prevailing Jewish messianic expectation in Jesus' day was not for a God-Man, but what an astounding surprise that God defied their expectations by giving them one anyway. In fact, the story the Scriptures tell is that of God himself becoming King. In the messianic prophecy of isaiah 9:6, we learn this about the anointed one to come: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" [emphasis added]. The king will be called Mighty God!

The New Testament connects Jesus' kingship with his deity as well. Paul in Romans 9:5 tells us that the Christ is God over all. In Hebrews 1:8 we read, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever," and this is said to the Son.

Jesus the Lord

So far we have seen that the Creed, along the line of 1 Corinthians 1:9, calls us to confess belief in Jesus as Son and as Lord. Then we see a third title employed in both Scripture and in the creed of the apostles, a third title: "Lord."

This is the shortest line to draw, as Jesus' Lordship is an affirmation of his sovereignty, and an affirmation of sovereignty - especially the kind of total sovereignty ascribed in Hebrews 1:3 (he upholds the universe with his powerful word), Colossians 1:15-20, and Revelation 5:13 - is an affirmation of deity.

When the Scriptures say Jesus is Lord, they are not just saying he is in charge but that he is in charge as God is in charge because in fact he is God (e.g. Hebrews 1:3′s "the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature"). Throughout the Gospels, in fact, references to Jesus as "Lord" include employments of the Old Testament use of the divine name LORD (Yahweh), equating the Great I AM with the incarnate Word.

Faithful Trinitarianism is integral to orthodox Christianity, and the Apostles' Creed helps us in this regard. Yes, it positions coverage of the three Persons of the Godhead in relation to their prominence in the narrative of the Scriptures, but all three are present, and they are present in the confession precisely because of what the Bible tells us about them. They are each distinctly but totally and eternally and simultaneously the one God.

In this way, the Creed is a faithful guide to saving belief. If we would believe in Christ for salvation, we must make sure it is the real Christ we believe in.

The Apostles' Creed Part 4: The Incarnate Word

by Jared C. Wilson

What would prompt us to refer to a man as God? And even if we acknowledge that Jesus was somehow God, how did he become God? Was he born a man and later "divinized" in some way, perhaps at his baptism? Many have wrestled with these questions throughout church history, but the faithful church has always held as orthodox what the apostles profess in the next clause in our journey through their creed:

" . . . Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary . . ."

This short phrase encapsulates the doctrine we call "the Incarnation." What the Incarnation means is this: Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. He was not God manifesting in the illusion or appearance of a man. And he was not man operating under the title "God" as some vicarious ambassador or adoptee. Jesus was—simultaneously, totally, and actually—God and man. The second person of the Triune Godhead, the eternally begotten Son, inhabited flesh. He was God incarnate.

The Apostles' Creed doesn't attempt to explain the logic of this mind-boggling truth, but simply affirms it by reminding us that Jesus had no earthly biological father. The virgin Mary's pregnancy was accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke chronicles the promise of Jesus' birth to Mary this way:

"The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God"
(Luke 1:35)

The Jesus was a historical man is beyond (nearly) all doubt. His existence is attested to by ancient historians both religious and secular. Jesus' humanity is not typically the objection people have to the claims of Christian theology. It is not his birth to a young woman named Mary that so many reject. No, instead, it is Jesus' divinity that raises the eyebrows and prompts the challenges. But the Scriptures reference the deity of Christ in numerous places. Philippians 2:6 tells us Jesus had both the form of and equality with God. Colossians 1:15 tells us that Jesus is the image of God. 1 John 5:20 tells us that the Son is "the true God." In 2 Peter 1:1, the apostle refers to Jesus as "our God and Savior." Paul in Acts 20:28 says the church was purchased by the blood of God. Jesus himself proclaims "I and the Father are one" in John 10:30, about which, lest we think he may mean simply that he and the Father are in agreement, we should point out even the experts of the law recognized was a claim to deity (10:33).

Jesus was born of a virgin, the creed maintains. Many skeptics today will counter that "virgin" in the biblical and historical sense may refer simply to a young girl of marry-able age. This is no doubt true. But this is not the sense with which the biblical authors understood "virgin" to mean. Even if Isaiah could not have foreseen the full import of his own Spirit-breathed prophecy (Isaiah 7:14), Matthew's Gospel gives us the fullness of meaning: "[Joseph] knew her not until she had given birth to a son."

The biblical evidence for Jesus' deity is abundant. That many Jews in the first century began to worship him as God ought to give us even more indication that the evidence of his divinity was felt to be quite strong, even overwhelming. But that has not stopped challenges throughout the centuries. No, in nearly every age, the creedal church has had to respond to various forms of the ancient Arian heresy.

Going back to an Alexandrian priest in the late third, early fourth centuries named Arius, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has seemed a bridge too far. Arius denied the eternal deity of Jesus. His claim boiled down to the beliefs that Jesus was created by the Father and that the Son was of a similar essence to the Father, but not of the same essence. Arius denied that Jesus was the eternally begotten Son of God and instead that there was a point in heavenly time in which the Son was unbegotten.

The Council of Nicaea was called largely to confront the Arian history, with the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius leading the charge. Athanasius provides the earliest, most powerful, and certainly most enduring defenses of the biblical truths of Incarnational theology specifically and of Trinitarian doctrine in general. Grounded in the bold declarations of the epistles of the apostle John, Athanasius in fact categorized the Arian heresy as the work of the antichrist.

We still deal with forms of Arius' damnable lies today. Nevertheless, orthodox Christianity will always stand on Peter's hell-conquering confession that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). We stand on what he said and what he meant. (See again Part 3 of this series to learn more about how the title "Son of God" refers to Christ's nature as God, not just his position as Son.)

We will stand on this confession because we know that it is integral to Christ's gospel. To deny that Jesus was either fully God or fully man is to deny the salvation that Jesus the God-Man has purchased. The Incarnation is crucial to the good news of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. The reality is this: only man should pay the price for the sins of mankind, but only God could pay the price for the sins of mankind. Thus, in Jesus Christ, the "man should" and the "God could" unite in perfect payment and pure pardon.

In our next installment of our journey through the Apostles' Creed, we will examine further the implications of Christ's incarnation and this reality's connection to the gospel that we believe for salvation.

About The Author:

Jared C. Wilson is the author of 'Your Jesus Is Too Safe', 'Abide', 'Gospel Wakefulness', and 'Seven Daily Sins' as well as articles and essays appearing in numerous publications. He is the pastor of Middletown Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont.

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