The Apostles’ Creed is our short summary of what a person needs to believe in order to be a Christian.
It came out of a time of anxiety. Different spiritual leaders in different places were putting out conflicting messages. Fear and conflict grew. Could someone write down on paper a summary of what a Christian believes?
The Apostles’ Creed has three parts. The first gets on and off the stage in a hurry—one line. There is a God. He can do anything. All comes from him and is sustained by him.
How much space the Second Article takes up on the page compared to the part preceding it! These many words about Jesus are a partial answer to the question “What conflicts did early Christians grapple over?” In these lines about God’s Son lay contention. “Born of the virgin Mary . . . rose from the dead . . . will return to judge.”
The third part of our Creed is neither as brief as the first nor as exhaustive as the second. The Third Article repeats five Bible truths that a Christian must believe:
Holy Spirit: The devil is the prince of this world, Jesus revealed to his apostles. Three unflattering adjectives—dead (Ephesians 2:1), hostile (Romans 8:7), and foolish (1 Corinthians 2:14)—describe the human heart as God finds it. The Bible can describe the human existence as a slave’s life under Satan’s spiritual lordship. So the third part of the Creed wants to comfort the alarmed conscience. Here on earth operates not only the unclean spirit, but also God’s Holy Spirit.
Holy Christian church: It was in Eden that Satan destroyed the faith bond between the heavenly Father and his human children. According to Genesis 3, the LORD spoke to the serpent. Despite the wreckage Satan had caused, God declared his intention to (re)gather a family. He would put enmity between the devil’s family and Eve’s offspring. One of Eve’s descendants, a male child, would come and crush the serpent. In distinction to and in conflict with the community of unbelievers, the LORD promised that there would be a gathering of believers, a family of faith, children of God, a community of saints.
Forgiveness of sins: Unforgiven is a terrible way to live and die. To be the object of God’s wrath is an appalling thought. The holy Christian church possesses the counterweight to guilt’s fearful experiences: forgiveness for Christ’s sake. Here is the church’s true treasure. We will not find full and free forgiveness anywhere else.
Resurrection of the body: Christians know that they are flesh and blood; they know that they will go back to dust. Jesus’ disciples, however, do not grieve like others who have no hope. The disciple looks forward to leaving his grave behind, just as Jesus has risen from his. It’s dismal to consider the alternative—a Christless death.
Life everlasting: None of us has any experience with life after death. The fish that dies on the stringer, the family dog buried in his blanket, the high school classmate memorialized at the side of the road—these life experiences teach us that life is temporary and that death is final. With what an astonishing flourish, then, does the Creed end: there is such a thing as eternal life! There is a kind of life that does not wither away or come to a catastrophic conclusion or default to Satan. It is the Holy Spirit, not the evil spirit, who is the Lord of Life.
The Apostles’ Creed is our short summary of what a person needs to believe in order to be a Christian. Study it closely. Thank God for those who passed it down to you. Savor it in worship. Determine to share it with another person soon.
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE