“I believe in God”. So begins the creed which is said every Sunday in every Anglican church throughout the land. Many other items of belief are then added to this public declaration, known as THE CREED. It is considered to be of the utmost importance in the Christian faith to have a creed. Different denominations have different creeds. They do not vary all that much of course, otherwise they could not all call themselves exponents of the Christian faith. But the differences have often been the grounds of some break away in the past, resulting in yet another denomination.
Just how important is it to have a ‘creed’? James tells us very gravely, “So, you believe in God! You do well. So do the demons and they tremble.“ In this very statement is a key to our understanding. But let us get our facts right, lest any should say that we have advocated the scrapping of the creed! Another quotation must be placed alongside James’. In Hebrews we read, “He who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6)
In this brief paper we shall try to destroy an erroneous basis, and plant a true Biblical one. The erroneous basis comes not from the Bible itself, but from church tradition, which is not always the same.
Two quotations have been given. Both are of the utmost importance. The type of belief that the demons have does them no good. It merely makes them tremble. One might therefore logically ask the question, is it any better for a person to attend morning service Sunday after Sunday, saying the creed? And under certain circumstances it must be admitted that it does no good at all. And when we say that it does no ‘good’, what do we mean by ‘good’? The point is that God exists. If a man says “I believe in God” it does nothing for the existence of God. It doesn’t make God’s existence any more certain, or established. And what about the person himself? It does not necessarily make him into a better person. So why say it at all?
Clearly, if that person is undergoing a process of divinely wrought change, then his assertion “I believe in God” is more meaningful. But by itself, it is vain, empty, meaningless, and accomplishes nothing.
In the Hebrews reference, we are told about a man who wants to COME to God. Ah, now there is something quite different to a passive acceptance of God’s existence! Here is someone who is ON THE MOVE. He wants to GO towards God. He is therefore dissatisfied with himself. And the promise is given, that God will then be the rewarder of all who diligently seek Him. Those ‘on the move’ will be ‘rewarded’ . How will they be rewarded? They will be changed, purified, enlightened, spiritually perfected, brought progressively towards maturity. That is important.
When we hear someone say, “I believe in God” or “I believe in the near return of Christ” or “I believe in the baptism of the spirit”, whatever it is they want to assert at any particular time, then we should turn the issue round, and consider the possibility of saying to them, “Yes, but has Jesus CHANGED your life yet?”
John had some very important words in this connection. In his first letter (2:28-3:3) he speaks about our Lord’s second coming, and asks whether we shall be ashamed at His coming. Or, on the other hand, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him AS HE IS. These last words are the crux of the matter. We all have some idea in our minds of what our Saviour is like. Each of us has a sort of ‘ideal’ Son of Man, that we conjure up when praying and reading about Him. But John tells us that we shall only become like Him when we learn to see Him as He really is, and not as we think He might be. How can this come about?
I believe a small allowable change in the way 3:2 is translated will help. Instead of reading “when He shall appear” it is equally possible for the Greek to read “when it shall appear.” The pronoun can be translated in the masculine or the neuter. How does it then read? “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when it does appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him AS HE IS”, as He truly is, and not as we first thought Him to be. This change in emphasis must surely be necessary, because there can be no doubt about the fact that the second coming of Christ will not suddenly make saints out of sinners, or produce sudden maturity that is not already apparent. Therefore it is desperately important for God to be at work in our lives to change us day by day. Instead of sighing, and longing for the return of Christ, we should be actively praying “Lord, I am not so much concerned about WHEN you will be coming, but please make me like yourself now, today, tomorrow, and each day following, until you are satisfied with your own new-creative work in me. This will be my reward if I diligently seek you.”
Jesus spoke many times about believing in Him. He encouraged it constantly. To believe is to have faith. They are identical words in the Greek, one being the noun, the other the verb. What is it to have faith in the Son of God? Let us be clear what it is not! Faith is not the same as acceptance. I think that quite a lot of people who say they believe in Jesus, really mean that they accept His existence, but this does nothing to change their lives. Neither is faith equivalent to absence of doubt. You may hear someone say, “I do not doubt what you say is true.” But this does not constitute faith.
Faith, believing, is a very active, dynamic thing. It marches forward, always moving nearer to God Himself. But mereacceptance, and the absence of doubt are passive functions, armchair words, that are found frequently in intellectual discussions about religion. Such people will speak about their faith, and their beliefs, but when analysed they have no concept of true faith.
To have true faith in Jesus is about the most serious thing that can ever transpire in a person’s life. It means the beginning of change. It means the start of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, making the person’s character like that of the Master. What a strange work this is! God never destroys one’s intrinsic personality, and yet He manages to introduce His own beloved Son into the deep places of the heart. When His work is brought to completion, as told in Phil.1:6, in the day of Christ, then we shall be known even as He is known of His Father. And we shall not be ashamed at His coming, hearing Him say, as sadly He will to many, “I know you not. Depart from me.”
Dear reader, please ask yourself whether your ‘faith’ is this true Biblical dynamic force, that initiates the divine change, or whether it is mere acceptance, that passive deceiver created by the Devil to fool men into thinking that all is well. To all such as have true faith, the saying of a creed is a true reflection of the divine work within. But to all others, it is the mere sound of words repeated again and again to no real purpose. God is not moved; man is not changed; and the Devil just laughs. May the point of this article be used by God’s Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment wherever it is needed, to His glory.