Where were you when that dumpster exploded on Saturday, the 17th of September, 2016, at about 8:30 PM, between 6th and 7th Avenues on 23rd Street in Manhattan? Witnesses reported an event that shook buildings around the epicenter. Windows were blown out, and those on the street were injured. It didn’t look like terrorism initially (it was,) but the neighborhood was shaken up.
Something similar happened in first century Philippi, in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. This time it was an earthquake that shook up the neighborhood. Doors to cells in the local prison were opened, and the jailer, no doubt shaken from sleep, supposed his life was forfeit because his charges had escaped. One of the prisoners, the Apostle Paul, called to the jailer not to harm himself; they were all still there. The jailer, trembling with fear, rushed to Paul and his companion, Silas, and:
…He brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30 English Standard Version (ESV)
Paul and Silas “spoke the word” to the jailer and his household. As a result, he and his household all believed in God. John Calvin comments on this verse here.
This same Apostle Paul concisely addressed the nature of this belief:
…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)
But, how are we to believe this? Is it by strength of will or a leap into the dark? Stepping back a bit, Calvin says we must first have faith to believe. What, then, is the nature of this faith? To this, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
Calvin explains the second clause of this verse this way:
…We ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life.
And, it behooves us to recognize that God freely grants us this faith by His unmerited favor (i.e., grace) so that we might believe in Him:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
Probing further, this belief was encapsulated in the Apostle’s Creed (as early as 180 AD):
- I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
- And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
- Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
- Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
- The third day he rose again from the dead:
- He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
- From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
- I believe in the Holy Ghost:
- I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
- The forgiveness of sins:
- The resurrection of the body:
- And the life everlasting. Amen.
After controversies over God’s nature, a creedal statement, attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria and rooted in Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), was formulated that encompassed right belief on the matter. The gist of the Athanasian creed is:
- Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e., all-embracing or universal] faith;
- And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
- Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Nicene creed (381 AD) appears to combine significant elements of the prior two creeds:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, 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.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
These and other historical creeds have been systematized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many scripture truths are condensed in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.
I heartily encourage that you study these Westminster documents as you diligently read the Scriptures which, as the Apostle James admonishes, are able to save your soul.
So, if you have believed in His name; be certain that it has been granted to you and:
…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
Now, we embark together to follow our Savior.
Stephen Nichols: East of Eden: Our Need for a Savior, Reformation Bible College