Dear Friends in Christ,
This is the first devotional in a series about the Nicene Creed (scroll down for additional installments).
The creeds (statements of faith) regarding the essentials of the Christian faith that came out of the ancient councils of the undivided Church bear testimony to the ongoing struggle to proclaim biblical truth in response to the emergence of heretical beliefs. The creed that came out of the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 refuted the heresy of Arianism (which denied the deity of Christ) by proclaiming that Jesus the Son of God was coeternal with the Father, and of the same divine Being. The term “consubstantial” was used, although the idea was not material substance but rather the divine essence. Without our Lord’s full deity, He would have been neither sinless, nor able to die for the sins of the whole world. After the First Council of Nicaea, two other prominent heresies emerged. The theologian Apollinaris of Laodicea taught that Jesus lacked a rational human soul, arguing that it had been replaced by the divine Logos. Thus, Apollinarius denied the biblical teaching that Jesus was fully human, which would have made it impossible for Jesus to die in the place of us fully humans for our sins. Another bishop named Macedonius denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. So the First Council of Constantinople of AD 381 refuted both Apollinarism and Macedonianism, and amended the creed of Nicaea from 325 to include a clear proclamation of Christ’s full humanity and the Holy Spirit’s full deity. Thus, the revised Nicene Creed (sometimes called by scholars the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed”) that came out of the First Council of Constantinople clearly proclaimed all of the essential doctrines pertaining to God and salvation that are taught from various places in Holy Scripture. This revised Nicene Creed has been revered and used in worship liturgies of traditional Christian churches since that time.
The genius of the Nicene Creed is that it neither under-defines nor over-defines the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. For example, rather than getting caught up in end-times speculation, the Nicene Creed simply proclaims, “he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.” But above all, the Nicene Creed fits the criteria of the Vincentian Canon: universality, antiquity, and general consent.
This Creed has remained the most important creed of orthodox Christianity, and the clearest expression of the biblical Christian faith that is taught in the Holy Scriptures against false teaching. The Nicene Creed is not just of academic curiosity, for it proclaims the very truths upon which our salvation and eternal life depend.
With you in the proclamation of the saving faith in Christ,
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of AD 381 begins with the following affirmation: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” The Bible also begins with creation. The implication of God being Creator and we being His creatures is inescapable: if He made us, then we are responsible to Him. Psalm 100 verse three drives home this truth: “Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
So the devil has been very active trying to destroy the idea of God as Creator in order to relegate the rest of the Bible to the realm of fanciful fiction. The main thrust of the attack has been to pit logical and reasonable science against the biblical account of creation. If it could be shown that the Bible is wrong about creation, then everything else in it would also be subject to doubt; and if we are not created by a personal God, then we are not responsible to Him for our behavior. Thus, Satan finds an ally in our rebellious nature: he doesn’t want us to believe in the Bible in order to keep us from salvation through faith in Christ, and sinners don’t want to have to acknowledge that they owe obedience to a personal Creator.
The two biggest assumptions on the part of many modern western Christians is that Genesis chapter one should be, and always has been, interpreted as creation in six literal 24-hour days. The atheistic scientific community bases its entire attack upon both the Bible and Christianity on the acceptance of these two assumptions. But if these assumptions are false, then the attacks are unwarranted.
Next time, we will look closely at the nature and content of Genesis chapter one. Until then, look with wonder upon the design of God as the Master Artist in the complex order of the natural world around us. Ask God each day to open our eyes to see His work from the vastness of outer space to the tiniest parts of the physical world, wherein we see the eternal power and creative love of God revealed.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of AD 381 begins by affirming that Christians believe in one God, who is the “Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Many modern western Christians assume that Genesis teaches that creation took place in six literal 24-hour days, but is that view required by the Bible itself, or by the unanimous teaching of the early Church?
Genesis chapter one is a poetic summary of the physical world that God created. It does not make sense if one looks at it chronologically (for example, light appears on day one, but the sun is not created until day four). But the order of it becomes clear when you look at it as a chart or table, where Day One is on the left and Day Four on the right, Day Two is on the left and Day Five on the right, Day Three is on the left and Day Six on the right. This symmetrical approach shows that days one, two, and three are the environments into which fits the inhabitants of days four, five, and six.
The Environment or Stage
The Inhabitants or Actors
Day 1 – Light →
Day 4 – Sun, Moon, Stars
Day 2 – The Sky (firmament) & Oceans →
Day 5 – Birds & Water Creatures
Day 3 – The Land →
Day 6 – Land Creatures & Man
The repetitious language of Genesis one is poetic; and poetry does not require a literal interpretation, but rather imparts the overall message that God created everything; which leaves us responsible to Him as His creatures. Some Christians would argue that rejecting a 24-hour day interpretation of Genesis chapter one is an attack upon God’s specific creation of Adam and Eve, upon whose existence rests key theological truths such as the origin of human sin. But Genesis 1:27 is a summary of the creation of humanity: nothing specific is said about Adam and Eve until the second creation account which begins in Genesis 2:4, and is a narrative account rather than poetic. It would also be incredible for all of the events described in 2:4-23 to have happened in 24 literal hours. It is also important to note that the same Hebrew word for “day” (yom) used in chapter one is also used in Genesis 2:4, where it clearly refers to an unspecified period of time: “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” The word “day” can refer to a period of time greater than 24 hours.
The writings of many key early Jewish and Christian scholars reject the 24 hour day interpretation, including Philo (c.20BC-AD45), Justin Martyr (c.AD100-166), Irenaeus (c.AD130-200), Clement of Alexandria (c.AD150-220), Hippolytus (AD170-236), Origen (AD185-254), Basil (c.AD330-379), and Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430): several of these authors referred to Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 in their arguments, which state that a thousand years is like a day to the eternal God. All of these ancient writers were free of scientific bias or pressure to “conform” to evolutionary theory. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that two British scholars began discussing creation as a recent occurrence. As 18th and 19th century scientists began to study fossils, the stage was set for a clash between the Christian community and scientists over the age of the earth: a clash not based upon biblical demands or early church history, but rather over assumptions for a late dating of the creation based upon poor 17th Century scholarship.
Hebrews 4 portrays the seventh day rest of Genesis 2:2 as an ongoing non-24 hour time period, so there is no compelling reason why all of the other 6 “days” need to be 24-hour days. But what is clear is that evolution apart from a Creator could not have occurred no matter how much time is available for the process: matter does not randomly go from a less organized to a more organized state.
The implication of God being Creator and we being His creatures is inescapable: if He made us, then we are responsible to Him. Psalm 100 verse three drives home this truth: “Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Who is Jesus Christ? The ancient Church’s “Nicene Creed” of AD 325-381 explained who Jesus Christ is with these words:
“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.”
These words refute one of the earliest heresies in Christianity. A priest named Arius had taught that the Son of God was created by God the Father, and therefore was not fully divine. This heresy- called Arianism– contradicted biblical teaching; and if true, would have made Jesus unable to be the sinless Lamb of God who could bear the sins of the whole world, and give penitent sinners His righteousness. Without our Lord’s full deity, He would have been neither sinless, nor able to die for the sins of the whole world.
So the bishops assembled at Nicaea and Constantinople used language drawn from Holy Scripture to describe who Jesus was. First, they called Him “one Lord Jesus Christ.” The title “Lord” was packed with meaning. Possibly the earliest creed is found embedded in First Corinthians 12:3: “…no one can say that ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit;” and again in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “…yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” The Father and the Lord Jesus Christ here share in giving the gifts of creation and life, which would be impossible unless Jesus also shared full divinity with the Father.
Jesus asserted His divinity to His detractors when He stated of Himself, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” [Luke 6:5]. Who else but the Creator God could be Lord of the Sabbath Day? Jesus also claimed the divine name “I am” (John 8:54-59).
Saint Peter on Pentecost clearly understood that Jesus as Lord meant the same as Jesus being God when in Acts 2:36 he said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ;” and then added in verse 39, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
The other names for Jesus in the Nicene Creed are Jesus, meaning Savior, and Christ, meaning Messiah. To be the saving Lamb of God, He also had to be sinless- which only God is by nature. To be the Christ, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 about the divinity of the Messiah:
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In this Faith that was once delivered to the saints,
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of 381 proclaims that Jesus is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds.” The term “only-begotten” has confused some people, because to “beget” usually refers to physically bringing a child into existence by the process of reproduction- with the implication that there was a prior time when that child did not exist. Not so with God, who is Spirit. Saint John’s Gospel is very clear that the Son of God always existed. Using the term logos, translated “Word”, John wrote the following in John 1, verses 1-3:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
Clearly this “Word” is fully God. Saint John went on in verse 14 to write the amazing thing that happened when the Virgin Mary conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John’s use of “only-begotten” here cannot refer to a time when the Son of God did not exist, because John had already explicitly stated that the Word that became flesh is fully divine: there can’t be a time when the eternal God was not. Therefore John’s use of “only-begotten” should be understood as the only eternally unique Son of God in relationship to God the Father. The Triune God has revealed Himself in human-like terms that we can understand when referring to God the Father and God the Son. It’s a useful comparison when dealing with issues of relational love between the Father and the Son, and when discussing the Son’s loving obedience to the Father. But we have to be careful not to humanize our thinking about the Trinity too much. God is Spirit, not matter; He does not procreate or beget like we do.
Just to be clear that the word “begotten” does not support Arianism, the Creed goes on to assert that the Lord Jesus Christ is “Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made.” In other words, the eternal Son of God is eternally begotten: there was no point in time when He was not, no point of origin. He is the same Divine Light, and the same true God as the Father. Jesus Himself was clearly aware of His full deity when He claimed the divine Name of God (John 8:58), and when He accepted Saint Thomas’ confession of Christ’s divinity as recorded in John 20:28-29 (cf. Saint Paul’s testimony of Christ’s divinity in Colossians 2:9).
The section of the Creed on the Person of Jesus Christ concludes with the fact that He is “of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.” Here, “substance” should not be thought of as physical matter, since God the Father is Spirit; but rather that they share the same divine essence or being. To refute the heretical claim that Jesus was the first being created by the Father, the phrase “by whom all things were made” reflects the truth of John 1:3: “without Him nothing was made that was made.” This reinforced that He was eternally begotten, not made.
This is essential background for understanding the wonder of the Incarnation, which we will look at next time.
In worship of Him who is our Lord and God,
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of AD 381 states that the eternal Son of God became a human being: “who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
The word incarnate means “in-the-flesh”; or as Webster’s [Ninth New Collegiate] Dictionary puts it, “invested… with human nature and form.” After His miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38), His birth and subsequent development completely followed the normal human process. He is descended from Adam and is called the “Son of David” in reference to His human blood line (Luke 2:4; 3:38). He referred to Himself as a man (John 8:40), and showed all the typical human needs such as hunger, thirst, and fatigue (Matthew 4:2; 8:24; John 4:6; 19:28). He called Himself the “Son of Man” in order to highlight His representative human role (Luke 6:5). He experienced typical human emotions, such as compassion (Matthew 9:36), love for friends (John 11:35-36), surprise (Matthew 8:10), joy (Luke 10:21), and sorrow (John 11:35). Certainly the details of His suffering and death indicated full humanity.
Various places in Scripture reinforce Christ’s full humanity (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1 & 2; 1 John 4:1-3). These passages stand as clear refutations of the heresy of Gnosticism, one of the earliest and most serious challenges to the biblical apostolic faith. The Gnostics believed that the material world was innately evil, and that only the spiritual realm was good. For God to become materially human in the Incarnation was unthinkable to Gnostics, so they denied the idea that God would unite with man in the Person of Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation was essential for God’s saving plan. Only a human could die for human sin; and only a human who was also fully divine could be sinless, and also provide infinite forgiveness for the sins of the whole world (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:10-17; 1 Peter 2:24). Therefore Jesus had to be, as the Nicene Creed asserts, fully human as well as fully divine.
The doctrine of the Incarnation has at least two important secondary benefits in addition to the primary goal of accomplishing the salvation of lost sinners. First, in the voluntary choice of becoming incarnate, the Son of God set a lasting example of Christian humility: Christians are to voluntarily yield up their own rights for the welfare of others (Philippians 2:1-11). Those who follow this example of self-sacrificial obedience in loving faith gain ultimate victory, just as Jesus was raised up and glorified after His sacrifice of the cross. Second, the fact that God became incarnate in Jesus means that God intimately understands our every human need and weakness, and is therefore able to supply all that we need according to His riches throughout our mortal sufferings.
Next time, we look at the marvelous reason for the Incarnation.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last time, we looked at how the Nicene Creed of AD 381 stated that the eternal Son of God became “incarnate” by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary; that is, He became fully human in addition to remaining fully divine. Why undergo this humility? In addition to setting an example of voluntarily yielding up one’s own rights for the welfare of others, and gaining intimate understanding of our human needs and weaknesses, Jesus had an infinitely more important reason for His Incarnation: “he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried…”
John the Baptist testified by the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world- pointing to how Christ would fulfill the symbolism of the sacrificial Passover Lamb (John 1:29). Centuries before, the Prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53:
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter . . . Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin (vs. 5-7a, 10a).
Saint Paul echoed Isaiah’s theology of the Cross in the basic description of the Good News in First Corinthians chapter 15, verses 3 and 4: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…” Saint Peter likewise echoed Isaiah’s theology of the Cross in First Peter 2:24: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness- by whose stripes you were healed.”
The Creed asserts the historicity of Christ’s crucifixion by noting that Christ’s crucifixion was ordered by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. By noting that Christ “suffered and was buried,” the Church Councils tapped into the biblical descriptions that this was no easy or quick death. Christ’s sufferings show the seriousness of our sins that condemn us, and just how far our compassionate God was willing to go to redeem us.
What wondrous love and amazing grace, that while we were still sinning against Him, Christ willingly gave His life for us! Such great self-sacrificial love will never be fully understood, but should be gratefully received by faith, and responded to in loving devotion and good works.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last time, we looked at how the Nicene Creed of AD 381 proclaims our Lord’s death on the Cross, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness- by whose stripes you were healed” ( First Peter 2:24). But if that’s where it had ended, we would have had no hope for a future: what good would it be to be forgiven, and yet still be dead? So the Creed goes on to proclaim, “And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.”
Saint Paul’s Good News about Christ’s resurrection in First Corinthians chapter 15 rests on eyewitness accounts. Those who saw and touched the risen Lord were so certain of their experience that they were willing to die as witnesses of that fact. Most people won’t die for myths or theories; but they will put their lives on the line for a truth that they claim for their own. And why shouldn’t they? Jesus proved that He could overcome death, the greatest enemy of all people; so it made sense for these first Christians to entrust their lives unto the Savior who they knew could give them eternal life.
Now some in ancient Corinth had denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:12-19), a heresy that persists even today among some who call themselves “Christians”. Through His resurrection, Jesus proved that He could deliver the salvation He promised by overcoming death and bringing us eternal life. Without the resurrection, none of His saving promises would have been worth a thing; and, as Paul pointed out, without Christ’s resurrection, the Christian faith would have been a worthless sham of sadly deluded wishful thinkers.
There are many false religions that promise life after death. There are those who blindly believe that when they die, they are “going to a better place.” The concept of hell is negative, and so many people just deny its existence. We are told of near death experiences by those who have no faith in Christ, where there is this comforting tunnel leading to a friendly light. Watch out! The Bible warns us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). There is only one risen Savior: the leaders of all other world religions died and remain dead. Jesus Himself declared that He alone is the way to eternal life (John 14:6); and the empty grave proved He was right. Jesus Christ is alive, as has been testified over the centuries by a host of martyrs and the transformed lives of believers. He is the “firstfruits,” or first of the coming harvest of people who will follow Him into the blessedness of the eternal resurrection. All who believe in Him will rise after the likeness of His immortal body, to serve Him in the perfect joy of the new heaven and new earth that is to come.
With such a certain resurrection hope, we can endure all manner of hardship in this world; knowing that our present mortal existence is temporary, but the perfect life to come is everlasting. But our resurrection begins now in the hearts of those who know and love the Lord Jesus. We are new creations in Jesus Christ, and we live in the presence of the Spirit of the risen Christ, who now dwells in us. We are just waiting for the new bodies which will catch up with the new life that has already begun within us.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Among the essential Christian beliefs enumerated in the Nicene Creed of AD 381 is the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ: “…and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father…”
The Ascension of our Lord took place after forty days of post-resurrection ministry, during which time He taught His disciples and prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 1:3 states that when Jesus ascended into heaven, He “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high.” The right hand of God is the exalted place of highest honor, power, and authority in heaven, so Christ is now sovereign above everyone. He is able to see all that we think and do from His heavenly perspective, and is able to bring relief unto His servants who are oppressed. This thought is reiterated in Hebrews 2:17-18:
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”
A similar thought is given in Hebrews chapter 4, verses 14 through 16:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We don’t need to go through any other saint or intercessor in order to pray to God: the Incarnation of our Lord means that He fully understands our human condition, has opened God’s presence to us through His atoning death, and has taught us to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” That is why all the prayers in the Anglican Book of Common prayer are addressed to God, whose presence we can enter “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Let us therefore rejoice that our Lord has ascended victorious to God’s right hand (additional reflections on the Ascension next time).
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, we began to summarize the importance of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the key Christian doctrines enumerated in the Nicene Creed of AD 381. The ascended Lord Jesus is occupied in His High Priestly role at all times, never needing rest or sleep, always providing mercy and grace to help for believers in all their needs.
In order for Christians to continually obtain God’s mercy and gracious help, we also need to come in prayer and ask for it. Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to come boldly before Christ’s throne of grace: how can we come with confidence into God’s presence when we know that we so often fail to love and obey Him as we should? Hebrews 10, verses 19 through 21 give us the answer:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Our ability to take advantage of our ascended Lord’s High Priestly ministry lies not in our own goodness, but rather in His merciful forgiveness that we obtain through faith in His shed blood. Note that back in Hebrews 4:16 that the first thing we need when we come before Christ’s throne is His mercy; and by definition, mercy is granted only to those who have already been found guilty. God knows that we sin in more ways than we will ever recognize, yet He still calls us to approach Him with humble and contrite hearts. Why do we sinners dare come before Him with the “full assurance of faith”? Because we believe His Word that His grace is greater than our sin, and that He freely forgives those who desire to turn from sin and lovingly follow His commands.
Let us pray, at all times, in all places, according to the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of AD 381 teaches that Christ will return to earth in the future: “from thence [heaven] he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick [living] and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”
Christ’s Second Coming in Judgment has only been delayed because God delights in salvation, not in condemnation, as Saint Peter noted: “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward us, not desiring that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But God’s patience has its limits, and the Last Judgment will take place as described in Matthew 25:46, wherein impenitent unbelievers “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
How do we prepare? Repent, turn from sin, embrace Jesus by faith daily, and believe in His saving love to do what we could not do for ourselves. His shed blood washes away the sins of all those who trust in His mercy. For believers who know and love the Lord, and have received spiritual adoption as His children, these words from 1 Thessalonians 5 apply:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. . . putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (vs. 1-6, 8b-10)
Those words are derived from our Lord’s own promise in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
The Last Judgment is based upon our works according to Matthew chapter 25: those in this mortal life who serve the least of Christ’s brethren enter into eternal life, and those who do not minister to the least of Christ’s brethren enter into everlasting punishment. Whereas salvation is always based on loving and trusting faith in God, judgment is always based upon our works. This is because a loving heart motivates us to do good deeds. Saint James put it this way: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18).
This section of the creed notes that God’s resurrected people in the new heaven and new earth will share in God’s kingdom that “shall have no end.” This anticipates a purposeful eternity: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (First Corinthians 2:9). It will be such wonderful growth in God’s love and service that there are no words in this life able to describe it. We therefore rejoice in Christ’s Second Coming as Judge when He will make everything eternally right.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Nicene Creed of AD 381 affirms the Christian belief in the Holy Spirit: “And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”
The oneness of God is taught in Holy Scripture in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” However, Genesis 1 reveals that God in some sense contains a plurality within His unity when God spoke and said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .” (v. 26,27; cf. 3:22).
However, the New Testament also teaches that the One God reveals Himself simultaneously in three “Persons”: the Father, the Son (or Word), and the Holy Spirit. Traditional Christianity has termed this three-fold revelation of the One God as the “Holy Trinity” or “Triune God.” Jesus gave us one of the clearest statements of the Trinity in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”. Note the singular “name”, not names, which ties together Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By using the name of the Triune God in baptism, ownership of the Christian by God is implied; much as writing our name on our property designates ownership. God as Creator will not share His glory or ownership of His creation with any part of that creation (cf. Isaiah 42:8). It therefore follows that in no way could the Son or the Holy Spirit be inferior to God the Father if they are included in the Name of the baptismal words of ownership. Who owns all the Christians? The One God does: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
New Testament passages referring to the Father and the Son as God include 1 Peter 1:3, John 1:1-14, John 8:58, Colossians 2:9, and Revelation 1:8-18. Other passages reveal that the Holy Spirit is also fully God, such as John 14:15-18 and Acts 5:3-4. The greatest objection to the orthodox teaching of God existing in three unique “Persons” is that it is too difficult to understand. But one should expect that the Creator of the universe would be infinitely more complex than His creation.
The One God exists as a plurality of three in His nature, which is manifested in the threefold cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy” around His heavenly throne in both Old Testament and New (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Next time, we will begin to look at who sent the Holy Spirit to Christ’s Church, and why.