Thursday, July 14, 2011

In Whom Do You Believe?

A former missionary I have heard preach enjoyed quizzing his listeners about what they believe, especially concerning the person of Jesus Christ.  In that same spirit, here is a True/False quiz of my own.
    T F In order to be saved, one must hold to the faith given by Christ and delivered through his apostles.
    T F In order to be saved, one must think correctly about the Trinity.
    T F In order to be saved, one must believe correctly about the incarnation of Christ.
    T F If one does not hold to the first three above, that person cannot be saved.

The answer to each is True.  How did you fare?  Were any difficult or questionable?  The statements are paraphrases of those originally given in an ancient document in the same order as they first appeared.  Let's examine them in their more commonly worded form.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith – A catholic faith is one universally presented regardless of circumstance or audience.  For the ancient church that comprised confidence in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection for sin (1 Cor 15:3-4) plus belief
in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies (see also Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics)

Not that everything about each point needs to be understood nor that a full understanding must be held, the individual should have some understanding of these basic tenets in order to have faith in the true God and in the atoning work for sin accomplished by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary.  The document then goes on to describe specific points of the faith that proved contentious because of the mystery in which they are wrapped.

He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity – This sentence concludes a detailed, deliberate explanation of the interrelation in the Godhead between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three co-equal and eternal persons, yet there is not three gods but one eternal, uncreated, incomprehensible, almighty God.

Does this admittedly difficult doctrine really matter?  Is it more than just a philosophical exercise for academicians?  Yes, for if we do not know the God of the Bible, how can we say that we believe in him.  If the Jesus we confess as the savior of sinners is not the one fully revealed in scripture and explained here, that Jesus cannot save.  Our faith is worthless. If the Holy Spirit we have is not a personality but an emoting of the Father, we have no comforter to help us in our weakness.

At this point we must acknowledge there is a small percentage of those considering themselves as true believers who hold to a belief that God reveals himself, not in three persons, but in three modes—using the one appropriate for the moment.  Within popular Christian circles, the most well-known adherents of this position are T. D. Jakes and the contemporary Christian music trio Phillips, Craig, and Dean.  Are these men true believers?  We want to give an affirmative answer, saying that what really counts is that they believe Jesus died for their sins—Romans 10:9-11 says so.  Does it really?  What does that passage actually say?
[B]ecause, 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.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
While Jesus is the only name explicitly mentioned, the passage delivers more than what is surface level.  At the time Paul wrote his epistle, Jews had already used the Greek word for Lord in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament for YHWH, God's personal name.  So confessing “Jesus is Lord” relays more than “he is my sovereign.”  It is stating emphatically that Jesus is YHWH.  This is all well and good until the next sentence which separates God from Jesus.  Confessing and believing now is an affirmation of the uniqueness of the Father and Son in their respective redemptive work.  One must be Trinitarian to take hold of the full truth of this passage.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ – Besides a proper understanding of who Jesus is as relating to the Godhead, one also needs to take in who he was during the time of his incarnation here on earth.  He is fully God and fully man having both divine and human nature in much the same way that any offspring is of the nature of both parents: not in a way that we might speak of percentages of one or the other, but that he is fully (100%) both at the same time.

Why is this important to understand for our salvation?  If Jesus is not fully God, he could not have taken the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Some would still be left to deal with.  If he is not fully man, he cannot take my place as sin-bearer.  Only a man can atone for a man.  Either way, salvation would not be a finished work.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved – Herein is the crux of the matter.  One does not need to fully understand but be fully persuaded that these things are true in whatever capacity they might be understood.  Of course, believers will have varying degrees of knowledge and wisdom as they walk in newness of life.  This was written in the face of those who denied the very things mentioned, not in ignorance, but in open rejection of the truth.

Where did I get these ancient statements?  They are from the Athanasian Creed, so-called not because Athanasius wrote it but because it expressed what he believed and taught in the fourth century.  The language of necessity and inability are abrasive, standing in stark contrast to the prevalent relativism of a postmodern mentality.  Indeed, in a recent a guest commented that deep down even Christians want to be universalists concerning salvation, especially when confronted with statements like these, yet here we must stand to rightly defend the truth of scripture.  Belief must be in a salvation wrought by a Father who gave his Son so that the Spirit might work in us.

No comments: