I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the
forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in
Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel,
enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on
earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all
believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.
Last week we discussed how the Christian faith confesses that Salvation is by Christ alone. This truth is further addressed in the third article of the creed on which we meditate today; not only how we are saved, but how we are converted and brought into the Christian faith.
For some people the third article would seem almost like an addendum, or a post script, just something that the early Christians added on to round out the creed. But as we look deeper into the third article we realize the profound nature of what it is we confess in these words.
Luther builds a bridge in his explanation of the second and third articles as he says, I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. This is what we discussed last week, that we cannot make any decision or do any work on our part to have saving faith in Jesus. If then we can do nothing either to save ourselves or accept that salvation, how then does that salvation come to us? Luther explains, “but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith”
But the calling of the Holy Spirit is not like a mother calling a child in for dinner. The calling of the Holy Spirit by the Gospel is effectual in itself. The Holy Spirit through the Gospel of God convicts and repents the unbeliever, turning him or her away from sin and to Christ. St. Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans saying, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? and “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Thus it is through the effective word of God that the Holy Spirit creates faith in the individual.
Having called you by the Gospel, having created in you saving faith, the Holy Spirit also lavishes upon you all of the tremendous gifts that come with being a child of God, he sanctifies you (indeed makes you holy), and keeps you in the faith. Quite literally the Holy Spirit makes you holy through the fellowship of the church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. That’s a lot to think about isn’t it. To put it simply, through the word of God, the Holy Spirit calls you into the fellowship of believers, placing you square in the church’s lap, “where he preaches to you and brings you to Christ.”
You see the church is a unique community in our world. She is rightly understood as mother church, bride of Christ, in whom believers are born and nurtured. This church like any family has its own language, customs, and personality. Therefore when a “church” deviates from this language, customs, and personality of mother church it must be called back to her as a wayward child.
It is in mother church that the holy spirit enlightens you with his gifts. Within the church the believer is taught by God’s Word, cleansed in Holy Baptism, nourished in the Lord’s Supper, and admonished, encouraged, and supported, by brother and sister. Hmm…sounds like a community or family to me.
Therefore it is only in the church that the Holy Spirit does these things. As Lutherans have confessed for 500 years, “the church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” Thus we do not receive forgiveness of sins at the campground or on the golf course, or just by “feeling it in my heart”, but from Christ through the mouth of the pastor. We are not washed clean of our sin at the pool or in our bathtub, but only in the font where through water and word Jesus saves us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. We do not truly eat and drink the Lord’s supper anywhere but only where it is done according to Christ’s command.
Though we are part of Christ’s church, and though we are righteous in God’s sight, we are nevertheless, still sinners. Though we are made holy, we do not live holy lives. Luther writes, “now, however, we remain only halfway pure and holy. The Holy Spirit must always work in us through Word, granting us daily forgiveness until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness.” Thus the Holy Spirit must daily remind us of our baptism, regularly teach us and enlighten us through God’s Word, regularly feed us in the Holy Supper, that we may be strengthened and preserved in the true faith unto life everlasting. As this happens our community, our fellowship, our love of our brothers and sisters in Christ grows. Think of the family that regularly eats supper together or the family that only sees one another as they pass going to the next activity. Therefore as the church gathers around God’s Word, her members worshiping together, and serving each other, she sees a true community of saints.
This community is simply a foretaste of the community of saints in eternity. There we will see the enduring result of those whom the Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified, as we confessed, “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Here we confess, that “On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” This is not some T.V. type heaven with spirits floating on clouds, or winged people standing and singing how great thou art. We confess in this creed that on the last day Jesus will come and raise all of the dead, believers and unbelievers, that all will be raised not as spirits but in the flesh, and that all believers will enter everlasting life, not as angels, but as people, the crown of God’s creation.
Beloved in Christ, the Apostle’s creed is not just a statement of what we believe nor is it just something which we drone in church twice a month, “These three articles of the Creed, therefore, separate and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth…because we see here in the creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power…” Amen!