I took German in 9th and 10th grade. I thought it would exempt me from taking a foreign language in college, but Grove City College, my alma mater, required three years of a foreign language. I had fallen short. I ended up taking two full years of French. I wish I’d taken Spanish.
Anyway, at Grove City College we had dinners called “language tables.” Students and their language professors ate together and spoke foreign languages. I had to go and was quickly lost in simple French dialogue. I tried to keep my mouth full of food. But the problem was ultimately me, not French. French is a beautiful language, in fact, one of the Romance languages, and if I had studied diligently and developed a wide vocabulary, the depth and richness of the language and culture would’ve meant so much more to me. The truth of the matter is, my heart wasn’t into it. How much more I would’ve learned had my heart been in it.
In a similar way, the theological vocabulary of many Christians is underdeveloped, perhaps because of a deficiency in the preaching ministry of their church or perhaps because their hearts really aren’t into learning much more. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Important Biblical words and truths, which are often quite basic and essential to the Christian faith, often sound pretty advanced or complex to some Christians, probably because their minds and hearts are underdeveloped. Of course, we’re always learning and deepening our knowledge of God, but sometimes our growth is stunted because we’re not really hearing and trying very hard to understand. Ignorance of basic but profound theological truths leads to a shallow and superficial faith that often lacks true comfort and assurance.
Creation. Redemption. Sanctification. These are all basic Biblical words and doctrines. Like the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, the doctrines of creation, redemption, and sanctification are deep. Within them are astonishingly beautiful truths to be discovered if you dive deep enough. The Bible is the ocean.
Here’s where the Apostles’ Creed is quite helpful. It gathers up principal doctrines of the Christian faith and groups them into one basic and profound statement of the gospel. Think of it like the produce aisle at your grocery store. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, plums, celery, apples, and broccoli, all in one place. They were gathered and grouped to make shopping easier for you. Or think of it like the signs hanging above the aisles. The signs don’t list all the products, but they list the prominent ones so you can more easily find them. The Apostles’ Creed is an excellent summary statement of the gospel. It groups marvelous Biblical truths in one place; they were gathered and grouped to clarify and make remembering easier. Like signs in the grocery store, the articles of the Apostles’ Creed don’t tell you all there is to know about the gospel, but they do get you to the right place to explore and deepen your knowledge. Behind every statement of the Apostles’ Creed are abundant Scriptures that deepen our understanding of the gospel. I challenge you: memorize the Apostles’ Creed. It’s a helpful outline that’ll help you hear the gospel, confess the gospel, pray, and witness.
At Grove City College, we received a syllabus at the beginning of a class. The syllabus outlined for us the content of the class. The Apostles’ Creed is a syllabus outlining the content of the gospel. Heidelberg 24 asks, “How are these articles divided?” It answers:
Into three parts: the first is about God the Father and our creation; the second about God the Son and our redemption; the third about God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
In the Creed, the three persons of the Trinity are linked to three Biblical, essential, and comforting doctrines: creation, redemption, and sanctification. Who God is relates directly to what God has done for you and your comfort and joy in the gospel. The more you know Father, Son, and Spirit, and the more you understand creation, redemption, and sanctification, the greater comfort and joy you will have in the gospel, in your Savior God.
In the coming episodes, we’ll be exploring together the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed. We’ll dive into the three persons of the Trinity a bit, as well as the doctrines of creation, redemption, and sanctification, all the while drawing comfort from who our God is and what He has done and is doing for us. As we move through the Biblical doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, would you commit to memorizing the Creed? Here’s one practical skill you’ll have if you do. When someone asks you what you believe as a Christian or when you want to witness to someone, you’ll have a concise summary and outline of the gospel and what you believe. You’ll also have organized gospel truths in your mind and heart to meditate on when you’re depressed, anxious, fearful, or struggling with doubt. Truth is meant to comfort your soul.
Okay, the word trinity is not in the Bible. The church father Tertullian applied the term to God in the early third century. That said, the term trinity is used to summarize the Biblical doctrine that there are three equal and divine Persons in the one God. How do we know that? Hang with me here. Paul said in Romans 1:20:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Paul was saying that creation reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature and thus His existence. God reveals Himself to us through creation. However, creation does not tell us that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Creation does not tell of God’s redemption and sanctification. How has God revealed these marvelous gospel truths to us? Heidelberg 25 addresses that very question. It asks: “Since there is only one God, why do you speak of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” In other words, how do we know God is personal and triune? How do we know the Father, Son, and Spirit, and how do we know what this triune God has done for us? Creation can’t tell us. How does God reveal Himself most clearly to us? And Heidelberg 25 answers: “Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.” Make no mistake, whatever we know of God and His redemptive works, we know because God has graciously revealed Himself to us in His Word, in Holy Scripture, in the Bible, and we receive His self-revelation by grace alone through faith alone. We cannot know God apart from Him speaking to us with language we can understand.
God has spoken to us on our terms in Scripture. Sure, there are some fancy words in the Bible, but you can understand them. Hopefully, you go to a good church that explains these words and doctrines to you for your greater comfort. There are also marvelous books you can read (many are short) to better inform yourself. Keep learning the language, but do so in order to know your God better and to draw more comfort from His divine speech to you. Flip the pages. Hear them read and preached. Hear God, and swim deeply in the doctrines of God to discover the comfort and joy He has for you.
Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.