Apostles' Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 23, 2003

Romans 1:1-7


The Apostles’ Creed
I Believe in Jesus Christ His Only Son Our
Lord
Romans 1:1

If you have your Bible, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Romans chapter 1. We’re working our way through the Apostles’ Creed.
Previously we were looking at Creation, and the phrase “I believe in God the
Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” And it was appropriate that we
pause and look a little more closely at that doctrine.

I want to make an assertion. It is the doctrine that
God is the transcendent Creator that is the doctrine most under assault in our
culture today. Now, that may not seem to be the case at first glance. When you
look around you, the issues which are cultural bellwether issues seem to have to
do more with your view of man, your view of humanity, what theologians would
call anthropology. For instance, abortion has to do with the doctrine of man
very clearly. Homosexuality and the normalization of it would seem to have to
do with the doctrine of man. The definition of the family, male-female role
relationships, all of those things have to do with the doctrine of humanity; and
if you said they did, you’d be right. But behind the cultural shifts we are
seeing in all four of those areas today, and we could more, for instance, in
what’s being done in the area of bioethics today with regard to cloning and
various other experimentation with human beings who are very, very tiny and
very, very young — but behind all of those things which do have to do with the
doctrine of humanity, is in fact, a shift with regard to the doctrine of God,
the transcendent Creator. We could actually see other shifts in the area and
elsewhere in that particular area, but it is that doctrine of God, the
Transcendent Creator, that is behind all the cultural mega shifts we are
seeing.

And we’ve seen the most amazing mega shifts in the
world in the last 30 years. Think of it, 30 years ago in a business a man could
have been fired by his superiors had he been discovered to be a homosexual
relationship. Perfectly legal. In fact, not only perfectly legal, but it would
have been the norm. Thirty years later, were you to do that in a major
business, you would be in big trouble. Thirty years, from something being
totally culturally unacceptable and illegal, to the reverse of it, being totally
unacceptable and illegal. Amazing. That’s just an illustration of the mega
shifts.

But behind that mega shift is a total assault on the
doctrine of God, the transcendent Creator. So, it’s perfectly appropriate that
Christians pause and think about these central affirmations we make in the
Apostles’ Creed, because they impinge upon the way we live our lives day to day
in this increasingly hostile culture. In fact, I’d argue that each of the
assertions of this Apostles’ Creed, grounded as they are in Scripture, points to
very important matters for Christians in the cultural setting in which we find
ourselves today. But that’s not our topic today.

Our topic is the Lord Jesus Christ. And could you
pick a more central issue than the person of our Savior? We’re going to think
about the subject of Jesus Himself. The phrase that we are going to look at
today says that we believe in Jesus Christ, His, that is God’s, only Son our
Lord. And this section and this subject is vital because what you think about
Jesus Christ will determine what you think about everything else.

Turn with me to Romans 1 and we’ll look at the first
seven verses.

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an
apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he
promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,
concerning His Son, who was born of the descendent of David according to
the flesh, who was declared the Son of God by the
power of the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness,
Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to
bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His names’
sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus
Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called his saints: Grace to you
and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired
and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we would ask You that, by Your
Holy Spirit, would help us to see wonderful things in Your word. That you would
teach us, that we would embrace this truth and live this truth, and that,
especially in a time and place in a culture and a society hostile to the unique,
universal, and absolute claims of Jesus Christ; you would purchase in us this
day, by the work of your spirit, a loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and an
understanding of why it is so important that we hold forth the truth of Jesus
only. This we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

Each of the truths in the Apostles’ Creed asserted about
Jesus Christ are important for the understanding of why it is that Jesus is the
only way of salvation. Now to say that, even in a church in our day and time,
gives some people in the pews a little discomfort. To say it in other places,
that Jesus is the only way of salvation, gives people positive heartburn. And if
you are concerned a little bit about the audacity of that statement, about the
forcefulness of that statement, about the completeness and the unqualifiedness
of that statement, take comfort. It was just as audacious when it was first
uttered as it is today. Remember, the proclamation of Jesus as the only way of
salvation, a proclamation which we heard from Peter’s own lips in the Scripture
reading from Acts 4:12, that audacious statement was made in the context of a
dominant pluralist culture.

Rome was the controlling power in the Mediterranean
world and Rome was perfectly happy for you to believe in your ‘god’ as long as
you did not believe that your ‘god’ was the only God. Rome was quite
happy to add Jesus to the pantheon of its gods. There were Roman emperors that
did that. But Rome was not prepared to tolerate people who made universal
claims–at least, not usually. The Jews got by with it for a while, but the
Romans didn’t like them. So when the Christians came along and began to make
these outlandish claims, it quickly caught the attention of the Romans
authorities and the persecutions of early Christians almost always emanated from
that very point. Because of total, universal, unconditional, commitment to
Jesus Christ, Christians were considered a threat to the stability of the
empire. So when you are looked upon as if you just crawled out from under a
rock, when you say that Jesus Christ is the only way, join the club. Christians
before you had those same looks and worse. At any rate, each phrase of what the
Apostles’ Creed says about Jesus really explains to us why it is that Jesus is
the only way.

We are not going to look at all those phrases today,
but we are going to look at this clause which really has four parts to it:
“Jesus, Christ, His only Son, our Lord”–four parts. 1. Jesus–the humanity of
Christ. 2. Christ–the Messiahship of Christ. 3. His only Son–the unique,
divine, Sonship of Christ. 4. Our Lord–the Lordship of Christ. Those are the
four things I want you to see today. The humanity of Christ, the Messiahship of
Christ, the unique, divine Sonship of Christ, and the Lordship of Christ. Now,
these things are so basic to many of us that it be very easy to skip over them,
so let’s remember as we study these things that we’re studying our Lord, what
more appropriate thing would there be to do in the worship of God than to learn
about God. What more practical thing could there be in the worship of God than
to learn about God, and if we already know these truths about God, to grow
deeper in our embrace of these truths about God.

I.
Jesus is truly human and fully divine.
Paul, over and over, uses the proper name, Jesus, in
Romans 1:1-7. He’s a bondservant of Christ Jesus. Jesus is born according to
the flesh. He’s born of a human genealogy and lineal descent. He is Jesus
Christ our Lord, Paul says, in verse 4. We are called as Christians, of Jesus
Christ, and he pronounces a benediction based upon the blessing of God our
Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Lord’s proper name. It
identifies Him as an historical person, not a pious figment of imagination, and
when Paul repeatedly uses the name, Jesus, he is using a name which itself was
given by divine revelation. Remember, just as God told John the Baptist’s
parents to name their son, John, God also told Jesus’ parents to name their son,
Jesus, for a specific reason. Because Jesus is just the Greek version of
the Hebrew word, Yeshua, which means God saves. He saves His
people. So Jesus’ proper name was going to signify His work. Notice, even in
Jesus His person and His work are tied together. And anytime someone tries to
take apart Jesus’ person and work, watch out, heresy is about to come.

Even His name describing His nature, speaks of His
work. The name Jesus reminds us of His full humanity, and Jesus’ humanity can
either be denied or misconstrued. When it is denied or misconstrued, trouble
comes. Without Jesus’ humanity, He’s unable to be our Mediator. But “He is
able,” as the author of Hebrews says, “to sympathize with us, because He has
experienced life in this flesh.” Without being human, He is unable to obey the
Law for us, He is unable to die for us, He is unable to foster our adoption as
sons; He has to be one of us to do this. And so a denial of the doctrine of
humanity of Christ is a very serious thing.

On the other hand, a denial of the doctrine of the
humanity of Christ can be misconstrued. It can be argued, for instance, well,
if He’s going to be one of us, then He has to be like one of us in every way,
and that means He has to sin. So, there have been people from time to time that
have argued that Jesus was able to sin, or that He actually sinned. This would
be a false understanding of Jesus’ humanity. On the other hand, there are many
today, especially in evangelical feminist circles, who say that for Jesus to be
truly like us all, He needed to be androgynous. He had to have the qualities of
both male and female. And again, this is a misconstrual of the doctrine of
humanity.

Jesus was truly human. But there are definitely
points of discontinuity between His experience as a human and ours. For
instance, He never sinned. But to say that because He never sinned, He’s unable
to sympathize with us, is not simply to misunderstand Him; it’s to misunderstand
what it is to be truly human. You see, we’ve saying long, “That to err is
human,” that we’ve forgotten that to err is not human. To err is fallen. To
err is sinful. To err is of the works of the devil. That’s is not God’s
original plan for human. We’re not more human when we sin; we’re less human.
And Jesus is not less human because He doesn’t sin; He’s more human. And one
day He’s going to make you more human than you are now. So Jesus’ humanity is
absolutely essential to His work as a Savior, but when we say we believe in
Jesus, we don’t stop there.

II. Jesus
is God’s appointed and anointed Savior-King.
We go on to say we believe in Jesus Christ. And that’s another
term that we miss, because for us, the term Christ – which we normally
use with Jesus – Christ sounds like His last name. But Christ is not Jesus’
surname. It’s a title
. It’s a very important title. And from that title
we learn something about the Messiahship of Jesus. He is the chosen
Savior-Mediator. He’s not only truly human; He’s God’s chosen Savior-Mediator
for His people. Jesus is God’s appointed and anointed Savior-King. You see,
Christ
, again is the Greek word for the Hebrew word, Messiah. And
Messiah
means the anointed one. It’s not a surname; it’s a title.
And it means that God anointed Christ as His Savior-King for His people, that
Jesus was God’s appointed Savior-King, about whom the Old Testament prophesied,
and for whom the Jews had long been waiting.

For Paul and for Peter and for the other apostles to
announce Jesus as the Christ, was a colossal claim in their own time. It was
big for the religious Jews of the time, for they were saying, look, the One
about whom our Scriptures have been speaking for hundreds of years is here.”
And then to the Roman world it was a colossal claim, because it was an
announcement that the Messiah for the whole world had come, the One Way of
salvation, and hence Peter’s words in Acts 4:12, “There is no other name other
heaven whereby one can be saved,” but through Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah.
It is a claim, that Jesus the Messiah was unique in His place in history and
universal dominion. It’s a claim that Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament
prophecies about the Messiah, and was the One appointed by God as our prophet,
priest, and king. And so, to say Jesus Christ, is not to simply name the person
of Jesus, but to indicate about Him, through His title, that you believe He is
the Messiah. When we say, the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re speaking about the Lord
whose name was Jesus, who is the Messiah. And so, the phrase Jesus Christ
is packed full of significance, and when we stand together and repeat the Creed
and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” we’ve already said enough to spend weeks
and weeks meditating on, glorying in, and drawing implications from. Our
Westminster Larger Catechism
says, “Our Mediator was called Christ because
He was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure, and so set apart and fully
furnished with all authority and ability to exercise the offices of prophet,
priest, and king of His Church in the estate of both His humiliation and
exaltation.” And it spends the next several questions fleshing out what that
means. But that’s only the second thing we are saying about Jesus when we say,
“I believe in Jesus Christ.” There’s a third thing.

III. Jesus
is rightly identified as the eternal Word and Son.
We believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son. In other words,
when we draw attention in our Confession that Jesus is the only Son,
we’re drawing attention to the unique, eternal Sonship of the Word.
Jesus
is rightly identified as the incarnation of the eternal Word and Son, and notice
how Paul stretches this in Romans 1:1-7. Just as he uses the human name of
Jesus, just as he constantly refers to Jesus as the Christ, the One who was
according to the lineage of David, because the Messiah was coming from the line
of David, so also he emphasizes His unique Sonship.

Notice that Christ, Paul says, is the subject of the
Gospel of God. What is the Gospel of God? Verse 3: it concerns His Son. What
does He say about His Son? Well, that God declared His Son to be the Son of
God, with power, by the resurrection from the dead. And then, when he gives a
divine blessing to the people, he gives it to them not simply from God, not
simply from God the Father, but from God the Father and our Lord Jesus the
Messiah. In other words, Paul is affirming that Jesus is divine. Jesus is the
incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, He is the eternally begotten,
the only begotten Son of the Father. And this, among other things, points to
the deity of Jesus Christ.

When we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only
Son,” we are affirming the fullness of the deity of Jesus Christ. And that’s
absolutely essential. About 1680 years ago, a belief had become widespread in
the Christian Church, that had never been widespread before. A very articulate
theologian had begun to teach that Jesus was not divine. This teaching was so
cleverly put, and had such excellent music put with it to foster it in the
churches, that people began to embrace it. There were people literally rioting
in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, chanting a hit Christian song. The lyrics
went like this: “There was a time when the Word was not.” In other words, it
was an affirmation that Jesus was not the eternal Word of God; that God created
Him. He’s the first of all created things, but He’s not equal with God. He
doesn’t share the same essence with God. He’s not fully divine. The Church was
in a turmoil. A council was called, and a great theologian made his mark in
arguing against this teaching. He wrote a book, On the Incarnation, and
here is the thesis of Athanasius’ book: If Jesus is not fully divine, then you
are still in your sins. If Jesus is not truly the unique, the eternal Son of
God, coequal with His Father and the Holy spirit, then our salvation is
compromised and lost. Because His divinity is necessary for our salvation. How
else can He pay for the sins of the world? How can He offer a sacrifice of
infinite value if He is less than divine?

Athanasius was right. The deity of Christ is the
hinge on which Christianity turns. And that’s why our Confession focuses
on Jesus Christ in chapter 8, the longest chapter in the Confession up to
this point, and says, “The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being
very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the
fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature with all the essential
properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin, being conceived by
the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance, so
that two, whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood,
were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition,
or confusion, which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only
Mediator between God and man.” That’s a mouthful. You could spend a whole term
at Seminary studying that one paragraph. You could spend a lifetime studying
it, and you’d never see to the bottom of it, yet we sing about it every
Christmas. “Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall? ‘Tis
the King, the Lord of Glory.” That’s the One whom we sing about. The One about
whom we say, “That the Creator of heaven and earth was contracted to a span, in
the incarnation.” Jesus is rightly identified as the eternal Word and son, and
it was necessary for Him to do this, for us to be saved, to imbue His labors and
His mediation with the limitless value necessary to save us from our sins, to
accomplish our everlasting salvation. Don’t ever let someone tell you that the
doctrine of the divinity of Christ isn’t important. Without it, every thing is
lost.

The doctrine of the divinity of Christ is so
important that the New Testament actually gives multiple way that that very
doctrine is confirmed. Let me suggest five ways in which the New Testament
confirms the deity of Christ, so that you can check it out for yourself.

The New Testament, on at least nine occasions,
directly and explicitly asserts the divinity of Jesus Christ. Second, the New
Testament teaches that Jesus is Christ, by ascribing the attributes of God to
Jesus. Thirdly, the New Testament argues for the deity of Christ by applying the
names of God in the Old Testament, to Jesus Christ. Fourthly, the New Testament
shows that Jesus is divine by applying the works and activities that the Old
Testament says are only the works and activities of God, to Jesus Christ.
Finally, the New Testament shows us that Jesus is God by showing, over and over,
that nice Jewish boys who knew that you didn’t worship anything that wasn’t God,
fell down on their faces and worshipped Jesus Christ–John and Peter and Paul,
who had been reared on the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods
before Me,” and never did it ever enter their minds that they were in the
slightest way breaking the first commandment, but rather fulfilling it to its
fullness. In all these ways the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is
divine.

IV. Jesus
is Lord and Savior.
But there’s another thing that we are affirming when we say
that we believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord. We are affirming the
Lordship of Christ; Jesus is Master and God. You remember the confession of the
disciple, “My Lord and my God.” That is an essential Christian confession. Jesus
is Lord and Savior. There are many Christians who would like to think of Jesus
as Savior but not as Lord, or who think that first you accept Jesus as Savior
and then some other time later on down the line, you accept Him as Lord. That’s
not how Paul thinks.

Notice how Paul describes himself as “a bondservant
of Jesus Christ” in verse 1. Jesus is his Lord. Paul is His slave. But notice,
this isn’t something just unique to Paul. Don’t think, “Oh yea, but Paul was a
super Christian. He had accepted Jesus as Savior and then at some point he
accepted Him as Lord.” No. Paul says that Jesus Christ is our Lord, not
just my Lord, and that the gospel was designed to produce the obedience of
faith from the Gentiles so that Jesus our Lord would get glory
.

And then, of course, the blessing He pronounces on
all the Roman Christians is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul
makes it clear that if Jesus is the divine Messiah King, then it is obvious and
necessary that He must be Lord. And denials of that are serious. You see, the
fundamental confession of faith for the Christian in the New Testament is not
Jesus is Savior
, though His name means Jesus saves. The fundamental
Christian confession is: Jesus is Lord.
Don’t believe me? Turn to Romans
10:9. The Apostle Paul is speaking. Now, ask yourself this question as you get
ready to read the verse: “On what basis is a man saved?” Romans 10:9, “If you
confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised
Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” The confession of the Lordship of
Christ is the fundamental Christian confession
. This is confirmed by looking
at Acts chapter 8. Steadily throughout the New Testament the confession of Jesus
as Lord is at the heart of Christianity.

Notice that it is not our practical obedience to the
Lordship of Christ that makes us Christians. If that were the case, our
salvation would be by works. We are not saved by our obedience to the
Lordship of Christ
, we are saved to our obedience to the
Lordship of Christ
. Paul even makes it clear here. You believe on Jesus
as Lord. You believe and confess Jesus as Lord and then it leads you to a life
of willing submission to the Lord.

But before you can truly say, however, “Our Lord” in
the Apostles’ Creed, you have to say “my Lord” in your heart. May God
grant that all of us today would confess Him as “my Lord” and “our Lord”
together. Let’s pray.

Our God and our Lord, we thank you for your Word and we
thank you for this beautiful, short summary statement of essential truths about
Jesus Christ that we have meditated upon this day. Grant that the realities
contained in Your word about Your Son would be realities to us that we embrace
and live out in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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