Sanctification

“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.”

Luther explains, “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 truth 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 believers. 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.”

Salvageable adds: The second article of the Creed distinguishes Christians from nonChristians; the third article distinguishes some Christians from others. From the Bible Luther learned that not all people will be saved; only those who believe God’s promises, fulfilled in Christ, will be saved. Luther also learned that God does not want to condemn anyone and that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to atone for every sinner who ever lived or who ever will live. But Luther found other verses in the Bible that say that people cannot come to Christ unless God draws them to himself. Jesus is a Shepherd going into the wilderness to find lost sheep; he is not waiting for the sheep to find him. Therefore, Luther credits God the Holy Spirit with giving him faith and with keeping that faith alive in him.

Luther’s gifts of the Holy Spirit are not those listed in I Corinthians 12, nor are they the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. Instead, the fruits that enlighten God’s people include the Word of God, that which was preached and written by apostles and prophets as guided by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God grants faith and helps that faith to mature. Other gifts of the Holy Spirit that enlighten Christians are the Holy Christian Church, where forgiveness is proclaimed, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.

Jesus died on the cross to purchase forgiveness for all sinners. The Holy Spirit brings forgiveness to sinners through those gifts. The Church which gathers around that forgiveness is kept together by those gifts. When God looks at his people, he does not see them gathered in many separate buildings, each with different labels on the front doors. God sees one Church, united by his Son and his Spirit, some waiting in Paradise for the resurrection of the dead and some still alive on earth.

When Jesus is seen in glory on the Day of the Lord, all the angels of heaven will be with him, along with all the saints. The bodies of everyone who ever lived will be raised and gathered for judgment. This judgment will be a verdict announced by Jesus, welcoming the saints into his kingdom but sending unbelievers to join the devil in his prison. The saints in Paradise today are not yet enjoying their final reward. Though they are away from the body, in the presence of God, a better world is still coming. The resurrection of the body is the beginning of life everlasting. Christians have that life today, but not in its fullness. On that Day we will truly be in heaven, as all the glory of heaven comes to renew this earth. J.

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Redemption

“(I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

Salvageable adds: If the first article of the Creed can be confessed even by Jews and Muslims and heretics, the second article separates the Christians from those who only seem like Christians. The mysteries of the Incarnation of Christ and of Redemption are summarized by Luther in clear and simple statements—producing perhaps the most important sentence that Luther ever wrote.

Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He is truly and completely God, one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus possesses every quality of divinity—he is all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, with authority over all things in the universe. At the very same time, Jesus is true man, born of the virgin Mary. He has all the qualities of humanity: a human body, a human mind, a human spirit. He knows what it is to hunger and thirst, to face temptation and danger, to suffer, and to die. He is 100% God and 100% human, yet one person. The Son of Mary possesses all the powers of divinity; the Son of God possesses all the elements of humanity.

Later creeds spelled out in more detail what it means to be one person, completely God and completely human. The Nicene Creed calls Jesus “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten—not made, being of one substance with the Father.” The Athanasian Creed clarifies that Jesus is “equal to the Father regarding his divinity and less than the Father regarding his humanity.” Many of the false teachings that have plagued Christianity through its history result from misunderstandings of the two natures of Christ, the relationship of his divinity and his humanity.

He became human to rescue humanity from sin and from evil. We could not redeem ourselves: every one of us is trapped in sin and evil. The blood of Jesus, his suffering, and his death, paid the price to reclaim us for the kingdom of God and reconcile us to God. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims his victory and promises us a resurrection like his. His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection are historic events, part of human history, that expand in importance to rescue sinners both before and after they occurred. All of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, point to this rescue mission of Jesus Christ.

He is my Lord. We have a real relationship, one that matters more than anything else in my life. As my Lord he takes care of me, rescues me from enemies, and sustains me. Because he is my Lord, I owe him allegiance, obedience, and reverence. We are not equal partners, but we have a relationship based upon love. His love for me comes first, and my love for him cannot equal his love; but I love him because he loved me first. This relationship outlasts a lifetime. Because he rose from the dead and will never die again, I can be sure that I will live forever in his kingdom, celebrating his victory with him and with all his saints. As Luther says, “This is most certainly true.” J.

Creation

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

Since the first century, Christians have produced statements of faith, or creeds. Creeds are summaries of what the Bible says—they are not intended to replace the Bible. Christian creeds have three purposes. They instruct children and visitors about the key teachings of the Bible. They remind every member of the congregation what we believe. They declare to God the truth we believe about him. In that way, they serve as part of Christian worship, another way to thank and praise God.

The Apostles’ Creed is one of the oldest creeds. It was not written by the apostles, but it summarizes their teachings. Versions of it date back to the first century. The creed has three articles—one about God the Father, another about God the Son, and the third about God the Holy Spirit.

The first article, and Luther’s explanation of it, are probably acceptable to every religion that proclaims one God. Jews and Muslims and heretics could all say the same: we believe in a God, we believe that he is able to do anything, and we believe that he created everything that exists, aside from himself. As Luther spells out in detail many of the things God provides, he reminds us that we are dependent upon God for everything we have and for everything we are. We deserve none of the gifts we receive from God through his creation, but we are managers of the property God has invested in us. Part of serving and obeying him is fulfilled as we care for our bodies and for our minds, putting them to the best use. Along with that, we manage wealth and property that belongs to God. On the Day of the Lord, he will ask us to account for the way we handled his property.

The Ten Commandments tell us how to serve and obey God. They do not tell us what can be done for us when we have failed in that responsibility. Nor does the first article of the creed tell us how we are rescued from our sins, from an evil world, and from the power of death. That information is found in the second article of the creed.

I picture Luther pounding his fist, or perhaps his stein, on the table as he firmly declares, “This is most certainly true.” J.