Q: What is true faith?
I believe is a common phrase used by most people in the world today. People love to talk about what they believe, and very often it is not thought through very well. The word “belief” has come to be synonymous with opinion rather than confession, and even the word confession has come to mean something which resembles a black wooden box and a Roman Catholic Priest.
However, here in the Latin text of the Apostle’s Creed, the word credo means something of a sort of statement of belief, a dogmatic assertion, a proposition held to by conviction, or in other words, trust in something held to be true. All three monotheistic religions hold to summary statements of what they deem to be true. Judaism has the Shema; Islam has the Shahada; and Christianity has the Creed. All three of these give the foundation of religious belief: The Shemma, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your soul, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself”; the Shahada, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”; and then of course the Apostle’s Creed, which we will now study, has as its subject God in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.
What is it to believe?
Now the creed is a confession of faith or trust in something believed to be true. Today people may believe the news, or they may believe their friends, or they may believe empirical science; however rarely will people say that they trust in these things. What does it mean, therefore, to trust in something?
When a person trusts in something, they don’t just agree with it, like they may with the results of empirical investigation, but they place their hope in it. This sort of understanding is prevalent in the betting world. When someone places their bet on a certain horse winning a derby, they place their hope in the horse and the jockey. They hope that the horse will win, and that their reward will be the winning of a large sum of money. Perhaps the person has studied the riders very carefully and followed the horse over a few races to increase his confidence in the winning horse, but in the end there is always a chance that the horse may not win. Or what about taking a flight from one city to the next? A person who chooses a certain airliner places their trust in the aircraft to bring her safely to her destination. She may well pay a little extra money in order to secure a flight on a safer airline, but there is still a chance that the aircraft will fail to arrive at the given destination safely. Nevertheless, the person has placed her trust in this particular airliner and hopes she will arrive safely on the other side.
However, when the creed affirms “I believe in God…”, the trust it seeks to affirm and the hope it produces is vastly different from the above examples. Pannenberg asks, “In what do we ultimately put our trust? What are our hearts set on, in the last resort? This is the most fundamental question which can face a man.” In other words, the object of one’s faith, or trust, is what makes all the difference between authentic religious belief and mere wishful thinking. Pannenberg continues, “For trust means reliance, and the person who relies on superficial delusions and alluring pretence is lost, as the future will prove.” In the above examples, both the betting man and the hopeful lady have placed their trust in objects which cannot hold out any promise or guarantee. In this sense, even though a person does all the hard work in following the development of the best horse and seek the most reliable airline, there is always a chance that these will fail, and therefore ones trust can only be superficial. It cannot be ultimate. What then does the Creed hold out that is different?
When we talk about belief according to Christianity, we are referring to the subject of faith and how this relates to our understanding of God. The famous statement of faith according to the Christian understanding is found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here faith is described as both assurance and certainty. Ellingworth shows that this is “a summary of what faith does: faith binds the believer securely to the reality of what he does not (yet) see, but for which he hopes.” The author continues in 11:6 by stating that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” So here the author gives us the foundation of Christian faith, which has as its starting point the firm belief in the existence of God, and the hope that he rewards those who seek him. The question is, how do we know that he will reward those who seek him?
It is no surprise, therefore, that the author of Hebrews uses the examples of the many heroes of faith recorded right throughout the Old Testament, who modelled this kind of faith for us to follow. We have, as it were, “a great cloud of witnesses” who have demonstrated persevering faith even through trying times, and who now stand to spur us forward. These men and women trusted in God, and have now left us a record of God’s faithfulness in order that our faith is not just founded upon opinion, but in the direct involvement of God in the lives of countless that went before us. These men and women trusted in the promises of God, even though in their own lifetime they never saw the fulfilment of these promises (see Hebrews 11:39). But it is not as if there faith had failed them, but rather, in a very telling verse the author of Hebrews writes that "that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (11:40). The whole point of the author of Hebrews is that we now have seen this fulfilment in the gospel of Christ, and so God did ultimately fulfil his promises through the coming of Jesus, and since His coming we are gathered together into the same hope as the Old Testament saints who longed to see its fulfillment. In this sense faith has as its object a God who fulfils his promises.
But Christian faith must necessarily lead to hope, and so when a person confesses “I believe”, not only are we confessing the truth of a particular set of articles of faith, but we are confessing the hope to which these articles point, and that is “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Calvin writes, “If faith is a sure persuasion of the truth of God, a persuasion that cannot lie to us, deceive us, or vex us, then those who have grasped this assurance expect that it will straightaway come to pass that God will fulfil his promises, since according to their opinion they cannot but be true. To sum up, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things that faith believed to have been truly promised by God.” 
Christian hope therefore looks at God’s past action, and believes in his promises for the future on the basis of his past fulfilment of his promises. It is very similar to the betting man, who looks at past jockey and horse winnings to place his bet, or the hopeful lady who looks at the track record of an airliner and chooses the safest options, however neither with the betting man nor the hopeful lady is there any guarantee that what they hope for will come to pass. With the Christian, the promises are guaranteed by God, “maker of heaven and earth,” who is “almighty”, a firm affirmation that the One who promises is able to fulfil his promises, and it is grounded in the work of Christ who is the fulfilment of God’s redemptive promsies, something the saints of old were looking forward to when they believed and trusted in God. When a Christian therefore says, “I hope”, he does not mean the kind of wishful thinking of a betting man or a lady flying across the ocean, but rather speaks of a hope that is grounded in the very character of God who is trustworthy.
Pannenberg explains faith as the movement from trust to hope by grounding our faith in truth in three ways, “First, it is a question of the visible indications in the existing world in which trust finds support. In the Apostle’s Creed, these are above all the events of the life of Jesus, which the second article lists, but also the world of creation, to which the first article relates. Secondly, on the basis of these indications, trust bases itself on the invisible reality toward which trust is really directed, and which manifests itself in these indications. For the Apostle’s Creed this is the reality of God, the reality of his Son, now exalted to the right hand of the divine majesty, and the reality of the Holy Spirit, who is at work in the life of the church as a mysterious underlying dimension. Thirdly, trust is related to what it hopes for from the reliability of that to which it clings: in the creed this is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life.”
In other words, Christian faith moves from (1) trust in the visible elements (i.e. creation and the person of Jesus), to (2) the belief in the invisible reality (God as Creator and Redeemer), to (3) the hope of the promise held out (redemption). Therefore, the person who confesses the creed and believes what it states to be true is the one who has come to the conviction that the world in which we live must have been created and the claims of Jesus must be salvific; and acknowledges that both the world and Jesus point beyond themselves to an invisibly reality, that the God who has created the world has also come in Christ to redeem it; and that this holds out a promise to anyone willing to believe, that in this God there is the promise of redemption and the hope of eternal life which is guaranteed by the Spirit at work in the life of every believer.
To conclude then, Christian belief is vastly different to popular belief in the world today that is grounded mostly opinion or superficial things that have no guarantee. Christian faith clings to the reality of God when we confess, “I believe…” It is not a belief in a philosophy thought up by man, but grounded in the world as created and is the fulfilment of God’s promises to the saints of old in Jesus Christ. Christian faith is therefore an assurance of things hoped for, because it is grounded in past promises, and it is also a conviction of things still unseen, or in other words, promises still waiting to be fulfilled, because it is guaranteed by God who is the “almighty creator of heaven and earth.” When we confess, “I believe” then, we are confessing trust in the God Almighty, and we are confessing the sure hope that he will fulfil his promises. Next week we will see how we can know who this God is, and as we unpack the Creed, we will come to learn exactly what his promises are. Soli Deo Gloria.
 Pannenberg, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, pg. 4.
 Ellingworth, P. 1993. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 566.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 21 (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 27.)
 Pannenberg, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, pg. 6-7.
Disclaimer: I have rewritten this post from a previous post.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.