In the world today, most people that you encounter on the street will claim to have some sort of belief in God. It is very rare that one encounters a common person who would outright deny belief in God altogether. As we saw last week, the reason for this is because people are naturally inclined to believe in God. But if you quiz people what they believe about God, then all of a sudden you may find that most people have not really thought through carefully what exactly it is that they believe about God, and then venture into opinion rather than firm conviction. To many people, the word “God” is an abstract term, a philosophical conundrum, an entity which is mysteriously shrouded in darkness. If you press people, you will find that their “god” is quite unknown and involved in the world only in a very meaningless manner, if at all. Much like the Athenians who had set up an altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17:23), people cling to a superficial belief in God in case there is perhaps one out there, and hope that merely believing is enough to gain his/her/it's approval, if such a being should exist. However, this superficial belief is void of any moral responsibility, and therefore people's belief, even though given lip service, is actually not belief in anything at all.
The Apostle’s Creed is written to explain exactly who it is that Christians worship. It is important for us to know who we worship in order to avoid vain speculations and turn trivial observations in nature into objects of worship. The importance of knowing who or what we worship is highlighted in Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman when he said to her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and then Jesus launches into an explanation of correct worship, “But a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him…” But who exactly is this Father?
God as Father
One of the first ways in which the creed defines God is as Father. Now this is a remarkable feature of Christianity’s understanding of God. Michael Bird points out the uniqueness of this point in Christian theism compared to other religions when he writes, “In other religions, calling God one’s own father would be problematic if not impossible. Crying out to God as Father would be irreverent for Jews, blasphemy to Muslims, weird for Buddhists, and mean something entirely different for Hindus.” Now this does not mean that the concept of a father god did not exist in pagan religions, or any other religion. What Bird is pointing out is that in other belief systems, god could never be father to me. Zeus is merely 'father' because he begets gods and goddesses, for example, and occasionally these cohabitate with humans and produce demigod offspring. But an ordinary person would not call Zeus his 'father', and Zeus would neither care.
However, for Christianity, the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God is absolutely central to our understanding of God, both within the divine being, as well as He relates to us as people. Pannenberg writes, “On the lips of Jesus the name ‘Father’ indicates the particular way in which the almighty God of Israel, whose mighty coming was expected in the imminent future, has been revealed through his sending of Jesus: he is the one who wants to save men from the judgment towards which they are moving.” In this way, God is both Father in His relationship to Jesus, through whom He has appeared to us and by whom we come to know God as our Father (see John 14:6-11).
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Firstly, in relation to Jesus, God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Bird writes, “The notion of God as father was peripheral in Judaism and yet was central in Jesus’s life and teaching.” Though the Old Testament does have places where God is portrayed as the father of Israel by his calling them into a covenantal relationship (Ex 4:33; Deut. 32:6, 18; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1) and by his paternal care for them (Isa. 1:2-4; 31:1,9; Mal. 1:6), the relationship that Jesus exhibits is vastly different. At Jesus’ baptism a voice thundered from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) and again at his transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). As a young boy of 12, Jesus considered remaining behind in the Temple without his parents’ consent as being in “my Father’s house” (Luke 3:49). Jesus believed that his mission was commission by his Father (John 5:37), carried out in His power (5:26), authenticated by Him (John 8:54), and done in fulfilment of His will (John 6:38), and that this Father is the only true God (John 17:1-3). In other words, the Father of Jesus is the God of Israel now drawing near in the sending of His Son in the person of Jesus. This is how Jesus understood his own relationship to the Father, as well as how those who witnessed Jesus’ life understood his relationship toward his heavenly Father. The Father of Jesus is the God of Israel, and Jesus is his own unique Son sent to make Him known to the world (John 1:1, 14, 18).
God the Father of those who come to Christ
But one of the fascinating things about the Christian faith is that God does not only remain the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a very real sense, the goal of the ministry of Jesus was to invite us to share in this unique relationship that he has with his Father. In this sense, The Apostle’s Creed could read, “I believe in God my Father…” Ordinary men and woman could come and share in this special relationship that Jesus had with His Father through faith in him.
But some would retort that God is the father of all people, and in a certain sense this is true. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” With this I mean to understand that God is in a real sense father to all He has created. All creatures come under the paternal care of the Father as he sustains them, gives them rains in due season, and cares for them even when they don’t thank him. This is what we call common grace.
However, the way in which God is father to all his creatures and the way in which he is Father to those who come to him through Christ, is vastly different. The language that the New Testament uses of those who have come to know the Father through Jesus is the language of adoption. Paul writes that those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, also receive the Holy Spirit, by whom we are brought into a unique relationship with God as our Father. He writes in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul explains that the reason God sent his Son into the world was so that through him “we might receive adoption as sons.” And then he continues, reminiscent of Romans 8, and writes in verse 6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Calvin writes, “Indeed, [Christ] put on our flesh in order that having become Son of Man he might make us sons of God with him; having received our poverty in himself, he might transfer his wealth to us; having submitted to our weakness, he might strengthen us by his power; having accepted our mortality, he might give us his immortality; having descended to earth, he might raise us to heaven,” This kind of relationship to God is only available to those who receive God’s Son, as John writes in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Faith in Jesus is the means by which we are adopted into the household of God, and through whom we share an intimate and personal relationship with God as our Father, which is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” It is a disciple’s prayer, and only a disciple of Jesus can pray this prayer in spirit and truth.
The Father is Almighty
But the creed also adds that the Father is Almighty. The Christian takes comfort in the fact that the God who has adopted him or her into a special relationship as Father, is also the God who is both all-powerful and in control of all things. We must remember that this creed found it’s beginning at a time when Christians were being persecuted under the Roman Empire during the late second or early third centuries, and is believed to be first confessed in Rome itself. Therefore the comfort to persecuted Christians that God their Father is also Almighty must have been a great comfort indeed. He is the creator of heaven and earth, and so regardless of what would happen to them under persecution, they had confidence that their Father was in control and would deliver them at the right time. But this is no mere theological jargon for the sake of comfort, it is the testimony of Scripture. Under the Old Testament YHWH is “the King of glory, enthroned in heaven, ‘The LORD Almighty’ is his name (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 24:10; Isa. 51:15). Also Revelation 1:8 portrays God as the coming one, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,’” and he is coming to bring justice upon those who persecuted his people, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:10). And for this reason, because we believe in God our Father who is Almighty, we entrust all judgment into his care while continuing to live lives of obedience in the present, even if we should suffer for doing what is right (1 Pet. 4:19). In other words, because God is our Father, and also Almighty, every situation we face we face as a result of his will and for his purpose, even if we don't understand it at the time. William Cowper wrote, "Behind a smiling providence, God hides a smiling face." This is the kind of comfort that a person can take when, even amid suffering, we know that we have a God who is also our Almighty Father.
When the Christian confesses, “I believe in God,” she does not merely confess in an abstract concept which is far removed from reality, like the god of many who profess to believe in God, rather she confesses in the God who is both her Father and is Almighty. This means, that for the Christian, God is both personal and all-powerful. And because God is our Father, he holds us accountable for our actions as his children, and because he is all-powerful, he is the one who sustains us, as well as defends us, in very trying circumstances. The Christian who confesses belief in God confesses in a God who can be known, and a God who is approachable, and a God who is interested in our daily affairs. We don’t worship a mythical god as father, or a phantom of our imagination, but a God who has brought us into adoption as sons (and daughters) through the redemptive work of His Son. Christians are therefore brought into God’s family, and share a unique relationship with God along with Jesus, by virtue of His Spirit through whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” And in our crying out, we confess, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” In other words, we know whom we worship, and are known by God as His children for whom he cares with paternal affection and protection.
 Bird, M. F. 2016. What Christians Ought To Believe. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 62.
 Pannenber, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in Light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, Ltd., pg. 32.
 Bird, pg. 61.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 20:iii (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 23.)
 See Bird, pg. 25.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.