What must a Christian Believe? (Romans 1:1-6) (HC 22-24)

How you ever been asked, “What must I believe in order to saved?”  Have you ever wonders what a Christian must believe in order to be able to call themselves a Christian?  I mean, there are countless people in the world who say they are Christians but who don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ, or that they are sinners, or that God created the world.  Are they really Christians?

According to history, those who are Christians, and who desire to be called by the name Christian have always believed certain things, which go by the name “gospel.”  What is the gospel exactly?  Can you define it?  Is it a set of propositional truths?  Is it a way of life?  Is it a promise?  Is it a person?  YES!  The gospel is all of the above – it is content/information; it is lifestyle or discipleship; it is a collection of promises and it is the person of Jesus Christ.

The Heidelberg Catechism’s 22nd question and answer declare “[A Christian must believe] everything God promises us in the gospel.”  And it is with those initial words that we beginning looking at Romans 1:1-2, Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son…

In those opening words to the Romans, Paul begins to define the gospel for his hearers.  First, it is God’s gospel; literally it reads the good news of God.  The gospel is good news as opposed to bad news.  It is a message meant to lift the soul and draw one into praise and thanksgiving for the reality that the message conveys.  For example, when news of the German Surrender on May 8, 1945 reached the troops, it was wonderful.  Men rejoiced.  The fighting was over; all the hard days were gone.  This was good news and it lifted the souls of men as opposed to the bad news which had been received a few years earlier on Dec 7, 1941 when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came over the airwaves and across the newspapers.

So when we talk about the gospel, we are talking about the first kind of news and not the second.  We are talking about a message that is uplifting, encouraging and brings hope and peace.  We are talking about good news and that good news comes directly from God to humanity, first in the form of promises and second in the form of the realization of the promise.

In the Holy Scriptures we have a record of the promises God made to humanity.  Romans says the gospel was promised beforehand through his prophets (Rom 1:2) and we know that prophets are simply messengers who proclaim God’s word to the people.  To Noah, God promised to destroy the earth but save a remnant.  As rain began falling, Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut him in…[and] remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock there were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded…Then God said to Noah “Come out of the ark…” (Gen 7:16, 8:1, 16).

And we know God made a promise never to destroy the earth by the same manner.  Noah’s life, his story, his prophetic ministry of proclaiming God’s judgment on sin but also his prophetic lifestyle of being able to ride through the wave of God’s wrath in the ark were a picture of the promise that God did and will provide a means of salvation for people.

To Moses, another prophet, God declared in many ways the good news he was planning.  In the sacrifices we have a picture of the atonement of sin, in the festivals we have a picture of God coming to dwell with his people.  In the Law we have a picture of the enduring justice of God, which makes no distinction between nationalities.  And finally at the end of Moses ministry we have the promise of a prophet who will be even greater than Moses himself. (Deut. 18:15) The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

To Abraham we have the promises to make him into a blessing for the entire world.  To David is the promise of a ruler who will sit on the throne forever, the Isaiah we hear of the suffering servant, to Joel of the one who pours out the Spirit on young and old, men and women, to Micah we have the promises of the birth in Bethlehem.  Daniel and his 3 friends picture the promise of God that one will walk through the fires of death and the den of lions and come forth victorious.  Amos speaks of the restoration of the city of God.  Haggai talks of the desired of all nations coming forth into the temple and Nahum and Obadiah speak of the one who is betrayed by his close friend who shares bread.

The prophets give us a picture of the good news of God that is breaking into the world. And the New Testament declares that these promises are fulfilled in Christ. (2Cor. 1:20) For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  The gospel is Jesus.  It is the truth about who he is.  It is the truth about what he does.  It is the truth about how he lived.  But fundamentally the gospel is about the good news that in Christ the world is being reconciled. (2Cor. 5:18-19) All this [the new creation, conquest of death] is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

The gospel is about God’s promises to humanity being fulfilled and made possible in Jesus Christ, that is why Mark begins his telling of Christ with these words, (Mark 1:1) The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But there are some other aspects of the gospel that need to be covered.  The gospel includes the story of Creation as the angel in Revelation declares, (Rev. 14:6-7) Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth — to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.

The gospel includes the judgment of human hearts, (Rom. 2:16) this will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. But it also assures us of the power to live a new life with the Holy Spirit. (1Th. 1:4-5) For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.

All of this is part of the gospel message and the promises God has made to humanity.  This is the good news what men and women, boys and girls around the world and throughout time must believe if they are to rightfully call themselves Christians.  And the ancient church understood that each of these aspects was very important when they penned a creed, the Apostles’ Creed and taught it to their people.  The gospel promises of God are summarized in this Creed and any church that has ever refused to accede to each and every point has historically been excommunicated and considered heretical and apostate, not able to call themselves Christian.

This creed begins by proclaiming that God is the creator.  We will look at this in more detail next week.  Then it moves on to declare Jesus Christ is Lord and to rehearse his life, death and resurrection.  It speaks of his human nature and his divine Spirit, as Paul so eloquently reminds the readers of Roman that the Son was a descendant of David [and also] through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God (Rom 1:3-4).

This human-divine relationship in the Son was imperative and recognized by Paul and the other church Father for as we have already covered, only one truly human could suffer in the place of humanity and only one truly Divine could stand up under God’s wrath.  This is part of the wonderful news of God, that he would not count men’s sins against them (2Cor 5:19) but was bearing the curse in his own Son so that humans wouldn’t have to.  Christ’s human nature allows all of God’s promises to the patriarchs and the kings and the prophets to be literally true and fulfilled, but his divine nature allows holiness and righteousness to be perfected and not lacking in any aspect.

And his resurrection from the dead reversed the curse of sin, which brought death, by conquering death and taking it captive and ultimately destroying it forever. (Rev. 20:14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Finally the Creed moves on from speaking about our redemption in Christ to speaking about our sanctification by the Work of the Holy Spirit and this is exactly what Paul alludes to as well.  For Paul declares the gospel, but he also says that because of the gospel we (Gentiles) are called to an obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:5-6).  Belonging to Christ, being redeemed by him and following him into a new life, sanctified to God is part of this Gospel message God declared through the prophets.

That is why the church fathers penned the section on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent ways that our sanctification takes place: through the church, in communion with other believers, by our forgiveness and ultimately culminating in our glorification by experiencing the ultimate resurrection and joining in the everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

So if you are asked again, what must a Christ believe, answer them by reciting the Apostles’ Creed and remind them that each and every part of the creed relays some vital part of God’s promises to humanity and his ultimate goal of being in a deep and meaningful relationship with everyone who calls on the name of Christ.  For the Christian does believe certain propositions about Christ, humanity and the nature of sin.  We do believe truths about how God expects people to live.  We are convinced that God has promised us the possibility of salvation and we are absolutely certain that all of these truths, lifestyles and promises are fulfilled in one Person – the God-man Jesus Christ and that he invites us to live in him and enjoy fellowship with God.

 

So what do you believe?

 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic* church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

  1. What must a Christian believe?
    1. All that God has promised
  2. What has God promised?
    1. His gospel

i.     Good news vs. bad news

ii.     In the Holy Scriptures

  1. What is this gospel?
    1. Jesus Christ
    2. Also other Scriptures

i.     Creator

ii.     Spirit, etc.

  1. Where is this Gospel summarized?
    1. In the Apostle’s Creed

i.     3 parts

  1. Creation
  2. Redemption (Rom 1:4 resurrection)
  3. Sanctification (Rom 1:5)
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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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