Three Essential Articles
“According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”- 1 Peter 1:2
When the Protestant Reformers called for the recovery of the gospel, they never intended to discard every church tradition and start over from scratch. Instead, they called the church to evaluate tradition by the final authority of Scripture and eliminate what was antithetical to the biblical gospel. In so doing, they proved that the medieval papacy had abandoned Christ and His church. The papacy had left the gospel of grace, summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, and required people to embrace all manner of anti-biblical traditions in order to be called Christians.
Even Martin Luther understood that the ancient creeds could not be discarded, as they represent the leading of the church by the Spirit to confess the true, biblical gospel. Luther said in his preface to his Small Catechism, “Those who are unwilling to learn [the Apostles’ Creed] should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians.” Affirming the creed in faith demonstrates that we are Christians, for it summarizes the gospel — the good news that the Father, who created His people, sent His Son to save His people and, with His Son, sent His Spirit to guarantee His people would receive salvation (John 3:16; 15:26; Eph. 2:10).
Without this Trinitarian confession, we do not have the biblical gospel. After all, Jesus is clear that the Father sent the Son. The Son did not send the Father, nor did the Father unite to Himself a human nature and enter human history as the Savior (John 1:1–18; 6:57). The Father did not go to the cross but only the Son (Matt. 26:39). The Father and the Son do not quicken believers unto belief but only the Spirit, who was sent to us by the Son at the Father’s pleasure (John 3:5; 14:15–17). The Father and the Son do not proceed from the Spirit; the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son, uniting us to Christ that we might enjoy fellowship with the Father. If we impenitently confuse these roles and relations, we do not know God. If we do not know God, we cannot believe in Him or His gospel.
Question and answer 24 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that the Apostles’ Creed is divided into three parts: “God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.” A biblical exposition of these three parts will occupy our study for the next several months.
In John 8:24, Jesus tells us that unless we believe He is God, we will die in our sins. But we can only understand the deity of the Son of God rightly if we understand that He, like the Father and the Holy Spirit, is fully God and yet also a person distinct from the other members of the Godhead. Let us work hard as we study the doctrine of the Trinity so that we may believe only what is true about the Son of God.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 5:6–8