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A study of the Apostles Creed


Links to sections on this page:
- I believe
- What does believe mean?
- Bible Study
- Commentary
- Questions
Links to other chapters:
1: Why creeds?
2: Why were the creeds written?
3: Studying the Apostles' Creed
4: The Place of Doubt
6: God the Father Almighty...
7: ...And in Jesus Christ His only Son ....
8: ...dead and buried ...
9: ...I believe in the Holy Spirit

Chapter 5

I Believe

Our English word 'creed' comes from the Latin credo, which means, "I believe." A creed is thus my statement of what it is that I believe. More technically, a creed is a concise, formal, and authorized statement of essential Christian doctrine. 

What does it mean for Christians to say "I believe?" It would be possible to recite the Apostles' Creed and skip over these two words at the beginning as a prelude to the really important words that follow, words like God, Jesus Christ, and resurrection. However, these words are an important foundation for our study of the Apostles Creed. The words "I believe" challenge us about the nature and purpose of our faith. 

The earliest Christian creed was spoken by Peter at Caesarea Philippi. In response to Jesus' question, 'But who do you say that I am,' Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, replied, 'You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29). Writing to the Philippians some three decades later, Paul concluded his marvellous Hymn to Christ with what remains one of the foundational creed of Christianity, "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:11). 

What does believe mean

Every Sunday countless Christians around the world echo this father's faith as they recite an ancient creed that begins with the words "I believe." But what, exactly, does it mean for a contemporary Christian to affirm "I believe …"? 

To say "I believe" is to give intellectual assent to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: that God is our Father, the creator of the heavens and the earth; that Jesus is his only Son, our only Saviour; that the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit makes us one with God and with each other. 

However the word 'believe' is more than just having an intellectual assent. It encompasses trust. The trouble with 'believe' is that it is too mental or theoretical to represent adequately the trust that is part of faith. Some people would distinguish between believing from the head and believing from the heart. There is a sense in which when we have faith we do not necessarily have all the answers, or understand everything, but we are prepared to take it on trust. 

I think that there is a likeness here between faith & doubt and faith & fear We can have faith and still doubt just as we can have faith and still fear. I may say that because I have faith I will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, Psalm 23. I would bet that most people walking through the valley of the shadow of death would fear evil, but what the Psalmist is really saying is that he will continue to walk through the valley irrespective of any fears he may have - because he trusts in God to care for him. Having the courage to walk through the valley does not imply that we will not have the usual fears. In the same way expressing our faith in God is a commitment of our will to trust in God and affirm the truths which he has given to us, even though we may find them hard to understand and have doubts. 

If we follow this thinking through then we could say that we believe the Apostles Creed expresses the thoughts handed down to us by generations of Christians from the time the Apostles and Jesus himself. Therefore even if there are pieces of the creed which we do not understand or find difficult, we are confident to share in that faith which we have inherited and perhaps take some of it on trust! This may seem completely radical, accepting things which we do not fully understand and subscribing to them? In response we can only say that this is exactly what we do when we enter into a relationship with somebody. We love them, we trust them and we are prepared to learn more about them as we go along.

It may also be helpful to consider that in the Apostles' Creed we do not confess 'I believe that,' but rather 'I believe in ...' There is a world of difference between 'that' and 'in.' There is a difference in saying 'I believe you are a human,' and 'I believe in you.' To believe in you, means I put my trust in you. 

As Christians, we say we 'believe' in God, because our religion is essentially a relationship with God based on trust. We Christians trust not only the promises of God and live accordingly, but we trust our very lives completely to God by surrender and commitment. We trust the everlasting arms of God, underneath us, to save us from fear, death, and hell. By faith we commit our lives into God's hands and we can relax. 

Of course we must also remember that such faith is more than just talking. When we say that we believe in God then that faith and commitment must evidence itself in action, obedience, or works. In that respect the Apostles Creed necessitates an ethical response as well. 

Let us then consider belief. You may find it helpful to use the following bible study, since it raises some of the important questions which we have to consider.

Bible Study

Mark 9:14-29 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer." 


The father of a demon-possessed boy brought his son to Jesus' disciples, who tried but failed to drive the demon out. Disillusioned and despairing the father cried out to Jesus, 'If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.' Jesus replied, 'All things are possible for the one who believes.' Immediately the father responded, 'I believe …' Clearly the father of the demon-possessed boy believed. That is why he brought his son to Jesus and his disciples. He was able to declare, 'I believe.' Yet in the same breath he also cried out to Jesus, 'Help my unbelief.' 

This may seem a remarkable contradiction, however, perhaps only the existence of this father's faith could have made him conscious of its weakness. His request for Christ to help him overcome his unbelief showed his insight into the power of Christ to do far more than merely heal his child. Although it may have been dimmed by the disciples' failure, the father's faith revived and flourished when he stood face to face with Jesus. Addressing this still common problem of our own frailty, William Barclay comments, 'The Church may disappoint us; the servants of the Church may disappoint us; but when we battle our way face to face with Jesus Christ, he never disappoints us.'

The father came to Jesus seeking help for his son. He quickly recognized the limitations of his own faith and thus realized that he needed help as well. The relationship of doubt and faith may be helpful for us as we recognise that there are things which all of us might experience which test our faith. This father's timeless supplication, 'I believe; help my unbelief,' helps to encourage us to confess our faltering and imperfect faith, using an ancient creed that begins with the words 'I believe.'

Questions for discussion

  •  To what extent do you believe that you should understand about God before believing in Him?
  • How much did you understand when you came to faith?
  • Why do so many Christians continue to make use of the Apostles Creed which dates back almost 2,000 years? Do you find its antiquity a comfort or that it makes this Creed irrelevant?
  • What are some benefits, and possible problems, with the use of creeds in the church?
  • Can you think of ways in which the Apostles' Creed could help you with either the definition, defence, or declaration of your faith ?
4: The Place of Doubt

6: I believe in God the Father Almighty