A friend of my wife’s is vegetarian. She told us the story once of when she invited friends over to grill, carnivores and vegetores alike. As he was leaving, one of her carnivorous friends thanked her for providing some real beef on the grill – it was one of the best hamburgers he’d ever had. The thing was, all she had was the usual vegetarian mushroom/soy/whatever meat “substitute”. Rather than accepting her point that “you can’t tell the difference”, I preferred to assume that her carnivore guests had very low standards for hamburgers. After living almost twenty years in cow country, I can claim confidently that the key ingredient to a great burger is not what you pile on top; the essential ingredient is a nice juicy, grilled to perfection patty of ground cow. Without that, what you have might taste alright, but what you have is not a hamburger, because you don’t have the primary ingredient.
The meat of the Apostles’ Creed – the essential ingredient that makes the Creed the hefty spiritual sandwich that it is – begins with these words “I believe in Jesus Christ…” Believing in Jesus is the core, the heart of the Christian faith.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary …
Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, not that he was born to Joseph and Mary Christ. It is a title that comes from a Greek word, christos, which reflects a Hebrew word translated as messiah. Messiah and Christ are interchangeable because they both mean “anointed”; Put another way, this title is The Anointed One – God’s Anointed One.
In the Old Testament, God would occasionally tell his prophets to anoint a particular person with olive oil to serve as king. This signified that person as set apart, or ordained, by God for leadership of God’s people. To believe Jesus to be God’s Anointed One is to believe that Jesus was ordained, set apart, by God to be the leader of God’s kingdom. Jesus, if you remember the gospel stories (Matthew 3, Mark 1;1-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34), was baptized not with olive oil, but the Holy Spirit, right there in the Jordan river by John the Baptist.
As God’s Anointed One, Jesus leads his people as Prophet (teacher), High Priest, and Eternal King:
- He is our Prophet because Jesus reveals completely everything about God’s will and purpose for fixing the Garden of Eden disaster (in other words, salvation) that had not been made clear before.
- Jesus is our only High Priest because not only did he sacrifice his own body as the sin sacrifice for all time, but he now performs the priestly task of standing before God on behalf of his people.
- Finally, Jesus was anointed as our Eternal King because he rules – governs – leads – God’s people as they read and hear the Scriptures, and through his Spirit that lives inside every believer (the Holy Spirit); he protects us against everything that is at war with God’s kingdom, and he provides everything we need to flourish in this freedom-from-sin life he has won for us.
Only Son, born of Virgin Mary
God’s only Son and born of the Virgin Mary are related ideas.
First, aren’t we all supposed to be God’s children, so how can Jesus be God’s only kid? Well, this is the flip side of saying that God Almighty is Father of Jesus the Messiah. It recognizes that Jesus’ relationship with God is unique – that uniqueness is spelled out in Philippians 2:6-9 (also see John 1:1-18):
Though he was God,
He did not think of equality with God
As something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
He took the humble position of a slave
And was born as a human being
When he appeared in human form,
He humbled himself in obedience to God
And died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of
And gave him the name above all other names …
Jesus the Christ is uniquely God’s Son because he is fully God, fully human; he was the Divine Agent of Creation (John 1:3); his sacrificial obedience led to the highest honor, his name above any other thing in the created order – Jesus is to be worshiped. His relationship with God is unique, essential to his person, a relationship that is integral to God’s triune nature.
For a lot of Protestant Christians, the Virgin Birth is not as important as it was to the early Church. That doesn’t mean it isn’t significant any more, however. As you remember from the Christmas story (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35), the Holy Spirit was Jesus’, “birth” Dad (well, It wouldn’t be strictly accurate to call the Spirit his “biological” father). “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” is a shorthand summary of this part of the Christmas story which forms the basis for the verses in Philippians 2. This is the great mystery of the Incarnation: that Jesus, God’s Only Son, The Anointed, was completely God, and also completely human. It also means that Jesus was God’s Only Anointed from the very beginning; he wasn’t a supremely exceptional human being who caught God’s attention and “Only Son, The Anointed” bestowed on him by God like some award for excellence. Believing Jesus was fully God and fully human has been a stumbling point for people down through the ages, because it is difficult to keep in balance. Yet, if Jesus was not really one or the other then the entire message of Good News gets thrown off track, one direction or another. Take some time to think on that for yourself to discover what it might mean if Jesus were only God, or only human.
“Only Son”, and “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” affirm the Incarnation of Jesus from two different directions, the eternal Divine direction, and the helpless human direction.
The words “Jesus is Lord” are so familiar and time worn that most Christians have lost the significance of the words. In fact, the concept of Lordship is completely foreign to North American culture. We have no experience with it, or any valid parallel. Let’s face it – lordship was a basic cultural structure of the human race until we Americans consciously chose to invent a completely different way to build culture.
In the New Testament the title “Lord” is part of Jesus’ elevation by God to “the place of highest honor “. Let’s go back to Philippians 2 for a moment where Paul says
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In Philippians Jesus is Lord because his name is above every name; his lordship will be confessed by everyone. So in the New Testament, the title “Lord” is applied to Jesus in the highest sense possible, that he is God, the God of Israel. To quote a theologian, the writers of the New Testament used the title “Lord” for Jesus because
…it was the most adequate term for expressing what … believers had come to understand and appreciate of Jesus’ person and achievement and his present decisive role in the outworking of God’s purpose and blessing for the universe.
Most importantly however, how does one respond to such a Lord? The only possible response to this kind of Lordship is submission (as Philippians 2:10-11 states). This is another concept North Americans have trouble understanding. Try it like this: to believe that Jesus is your Lord means that you are no longer “self-employed”. The responsibility for failure or success, making all the right decisions at the right time, doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders anymore. Rather, you are now “Jesus-employed”. He has bought you out, he now owns the whole enchilada, and he is now the one responsible for making sure everything runs well. To paraphrase Calvin, to claim Jesus as Lord means:
We are [the Lord’s]: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are [the Lord’s]: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are [the Lord’s]: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only [permissible] goal.
That is the goal – not merely to say “I believe in Jesus as my Lord” – but in the mess of every day’s living to strive toward Jesus, the Anointed-Fully-God-Fully-Human, to live for him more, to let his wisdom and will rule your actions more. Yes, you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, our Lord, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; so how is that “making you” today?
Up next: Crucified, Descent, Resurrection.
 The Heidelberg Catechism, question 31.
 Philippians 2:9-11, NLT. These words are arranged in the form of verse because most modern scholars believe that Paul was quoting a contemporary hymn.
 F.F. Bruce, Paul:Apostle of the Heart Set Free; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977, p. 117.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Westminster Press, 1960, p. 690.