I Believe that I Cannot Believe


March 12, 2017

John 3:1-17

Have you ever wondered what it would be like living in a different time and place? Perhaps thinking that you may get away from some of the terror and fear we experience today. In reality though, the sin that occurs today is no greater than the sin that has occurred throughout the history of the world.

Imagine what it would be like living in Germany back in 1529 when Martin Luther published the Small catechism. There was tyranny and discomfort then, just as there is today around the world. We would have had little clue of what was happening within the church because we would not have known Latin. We may have a real basic understanding, but that may even be a stretch. This is what Martin Luther encountered as he visited churches throughout the country. The thing is, it just was not the lay people that had no clue, it was many of the priests and pastors as well. Out of these observations, a desire built within him to teach the faith to the lay people as well as the teachers themselves. The Small Catechism was published to be used in the house for both parents to learn from and to teach their children. The Large Catechism, which goes into greater depth on each chief part, was published to teach pastors.

As we heard last week, the Ten commandments as Moses presents them from God are what points to our sin in the world. As our confession points out, we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. The law points to our sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ is what saves us.

It is in this that we confess our faith. This faith is confessed in a creed that is over eighteen hundred years old. The Apostles Creed as we know it today was first put together in Rome around the year 150. At that time, it was known as the “symbol of faith,” and would be mostly used at the time of baptisms. The Nicene Creed as we recite it was established in the year 325 to help combat heresies that were occurring throughout the church.

Our creeds are the confession of our faith and regardless of which one we speak on Sunday, we join with our sisters and brothers around the world that confess the same faith. This community of believers is what constitutes the Christian church in the world today. The creeds are divided into three parts. Sound a little familiar? Possibly like the Trinity!

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.


In the first article, we declare our faith in God the creator. A God that has made the heaven and the earth. A God that is still creating. In Luther’s response to the first article in the Large Catechism, he writes, “This article would humble and terrify us all, if we believed it!” The realization that we as human beings, are the creatures, and not the creators comes with quite a burden. The spirit-filled grace that God has bestowed upon us is a wonderful and terrifying thing when we take into account the ways that we have harmed creation. In this first article, we should be compelled to care for creation as it has been gifted to us.

Not only has God gifted to us once, God continues to gift us the things that we need on a daily basis. From the Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property.” God gives freely without any merit or worthiness of our own! Everything that we have comes from the creator God.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

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


What does it mean to be Lord? Traditionally, a Lord was someone that has authority over the people and land of a given territory either by appointment or inheritance.  Jesus has come to turn that definition on its head. We call Jesus Lord, because he has come to defeat sin and death. In this we are freed and able to experience eternal life. In this we encounter the gospel for the first time in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Timothy Wengert says, “the whole gospel is summarized in the [second article]. For the gospel is nothing other than the preaching of conception, birth, etc. of Christ.” Because of this we learn that Jesus Christ is “Our Lord.”

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.


“I believe that I cannot believe!” The third article of the creed reminds us of what we cannot do on our own. Luther’s answer to what does this mean in the third article is, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

While the liturgy of baptism is familiar to many of us, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Luther turns the order around. We would never come to know God, the Father, if not for Jesus Christ. We could not know Christ if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to Christ in the first place and it is through Christ that we come to know the Father. While the Holy Spirit is the one part of the Trinity that we seem to talk about least in the Lutheran church, it is the one that leads us to our faith. “I believe that I cannot believe.” Our faith is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the creeds, we confess the faith that was given to us by the Holy Spirit. Without it, the words of John’s gospel would be meaningless. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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