Essay / Theology

"Accomplished and Applied" in the Apostles' Creed

The Apostles’ Creed has three articles, one for each person of the Trinity.

The first article, on God the Father Almighty, is very short. He created heaven and earth. Much more could be said, but it isn’t said.

The second article is the longest, because it tells the story of Jesus: conceived by the Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, buried, descended into hell, ascended into heaven, will return to judge.

The third article is the oddest of the three. It curtly says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” and then sounds something like a laundry list of assorted other things we believe: the holy, catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting.

Some Reformation commentators on the creed point out that the final three items on that list have a structural relationship to the last items in the second article. That is, they follow from the second article as applications of it to us.

Why do I believe in the forgiveness of sins (3rd Article)? Because I believe that Jesus was crucified (2nd Article).

Why do I believe in the resurrection of the body (3rd Article)? Because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day (2nd Article).

Why do I believe in life everlasting (3rd Article)? Because I believe that Jesus ascended into heaven (2nd Article).

The second article tells of how our salvation was accomplished in Christ, and the third article tells how it is applied to us by the Spirit. The second article is the story of how this redemption is worked out in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ himself; the third article tells how it is worked out by the Holy Spirit, in the church, in us.

I think that correspondence is really there in the creed. Calvin and later Reformed commentators, including the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, expanded greatly on this correlation. Redemption is accomplished by God the Father in Christ, and applied to the church by God the Father in the Holy Spirit.

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