I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His 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 into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. 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.
– Apostles’ Creed
No one indeed believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed.
– Saint Augustine
In the first post of this series, I recounted how I was born again by God’s work of grace. But what does this mean with regard to what I believe in? The entirety of the belief system is, of course, complex, and my beliefs generally align with my denomination (PCA), which adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Westminster Larger Catechism. The Apostles’ Creed quoted above is a shorter statement of faith but one that most Christian churches have adhered to throughout history. For the purposes of this post, though, I will limit my discussion to what I consider to be the most salient aspects of my faith. I will then discuss why I am entirely convinced of the Christian faith.
The starting point of my faith is Jesus. I believe that Jesus was an actual historical figure who lived, died, and was resurrected as recounted in the bible. The first words of Jesus recorded in the account by Mark was, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” The key to my faith is this “good news” aka the “gospel”. I like the formulation of the gospel by one of my favorite contemporary Christian thinkers, Dr. Timothy Keller: “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” The good news tells us that human beings are fundamentally flawed and sin against God and others. The inescapable offenses separate us from God, the source of all life and all that is good. We are incapable of making ourselves right before God, and eternal separation from God is the only possible outcome if we rely on ourselves. We are blind to the depths of our rebellion against God, and it is His grace that gives us insight into this essential truth. The good news is good because Jesus did what we are incapable of. He lived the perfect life of love towards God and others, and he died in our place to pay for our sins and make us right with God. Jesus did this not out of some compulsion but rather because God loves the world and His rebellious creations that cannot save themselves. Humans can avail themselves of this saving work of Jesus through repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. In so doing, God becomes our Heavenly Father and Jesus our elder brother and bridegroom. We receive the Holy Spirit, who with the Father and the Son consist three persons in one God. The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer and continues the work of making us more like Jesus and leading the church. The chief purpose of humans is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, and the gospel frees us to do that. In walking with Christ, our character becomes more like Him but our sinful nature, though ultimately defeated, continues to exert influence on us. Christians look forward to being united with Jesus and all who belong to Jesus after our death and the return of Jesus to bring forth the full expression of His Kingdom, where we will be free of all that hinder us from glorifying and enjoying Him forever.
There are some corollary beliefs I hold to be essential. I believe that the bible as originally given is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for guiding the church. The bible is the word of God, and as Jesus is the Word of God, the bible ultimately comes from and is about Jesus. The bible itself records many instances when disregard of the bible led to apostasy, sin, and destruction, whereas loving and respecting the word of God led to faithfulness, life, and holiness. As such, all matters in a Christian’s life must be measured against the bible. The way we approach scriptures is important. In order to hear God’s true teaching, we need to read scripture with humility, trust, and assurance of God’s goodness and love for us. If we approach scripture with our agenda, we are likely to hear our own voice rather than God’s. Other works, such as catechisms and writings of historical men and women of God can be helpful, but the bible is uniquely the word of God. I also believe that community of fellow followers of Jesus is essential to living out the gospel. The greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors. The church can and ought to be a place where fellow flawed sojourners can experience the grace of Christ and grow in the likeness of Christ. Finally, I believe the gospel of Jesus is meant to be shared with the world. Without Jesus, no one can be reconciled to God, and Christians must share through deeds and words this amazing news with those who would otherwise perish.
There are many reasons for believing in the Christian faith. My reasons can be grouped into the rational, the existential, and the experiential. First, as a physician-scientist, a rational basis for faith is essential to me. There are many rational supports, but the most important for me is the historicity of Jesus and his disciples. While revisionist theologians once doubted the authenticity and contemporaneous nature of the gospel accounts of Jesus, archeological evidence has conclusively shown than the gospel accounts were written within the lifetime of Jesus’s eyewitnesses. These stories indeed claim to be eyewitness accounts (eg. Luke 1:1-4). They also are in the literary style of eyewitness accounts, which is very different from fictional prose of that period. The actions of the writers and other disciples of Christ confirm the veracity of the accounts as they were willing to live and die for the message of Jesus. Conspiracy theories were common back then as now, but lies and misunderstandings are not backed up by lives of love, hope, sacrifice, and transformation. As such, the gospel accounts are reliable rationally, and they recount a savior worth living and dying for.
My faith is also satisfying existentially. The scriptures describe the human state, the state of the world, and redemption that make sense and agree with the deepest part of me. The brokenness in humans described in scripture is something I see repeatedly both in my professional life as a physician and in my personal life. Physicians forestall decay, but decay is inevitable and truly grievous. While there are times when the good nature God gave us seems to come through, too often, sin is manifest within me and everyone around me. The need for fundamental rescuing from the brokenness seems evident to me, and Jesus as the solution is both troubling and satisfying at the same time. It is troubling because the existence of Jesus means I really truly cannot be a good person on my own. That’s quite a blow to my ego. But it is satisfying because it makes sense that a loving God would go to the utmost lengths to save those He loves. It is satisfying because the great God who created every molecule in this nearly infinite universe loves me enough to die for me. I know my place in this universe, and it is with Jesus.
I discussed how God worked in my life to give me faith and grow me in the faith. The rational and existential satisfaction has been confirmed and strengthened by personal experiences with God. There have been many times when I have sensed the presence of God in and around me, the strongest being the encounter in college I described in my previous post. Some of the dearest times were in times of distress. In times of illness, fear, loss of family and friends, and doubt, God gave me a sense of peace, comfort, and at times even joy that cannot be explained apart from an intervention by God. Several times in my life, things have happened that felt like miracles, and one time, I believe an actual physical miracle occurred. I went to meet a Christian friend one day regarding a common endeavor we were engaged in. Unfortunately, I had come down with a cold the day before, and I had a persistently bothersome sore throat and a stuffy nose. We then prayed about our common endeavor. While praying, just as I thought about how painful my throat was and was ruing about not having taken my lozenges, I felt a sensation come over my head and my sore throat and stuffy nose cleared within a few seconds. The discomfort never came back, and I believe God healed me miraculously. But the greater miracle has been how God has changed my character to be more like Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still far from the image of Christ, but I’m closer than when I first believed. One essential feature of my “old” self was and is a tendency to find my self-worth in my professional accomplishments. Jesus has allowed me to see that all that I am and do come from Him and have ultimate meaning only in Him
For all these reasons and too much more to fit into this post, for me, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. If you do not know Jesus personally, I implore you to seek Him. He will meet you, for He is kind and gracious.