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I was reflecting on Matthew 16:15 as a part of my personal worship a few days ago.
This is the moment where Jesus asks his disciples who they really think he is. They tossed around the latest news – some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead. Others thought that perhaps he was the return of Elijah the prophet, or someone else like that. But then he turned the question toward them. “And who do you say I am?” Peter’s response was the moment that the church began. If you don’t know what he said, and how Jesus responded, I’ll let you check it out on your own.
As I was reflecting on this in my journal, I asked the question of myself. ”Who do I think Jesus is?” I started writing. Not “the right answers” necessarily. Not my theology, necessarily – although this question is implicitly theological. I just began writing what I truly and deeply believe about Jesus. I expected to write a couple of sentences, but I spent the rest of my time writing. Then I turned to prayer, praying through the things I had written, speaking out loud to God the things that I knew I really did believe in my heart about Jesus.
Somewhere along the way this all became worship, and I was struck deeply, emotionally, by all that God had done in Jesus, and the depth of love I saw there.
It moved me and I was compelled to thank God for His grace, for His plan to restore broken humanity, for His work in my own life – accepting me, shaping me, calling me, motivating me, restoring me again and again. It was a powerful experience of God.
When I was done I read back through what I had written, and realized that I’d written a creed. I hadn’t meant to, but that’s what turned out. Now, if you’re a part of a more liturgical church, you’re probably familiar with the creed. Many traditional churches still recite the creed every week. But if your church is in the stream of the free church movement, or an independent or congregational church, you may not even know what the creed is.
For most of the history of Christianity, regardless of what changed, this didn’t. Every worship service included the recitation of the creed. It came to be called “the Apostle’s Creed,” because it was a summary of what the apostles believed. There were a few different versions that addressed different theological concerns. The most famous by far is the Nicene Creed. Here’s the basic text of the creed that is used in many churches today:
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 Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the Communion of Saints; the Forgiveness of sins; the Resurrection of the body, and the Life everlasting. Amen.
You can see that it covers a lot of ground! Now, for many people the creed is simply a theological artifact. It exists as a summary of orthodox doctrine. But that wasn’t the only purpose of the creed in the early church. It was also a part of worship. By stating what they believed about God together, the community was formed and their hearts were lifted to God. That’s what I experienced.
Taking the time to articulate what I deeply believe about Jesus became an act of worship. Remember – worship really means giving something significance. When we worship something, we identify that it is important to us, that it is weighty in our lives, that it is of utmost importance. In this process I was able to speak out things that are essential to my heart that really move me. I wasn’t trying to write a complete or even doctrinally correct statement of faith. I was just writing out everything I could think of that I believed about Jesus. For me, the result was worship.
So, today I want to offer this to you as a personal worship activity. Try this yourself and see what happens. Here’s some notes and direction to get you off on the right foot.
1. Get situated. Get your journal out and a good pen. Set yourself up in a space where you have some private space and time for yourself. Start by praying for God to guide your heart and be present as you worship. Then read Matthew 16:13-20. Read it slowly. Read it a couple of times. Make sure you’re capturing the images of that moment in your mind. What would it have been like to be one of the disciples in that conversation?
2. Journal: Who Is Jesus to you? Now write. Write down everything you can think of that you truly do believe about Jesus. Not your intellectual beliefs, or correct christology. Write the things you deeply believe, the things that you are connected to in your heart. Who is Jesus to you? Who was he? What is he now to you? What role does he have in your life?
3. Don’t worry about being right. Be truthful. Real worship can only grow out of authenticity. So don’t try to be correct. Be as truthful as you can be. Even though this ends up looking like a creed, the point is not to parse words and write a perfectly orthodox statement of Christian belief. In fact, if you try to do that, you will very likely miss the opportunity to worship. Allow this to be a creed-in-process. Write the things that you truly do believe, not what you think you should believe. Write, not in the language your pastor might use, but in language that you can authentically agree with in the depths of who you are.
Undoubtedly someone’s thinking, “What about right beliefs?” Well, biblical doctrine is vitally important. It shapes our understanding of God, ourselves, the world, and how we live. But this activity isn’t about displaying or correcting your beliefs. It’s chance to authentically express what’s in your heart. If your beliefs aren’t in alignment with good orthodoxy on every point, God is big enough to shape you and lead you into truth by the Holy Spirit and His word, but that will only happen if your heart is open, seeking, and worshipping. So, set aside any need you have to be right in this activity, and instead be authentic and vulnerable before God.
4. Pray it through. Once you’ve written everything you can think of, go back and pray through what you’ve written. Speak to God the things you really do believe. If that moves you to gratitude, then be thankful in your worship. If it moves you to wonder, express that. If there are places that surface that make you uncomfortable – perhaps because you find you don’t believe things you think you ought to – share that with God, and invite him to teach you, to shape your heart. Give God access to your thoughts, and ask him to guide your prayer.
I found this to be unexpectedly and powerfully impacting as I focused on Jesus and who He is. I hope that you will find it meaningful as well.
With some trepidation, I will close this post with my own words as I did this. I do so with this caveat. There are places in these words where I found myself saying things that aren’t how I might express myself as a pastor, places where the edges of my belief are more fuzzy than I am comfortable with. It feels like posting this is something of a risk. But I want to share it with you unedited as an act of vulnerability, with the hope that it will give you an example of how you might go about this. Keep in mind that this is a creed-in-process, and take courage to express your own as an act of worship.
Jesus is God’s own son, savior, restorer, lord. He is the intimate One who knows me throughout. He is the friend who has stood by me. He is the only true authority over my life, and judge who can know my truth and my motives. He is powerful and strong; trustworthy and gentle. He is the one who has called me into a life of relationships, and a new way of leading. He serves even so far as giving up his own life, yet leads with unmatched authority.
I believe that Jesus was a human man who lived in Palestine in the first century, largely as described in the Gospels, but before that, he was with God in the beginning, a part of God and God, the only-begotton Son of the Father. I believe that on earth he was everything of God that could fit into humanity, and that in those thirty-three years of life he was without sin and lived in ongoing connection with the Father.
I believe that in his teaching and actions he gave us the clearest picture into the heart of God that humanity has ever seen, a picture that transcends all religions, even Christianity. He calls us to repent and turn away from a life of self-justification and fear, and enter by faith into a life where we are justified by God alone, and live with the purpose of extending God’s heart and character into every part of life, and every corner of this world.
I believe that Jesus died as the Gospels say, and that three days later he physically rose from the grave, which was not just a miracle, but a marker of God’s ultimate victory over sin and death. I believe that Jesus returned to God, and now is alive and working on behalf of the restoration of the world. I believe that He can hear the call of hearts that seek him, that through the agency of the Holy Spirit He is present to anyone who desires him, and that he will never turn away anyone who seeks him.
I believe that Jesus will ultimately return to earth in the final magnificent act of this age, bringing this season of humanity’s existence to an end, and coming as the righteous judge who will separate justice from injustice, and put an end to sin and death on this world. Then all who are known as friends of God will live in his presence for eternity.
I believe that because of who Jesus is I have a new identity – a son in God’s household, a new creation, freed from sin, a new heart of flesh, with the authority to live out Jesus’ purposes in the world around me. While I am not yet made new, fulfilling this identity, I am able now to choose to live within it.
Because of who Jesus is, I have purpose and significance, and can live without the need for self-justification or value-building. I can let go of pride, fear, selfishness, exclusivity, and all the things that I do to establish my own sense of value or security. Because of Jesus’ compassion, I can live with compassion – extending grace, forgiveness, and justice wherever I am. I do not do this simply because Jesus is a model or example, but because Jesus ignites and empowers these things in my own heart. The more I turn my eyes and heart toward him, the more I become like him.
My life begins and ends in Jesus. He is the measurement of my values and priorities. He is the motivation for my best risks and steps of faith. He is the one who calls me out of sin, and who picks me up when I fail. He can both hold me to God’s perfect standard without flinching and at the same time love me fully and without qualification. For that reason I am safe with him. In every moment, I live, and breathe, and find my being in Jesus, and it is my desire that I would more and more desire to know him intimately, to love him fully, and to serve him completely.