Week 3: "I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord"
The housegroup notes for this series will be quite full and detailed. They will take us in a number of different directions as we explore what it means to say ‘I believe’. Groups may wish to use certain sections of the weekly notes and discard other sections as appropriate.
Read: John 1:1-18, John 5:16-27, Matt 7:21-22
Believing in Jesus is an immensely practical thing. Far from simply being about assenting to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth it’s really about actively living in his company and in doing so knowing and seeing what it means to live under the kingly rule of God.
Believing in Jesus is about relocating where we live and exist. By way of introduction let’s unpack this.
Throughout the Old Testament it is clear to see that the nation of Israel existed at the initiative of God. Repeatedly we are told that God took the initiative in choosing Israel – not that they had warranted this, not that they had somehow deserved this – but that God acting on his own divine prerogative had called them as a demonstration of his goodness and grace.
From this act of choosing, as we continue on in the story of the Old Testament people of God, we see a God who reveals himself and his nature and his plans to the people he has called ‘his own’. In this, being chosen and the recipients of revelation, God’s people are ‘called out’ to have a distinct identity and live under the rule and reign of God.
Against this background Jesus Christ says “you will be a people if you accept my promise and my invitation…” a promise and invitation to belong with God and to be a citizen of a new world. And all of this is wrapped up in commitment to Jesus and trusting him. The statement is first and foremost about a person not about a set of ideas.
Reflect and Discuss:
When you say “I believe in Jesus’ what do you mean exactly? What does it mean to you to ‘believe in Jesus’? If a friend asked you ‘what does believing in Jesus mean’ – how would you answer the question?
What does it mean to say “I believe in Jesus Christ…”
Let’s more on now, having reflected on the questions above to consider this vital question. We’ve already indicated that it means trusting Jesus. But trusting him for what?
The answers to this are many and varied, but ultimately ‘believing in Jesus’ means trusting that he was and is certain things – (this is really about doctrine. If you’d like to explore this further I suggest reading appropriate chapters in a book called Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.)
It’s about believing that Jesus was and is:
- The Son of God or as theologians like to say God incarnate
- The true and most full revelation of God
- The source, centre and revelation of the kingdom of God
- The one wins for us forgiveness and salvation
Reflect and Discuss: Perhaps there are some more things you’d like to add to this list…what are they? What do you think when you hear the word ‘doctrine’? Why is doctrine important? Do you think doctrine is important? If not, how might this be dangerous to Christian faith?
Note to leaders: The issues surrounding the place of doctrine are increasingly important in a highly individualistic and relativistic world, influenced as it is by hyper-modernism (post-modernism as it’s sometimes called) If there is a general feeling amongst your group that doctrine is un-important it might be worth pausing and exploring this and trying to affirm the importance of the historic doctrine and teaching of the Christian faith. Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology is very helpful here and I’m more than willing to visit your group to help unpack and explore this topic if required.
So it’s about believing some definite things about Jesus (doctrine) but it’s also about belief being turned into practice because to say we believe in Jesus means that we trust that earthly and heavenly reality is altered and affected by him – that if you like a new era dawned in the history of creation. Specifically believing in Jesus means:
We believe that a new relationship with God is possible – and we live it
Jesus ushered in a new era in man’s relationship with God. As the earliest disciples discovered living in Jesus company meant living in a closer and more intimate relationship with God the Father than had previously been possible.
Jesus underlines this in many ways but perhaps most forcefully in the prayer that he teaches the disciples which begins ‘Our Father…’. In this prayer the calling of God ‘Father’ reframes and revolutionizes the relationship between man and God.
We need only think back to our recent series on Exodus, the high point of which was the presence of God manifest in the tabernacle, to see this point dramatically illustrated. In the exodus story God was present with his people and yet only 1 man was allowed to approach God in the tent of meeting and then only at Gods request. In Christ the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting is ripped apart and access to God is granted freely. (this is picked up the symbolism of Matthew 27:45-54).
This new relationship is one of intimacy, described by Rowan Williams as “a relationship more like a family relationship than anything else” which means that ”If you stand where Jesus is standing, you can say what Jesus says” in contrast to the Old Testament practices this means one can come before God without going through the complex and numerous religious and ritual conditions. Perhaps we are so familiar with this that the wonder of it is lost on us?
Believing in Jesus is about being ‘In Jesus’…
One of the more confusing phrases that the Apostle Paul uses regularly is this phrase ‘In Christ’. He implies somehow that those who believe in Jesus are ‘In’ him, or to use another of his phrases have ‘put on Christ’. Very simply this means that those who believe in Jesus stand in his shoes as it were and benefit from his standing before God which is given to us. Believing in Jesus means that we have quite literally been taken into Christ and receive all that is his. Put like that it’s easy to see why believing in Jesus is no mere statement about his existence.
If this is the reality behind believing in Jesus, how and in what ways do you live this? How conscious are you of being ‘in Christ’? How deeply is your day to day life affected by this intimate relationship with the Father? Is there anything you can do on a regular daily basis to allow this reality to further affect and shape your life?
We believe that we are citizens of a new world – and we live it
Alongside this new relationship with God through Christ, when we say we believe in Jesus we are also saying that we are citizens of a new world. In Christ the kingdom of God was revealed and inaugurated. And so believing in Jesus means that we locate ourselves under and within the kingdom rule of God. We transfer our citizenship and become a member of the people of God. This means many things but in particular that a new way of living applies to us. A call to holiness, a call to turn the ways and priorities of ‘the world’ upside down, a call to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God present now.
Sure we still live in this world, the world which we see around us every day, a world in which many other powers claim to rule. But in living under the Kingdom rule of God we have become free of them, free of the powers that claim to rival God, both natural and supernatural, and free of the chains that these other powers place on people.
In his book Tokens of trust Rowan Williams says this about those who live under the rule and reign of God “Your life will give a foretaste of God’s rule; and it [your life] will be directed to inviting as many people as possible to come under the same rule, and to resisting the powers (natural and supernatural) that work against God and seek to keep people in slavery.”
A powerful and challenging sentence. And one that highlights the daily reality of saying ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’.
Reflect and Discuss: To what degree do you frame your understanding of believing in Jesus in these terms? Do you daily and actively live under the kingdom rule of God? If so, how does this work itself out? With regards inviting others to live in this reality, how much of a priority is this for you? (Without wanting to lay it on too heavily Jesus didn’t only ask a few special people to invite others to place their trust in him – he asks all his disciples to invite others to follow him.) When did you last invite someone you know to commit to trusting Jesus and living in this reality? Is there anyone whom you might invite to do this at the moment? If so – pray for courage and sensitivity to invite them.
Moving on let’s look at the two terms used to describe Jesus Christ – one in relation to God, and one in relation to us.
His only Son
The first term defines Jesus relationship to God.
In saying we believe in Jesus as God’s ‘only Son’ we are affirming something very important/ We’re recognizing the intimacy and closeness of the relationship between God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus goes so far as to say that this relationship is so close that those who have seen him have seen God. “In the creed” notes Alister McGrath “stating that Jesus is the Son of God amounts to saying that Jesus is God.”
That Jesus is God incarnate, rather than a man on whom God’s Spirit rested, or a good moral teacher, is vital. If Jesus were not God then Jesus could not save us. The Old Testament affirms time and time again that only God can save his people, no earthly King or leader, no matter how good or godly, is up to the task. And incarnate in Christ God once again proves this to be true – only God can save (Isaiah 45:21-22) - Jesus saves(Acts4:12) – and he can do it only because he is God.
The second term defines Jesus relationship to us.
In saying that we believe in Jesus as ‘our Lord’ we affirm that Jesus has the same name as God, Lord is translated as Yahweh in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek. Jesus is called the same thing as God implying quite clearly that he is God – The Lord.
Christians are therefore those who have confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9), they are those who have received Jesus as Lord (Colossians 2:6), they are those who believe that in the resurrection Jesus was proclaimed as Lord over all and to all(Acts2:36). Christians are those who have enthroned Christ as Lord over our entire life – all that we have and all that we are.
Reflect, Discuss, & Pray: Enthroning Christ as Lord means placing all things including ourselves under his authority and placing ourselves in his service. It means that he must occupy the highest place in our lives. On a daily basis do you find this a challenge or does this come easily to you? How do you daily enthrone Christ as Lord over your life?
If Jesus Christ is God and Lord of all he is deserving of our unreserved praise and adoration. Why not spend some time as a group praising Jesus either in prayer or song, or through another creative activity.
Some more bible passages to read and discuss:
‘his only Son’
Mark 1:1-8 (John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus)
Mark 2:1-12 (An early incident in Jesus life)
Acts 2:14-39 (Peters explanation of how a crucified criminal could be Lord)
Romans 10:9 (The significance of saying ‘Jesus is Lord’)
Some further reading:
If anyone wants to explore any of these ideas in more detail consider reading:
The Supremacy of Christ – Ajith Fernando, Crossway Books 1995
Understanding Jesus: Who Jesus Christ Is and Why He Matters – Alister McGrath, Zondervan Books 1987