Basics of Our Faith

Who God is

When we say the Apostles' Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an

understanding of God as a Trinity—three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God,

who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity" is one 

way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.  We also try to find adjectives

that describe the divine nature: God is transcendent (over and beyond all that is), yet at the

same time immanent (present in everything). God is omnipresent (everywhere at once),

omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing). God is absolute, infinite, righteous,

just,  loving, merciful…and more. Because we cannot speak literally about God, we use

metaphors: God is a Shepherd, a Bridegroom, a Judge. God is Love or Light or Truth.


Who is Jesus

In trying to find words to express their faith in Jesus, the New Testament writers gave him

various names. Jesus was Master, Rabbi, Teacher. He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

He was the Doorway to the sheepfold, the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, and more.

In the church's long tradition, scores of other names or titles have been given.

Let's look at five of the most central biblical names for Jesus:

Son of God:  We believe in Jesus as God's special child. We call this the Incarnation, meaning

that God was in the world in the actual person of Jesus of Nazareth...

Son of man:  Paradoxically, we also believe that Jesus was fully human. One of the church's

first heresies claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human, that he was really a divine figure

in disguise. But the early church rejected this. It affirmed that Jesus was a person in every

sense that we are. He was tempted. He grew weary. He wept. He expressed his anger.

In fact, Jesus is God's picture of what it means to be a mature human being.

Christ:  We say "Jesus Christ" easily, almost as if "Christ" were Jesus' surname. Yet this name

is another way of expressing who we believe Jesus to be. Christ is the Greek translation of

the Hebrew word Messiah, which means God's Anointed One. For years before Jesus' time

the Jews had been expecting a new king, a descendant of the revered King David,

who would restore the nation of Israel to glory. Like kings of old, this one would be

anointed on the head with oil, signifying God's election; hence, the Chosen

One = the Anointed One = the Messiah = the Christ. The early Jewish Christians proclaimed

that Jesus was, indeed, this Chosen One. Thus, in calling him our Christ today, we affirm that

he was and is the fulfillment of the ancient hope and God's Chosen One to bring salvation

to all peoples, for all time.

Lord:  We also proclaim Jesus as our Lord, the one to whom we give our devoted allegiance.

The word Lord had a more powerful meaning for people of medieval times, because they

actually lived under the authority of lords and monarchs. Today some of us may find it

difficult to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives. We're used to being independent and

self-sufficient. We have not bowed down to authority. To claim Jesus as Lord is to freely

submit our will to his, to humbly profess that it is he who is in charge of this world.

Savior:  Perhaps best of all, we believe in Jesus as Savior, as the one through whom God has

freed us of our sin and has given us the gift of whole life, eternal life, and salvation. We speak

of this gift as the atonement, our "at-oneness" or reconciliation with God. We believe that

in ways we cannot fully explain, God has done this through the mystery of Jesus' self-giving

sacrifice on the cross and his victory over sin and death in the Resurrection.

From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 76-77. Used by permission.  


THE HOLY SPIRIT:

The Holy Spirit is God's present activity in our midst. When we sense God's leading,

God's challenge, or God's support or comfort, we say that it's the Holy Spirit at work.

In Hebrew, the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are nearly the same. The same is true in

Greek. In trying to describe God's activity among them, the ancients were saying that it was

like God's breath, like a sacred wind. It could not be seen or held: "The wind blows where

it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where

it goes" (John 3:8). But the effect of God's Spirit, like the wind, could be felt and known.

Where do we find the evidence of the Spirit at work?


In the Bible

The Spirit is mentioned often throughout the Bible. In Genesis a "wind from God swept over

the face of the waters," as if taking part in the Creation (1:2). Later in the Old Testament

(Hebrew Bible), we often read of "the Spirit of the Lord."

In Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism, Jesus "saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove

and alighting on him" (3:16) and he "was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be

tempted" (4:1). After his Resurrection Christ told his disciples, "You will receive power

when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). A few weeks later, on the Day of

Pentecost, this came to pass: "And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush

of a violent wind....All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:2, 4). As the Book of

Acts and Paul's letters attest, from that time on, the early Christians were vividly aware of

God's Spirit leading the new church.


In guidance, comfort, and strength

Today we continue to experience God's breath, God's Spirit. As one of our creeds puts it,

"We believe in the Holy Spirit, God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength"

(The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 884). We sense the Spirit in time alone—perhaps in prayer,

in our study of the Scriptures, in reflection on a difficult decision, or in the memory of a loved one.


The Spirit's touch is intensely personal.

Perhaps we're even more aware of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers—the

congregation, the church school class or fellowship group, the soup kitchen, the planning

committee, the prayer meeting, the family. Somehow the Spirit speaks through the thoughtful

and loving interaction of God's people. The Holy Spirit, who brought the church into being, is

still guiding and upholding it, if we will but listen.


In the gifts we receive

How does the Holy Spirit affect our lives? By changing us!

By renewing us and by strengthening us for the work of ministry.

Fruits: Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).

What sort of fruit? Paul asserts that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).

Gifts: Paul also writes that the Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on believers.

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 he lists nine, which vary from one person to another: the

utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles,

prophecy, the discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of

tongues. These fruits and gifts are not of our own achievement. They and others are the

outgrowth of the Spirit's work in us, by grace, through our faith in Jesus the Christ. And

they are not given for personal gain. Through these fruits and gifts, the Holy Spirit empowers

us for ministry in the world.

From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 84-85. Used by permission.


Human Beings:

We believe that God created human beings in God's image.

We believe that humans can choose to accept or reject a relationship with God.

We believe that all humans need to be in relationship with God in order to be fully human.


SIN & SALVATION:

While The United Methodist Church does not consider confession a sacrament, we know our need to confess our sin before God and one another.

Sin is a constant struggle. The Bible tells us that we all sin, and John Wesley noted in a sermon how Christians continue to struggle with sin even after their conversion. In "The Scripture Way of Salvation," Wesley writes,

How naturally do those who experience such a change imagine that all sin is gone; that it is utterly rooted out of their heart, and has no more any place therein!... But it is seldom long before they are undeceived, finding sin was only suspended, not destroyed. Temptations return, and sin revives; showing it was but stunned before, not dead.

Many of us can relate. Sin is a persistent force in our lives.The good news is that when we confess our sin, God promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

 

The Rev. Junius Boyd Dotson: "What does it mean to be saved? Scripture declares that if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, we shall be saved. So what does it mean? For me, one word kinda' encapsulates salvation: assurance. I have the assurance that when I die, I am going to heaven; that I am going to be able to be reunited with all of those, my loved ones who have gone on before me who have accepted Jesus into their lives; that there is life after death; that when I die, I'm gonna be in the presence of God. I get a great sense of assurance about that. Also, I have assurance about life right now, in the here and now. That is, when I'm going through tough times, when I'm facing difficult decisions, that there is a power with me, that there is a presence with me. That because I have accepted Christ, because I am saved, I have the ability to be able to walk with the presence of the Holy Spirit. That leads me and guides me and gives me a new sense of wisdom for all of the things I'm facing in my life. I like to take the mythology out of the word saved and say, in its simplest forms, to be saved is to have a sense of assurance."