"He was Conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit"

Updated: Aug 28

Confessing the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord!

As we continue our journey through the Apostles' Creed, we return to the section confessing our belief in Jesus Christ. We have already confessed that we believe that He came into the world to save sinners, that He is the Christ, that He is the only begotten Son of God, and that He is Lord! As we stated, that is saying a great deal about Jesus. Still, this creed has more to say about Him. In fact, that draws our attention to the Christ-centered nature of this Creed. Why is it so Christ-centered? The answer is because most of the heresies that the early church faced dealt with falsehoods which were proclaimed concerning Christ. This creed offers a defense against such falsehoods.

The incarnation is a key Christian doctrine defended in the Apostles' Creed. It is that doctrine that will be our focus this week. The creed states:

"He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

While this is the modern wording, it corresponds to the truth found in the traditional form of the creed:

"who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."

Basically, the creed presents two affirmations. First, it states that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; second, it states that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.

Early Challenges

It is shocking to me (though it should not be), that this confession of belief is as challenged today in the church as it was when this creed was being compiled. In the Patristic period of the church, this doctrine was attacked by those who wanted to deny the true humanity of Christ. Chief among these opponents of the true faith were the docetists. Docetism taught that Jesus was divine, but not truly human; what appeared to be His body was merely an appearance. This was particularly popular with Gnosticism since it taught that the material world was irredeemably corrupt. This being the case, Christ could not have a physical body even if it appeared that He did. Certainly, we could devote an entire post to this one heresy, responding from the Scriptures and writings of the early church. We stand with the creed to declare that the eternal word became flesh in the incarnation- the very miracle described in today's statement.

Even though docetism was a major threat to the orthodoxy of the early church, it was not the lone threat. Another major theological landmine existed in those who taught adoptionism. While docetism denied the humanity of Christ, adoptionism was a heresy that denied His true divinity. Adoptionists denied that Jesus is eternally God, rather He became God. He was a man adopted by God (at His baptism, or resurrection- depending on the particular model of adoptionism). In this adoption, Jesus is granted "Godhood."Just as with decotism, we could spend much time refuting this false teaching from the Scriptures and from logic. For instance, since eternity is an attribute of God, it becomes impossible to claim divinity for the non-eternal Jesus of the adoptionists. Happily, the Jesus of the Christian church is not created; He is eternal- the eternally begotten Son of God Who has taken on flesh.

Contemporary Challenges

So, as we can see, this creed was offered to the church in a time of much theological battle. We, too, live in an age of theological conflict with many of the front-line skirmishes involving these very same doctrines. Today, you can turn on the television and watch a sermon from America's largest church in which you will hear its influential pastor claim that Christianity does not hinge on the incarnation. Further, he seems to suggest that it is relatively unimportant when compared to other truths such as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Yet, the early church never seemed to see these truths as in opposition to one another. In fact, one can only fully understand the accomplishments of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ if he understands what the Scriptures declare concerning His incarnation. It is for this reason that the incarnation is second among the statements of the Apostles' Creed concerning Jesus.

Why would we suggest that such a statement is necessary? Simply because the Scriptures present it as both true and necessary. For Jesus to accomplish the work for which He came, it was necessary that He be the person the Scriptures claim Him to be. It is not enough that Jesus went to the cross if He were not able to atone for sin. It is not enough that He simply arose since many liberals have attempted to explain away the resurrection for many years (via the "swoon" and other theories). No, Christ's mission only avails the Biblical salvation if He is able to die an atoning death, rise from the dead victoriously, ascend gloriously into heaven, and act as our interceding High Priest.

Let us see why as we move through the statement.

1.) "He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit"

Notice immediately that the creed states that Christ's birth was the result of conception. Immediately, we see a similarity to all human births. This is not denied in the Scriptures; quite the opposite, Christ became like us. However, this should not be taken to suggest that Christ's conception was not unique. Unlike us, He was not conceived by an earthly father; instead, the conception was supernatural. This is precisely what is recorded in Luke's Gospel.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”