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In the Essentials . . . Unity
Last week, we read about the need for Christians to return to an “Old Time Religion”, but, specifically, what might that entail? What are the essentials or basic beliefs and practices of that Old Time Religion?
The following are two articles that address that topic. I don’t intend for these statements to be taken as a complete statement of the basics, and I won’t defend them as such. However, they provide a decent overview to address what Christianity is all about.
Remember that Jesus did not present His gospel via a four-year intensive program of studies attended by the religious elite of the day. Jesus spoke to be understood by the rough, hard-working people of that time and, specifically, to the sinners identified in that society.
As an example of the simplicity of our beliefs, we have the incident of the thief on the cross. That thief simply said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” No walking down front, no special prayer being sure to mention 3 or 4 things, no special blessing or approval by a high-ranking member of the local church, no special religious rites to be performed . . . nothing else. That thief simply trusted in Jesus.
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12
And so it is today. God’s Word does not need a host of religious elite to interpret and expound, seemingly without end, the intricacies of the Christian faith. Christianity remains today as a set of core beliefs and practices meant to be understood, believed and practiced by the common people of our time.
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight . . . Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:25, 26, 28-30
In the essentials . . . UNITY.
In the non-essentials . . . LIBERTY.
In all things . . . CHARITY (LOVE – Agape Love).
What are the essentials of the Christian faith?
The Bible itself reveals what is important and essential to the Christian faith. These essentials are the deity of Christ, salvation by God’s grace and not by works, salvation through Jesus Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel, monotheism and the Holy Trinity. These are the main “essentials” that we should understand and believe if we are followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at all of these in a little more detail.
The deity of Christ. Quite simply, Jesus is God. While Jesus never directly says, “I am God” in the Scriptures, He makes it very clear to those around Him, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, that He is God. John 10:30 says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus was claiming deity, and, interestingly enough, He did not deny that He was God. Another example is John 20:28, when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” Again, Jesus does not correct Him by saying that He is not God. There are many other examples one can find in the Scriptures regarding Jesus’ rightful place in heaven.
Salvation by grace. We are all sinners separated from God and deserving of eternal punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of mankind, giving us access to heaven and an eternal relationship with God. God did not have to do this for us, but He loves us so much that He sacrificed His only Son. This is grace, and it is most definitely undeserved favor. Scripture tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor or gain access to heaven apart from His grace.
Salvation through Jesus Christ alone. A truly provocative question to ask someone might be “Do all roads lead to God?” The truth is that all roads do lead to God. Eventually, we are all going to stand before God when we die, no matter what faith we are. It is there that we will be judged for what we have or have not done while we were alive and whether Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives. For the majority of people, this will be a terrible occasion, as most will not know Him or be known by Him. For these people, hell will be the final destination. But God in His mercy has provided all of us the only means for salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 tells us that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This passage speaks of the name of Jesus and His saving power. Another example is found in the book of John. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). No one gets into heaven except by faith in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ on his or her behalf.
The resurrection of Christ. Perhaps no other event in the Bible, aside from Jesus’ appearance here on earth and subsequent death on the cross, is as significant to the Christian faith as that of the resurrection. Why is this event significant? The answer lies in the fact that Jesus died and then after three days came back to life and rose again to reappear to His followers in bodily form. Jesus had already demonstrated His ability to resurrect others such as His friend Lazarus. But now God the Father had resurrected Him to display His awesome power and glory. This amazing fact is what separates the Christian faith from all others. All other religions are based on works or a powerless deity or person. The leaders of all other religions die and remain dead. The Christian faith is based on Christ crucified and resurrected to life. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Lastly, to deny Christ’s bodily resurrection (John 2:19-21) is to deny that Jesus’ work here on earth was a satisfactory offering to God for the sins of mankind.
The gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul spells out what the gospel is and how important it is to embrace it and share it with others. He reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he preached among them: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This is the essence of the gospel. Paul also warns us to be wary of the many “false gospels” that are being offered to the unsuspecting: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). The pure gospel of Jesus Christ—His death on the cross for sinners and His resurrection to everlasting life—is central to the Christian faith.
Monotheism. Quite simply, there is only one God. Exodus 20:3 states very powerfully, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God to be worshiped and served. “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me’” (Isaiah 43:10). Here we see that we are to “believe” and “understand” that God lives and is one. A Christian will know that there is only one God, the God of the Bible. All other “gods” are false and are no gods at all. “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).
The Holy Trinity. While the concept of a “three-in-one God” is not represented by a single verse or passage, it is described frequently throughout Scripture. If we look at Matthew 28:19, we see the verse calling out the Trinity: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” While this verse mentions all three Persons of the triune God, it does not call them the Trinity. So to understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, we must look at the “totality” of Scripture and glean from it the definition. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, we see how this comes together: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Again, we see all three Persons being represented but not titled the Holy Trinity.
Faith. The essentials of Christianity would not be complete without the ingredient that binds everything together—faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). As Christians we live by this verse with the understanding that we believe in a God we cannot see. But we see His work in our lives and all around us in His creation. We do all of this through faith because we know that faith pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
What do Christians believe?
The core beliefs of Christianity are summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, and thereby offers salvation to all who will trust in Him in faith. Unique among all other faiths, Christianity is more about a relationship than religious practices. Instead of adhering to a list of “do’s and don’ts,” the goal of a Christian is to cultivate a close walk with God. That relationship is made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Beyond these core beliefs, there are many other items that are, or at least should be, indicative of what Christianity is and what Christians believe.
Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of God and that its teaching is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Christians believe in one God that exists in three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
Christians believe that mankind was created specifically to have a relationship with God, but sin separates all men from God (Romans 3:23; 5:12).
Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ walked this earth, fully God, and yet fully man (Philippians 2:6-11), and died on the cross.
Christians believe that after His death, Christ was buried, He rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believers forever (Hebrews 7:25).
Christianity proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to completely pay the sin debt owed by all men and this is what restores the broken relationship between God and man (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:10; Romans 5:8; 6:23).
Christianity teaches that in order to be saved and be granted entrance into heaven after death, one must place one’s faith entirely in the finished work of Christ on the cross. If we believe that Christ died in our place and paid the price of our own sins, and rose again, then we are saved. There is nothing that anyone can do to earn salvation. We cannot be “good enough” to please God on our own, because we are all sinners (Isaiah 53:6; 64:6-7). There is nothing more to be done, because Christ has done all the work! When He was on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that the work of redemption was completed.
According to Christianity, salvation is freedom from the old sin nature and freedom to pursue a right relationship with God. Where we were once slaves to sin, we are now slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-22). As long as believers live on this earth in their sinful bodies, they will engage in a constant struggle with sin. However, Christians can have victory in the struggle with sin by studying and applying God’s Word in their lives and being controlled by the Holy Spirit—that is, submitting to the Spirit’s leading in everyday circumstances.
So, while many religious systems require that a person do or not do certain things, Christianity is about believing that Christ died on the cross as payment for our own sins and rose again. Our sin debt is paid and we can have fellowship with God. We can have victory over our sin nature and walk in fellowship and obedience with God. That is true biblical Christianity.
The church today is surrounded by, struggling with, and in many cases has been corrupted by, a liberal, secular culture and needs people who are not ashamed to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Truth does not change, and adherence to the essential or basic principles of doctrine is needed. These principles are the bedrock upon which Christianity stands, and, as Jesus taught, the house built upon the Rock will weather any storm.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25).