100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Friday, January 21, 2011

#21: What are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith?

Coming to a complete knowledge of God and a complete understanding of the Bible is something we, as Christians, spend our whole lives doing. And we never come to a complete understanding in this life. So it's plain that one does not need a perfect knowledge of God to be saved. Many Christians understand parts of the Bible a little differently to one another as well. But not all differences mean that one is a true Christian and the other is not. But there are some essential things which one must genuinely believe in order to be saved, and then there are details of the Bible which we can interpret differently; but such differences only count as examples of our imperfect understanding of God. Even those essentials need not be understood to the depths of their complexity, where all implications are known.

In creating a list of essential beliefs, the aim is not to specify a bare minimum you must believe in order to be counted a Christian, as though you can happily reject everything that is not considered essential. But such a list is helpful as a sort of "first-pass test" for genuine faith. One's attitude should always be to believe all that the Bible tells us, and to gain a fuller and truer understanding of it. I would have liked to put the first essential as the belief that the Bible is God's inerrant Word. When Christians disagree on doctrine, usually they both agree that the Bible is God's inerrant Word, and what they disagree on is their understanding of God's Word. They will both maintain that the Word of God is absolutely right, and we need to rightly understand it. But I don't see this as essential because I think a person can be saved through someone’s preaching and never even own or read a Bible; as is often the case on the mission field. It’s more a belief that the things they’ve heard are true that is essential.

So the first essential of the Christian faith is to believe in Jesus Christ. But what about Jesus must we believe? There are three things which I consider to be absolutely essential; else one is not saved. These are:

   1. That Jesus Christ is both God and man.
   2. That Jesus will judge the world.
   3. That Jesus died as a substitutionary atonement for our sins, and was resurrected.

These three things actually presuppose a few other things which many add explicitly to their list of essentials. For example, to believe that Jesus will judge the world, one must acknowledge that their own sin will be judged. And if you don't believe that you are a sinner, how will you believe that you need salvation? But to believe that Jesus died as an atonement for our sins, one must believe that Jesus provides salvation from sin and the consequences of sin. But this judgment and the provision of atonement is only possible because Christ is both God and man. Many believe that they are sinners in need of salvation; but not all believe that salvation is found in Christ alone. Many people believe that they can atone for their own sins. But only a sinless substitute will ever be a satisfactory atonement for our sins. We cannot save ourselves. So I have put in this list all that we must know about Jesus Christ. If He were not sinless, He could not atone for our sins. If He were not God, He could not be sinless. If He were not God, He would have no right to judge the world. If were not a man, He could not have died for our sins. And if He were not resurrected, He would be dead and incapable of saving us.

The next essential belief I want to list is that:

   4. Salvation is by grace, through faith.

What does this mean? Is it like saying “It is necessary to believe that belief is necessary?” That sounds like a redundant statement. No, what I mean by “grace, through faith” is this... When we say “by grace”, we emphasise that salvation is not earned. Salvation is given to us freely. Anyone who ultimately believes that their good deeds will get them into heaven, whether they claim to believe in Christ or not, is actually lost. In fact, we cannot truly believe that Christ is our atonement if we believe that salvation is anything other than a free gift of grace. We cannot trust in our own deeds, for even the noblest of our deeds is tainted by sin. And when we talk of faith, we don't mean a mere internal belief; like an intellectual acknowledgement of some concept or idea. Faith is a trust in God’s salvation which affects one's whole life... everything we do and think, and even feel. So whilst salvation is not gained through what we do, faith does affect what we do.

So, in the spirit of this blog, I have not regurgitated someone else’s “list of essentials”. This is my own attempt at summarizing what I see as the essentials of my own faith. But you can find many other examples like this on the Internet, I’m sure. However, I don't think there could possibly be an organisation which affirms all of these things, and yet we would call them a cult. You need to consider that a lot of things follow from these four things. If you deny that Christ will return, for example, then you really deny point 2. And if you believe that salvation is through faith, then good works will follow. There are certainly many more things that all true Christians ought to acknowledge and believe, but I think that if a person learned just these four things about Christianity, confessed a genuine belief in these things and then died before they learned anything else, they would be saved. But of course a Christian who believes these things should also believe in the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of believers, the inerrancy of Scripture, and all of the other doctrines taught by Scripture.

So until tomorrow...
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

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