The essentials of the Christian faith consist of core doctrines taught in Scripture. To depart from one or all of these doctrines is to be outside Christian orthodoxy. Christians may disagree about non-essential doctrines (i.e. the rapture, millennial reign of Jesus, baptism, church government, etc.), and still be regarded as part of the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). I like the statement, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love. The central doctrines of the Christian faith are:
- The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
- One God exists as Trinity.
- Jesus is fully God and Man.
- Jesus willingly died a substitutionary atoning death.
- Jesus resurrected bodily, ascended to heaven, and will return for His people.
- Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space. The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut. 29:29). Scripture was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years. The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21). Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism. Nearly one fourth of Scripture was/is prophecy. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4). Our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). Christians do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).
The Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14). All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18). God is all-knowing (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), all-present (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Chron. 29:11; Dan. 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), just (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Ps. 99:9), immutable (Ps. 102:26, 27; Mal. 3:6), truthful (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), gracious (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10), and eternal (Deut. 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17).
The Deity/Humanity of Jesus – At a point in time, the eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself, simultaneously being God and man, Creator and creature, theanthropic (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8). Jesus is the God-man (John 1:1, 14). Jesus exists in hypostatic union, as a single Person with a divine and human nature (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2-3), both natures being distinct and preserved, not mixed or confused, fully God and fully man. The hypostatic union is forever, from conception onward. Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis – Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), who is the mother of Jesus’ humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ). Jesus was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1), without a human father and without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man. In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation.
Substitutionary Atonement – God the Son became man that He might redeem fallen humanity from sin and death (Mark 10:45). The Bible reveals, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). In Jerusalem, on April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22). Christ died for the sins of everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will know eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31). Salvation is never accomplished by what a person does for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for him through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for his sins (John 3:16), and gives him eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil. 3:9).
The Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, and Return of Jesus – After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom. 5:9). After forty days, Jesus ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11). The rapture of the church—which precedes Jesus’ Second Coming—is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13). The rapture of the church is a world-changing event in which the bodies of deceased Christians are resurrected (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17), meeting the Lord in the air and going to heaven to be with God forever (John 14:1-3). The rapture will be followed by seven years of worldwide tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27; Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-20), culminating in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:11-16). After His second coming, Jesus will judge the nations of the world (Matt. 25:31-46), and establish a future reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12, 16; Ps. 89:36-37; Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 20:1-6). After His reign, Jesus will judge all unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15), and then make a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21-22).
Salvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone – Jesus is the only Savior for mankind, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12). God’s provision of salvation from eternal death was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly shed His blood and died on a cross, atoning for every human sin. Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is offered to helpless, ungodly, sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-2; 8-9), and is received by grace alone (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal. 2:16; 3:26; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Salvation is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and is “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5). The matter is simple: Salvation only comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31).
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.