Essentials of the Christian Faith

The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word. As such, it defines reality, states truth, and is authoritative on all matters it affirms. Therefore, all Scripture is essential concerning every matter it addresses and should be held in high esteem. There’s no part of Scripture itself that is nonessential. However, within Scripture, we learn that some doctrinal matters are more important than others. The apostle Paul spoke very strongly that if anyone “should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8). However, concerning the observance of holy days, Paul taught that “One person regards one day above another, and another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). Certainly, the gospel message and its clear communication is more important than one’s understanding of holy days and how they are observed in the dispensation of grace. Charles Ryrie states, “Some doctrines are more important than others, so it particularly behooves us not to cut off our fellowship from those who share similar views about these important doctrines. There are few enough these days who believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and to ignore those who have declared themselves on the side of the truth of God is unwise.”[1] 

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.[2] Christians may disagree about less-essential doctrines (i.e., spiritual gifts, the rapture of the church, tithing, 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. As an orthodox evangelical Christian, I believe there are six essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and these are: 1) The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, 2) one God as Trinity, 3) Jesus as fully God and Man, 4) Jesus’ substitutionary penal atoning death on the cross, 5) Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and physical second coming, and 6) salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

BibleThe Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and infallible written revelation that tells us who He is, what He’s accomplished in time and space, and will accomplish in the future. 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). God’s authority is in the text itself, and is honored by those who interpret it plainly and obey His commands as they are applicable.[3] The Bible is a library of 66 books and letters, written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen 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 Th 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). The human authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek. 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 who have positive volition (Psa 25:9; John 7:17), and are enlightened by God (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). But God’s Word cannot be known or accepted by those with negative volition who suppress His revelation (Rom 1:18-32), nor by the spiritually dead (1 Cor 2:12-14; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4). As believers, our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (Psa 119:9, 11; John 17:17), and we grow spiritually when we learn and live God’s Word (Psa 1:1-3; Eph 4:11-13; 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).

Ancient Diagram of the TrinityThe Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Gen 1:26; 11:6-7; 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, 8:58; 14:18; 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 (Psa 139:1-6; Matt 6:31-33), all-present (Psa 139:7-12; Heb 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Ch 29:11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137), just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Psa 99:9), immutable (Psa 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 (Psa 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit 3:5), gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet 5:10), and eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hypostatic Union DiagramThe 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 and 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). Some see Mary as the mother of God (Theotokos – bearer of God), and though Jesus is God, His divine nature is without origin, but is eternal. This honors Mary without elevating her to a place beyond what the Scriptures teach. Jesus was a Jew, born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt 1:1), the promised Messiah (Matt 1:17). The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a perfectly righteous life before God and man. The biblical record is that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation. Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the full humanity and deity of Jesus.

Christ-on-the-crossPenal 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 penal substitutionary death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). That is, Jesus bore the penalty for our sin and died in our place, “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 (John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will receive eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31; Acts 4:12). Salvation is never accomplished by what we do for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for us through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sins (John 3:16), and gives us eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil 3:9).

ResurrectionThe 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).  The resurrection of Jesus is essential for our salvation, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus will return to earth bodily at His second coming (Rev 19:11-21), and afterwards 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).[4]

The Gospel of GraceSalvation 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” (Acts 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 Cor 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; Tit 2:11-14), 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; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 247.

[2] It may difficult to accept, but it is possible for a believer, after being saved, to depart from sound teaching and pursue a life of sin, even becoming a worshipper of idols. Such a one does not forfeit his/her salvation, but comes under divine discipline, which can eventuate in suffering and death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16), as well the forfeiture of eternal rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15). Though possible, this is never what God wants from His children. King Solomon is a good example of such a one. Solomon was a believer, of whom God said, “he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Ch 22:10b). God worked through Solomon to build the Jewish temple (1 Ch 22:10a), write Scripture (Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), and lead the nation of Israel as God’s theocratic representative. However, because of sinful disobedience, Solomon eventually turned away from the Lord and worshipped false gods to the end of his days (1 Ki 11:1-8). The final word on Solomon was, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully” (1 Ki 11:6). However, as a believer, Solomon is in heaven today. To deny that Solomon is in heaven today, one must either say he was never saved at all, or that he forfeited his salvation because of sin. The first view might be argued by those who hold to Lordship Salvation, and the second view by those who deny eternal security, both of which are wrong (Matt 5:19; John 10:28).

[3] The historical-grammatical hermeneutical approach to interpreting Scripture is the best method, as it seeks to understand the Bible from the author’s perspective as he wrote within his particular historical and cultural setting (German sitz im libensetting in life).

[4] This writer is a classical dispensationalist who believes the rapture of the church precedes Jesus’ Second Coming and is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Th 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 Th 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:17), both 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 7:23; 9:24-27; Matthew chapters 24-25; Revelation chapters 6-18), in which Satan focuses his attacks on Israel (Rev 12:4-6). The seven-year tribulation will culminate in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev 19:11-16), at which time, “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:31). When Jesus returns at His second coming, He will put down all rebellion, both angelic and human, and will judge the nations of the world (Matt 25:32-46), and afterwards establish an earthly reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam 7:12, 16; Psa 89:36-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5-6; Luke 1:31-33). Jesus’ reign on earth will last a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7). Afterwards, Jesus’ earthly kingdom will become the eternal kingdom, “when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24).

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