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., spiritual gifts, millennial views, 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 existing as Trinity.
- Jesus is simultaneously fully God and perfect 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 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 was 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 1:21). 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). Scripture reveals God is omnipresent (Psa 139:1-6; Matt 6:31-33), omniscient (Psa 139:7-12; Heb 13:5), omnipotent (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).
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 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 6:9). After forty days, Jesus ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11). After His second coming, Jesus will judge the nations of the world (Matt 25:31-46), and establish a future reign in righteousness (2 Sam 7:12, 16; Psa 89:36-37; Isa 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Rev 20:1-6). At some future time, 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 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), 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).
Dr. Steven R. Cook