Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Salvation Essentials... or what is a Christian

In 1863 Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon called "The Root of the Matter" in which he dealt with the essentials of being a Christian. Thanks to the PyroManiacs for posting some of his sermon, which I found in its entirety here.
The tree can do without some of its branches, though the loss of them might be an injury. But it cannot live at all without its roots—the roots are essential—take those away, and the plant must wither. And thus, my dear Friends, there are things essential in the Christian religion. [...] But there are some distinct truths of Revelation that are essential in such a sense that those who have not accepted them cannot be called Christians. And those who willfully reject them are exposed to the fearful anathemas which are hurled against apostasy. (emphasis added)
There are doctrines that are so essential that they define Christianity. I want to lay out what those are, but before we define what these doctrines are we should first attempt to define the term "Christian". Using the Scriptures I would offer up the following definition - a Christian is an adopted member of God's family (Mark 3:34-35; Romans 8:14-16,23,9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 2:19).

Using our definition of a Christian as someone who is a member of God's family then certainly a belief in God whose family we hope to become a part of (Hebrews 11:6) must top the list of "distinct truths of Revelation that are essential". Surprisingly a Barna study showed...
Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.
It was surprising to see that 70% of adults in America believe in the Creator God of the universe (understanding that this may include ideas about a God that is not based on the Scriptures). However one has to wonder what those other 7% of "born again" believers think about God.

Another important fact from this definition is that we are adopted into the family of God. The fact that there is an adoption implies that we do not start out as members of God's family but rather as orphans. This fact should bring two questions to mind 1) why are we orphans and 2) how does one become adopted into God's family.

There are a set of essential doctrines that answer the question why we are orphans. We are orphans because we are all sinners (Rom 3:10,23) and God is holy and requires us to be holy as well (Lev 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Without understanding that fact we can move no further (and in a single blog entry on essentials we can only dive so deep on this). John the Baptist - the forerunner of Jesus - made the paths straight by making it clear to people that they were sinners because without this understanding we have no need for a Savior. The problem was that the Jews at that time were relying on the fact that they were related to Abraham and thus were in a sense already in the family of God. They did not realize that sin prevented them from being part of that family. John came so that they might repent (change their mind about what they currently believed and accept the fact that they were sinners).

There are a set of essential doctrines that answer the question about how we are to be adopted. Paul in writing the first letter to the Corinthians lists the essential truths that make up the gospel message...
15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
Here we are presented with two essential truths - that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Using the Roman Road as our guide we have already seen that we are sinners (Rom 3:23) who are orphans that are separated from God. However God loves us and graciously offers us forgiveness through Jesus who has died for our sins. It is through His sacrifice that we are reconciled to God (Rom 5:8,10-11)and thus adopted into the family.

Jesus death on the cross allows us to be forgiven by God and this fact necessitates both the humanity and Diety of Christ. The humanity of Jesus allows Him to identify with us and enables Him to suffer and die for our sins. The Deity of Christ is required so that being sinless He could be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (Isa 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21). If Jesus were not Deity how could He be sinless? If He were not sinless how could He pay the penalty for our sins? It is the fact that Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb that makes it possible for His death to atone for our sins. Yet a Barna study surprisingly demonstrates that many do know accept this essential part of the gospel...
Although a core teaching of the Christian faith is the divinity and perfection of Jesus Christ, tens of millions of Christians do not accept that teaching. More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat. Holding the opposing view were 9% who disagreed somewhat and 46% who disagreed strongly. Six percent did not have an opinion on this matter.
At this point I have tried to establish the core set of essential beliefs for being a Christian trying to show how they all tie together. Taking any one of them away would alter the gospel message.
  • Belief in God.
  • Belief that we are all sinners.
  • Belief that God is Holy.
  • Belief that Christ was both human and divine.
  • Belief that Christ died for our sins.
  • Belief that Christ was raised on the third day.
These make up the "essential[s] in the Christian religion such that those who have not accepted them cannot be called Christians. Does accepting them however make one a Christian? There is one more thing that is required.
  • Belief that we are saved by faith alone, apart from works (sola fide)
Spurgeon includes this essential in his sermon. As does John Wesley who in 1741 preached a sermon that tackled the question "If it be inquired, “What more than this is implied in the being altogether a Christian?” I answer,..."
There is yet one thing more that may be separately considered, though it cannot actually be separate from the preceding, which is implied in the being altogether a Christian; and that is the ground of all, even faith. Very excellent things are spoken of this throughout the oracles of God. “Every one,” saith the beloved disciple, “that believeth is born of God.” “To as many as received him, gave he power to become the sons of God. even to them that believe on his name.” And “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Yea, our Lord himself declares, “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; and cometh not into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” (emphasis added)
It is not just understanding and agreeing with a set of doctrines (the head knowledge) but also the will/heart that trusts and places confidence in these truths - faith (Heb 11:1) - that causes one to be adopted into God's family.

This post was a followup to one on essentials and unity a few days ago.

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