Essentials of the Faith
Exactly what is required in order to be saved?
The Christian community today doesn't know what the essentials of the faith are. The definitions range from no requirements at all, to fashion and political views. And remember, we're talking about essentials, not disputable matters (Rom. 14:1). But we must learn to distinguish between that which is foundational and that which we personally believe flows logically or naturally from it. Personal convictions are not to be equated with divine edicts, regardless of which end of the spectrum they may fall on.
First let's list the pertinent scriptures:
- 1 Cor. 15:1–4 — Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and raised the third day, according to prophecy
- John 1:12 — to all who did receive him, to those who trusted in His name, He gave the right to become children of God
- 1 John 5:13, Acts 16:31 — those who so believe have eternal life
- Eph. 2:8–9, Rom. 4:4–5, 5:1–2 — we are justified through faith, not deeds, and have peace with God through Jesus
- 1 Pet. 1:3 — God has given us new birth through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead
- John 3:16, 10:9, 14:6, Gal. 1:9 — whoever trusts in Jesus alone will have eternal life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him
- 2 Cor. 5:17–21 — God reconciled us to Himself in Jesus, and we must accept the offer
The Christian faith is grounded in one central fact: Jesus rose from the dead. To be saved, to really call ourselves "Christ followers", we must first of all accept the facts about what Jesus did and who He is, because trusting or accepting His "name" means accepting all that is true about Him. And as these scriptures show, this means that we accept as facts that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was raised the third day, and that there is no other way to get to heaven.
Seeing that our faith must be in the Jesus that rose from the dead, and that this very Jesus said He is the only way, truth, and life, then it follows that any other "Jesus" is a fake, any other way is the wrong way, and any other life is really death. How many people have fulfilled hundreds of prophecies, including rising from the dead? How many other historical figures or events have so shaken the world that the calendar of the west still, to this day, reckons the "common era" from the time this Jesus walked the earth?
Some like to claim that Jesus never really existed and that Christianity is just another fable believed by the gullible. Yet they accept on far less evidence the historical reality of many lesser people and events, in spite of knowing that what they believe has little support. They are very selective in their "skepticism" and inconsistent in their standards.
Christians have long used the term "witnessing" to describe spreading the gospel, but they have forgotten or stopped believing what that word means. It means to testify in a court of law that something you saw or experienced happened. Jesus said that His disciples were to be His witnesses1, and everyone since then has been required to accept that eyewitness testimony to be saved. This is the message we got from them, by hearing or reading their testimony, and the message we are to spread. The gospel, like it or not, is at least in part a legal claim, and when we "witness", we are appealing to legal evidence.
So the first element in salvation, in the Christian faith, is the acceptance of certain facts about a certain Person, from the eyewitness testimony of those who have proved to be reliable witnesses by their actions as recorded in a very reliable historical document: the Bible. Yes, it is historically reliable, but such a discussion is beyond the scope of this writing. Plese check the recommended reading list in the Appendix for more. And if this were not true, it would be impossible to say that the Christian faith is anything but what we decide it is on any given day.
But we see another element in those passages at the beginning of this chapter, one that is largely ignored in gospel presentations: the motivation for coming to Jesus in faith is not fear of hell or a license to sin, but reconciliation with God. Salvation is the act of accepting God's offer of reconciliation, so anyone who does not come to Him with the intent of living to please Him is coming for the wrong reason— and may not be saved at all. As we are told in James 2:19, even the demons believe there is one God, but reconciliation is hardly their wish! They too would like to escape an eternity of suffering without bowing to God, so why would such a "faith" save any of us?
Now this is not to say that we have to find the power within ourselves to renounce all our sins before we are saved and receive the Holy Spirit,2 because we simply do not have that power. And after all, Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. But we can, and must, be willing to please God in everything, and want to turn from all that displeases Him.3 This is the very definition of repentance (lit. "turning") and the proof of reconciliation; we cannot claim to be reconciled with anyone we continually ignore or irritate. How many claiming to be Christians say one thing but live another?
This brings us to the most essential evidence of genuine faith: the truly saved will keep moving in the direction of holiness. The important thing is not that everyone is on the same page, progressing at the same rate, but that there is progression at all. The one who says "I was saved at age nine and baptized, so you have to consider me a Christian no matter what", yet lives exactly like the world and gives little thought to God, is living in denial and should not be accepted into the community of believers.
We have seen in this chapter that the foundation of true Christian faith is to believe the facts about Jesus, to come to God through trust in only Jesus with the intent to be reconciled to God, and then to live out that new relationship by always seeking to please Him. Next we'll take a closer look at what a life of holiness is like, and how so many have fallen from it.