INTRODUCTION. Everyone should know what they believe and why they believe it. In matters of adult religious faith, it isn’t adequate to believe something because we were told to do so or because it is the way we were raised. At some point, we must adopt beliefs as our own, foundational to who we are as individuals.
I am a Christian. Unfortunately, that statement no longer guarantees a clear understanding of what it means. Many identify as Christians but fail to follow the only legitimate written authority for Christians – the Bible. Some who call themselves Christians promote teachings and lifestyles in conflict with Scripture. They cannot, therefore, legitimately be called Christian any more than I could declare myself to be Muslim and yet reject the teachings of the Qur’an. If I am Christian, then I am not my ultimate authority – God is, and the primary means he has chosen to reveal himself and his will for us as his creation is through his written Word.
Growing in the Christian faith is an unending process on this side of heaven. What I write today is somewhat different than what I would have written ten years ago, and it is undoubtedly not identical to what I might write ten years from now. Spiritual babes do not have mature believers' full life experiences and wisdom. God continues to reveal himself and his will to his children as they mature and deepen their understanding of his Word. Therefore, I expect to continue to learn and grow in faith until the day when I see my Lord face to face, when that which has been hidden is revealed, and when that which I now see dimly is brought to marvelous light. Even so, if the Bible is authoritative in all matters of faith and practice, then God does not teach anything contradictory to his Word at any time to anyone – spiritual babe or mature – even though one’s depth of understanding and application to life situations grows over time.
I want others to know what I believe and to understand the worldview from which I approach life. I want to share my faith with all who will listen. Therefore, I capture my core beliefs below – partly to pass on to my sons for their knowledge and edification and partially to declare them to the larger public. Each person can accept, reject, or ignore any of this as they see fit. People are answerable to God – not to me.
Only selected matters of faith and doctrine are addressed below, but I consider them central to the faith. Ultimately, being Christian is more than a set of beliefs and intellectual assent to certain teachings (James 2:19); it is a trusting, life-changing relationship with the Creator God through his Son Jesus Christ.
So here is what I believe regarding (1) the Bible as the Word of God, (2) the Gospel Message, and (3) the Christian Life.
THE BIBLE AS THE WORD OF GOD. This is the starting point – the authority on which I base all belief. I believe that the Bible, consisting of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, that it is accurate in all matters about which it speaks, and that Christians do not have the option to pick and choose which parts they like and believe and which they dislike and disbelieve.
To borrow from theologian Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Second Edition, the Bible has these characteristics:
Authority: “All the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (p. 62).
Inerrancy: “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (p. 85). While we do not have any original manuscripts, there is no reason to believe from the many thousands of early manuscripts available that any meaningful doctrinal changes have occurred since they were initially written.
Clarity: “The Bible is written in such a way that it is able to be understood, but right understanding requires time, effort, the use of ordinary means, a willingness to obey, and the help of the Holy Spirit; and our understanding will remain imperfect in this lifetime" (p. 109).
Necessity: “The Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws” (p. 137). Creation (Romans 1:20) and conscience (Romans 2:14-15) are two ways God reveals himself to all humankind, including those who do not have the benefit of his written Word and who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means that every person everywhere is equally accountable to him.
Sufficiency: “Scripture contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (p. 152).
If churches or individuals teach any doctrine contrary to biblical teachings, such teachings must be rejected as false. God does not need new generations of so-called “believers” to correct what he has taught as truth in times past. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and his truth does not change, even though the application of that truth may happen through fresh, new ways in different contexts.
Some Bible passages influencing the above views of Scripture include: 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12; Proverbs 30:5-6; Luke 21:33; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21; and 2 Peter 3:15-16.
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. God is the creator of the universe. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, sin entered the world, and with that disobedience came pain, sickness, suffering, and death.
God is just, and like any good judge, he must punish those who do wrong. The just and proper punishment for all who sin is eternal death in Hell. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The wages – what we earn, what we deserve, what we get paid for our sin – are physical death in this life and eternal punishment in the life to come.
God, however, is also incredibly loving, patient, and kind. He does not want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to him in repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So, while we were yet in our sin, he made possible a way for us to have our relationship with him restored (Romans 5:8).
God has always existed in the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He willingly came in the form of a human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He was unjustly (but by God’s plan) crucified on a cross in our place, taking on himself the punishment we deserved. We broke God’s law, but Jesus paid our fine. He rose from the grave, conquering death. He ascended into Heaven, where he now reigns. He will return in his good time to fulfill all prophecy, forever defeating Satan, sin, and death. He will create a new Heaven and a new Earth and gather his people to live with him forever.
None of us is good enough on our own to earn our way into heaven. “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). God’s moral Law, as revealed through the Ten Commandments, is enough to show us how short we fall from his holy standard of perfection. The criterion for goodness is not how we measure up against other humans or our past behavior but how we measure up to God’s standard of holiness, which is his perfection best demonstrated by the life of Christ. Against that measure, we all fall short (Romans 3:23). Therefore, God owes us nothing but judgment. Rather, we owe him everything in response to his great love. As the source of life, we owe him our worship, adoration, and faithful service for him and others.
We have the opportunity to be made right with God, not through anything we can do, but only by his grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). This faith involves placing our trust in the One who has already done what is needed on our behalf. Salvation is not asking Jesus into our hearts – a phrase without a biblical basis. Salvation comes when one genuinely repents (turns) from sin and places one’s trust solely in Jesus Christ, surrendering one’s life and will to Him to be used for His glory forever. At that moment of repentance and faith – both gifts from God himself – his Holy Spirit indwells us, and we become his children forever. The righteousness of Christ is credited to our account eternally. We are declared “not guilty” by the Judge of the universe, and we are free from his condemnation (Romans 8:1).
Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are the vehicles through which we experience salvation, receive forgiveness from sin, and have the gift of eternal life. No other religious faith or path is equal or adequate. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus cannot be the true, unique Son of God or even a prophet or good teacher and simultaneously lie about who he is. We must believe his claim of exclusivity. To reject that claim is to reject him, the necessity of his death on the cross, and to invite upon oneself his eternal wrath. In a world where presumed tolerance of other faiths is worshiped more than the gods of those faiths, such a claim of exclusivity may be rejected as intolerant hate speech. So be it. Christians must hold fast to what the Word teaches in this regard, suffering the consequences – relational, financial, occupational, societal, and physical – even unto death, if necessary. We serve an intolerant God who will not forever tolerate the worship of any other god or false teaching that contradicts his Word.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. The Christian life, once begun, is a continual process of maturing spiritually as we grow in holiness (sanctification) to become more like Christ. We do this through the power and presence of his Holy Spirit in us and not through our goodness. Observing spiritual disciplines is essential to growth, such as Bible study, prayer, witnessing, worship, service, and fellowship with other believers.
Becoming more like him, obeying him, cherishing his Word, and bearing godly fruit is evidence of a life truly changed by Christ. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him’” (1 John 2:3-4). “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). Paul told the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Such examination has both inward and outward elements. Failure to remain faithful to Christ following a presumed confession of faith is evidence of merely an emotional moment or something less than the complete surrender of oneself to him. Just as very few seeds in the parable of the sower take root and survive (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23), too few people who profess Christ as Lord surrender their will to his lordship and bear the evidence of godly fruit (Matthew 7:16), persevering to the end (Matthew 10:22). There are far more false converts in churches today than leaders and members would care to imagine or admit. This is tragic and demands attention from all who recognize the eternal implications of anything less than complete, lifelong surrender to Christ.
Christians should regularly gather with fellow believers as the body of Christ, his church. Those who neglect the church with claims such as “I can worship God just as well on the lake or in the woods” inevitably fail to spend such times worshiping and merely conjure up attempted justifications for their disobedience and disregard. Christians need the fellowship, worship, teaching, support, discipleship, and accountability that come only through participation in a body of believers. God does not call his children to go through lives of faith alone. We must find a body of believers faithful to God and his Word – one with godly, spiritually strong leadership. If one’s church fails these tests, one must work to change it from the inside (including its leadership, if necessary) or find a church more faithful to Christ. We are to support the church's work willingly, joyfully, generously, and sacrificially by using our God-given abilities and Christ-honoring stewardship of resources that he provides.
One of the distinguishing marks of a Christian should be love – love for fellow believers, love for strangers, love for the less fortunate in society, love for those who are unlovable to many people, and love even for those who do us harm. Such love is not possible through our strength but only by the grace of God, whose Spirit gives us the ability to love as he does. Love for others includes our actions, attitude, words, and caring about their eternal destiny. Who among us would allow people we love to drive off a cliff to their death? Wouldn’t we warn someone in harm’s way about the danger ahead? In like manner, we must share the gospel and warn others of the eternal consequences of sin. To do less is only to love ourselves and care about our destiny – not that of others.
Many societal issues cause strife among people of differing opinions. This brief statement of faith does not address such matters specifically. For these issues, Christians must use Scripture as their authority, being specific where biblical teaching is clear, and carefully drawing out general principles to apply to situations for those issues about which the Bible is silent. Not all matters are easily categorized as black or white. Some are a matter of conscience, but that conscience can never be used as an excuse for acting contrary to specific biblical teaching. We cannot draw out broad, general principles from the Bible and then use those principles or claims of conscience to negate explicit biblical teaching on any matter. If the Bible teaches it, we must believe it, even if we do not fully understand or see how it coexists with other biblical teachings and principles.
As a short aside, I have memorized and regularly reviewed 100+ Bible verses that capture the heart of the Christian faith. My motivation for doing so is in one of the verses, Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” I have selected and grouped the verses under various categories, putting them in a 2-page brochure. I encourage anyone interested to download the document and commit them to memory. It will take ten minutes or less a day for less than a year to memorize these verses. After that, reviewing them every one or two weeks will keep them in your heart and mind. Doing so will help regularly reinforce what you believe and why you believe it.
CONCLUSION. I do not claim to know all about the Christian faith. I cannot explain everything or answer all my questions, much less those from others. I do know the Author of that faith, however, and I trust him to teach me daily as I seek to know him more, as I learn from his Word, and as his Spirit leads me according to his plan.
To God be the glory,
Jeffrey K. Ross