“Why do we Christians complicate things?”
-By John Wry
I have often heard it said that Christianity is simple but Christians make it complicated. I have also often been told that to preach what The Gospel is and what it is not is divisive and not profitable in keeping the peace for the good of the unity. While there may be a portion of truth to the first statement, I believe the second comment should be addressed. This is my attempt at both simplifying, and showing how once the lines we’ve already been given are delineated clearly one must agree. Unity does not exist where there are no defining terms of union.
Establishing our Source of Truth
So let’s get to the minimal, irreducible minimums of Christianity. To do so, we must base all of our evidence, facts, and explanations from the biblical text. Not to do this, would make us subject to error since anything building our reality from outside the Scriptures is epistemologically subjective and dangerous, let alone inconsistent and based upon the interpreter. We would be relying upon man’s memory, reason, logic, knowledge and perhaps even senses. We all know we forget things, we don’t know everything and quite frankly our senses trick us all the time. I am reminded of the time I was certain of catching a whopper of a bass by what I felt on the line. Much to my surprise, when I finished reeling the giant in, he was nothing more than a stubborn little minnow. My senses had deceived me! Therefore, to be accurate and consistent in our work here, we must establish that the only source should be the biblical text. So, please understand, if your source for specific truth regarding the basic tenets of the Christian faith come from somewhere else as well as the Text, then we cannot be in agreement. This is the first line.
Establishing The Biblical Central Theme
The following step is to establish the overall main thread of the Scriptures. Not only is God revealing himself generally through that which is created (Rom. 1:20) He is also manifesting Himself through the special revelation of the Scripture. That is since the very Scriptures declare themselves to be God’s revelation to man (2 Tim. 3:16), then since God is all-knowing and all-powerful (Job 28:22-27), creator of the universe (Gen. 1:1) and author of salvation (Psa. 3:8) we must logically assume that God desires to communicate through the Text to mankind (Rom. 1:17). We must also establish that since God does not want that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9) then He must have left the means of salvation clearly written (Jn. 20:30-31) so that a person could read the Scriptures and know (1 Jn. 5:13). And speaking of making it clear, the Apostle John, in his account, makes the point of beginning stating that Christ was in the beginning, He was with God and He was God (Jn. 1:1-3). He came to the earth by becoming a man, born of a virgin woman to offer up the opportunity to become children of God (Jn. 1:12). This is the same offer God has been making from the very beginning after man’s rebellion (Gen. 3:15). Therefore we can conclude that the overall message is about Jesus the Christ being the savior of the World (Rom. 16:25). This according to the Scriptures is The Gospel mentioned some 99 times in the New Testament and in no less than 85 of those times it includes the definite article ‘the’. The word Gospel is the Greek word EUANGELION that translated means good news. Therefore we could say the central message of the Bible is The Good News (Luk. 1:19, 2:20, Acts 13:32). We now have signaled out a second line. Line one has been established as the Bible as the source of truth (Jn. 17:17, Col. 1:5). Line two is the central theme of the Bible is The Gospel.
Establishing The Gospel
This begs the question, so then what is The Gospel? This is perhaps the single most important question we can ask. Fortunately for us, if we follow lines one and two as our foundation then this question is explained in the Text. Specifically, The Gospel is stated as,
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures1 Cor 15:3-4
The Scriptures define the Christ as the anointed (Psa. 132:17) or chosen of God (Luk. 9:35), promised from the beginning of Genesis (Gen 3:15). The work the Christ did was to die for our sins (1 Pet. 2:24). This was since sin caused our separation from God (Heb. 7:26) and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). In other words, Jesus paid the due price our sins (1 Jn. 2:2) incurred against God’s righteous glory so that sin is no longer what is owed to God (Jn. 16:8).
The appropriate response to God’s completed, redemptive work through Jesus Christ for mankind by grace is to believe it (Rom 4:16), understanding payment for your sins has already been done on your behalf. The Bible clearly states in John 3:16 “whoever (this includes you) believes (trusts) in Him (who He is and what He did) will not perish (what he deserves) but have eternal life (what he does not deserve). In fact more than 150 times the New Testament states that faith is the only condition for salvation. Christians are created anew for good works not by good works. I will list some here: (Luk. 7:50; 8:12; 18:42 Jn. 1:7, 12; 2:23; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 4:39; 4:41, 42; 5:24, 45-47; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38, 39; 8:24, 29, 30; 9:35-38; 10:24-26; 11:15, 25, 26, 41, 42; 12:36, 46; 13:19; 14:6, 17:20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31 Act. 3:16; 4:4, 32; 8:12, 37; 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:21, 39; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:7, 9; 16:31; 17:4, 5, 11, 12; 18:8, 27; 19:4; 20:21; 21:25; 26:18; Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30; 4:3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 16, 23, 24; 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32, 33; 10:4, 6, 9, 10; 11:20, 30-32; 15:13; 1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5 Eph. 1:13, 19; 2:8; 3:17; Phil. 1:29; 3:9; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:12, 13; 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 2 Tim. 1:12; 3:15; Heb. 4:2, 3; 6:12; 10:39; 11:6, 7, 31; Jam. 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:21; 2:6, 7; 1 Jn. 5:1, 5, 10, 13; Jud. 5).
To believe is to have faith. In fact, they are the same Greek word. The nature of faith is relying upon another so to have faith is not to work (Rom 4:5) but to trust or rest in something.
While justification for what we say is before men are by works (Rom 4:2, Jam 2:21, 24) Justification for the penalty of our sin before God is by faith alone (Rom 4:3). God declares us righteous on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. (Rom 4:5)
Anything added, taken away or altered in any way ceases to be “the power of God unto salvation to all who believe” (Rom. 1:16). You cannot change the person of the Gospel or it ceases to have Christ as the one who substituted for us. Jesus said, “I am the way…nobody comes to the Father but by Me“. What this means is any other is not a true way. To chose another is to deny Him (Gal. 1:6-7). You cannot change what Christ did either since that would no longer satisfy God’s wrath (1 Cor. 1:17). We have our third line drawn out for us.
There you have it, three simple already existing lines marked out to show the importance of being clear on The Gospel. It is not about mere semantics. It is life and death. These lines unite but also divide. When we blur any one of these lines then we lose our way to any wind of doctrine that can deceive and without realizing it we’ve gone off the road! This is what had happened to the Galatian believers in Paul’s time and he wrote to them explaining the grave error of blurring these lines (Galatians 3:1-3).
But we have these drawn-out in the Scriptures, anything outside of them is abundantly obvious and we can discern that which is false. Things like walking the aisle, praying a ‘sinners’ prayer, being baptized to be saved, keeping the 10 commandments, declaring words of any sort, grieving and turning from sin, giving your life, submitting to the Lordship of Christ, promising to do better, wanting to go to heaven, going to church, etc. etc. as added deeds needed for salvation are clearly wrong! These and so many other things are of human conception and are heresies and affronts to The Gospel, which is what God has wholly and perfectly finished!! This is not about being divisive; it is about knowing what the Scriptures say and understanding the difference. The lines have been duly drawn out for us! These are the core definers of Christian unity! Apart from these, we are no longer the Church of Jesus Christ. These are not under debate. We need to understand that to alter this is to proclaim another gospel (Gal 1:6-7), which is powerless to save anyone. So let us be clear and articulate the lines that define our union so that our unity is strong and motivated around the One who created them (Eph. 2:14-16, Col. 3:12-14)! Vagueness does not promote peace it stimulates the absence of understanding. So please understand, this is not to complicate life but rather bring clarity. It is not to be divisive but rather strengthen true unity!