What truths and practices would you classify as fundamental or essential to Christianity?
Certainly all would agree that in religion, as in all other fields, there are some things that are fundamental or essential, and there are other things that are incidental (i.e., they are really not all that important). Today we're going to consider some fundamentals of Christianity. Now please note that I didn't say the fundamentals, because there are some fundamentals that we won't have time to talk about (e.g., the nature of God, the incarnation of Jesus, the atoning power of the blood of Christ, etc.). These are all fundamentals, but they are on God's side of the equation, so to speak. We will spend our time discussing things that are fundamental on our part (i.e., fundamentals we as humans are accountable for)!
Let me clearly state that when I use the word Christianity, I am referring to that system of religion that was established by Jesus Christ and for which He shed His blood. I'm not talking about any man-made church, denomination, or cult. I am referring to the church that belongs to Jesus (Matt. 16:18), composed of God's people (i.e., those who have obeyed the gospel, Acts 2:36ff). Christianity is what these people believe and practice. It is a way of life as defined by God's inspired word, not the opinions and traditions of men.
That being said, let's consider nine fundamentals of New Testament Christianity.
1. BELIEF IN JESUS AS THE DIVINE SON OF GOD IS ESSENTIAL.
There are many people in the world today who acknowledge Jesus as a great man, and there were many in Jesus' day who also esteemed Him highly. Nicodemus, for example, said to Jesus - "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him" (John 3:2). The woman at the well said - "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet" (John 4:19). In Matthew 16:14, it is recorded that some thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the baptizer.
It is definitely good to acknowledge Jesus as a great man, but that alone won't really do you any good. You must believe Him to be the Son of God. Jesus Himself said - "If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). That's pretty plain, isn't it? Anyone who doesn't believe that Jesus is the Savior will die in their sins. Peter once said to Jesus - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). We need to have the same confidence that Peter did.
We must believe that Jesus is divine; we must believe that He is the Son of God. This is a fundamental of Christianity.
2. BELIEF IN THE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE IS ESSENTIAL.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God..." (II Tim. 3:16). All Scripture is given by God--not just some of it. We must believe that!
How did God give us the Bible? II Peter 1:21 teaches - "Holy men of God spoke [and wrote, SRB] as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (cf. I Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:2-5). Think about it: If we don't believe that the Bible is inspired by God, then logically we're saying we believe that mere men wrote the Bible. And, if we believe that mere men wrote the Bible, then how can we know that the Bible contains the way to heaven? How can we know that this book is truth if mere men wrote it?
Believing that God inspired the Bible is a fundamental of Christianity.
3. RECOGNITION OF THE SCRIPTURES AS THE AUTHORITY IN RELIGION IS ESSENTIAL.
I believe that most religious division today is not the result of questions of interpretation but questions of authority. For example, any Catholic priest will tell you that baptism was originally immersion, but it was later changed by the authority of the Pope. Do you see the difference? If the New Testament is your authority, then baptism must be a burial (Rom. 6:4), but if the Pope is your guide, then sprinkling and pouring are just as good as immersion!
Now, of course, there are some who don't accept the authority of the Pope, yet they still accept sprinkling and pouring as valid forms of baptism. Why? Because their common sense tells them a little bit of water is just as good as immersion. Can you see the difference? If the New Testament is your authority, then baptism requires enough water for a burial. But, if so-called common sense is your guide, then sprinkling and pouring are just as good as immersion!
We need to remember II John 9 on this matter - "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son." We must stick with the doctrine that Christ has given us in the New Testament! We must not add to it or take away from it (cf. Rev. 22:18,19)!
We must recognize the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is a fundamental of Christianity.
4. MEMBERSHIP IN THE LORD'S CHURCH IS ESSENTIAL.
The Lord's church is the church that the Lord built (Matt. 16:18). It is the church that we can read about in the New Testament. It was planned by God from eternity past (Eph. 3:10,11). It was prepared for by John the baptizer (Matt. 3:3). It was established by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2; cf. Mark 9:1). It is the church that Jesus loved and gave Himself for (Eph. 5:25). It is the church that Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Truly, Christianity does not exist separate and apart from Jesus' church. Acts 2:47 teaches that those who are saved are automatically added by the Lord to His church. Thus, to be a member of the Lord's church is a fundamental part of Christianity.
Please be sure you do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that membership in some humanly devised church is essential. I'm saying that you have to be a part of the church that Jesus built if you're going to be saved! Jesus taught that every religious group that wasn't planted by God will be uprooted (Matt. 15:13)! There are many churches out there, but Jesus only built one of them! The Lord's church is the church that follows the Lord in all that they do!
It is a fundamental of Christianity to be a member of the Lord's church.
5. SCRIPTURAL WORSHIP IS ESSENTIAL.
Jesus said in John 4:24 - "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." So, we must worship God properly. To worship in spirit is to worship sincerely and from the heart. To worship in truth is to worship according to the standard of truth; that is, to worship as the Bible pattern sets forth. The New Testament seems to indicate that God desires to be worshipped through praying, studying, singing, communing, and giving.
Today, we do not worship under the Old Testament system that the Jews used (cf. Gal. 3:24,25), but we worship according to the New Testament. However, we can still learn some important things about worship by reflecting upon the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 15:4). For example, looking to the Old Testament shows that God has always given instructions with reference to how He desires to be worshiped (cf. Lev.). And, in the past, He has seriously punished those who took His instructions lightly (e.g., Gen. 4; Lev. 10).
Clearly, worshipping God from the heart and according to the New Testament is very important; in fact, it is a fundamental of Christianity.
6. GODLY LIVING IS ESSENTIAL.
Titus 2:11,12 teaches - "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age." We must live godly lives. It is not enough to merely worship God properly.
Listen to the following verses that exhort us to godly living. I Timothy 5:22 - "...keep yourself pure." I Corinthians 6:18 - "Flee sexual immorality..." II Timothy 2:22 - "Flee also youthful lusts..." Romans 12:2 - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Galatians 5:19-21 - "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
Living a godly life is something that we must decide to do. It won't just happen on its own. We must first decide that we are going to live by God's rules and not our own. And, once this decision is made, we must then resist the temptations that Satan will throw at us. It isn't easy, but it is possible with God's help (Phil. 4:13; I Cor. 10:13).
Living a godly, righteous life is a fundamental of Christianity.
7. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL IS ESSENTIAL.
If the seed is the word of God (and it is--Luke 8:11; I Pet. 1:23), then the church will not grow or produce fruit without proclaiming the word of God. It doesn't matter how well the ground may be prepared, fertilized, and watered; unless the seed is planted, there can be no harvest! The programs of a church might be strong and many, but without the teaching and preaching of the word, souls will not be saved.
It is true that Paul was speaking to a preacher in II Timothy 4:2, but the fact is we all need to learn to preach the word when it is convenient and when it isn't. We need to teach others the truth in a kind and patient way. Are you a disciple of Jesus? If you are, then you've been commanded to go and preach the gospel! Those who believe the gospel and are baptized will be saved (Mark 16:15,16)! Paul said in Romans 1:16 that he wasn't ashamed of the gospel. I'm afraid that some people today who claim to be Christians are ashamed of the gospel. They don't share the good news with anyone!
Without the preaching of the word, there can be no true Christianity. Proclaiming the gospel is a fundamental part of Christianity.
8. THE DEFENSE OF THE GOSPEL IS ESSENTIAL.
In Philippians 1:17, Paul said - "I am set for the defense of the gospel." Paul was always ready to defend the truth of God's word from any who would attack it. We need to be ready today to defend God's word because the truth seems to always be under constant attack.
Jude 3 instructs us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." I Peter 3:15 states - "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." No one should be surprised that God expects Christians to defend the gospel truth today. After all, much of the New Testament was written to refute error!
We must defend the gospel; doing so is a fundamental of Christianity.
9. OBEDIENCE TO GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION IS ESSENTIAL.
That's right, it is God's plan of salvation, not man's! Therefore, God has the right to stipulate the conditions for forgiveness. Man doesn't have the right to change God's conditions or make up his own!
Man is saved by grace through faith according to Ephesians 2:8. Grace is God's part. Faith is man's part. Both components are necessary! You can't be saved without God's grace and you can't be saved without an obedient faith! Sinners are saved by grace when they humbly bow in submission to the will of God and obey His commandments. To obey God's plan of salvation is to hear the truth (John 6:44,45), believe it (John 8:24), repent of one's sins (Acts 17:30), confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9,10), and be baptized for forgiveness (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16) Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Christ tasted death for all men by the grace of God; Hebrews 5:9 tells us that Christ will only save those who obey Him!
Therefore, it is evident that obedience to God's plan of salvation is a fundamental part of Christianity.
In our time together, we have considered nine things that are fundamental to Christianity. However, before we conclude this lesson, allow me to address something that is not a fundamental of Christianity: Christmas.
In the coming days, many denominations will have a Christmas play or a special celebration for the birth of Jesus. Many seem to think that commemorating Jesus' birth is a fundamental part of Christianity. But, according to the Bible, it isn't. While it is definitely true that it was necessary for Jesus to be born in order to accomplish God's purposes, nowhere does God instruct us or give us the authority to have a special religious celebration for the birth of Jesus (cf. Gal. 4:9-11). Now, if God had wanted us to celebrate Jesus' birth, surely He would have given us instructions to do so, right? After all, He did give us instructions for having a memorial for Jesus' death, and we know it as the Lord's Supper. If He wanted us to celebrate Jesus' birth, He would have told us, but the fact is He did not! He didn't even reveal the exact day of Christ's birth!
The nine things we have briefly discussed are fundamental to Christianity. If we leave off even one of them, then we no longer have the right to call ourselves Christians! What about you? Is Christianity a fundamental part of your life? Do you believe and practice these nine essentials? Those in the first century did and they were called Christians (Acts 11:26). If you want to be a Christian, then you too must believe and practice these Biblical fundamentals!
Dear listeners, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe that the Bible is God's word? Do you believe that the Bible is the authority in religion? Do you belong to the Lord's church? Do you worship God in the way the Bible instructs? Do you live a pure and righteous life? Do you teach the gospel to others? Do you stand up for the truth of the gospel? Have you obeyed God's plan of salvation?
If you have these fundamentals down, that's great! May you continue to grow daily in grace and knowledge before God (II Pet. 3:18)! However, if you need to work on some of these fundamentals, then why not start now? God wants you to be saved (I Tim. 2:4) and so do we. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.