What are the Essential Christian Doctrines?
The Confusion Today About What Makes for a Christian
There is a lot of confusion today about what makes a Christian a Christian, and what one must believe to be saved, and inherit eternal life.
- Does God only require us to believe that He exists? And as a result, we are thus destined to go to heaven no matter what we do?
- Or does what we do matter to God as well?
- Where in is the justification? Is it in the belief and trust in God by faith? Or in the works that we do that justify us before a holy and all-powerful Creator?
Two thousand years ago, when the church was founded by Jesus, there were no “denominations” – there was just the one church, being spread across the Middle East and into Europe and Asia by the apostles and early disciples. Today however we have many denominations or versions of the Christian church – Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, etc. Is it possible to have many such denominations, but one “church” – one “body of Christ”, united together around the globe through one set of common, core beliefs they all hold?” I maintain that it is absolutely possible, and in fact is the case. Many millions of people in various denominations are in fact united as “one church”, as far as God is concerned, since true believers (or Christians) all hold to one set of essential Christian doctrines.
Challenges of the Early Church – Battling False Doctrine, False Teachers
The early church was attacked from within and without almost from its inception. The bible records in the New Testament how false teachers were “springing up” in an attempt to lead the “flock” astray. The church was also under persecution by the Roman empire until the early 300’s AD. Christianity was illegal, and often Christians were killed, tortured, or worse. Unfortunately, today that is still the case around the world.
Due to these false teachers springing up, and the persecution by the authorities to renounce their belief in Jesus, the early church formed a “creed” which captured in written form their “core or essential beliefs“. The first creed became known as the Apostles Creed. A later refined version called the Nicene Creed was adopted in 325 AD at the Council of Nicea, in response to the Arian heresy that attacked the deity of Jesus, claiming He was a created being like any other. Here is the Nicene Creed for your consideration:
The Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
These creeds became the foundation for the “core beliefs” or “essential doctrines” of Christianity – what the church stood for, and what one must believe to be saved and considered a follower of Jesus Christ.
What are the Essential Christian Doctrines?
The essential doctrines of Christianity have to do with who God is, who Jesus is, and God’s love for His people and His desire to save them. Below are the essential Christian doctrines which the church holds to be true (based on the bible), and necessary for anyone to know God and to be saved:
There is Only One Eternal, All-Mighty God (Monotheism)
- The bible teaches that there is one, and only one All-Mighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. This is so fundamental it is expressed in the form of the first three of the Ten Commandments give to Moses. (Duet. 6:4; Ex 20:-3; Isiah 43:10-11)
- The bible also forbids having any other substitutes: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:3-6)
- It is important to note that the word used for God in Hebrew is sometimes singular, and at other times plural (Elohim). So the bible teaches that God is one in substance, yet three persons in relationship as the one God. For example, in Gen 1:26: “Then God said, “Let Us [plural] make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”. Then in Gen 1:27: “So God [singular] created man in His [singular] own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Humankind’s Fallen Nature – The Reality of Original Sin
The bible declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“. Sin is not just murder, stealing, or telling lies. The bible, beginning with Genesis, tells the story of how in the beginning he Creator created everything “good”. And with the creation of His first humans, Adam and Eve, He pronounced everything “very good”. But then we humans rebelled against God. The one thing He asked us not to do, we chose to do – believing we could be like God Himself, we chose to turn and go our own way. And its been downhill ever since. That rebellion brought a “sin nature” into the world, and all of us has inherited (or been infected by) this fallen nature as a result of Adam’s sin.
The Good News, or “gospel”, is that God Himself has provided redemption through the atoning work of the “Second Adam”, Jesus of Nazareth (Rom 5:12-21).
Jesus’ Virgin Birth (the Incarnation)
Without the virgin birth, the doctrine of the Incarnation – that eternal God came down from heaven into this space and time to become God in human form – cannot be substantiated. Jesus birth was a miracle – God Himself “overshadowed” a virgin, and the eternal God took on the form of human flesh. This was necessary so that the sin nature, that which had been passed on since the Creation from Adam – would have no part in the human form that Jesus took on. Because God interrupted the natural birth process in the case of Jesus, Jesus did not inherit a “sin nature”. He could therefore be the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist had proclaimed. Not only did Jesus not sin, He had no inclination to sin when tempted. He was perfect!
The bible says “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’, which translated means ‘God with us‘”. (Matt 1:23).
The Deity of Jesus Christ
The bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Creator God come in the form of human flesh, at a particular point in ti
me and space (John 1; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1; Revelation 1). John 1 states that Jesus was the eternal Word of God that became flesh, to break into our time space reality, show us what God our Father was
really like, live a perfect life and then give His life for us – taking the penalty that we deserved – so that we could have a way back to our Father::
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3).
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.:. (John 1:10).
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14)
During His ministry while on earth, Jesus proved His claim to be God in human form by:
- Making this claim to be God in word and deed (Mk 14:61-62; John 5:18, 20)
- Living a sinless life (John 8:46; 2 Cor 5:21)
- Exercising His power over nature (Mk 4:39)
- Showing His power over fallen angels (Luke 4:35)
- Healing sickness and raising the dead (Matt 4:23)
- Rising from the dead (John 4:50, 11:43-44, 1 Cor 15)
- Fulfilling over 300 prophecies written about the Holy One of God that was to come, written in the Old Testament (see our article on the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The death of Christ was the ultimate sacrificial payment for all of our sins, but the process was not complete until He had defeated death by being physically resurrected in the same body (John 2:19-21). Christ’s victory over death means that He is the “first fruits” of a new creation, and that one day every single human will be raised – either to eternal life with our Lord and His saints, or to eternal separation apart from God.
- To deny the resurrection is to deny that Jesus work was an acceptable sacrifice for all of humankind’s sins. That He was fallen and corrupt just like every other human; but that was not the case, since the evidence indicates that God raised Him from the dead.
- The bible teaches that believing this truth is essential: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”. (1 Cor 15;14) “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17)
Salvation is by Grace Alone
The bible teaches that we are saved from sin and justified before God by “grace”, or God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon us because of what Jesus has done for us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one may boast”. (Eph 2:8-9)
- Salvation, or justification before God, is by faith, and not of “works”
- The bible says that if we are trying to be justified by faith AND “works”, you have missed the point. Jesus work on the cross is ALL that is sufficient to justify us before our Father: “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4)
- Good works do not justify us, as you cannot add to the perfect work already accomplished on our behalf by Jesus Christ: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness (right standing with God) could be gained through the law, Christ does for nothing!” (Gal 2:21 NIV)
- God will not be mocked. Of course He expects us to do good works, but these “good works” are the fruits of our justification by faith, and right standing with God because of our position “in Christ”. They are not “works”, but rather the “fruit” of the Spirit of God which abides in us.
Jesus is Not One Way, but the ONLY Way to Salvation
Today is is popular for people to says that “all roads lead to God”, and that there are many ways to heaven. This is a false and misleading notion. The bible teaches that there is in fact only ONE way to be saved.
- Jesus declared that He was the only way to the Father: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me”. (John 14:6)
- He also claimed to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, the Light of the world, and the Door to salvation.
Fact is, only Jesus was the eternal God come in the form of human flesh, to offer Himself a sacrifice for all of humankind’s sin – past, present and future. Only Jesus provided the bridge back across that deep chasm that has separated us since the fall; His life was the ultimate sacrifice – the only “way” – to bring us back into a right relationship with God (that is why the bible says “if any person is in Christ they are a new creature – old things have passed away; behold all things have become new”. .
If there was any other way back to the Father, God would not have needed to come in the form of human flesh, lead a sinless, and sacrifice Himself on a cross to pay the price for our sins. As the bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. (Acts 4:2)
The Trinity – the Tri-personal Nature of the One Eternal God
While there is only one God, He exists eternally in three persons. In the bible,
- The Father is called God (2 Thess 1:2)
- The Son (Jesus) is called God (John 1;1-5; 10:30-33; 20:28; Heb 1:8)
- The Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cord 3:17)
God is of one substance, but three persons in relationship. Although the word “trinity: is not specifically mentioned in the bible, there
are more than 60 passages that mention these three Persons in relationship together. Here is just one: Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are to baptize in the name (not names plural, but name) of the three-person LORD – Father, Son and Spirit.
To believe in multiple gods contradicts the doctrine of monotheism, and to deny the Trinity is to deny the teachings of who God is in scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. For more information see our article on the Trinity.
The Second Coming
Just as Jesus left the world physically, the bible declares He will return one day in the same manner: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt 24:30, Dan 7:13-14; Mark 13:26)
His second coming is the hope of the world, and when He returns, those that have believed and are dead will rise, and receive their new resurrected bodies. Believer that are alive when He returns, will not die, but will be transformed into immortal, physical bodies.
Christ’s bodily return to earth will be visible to all, and believers will rule with Him in His kingdom, and live with Him forever. Those who do not believe, and have rejected God will be separated from God’s goodness forever.
What Must One Believe to be Saved?
Although the doctrines listed above are considered the “core Christian doctrines”, it is not necessary to believe in all of these to be saved. All of these doctrines MUST be true for us to be saved, but not all of these doctrines need to be believed in order to a person to be saved. For example, the Ascension of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Second Coming – these are all essential doctrines that must be true for salvation to take place for any individual; but an individual need not believe these personally to be saved.
To believe means to believe not just intellectually, but with the heart as well. The bible says that “the demons believe, and they tremble”. Demons, or fallen angels, believe in the sense that they know that God exists, and that Jesus is God in the flesh. They just don’t put their faith and trust in Jesus (they follow the Adversary). So belief involves believing in your mind, and trusting the core of your being – your “heart” – to the Lord Jesus.
There are two key doctrines which must be believed by a person, both intellectually and taken to their heart, for them to be saved.
First, a person must believe that Christ died for their sins, and rose again (Rom 10:9, 1 Cor 15:1-6). First of all this assumes that you admit that you are a fallen sinner, in need of redemption. You must believe with your mind, and your heart, that Jesus died for you and rose again:
That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Hebrew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
Second, one must also “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31).
“And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household”.
Since the word Lord (kurios) when it refers to Christ in the New Testament means deity, one cannot deny the deity of Christ and be saved (Acts 2:21, 36; 3:14-16; 5:30-35; 10:39; 1 Cor 12:3).
How Do We Know these are the Essential Christian Doctrines?
We know these are the core doctrines not because they are the popular opinion of what a Christian ought to hold true. Not because the prevailing culture we live in says they are the key doctrines. Not because some influential teacher or preacher says so. But because they are written in the bible, God’s written word to humanity.
Do YOU Know the LORD?
Now, let me ask you – do you know the Lord? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? If you do, then you have everything to look forward to – in this life, and in the life to come. Peace with God, joy in your daily life, fulfillment of God’s purpose while here on earth, and life eternal to look forward to. You were made for a purpose, and your daily walk with Jesus will help you come to realize His purpose in your life and fulfill it.
If you don’t have a relationship with your Creator, you can! Give Jesus a chance! Don’t put it off. Allow Him to come into your life and make you “a new creation”! You have nothing to loose everything to gain. Here is a link to Billy Graham’s web site that can show you how you can invite Jesus into your life and be the creation He has always intended you to be …
Take Me to Steps to Peace With God ==> http://www.billygraham.org/SH_StepsToPeace.asp
- The Holy Bible: https://www.blueletterbible.org/
- Creeds.net: http://creeds.net/ancient/nicene.htm
- Essential Doctrines of Christianity, by Matt Slick: https://carm.org/essential-doctrines-of-christianity
- CARM: https://carm.org/questions/about-doctrine/what-are-essential-doctrines-christianity
- Christian Research Institute: http://www.equip.org/article/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one/