When I’m asked what I believe, I tend to give a very abbreviated term, “Christian”. However, in this day and age, it seems that we have to qualify that term. What does that mean – what kind of Christian are you? What do you believe? There are basic foundational beliefs that you must affirm to be called a Christian. This may sound horribly bigoted or rude, but if we stop and think this is the case for any religion. So, to say that does not point to any exclusive claim; any religion has a set of beliefs that you affirm to be “in”. Some are more stringent than others; but they all have this characteristic. It should surprise or scandalize no one that one would say this about Christianity.
The problem is that there are so many different ways in which Christian theology is explained and expounded. You don’t really need to look very far to see wars and rumors of wars between different denominations, or even within denominations about this or that doctrine. Theological squabbles are nothing new – we just get to see it all unfold before us on the world wide web. And it can, quite frankly, confuse the mess out of someone who is trying to figure out what they should be believe. Thankfully, I have a church background, having grown up in a Baptist church. But for someone with no church background, the terrain can be daunting.
The answer is not to shrink back. The answer is to pursue. One of my favorite definitions of theology is “faith seeking understanding”. This is a never ending quest – we will be seeking for the rest of our lives, and will always find something new. And even when we reach the end of our earthly life, we will not have even glimpsed a sliver. Our God is just that big.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone): [I] believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein… (Belgic Confession)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone): This has been called Christianity’s “material principle” and refers to how we are justified – by faith alone. The Heidelberg Catechism states thus:
Q. How are you right with God? A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,nevertheless,without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace,God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11 ESV)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone): The faith that saves is faith in Christ, who alone is our Mediator. It is faith in His death, resurrection, ascension and return that bears the fruit of salvation and reconciles us to God.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone): We can do nothing to merit salvation. It is only because of the glorious grace of God that we can find salvation in Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
The Baptist Confession of 1689: “Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf;…their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.”
Soli Deo Gloria (The glory of God alone): There is no part of the Christian’s life that is not to be lived for the glory of God. Not only our salvation, but our very lives, are to be lived for His glory.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)
For further consideration, check out these resources: