Essential Truths

Just like plumbers, doctors, or cooks must know certain foundational truths before they can begin their practice, so also disciples of Jesus must have at least a basic grasp of certain fundamentals. And these truths can always be explored in more detail, which, in turn, can help us to grow spiritually at even deeper levels.

By reading the scriptures and by observing a long tradition of faithful disciples, we have identified five basic questions that every Christian should be able to answer with clarity. If we can grasp these five truths, we will have a firm foundation to begin further exploration. These five truths are:

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What are Essential Truths?

Agree on Major Points

When the apostle Paul begin to form churches throughout the ancient Roman empire, he encountered a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, practices and beliefs. As he explained the gospel message, he sometimes found it necessary to challenge some of these cultural assumptions. The gospel contained new truths about God, life, death, nature, purpose, power, love, sex, marriage, money, families, morals, and many other subjects. And, not surprisingly, Paul immediately began to experience conflict. In his day, and in ours, few people want to hear that Jesus alone is “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Nevertheless, Paul offers the treasure of this gospel to everyone, regardless of their cultural context, to Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. (Galatians 3:28)Within this multi-cultural context, Paul quickly moved to distinguish the essentials from the non-essentials. Some truths were clear and non-negotiable. All believers should be united on these essential truths. As he writes to the church in Ephesus:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6.

These essential truths about God’s plan for us will unite His new family of Christ-followers.

Allow Flexibility on Minor Points

At the same time, however, we need to allow some flexibility. Not everyone will agree on every detail. In Paul’s day, for example, people debated whether believers could eat meat that had been sacrificed to the idols of Roman or Greek gods. In this grey area, Paul urged tolerance. He says to the church at Rome:

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” Romans 14:10

In some areas, a person must be left to their own judgment. They must answer to God, not to us.

Distinguishing Majors from Minors

So how do we distinguish the essentials from the non-essentials? On one level, this is not an easy question to answer. To a large extent, the whole history of the church is a struggle over this very question. Protestants and Catholics, Methodists and Baptists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals continue this discussion even today.

And yet, on another level, the question is not too complicated. The simplicity of the gospel is one of its beautiful qualities. As we reflect on scripture, we at Bethany have identified the five Essential Truths, listed above, which we believe explain the heart of the gospel. As we explore each of these questions, we begin a life-long process of knowing and loving our God more deeply.

1. Who Is God?

God is Beyond Us, God Is With Us, God is Trinity.

God Defines Himself

In our multicultural world, we encounter many different beliefs about God. The large of number of World Religions are a witness to this fact. While our modern “scientific” culture often argues that religion is mere myth and legend, the vast majority of human history begs to differ. The simple truth is that most human beings, now and in the past, believe in some form of deity, some form of the supernatural. Science cannot suppress our deep inner conviction that we are connected to something or someone bigger than ourselves.
In the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not have to guess about who this God may be. God has been telling His story though thousands of years, and that story is recorded in a work we know as the Bible. That story builds to its crowning moment when Jesus Himself, who is God, appears to us in human flesh. Together, in Jesus and in the Bible, we see a God who desires to reveal Himself to us. We are not left to our own devices. God takes the initiative to show us who He is.

God is Above and With Us

As we study of the Bible, we see two sides of God. On one hand, we see a God who is above and beyond us. He is All-powerful, All-Knowing, Ever Present, and Ever Loving. He is Eternal and Holy, beyond any of our humble abilities to understand. But, on the other hand, we also see a God who is with us. He has crossed the great divide and has expressed His loving desire to be in relationship with us. He is the Holy One who also reveals Himself as the One who loves eternally.

God is Trinity

These two aspects of God, He who is beyond us and yet with us, is most fully revealed in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God already exists in an eternally perfect relationship with Himself, in a bond of love that is so intimate that these persons are in fact one God.

This then is how the Bible generally answers the question, Who Is God? God is Beyond Us, God Is With Us, God is Trinity.

2. Who Is Jesus?

Jesus is God and Man, Lord and Savior.

Jesus is Unique

Our belief about Jesus distinguishes our faith from every other religious tradition on the planet. We believe that Jesus is the fullest expression of everything God wants to say to us. He is the fulfillment of everything God wants to do for us and with us. He is therefore the central theme of the entire biblical story. If, then, we wish to grow spiritually, we must begin to understand both the person and the work of Jesus.

Jesus is God and Man, Lord and Savior

The Bible provides two fundamental perspectives on Jesus. First, we learn that Jesus is both God and Man. In fact, He is both fully God and fully human. He is not a God who merely appears in human form, nor is He a human who merely inherits a divine spirit.

Secondly, Jesus is revealed as both Lord and Savior. He is both the Creator of the universe and the One who judges, saves and restores it. He is the One who creates we humans, and the One who saves us from our own sin and failure. Because He is both God and Man, He alone restores the eternal relationship between Creator and Creation.

This then is how the Bible generally answers the question, Who Is Jesus? Jesus is God and Man, Lord and Savior.

3. Why the Cross?

The Cross is God’s solution to our human problem of sin.

The symbol of the Cross has become a universal symbol of the Christian faith. To those of us who follow Jesus, this symbol carries a deep, life-altering meaning. When Jesus died on the cross, He changed everything for us, for all human beings for all time. Though this cross, Jesus provides God’s solution to the human problem.

The Human Problem

Ultimately our human problem is sin. In the Bible, “sin” has many layers of meaning, but it essentially describes our failure to love and obey God faithfully. Our rejection of God results in our own death, both spiritual and physical death. Disconnected from God, we ruin ourselves, our families, our communities and our societies. Generation after generation contributes to this cycle of destruction, so that we are powerless to rescue ourselves. Death and eternal separation from God seem to be our certain destiny. So we cry out for a savior.

God’s Solution

The cross is the divine solution to our human problem. It is the place where God reconciles our broken relationship with Himself. Jesus dies in our place, for our sin, taking on our sentence of death, as the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God. God then raises Jesus from the dead, and, forgiving us our sin, now gives to us this new, righteous life as a free gift of His grace. When we believe and trust in Him, we become His newly restored children of God.

This then is how the Bible generally answers the question, Why the Cross? The Cross is God’s solution to our human problem of sin.

4. Why the Bible?

The Bible is God’s Story that has the power to shape our story.

God’s Story

The Bible has been around for centuries, and it has faced more than its share of critics. Despite all of these attacks, however, the scriptures remain a perennial source of inspiration, direction and encouragement for billions of people all over the world. This ongoing power of the Bible is may be traced to its divine origins. At its root, the Bible is God’s story that has the power to shape our story.
God has developed His story over thousands of years. He begins in creation, and selects one people through whom to speak to the whole world. And this story is always building to a high point, where God will speak to the world through His own Son, Jesus, who is Word of God, and Who is God. Historically the Bible is comprised of what we call the Old Testament, in which God speaks though His people, and the New Testament, in which God speaks through His Son.

Shaping Our Story

The Bible is given to us as a treasure to shape our own story. The Apostle Paul writes to his young protégée, Timothy:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-16.

This then is how we generally answer the question, Why the Bible? The Bible is God’s Story that has the power to shape our story.

5. Why Am I Here?

I am here to become a disciple of Jesus, and to make other disciples of Jesus. I am here to Be One and to Make One.

Becoming Disciples

All of the Essential Truths we have discussed in this series have lead us to the big “so what” question. What difference do all these truths make? How must my life change now that I have begun to grasp these truths? In order words, to take it down to the most basic of all questions, “Why Am I Here, right now, on planet earth?” The Bible gives a clear answer to this fundamental quest for meaning. It tells us that we are here to become and to make disciples of Jesus.

To become disciples, we must of choose to follow Him, and we must agree to obey Him. Ultimately this means that we must learn to love God and love others, which has been traditionally called “The Great Commandment”. (Matthew 22:37-40; see also Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5.)

Making Disciples

If we truly love God and others, then we will cross the line from becoming to making disciples. Jesus gave this command to the disciples that followed Him:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20.

God has uniquely gifted each one of us to participate this “Great Commission”, to win others back into a loving relationship with their God.

This then is how the Bible generally answers the question, Why Am I Here? I am here to become a disciple of Jesus, and to make other disciples of Jesus. I am here to Be One and to Make One.

Conclusion

So these are the five Essential Truths that we feature in our clear guided pathway to spiritual development. If you are wondering where to begin in this whole new world spiritual truth, start here. Keep studying, praying, discussing and reflecting until you can state briefly and clearly what the Bible teaches in response to each of these questions. You can complete an Essential Truths Assessment Tool, or you can click on any of the topics, above, in order to start the journey!

Click here to take an Essential Truths Self-Assessment

Discussion Guide for this SessionNext Session: Who Is God? Part 1

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all English translations of the Bible in this document are taken from The New International Version. (2011); Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.