If someone asked you, “What must I believe to be a Christian?” what would you say? Perhaps you would answer by referring to your church’s statement of faith. Perhaps you would take the questioner through one of the Christian creeds. Perhaps you would quote a popular Bible verse that sums up the Christian faith.
Since all Christians hold the Bible in high regard, let’s return to the affirmations made by the first Christian preachers as found in the New Testament. And specifically, let’s consider their initial affirmations which make a direct link with the ultimate goal of salvation. Here are three relevant statements.
- “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). That statement is Paul’s response to a jailer who asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). Paul’s response contains five main elements:
- The command to “believe.” He didn’t tell the jailer to do anything; he told him to believe.
- The command to believe in a person—”believe in the Lord Jesus.”
- The assertion that Jesus is Lord—”Lord Jesus,” which implies that Jesus’ is currently alive.
- The guarantee of salvation—”you will be saved.” The reference to salvation implies a state of peril from which one must be rescued.
- The universal nature of the message. Paul’s message of salvation was not only for the jailer; it was for his entire family—”you and your household.”
- “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). This statement also comes from Paul and contains the following assertions:
- Jesus’ present lordship stated directly—”Jesus is Lord,”
- An acknowledgement of Jesus’ death—”God raised him from the dead“
- Jesus’ resurrection from the dead—”God raised him from the dead”
- The human response—”confess with your mouth . . . believe in your heart.” First, we should confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. “Jesus is Lord” was the basic confession of the first Christians, but it was not said flippantly in the Roman Empire which confessed “Caesar is Lord.” Second, we should believe that “God raised Jesus from the dead.”
- The guarantee of salvation—”you will be saved.”
- “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11). Those are Peter’s words in the midst of a controversy about the requirement of circumcision for Gentile believers. Peter’s affirmation includes the following elements:
- An appeal to a belief held in common—”we believe.” If I may paraphrase Peter’s words, “Although we’re in the middle of this controversy, here’s what everyone on this side of the debate agrees on.”
- The guarantee of salvation—”we will be saved.”
- The source of salvation—”through the grace of the Lord Jesus.”
- Jesus is Lord—”Lord Jesus.”
- The universal nature of the message—”we will be saved . . . just as they will.” The “we” refers to the Jewish believers and the “they” refers to the Gentile believers. Peter adamantly asserts that both Jew and Gentile will be saved in the same way.
I know that the history of Christianity has given us many more affirmations of faith. Even today most Christian organizations have much larger statements of faith than we explored above. Post-biblical faith statements serve a particular role, originate under a variety of circumstances, and continue to be affirmed for a variety of reasons.
But don’t let the history of creeds, confessions, and statements of faith, cloud your view of the core of Christianity. That core was passed down from the beginning and it is accepted by Christians across the centuries and throughout the world—faith in Jesus, the one who died, the one who was raised from the dead, and the one who is now reigning as Lord, results in salvation. According to Peter and Paul, that’s all we must believe to be saved.[This post is part of a series on Paul.]