Christianity isn’t difficult to understand. In fact, Christianity is – and ought to be – the simplest and easiest religion in the world! God has done all the work of earning your salvation and keeping you in the faith through his Word!
But at the same time, Christianity presents a constant conundrum which our human reason hates. At the same time, the basic truth of Christianity is rejected by this sinful heart and mind; the simplest, easiest faith in the world is distorted and misconstrued into a burdensome, convoluted impossibility.
Some of this contradiction is natural, because the two most basic teachings of the Bible seem to contradict each other. God’s law offers a conditional salvation, if a person is completely holy; God’s gospel has given unconditional holiness and righteousness, free of charge.
And presented with a panoply of options, fitting every worship preference & teaching emphasis – the prospective church-goer might easily be overwhelmed. So let us revisit the basics. What the Bible teaches about sin and salvation is simple enough to summarize in seven statements:
1. All people are by nature lost sinners. They are condemned both by the guilt they inherited from Adam and by the sins they themselves have committed.
2. Jesus lived a perfect life for all people.
3. Jesus died on the cross and paid for all of the sins of the whole world.
4. Jesus rose from death, and this demonstrates that ...
5. God has forgiven all sins through Jesus. This means, “You are forgiven through Christ!”
6. Whoever believes in Jesus as the Savior from sin has eternal life.
7. Whoever does not believe in Jesus does not have eternal life.
All of these are direct statements. They are clear statements of Scripture. We have no way to contribute to our salvation, complete our salvation, or even make a decision to accept God’s freely-given salvation. Again and again, Scripture says that Jesus lived & died as the complete payment for all sins of all people. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead bodily as proof that God really has forgiven the sins of all people – no strings attached. This salvation is received through faith, and only through faith in Christ as Savior; no other god, no other religion apart from Christianity gives eternal life.
Simple enough, right?
The cornerstone of this brief list is in #5 – that God has forgiven all sins through Jesus. In other words, your sin has been forgiven simply because you are a human; your neighbor’s sin has also been forgiven, whether s/he knows it or not. God’s declaration of forgiveness happened before I ever heard about it or believed it. It happened in God’s courtroom when Jesus finished his work; it happened when I was still God’s enemy.
This is the “grace” which the Bible proclaims: Your sins also have been forgiven. This is a declaration of God which is full and complete; “grace” is not a unit of measure, where we receive more & more of God’s grace. Rather, this grace is a change in God’s attitude toward us – a change from hatred & condemnation, to loving & forgiving through Jesus Christ.
This is the foundational truth of the Christian faith which, faithfully taught, will overturn any false doctrine. This is the truth we cling to through faith, a truth which is preached in Word and Sacrament. This foundational truth is not, as some would suppose, a license for immorality; a brief perusal of Romans (for instance) would quickly dismiss such an assertion. Nor does this fact (that the sins of all have been forgiven) mean that all people are going to heaven; Scripture plainly says that if someone does not hear of Christ, there is no faith and no salvation. Finally, this truth does not teach a system of earthly rewards for leading a Godly life; all that we have and experience is a gift from our grace-filled God.
Christianity isn’t difficult to understand; the difficult part is comprehending the intensity of God’s gracious attitude toward us: that Jesus Christ, true God, willingly joined our humanity in order to suffer our punishment . . . thereby earning for us eternal life through him.
This column appeared in the Fairmont Sentinel on April 29.
I am indebted to Prof. Brug for his simple list of seven basic Christian truths.