The “essentials” of the gospel

The question of which spiritual matters are more important than others, needless to say, is a complicated matter. We would all agree that some matters that involve our walk with Christ are matters of judgment and others are matters of doctrine. Distinguishing the one from the other is often complicated. A proper treatment of this topic would take months of preaching, but here is my best effort to cover the question in minimal space.

In a nutshell, Jesus answers the question in Matthew 22:37-40. Love God. Love your neighbor. God’s will for mankind has always been summed up in these principles.

If we love God (and by extension, Jesus), we will keep His commandments (1 John 5:3). We will seek His preferences instead of our own — “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). We will willingly and humbly submit to His grooming process, waiting for His exaltation in His way and His time (James 4:10). We will delight in His grace and refuse to use it as an excuse for further sin (Romans 6:1-2), but rather continue to “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the light” (1 John 1:7) while we confess our ongoing need for mercy and forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

If we love our neighbors, we will treat them with kindness and respect. Sinful and/or nauseating behavior is no loophole; no one created in the image of God should be subjected to ridicule, violence or hatred. Love compels us to act responsibly and honestly at all times, regardless of how much responsibility and honesty we meet coming back. It is part and parcel with turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). We do not delight in ill treatment from sinners, but we accept it as part of our walk with Christ (Matthew 5:10-11) and rejoice that our “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) gives us an opportunity to lean on the Lord just a little bit more.

I suspect we would all agree on these general points. No one who respects God’s word could do otherwise. But conflict does arise in the body of Christ; we have seen it in our own lifetimes, and we see it in the pages of the New Testament. So how do we apply principles of love in times of diversity, conflict and out-and-out warfare? We can do one of two things: we can develop a philosophy of our own that suits us; or we can listen to the word of God. If you believe in our own flawed nature (Jeremiah 10:23) and the all-sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the choice is clear. But we must have a mind to truly submit to God’s word, whatever it says and however it says it. Only the Spirit-led one will find God’s truth; the “natural man,” the one still guided by his own impulses, will inevitably fall short (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

I am constantly surprised that Bible-believers push back at the idea of apostolic example. Paul repeatedly required his readers, including us, to imitate him —

·  In faith (1 Corinthians 4:16).

·  In exercise of liberties (1 Corinthians 11:1).

·  In courage during suffering (2 Timothy 1:8) and persecution (2 Timothy 3:10-11).

·  In general conduct and holiness (Philippians 4:8-9).

·  And certainly, in the “sound words” that he taught (2 Timothy 1:13).

If we are to be the kind of Christian Paul was, and share in the hope that he had, we must make every effort to adopt his approach to spiritual matters as revealed to him and the other apostles through the Holy Spirit.