Essentials of the Faith

September 12, 2013

Almost every Christian makes some distinction between essentials of the faith and non-essentials. The distinction itself is fairly uncontroversial. But what exactly are the essentials? That’s a bit tougher.

There are a number of ways to answer that question. We could look at church history and what God’s people have always believed. We could look at the ancient creeds and confessions of the church. We could look at the biggest themes of Scripture (e.g., covenant, love, glory, atonement) and the most important passages (e.g., Genesis 1, Exodus 20, Matthew 5-7, John 3, Romans 8). I want to take a little different route and consider what are the behaviors and beliefs without which Scripture say we are not saved. These are not requirement we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.

I don’t pretend that this is anywhere close to a comprehensive list from the Bible. But a list like this may be helpful in guarding against false teaching and examining our own lives.

Ten Essential Christian Behaviors

1. We repent and turn from our sins (Matt. 5:29-30; 11:20-24; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Heb. 10:26-27).

2. We forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:33-35).

3. We are undivided in our devotion to God and to Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:24; 10:38-39; 19:16-30; John 12:24-26).

4. We publicly acknowledge Jesus before others (Matt. 10:32-33; 21:33-44; 22:1-14; 26:24; John 5:23)

5. We obey God’s commands and do not make a practice of sinning (John 14:15; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2).

6. We live a life that is fruitful and not fleshly (Matt. 12:33-37; 21:43; 24:36-51; 25:1-46; Gal. 5:18-24; 6:5; Heb 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

7. We are humble and broken-hearted for our sin (Matt. 5:3; 18:3-4; 1 John 1:8-10).

8. We love God and love others (Matt. 22:34-40; John 11:35; 15:12; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 John 3:14-15).

9. We must persevere in the faith (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29-31; 12:12-17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 5:11-12).

10. We help our natural family and church family when there are physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8; 6:18-19; 1 John 3:17).

Ten Essential Christian Beliefs

1. We must be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:5).

2. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 3:18, 36; 6:35, 40, 47, 53-58; 8:19, 24; 11:25-26; 12:48; 14:6; 15:23; 20:30-31; Gal. 3:7-9).

3. The benefits of the gospel come by faith, not by works of the law (Acts 15:8-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16, 21; 3:10-12, 22).

4. Salvation comes from Jesus Christ, our faithful high priest, the radiance of God’s glory and our brother in the flesh (Col. 1:15-23; Heb. 2:4).

5. God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6, 16).

6. We are saved by Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18).

7. The good news of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-11).

8. Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected and our bodies will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

9. Jesus was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16; 1:3, 18-20; 6:3-4, 20-21).

10. God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-14).

You could multiply lists like this tenfold. The point is not to be exhaustive, but to show by way of example just how many things the Bible considers to be essential and how precious these truths should be to the Christian. There are a number of behaviors in Scripture which serve to prove or disprove our Christian commitment. Likewise, there are a number of beliefs in Scripture without which we cannot be saved and which must be true if salvation is even possible. We would do well to study these beliefs and behaviors, embrace them, and promote and protect them with our fullest zeal and efforts.

-Kevin DeYoung

Scary “Prayer”

September 5, 2013

Hey, this could be progress. About time last year, the Democratic National Convention booed when the platform committee tried to backtrack and add a mention of God that had been earlier removed. In Iowa, at least Democrats have gone back to openly praying, but perhaps they should be hoping that God isn’t listening:

They made the unusual decision, for Democrats, to begin the event with a prayer. This was likely in response to a prayer vigil being conducted by pro-life activists at the same time nearby.

Des Moines activist Midge Slater took the podium and spent five and a half minutes thanking God for abortion rights, abortion doctors and taxpayer funding for abortions. She also referred to the decision to have an abortion as “a blessing”.

During the entire prayer, State Senator Jack Hatch and Rep. Tyler Olson, both of whom are running for governor, kept their heads bowed and eyes closed, joining in the group prayer.
The Iowa Republican transcribed a bit of the prayer, which goes on for quite a while:

“We give thanks, oh Lord, for the doctors, both current and future, who provide quality abortion care.”

“We pray for increased financial support for low-income women to access contraception, abortion and childcare.”

“Today, we pray for women in developing nations, that they may know the power of self-determination. May they have access to employment, education, birth control and abortion.”

“Today we pray for the families who have chosen. May they know the blessing of choice.”
Here’s my favorite part, very obviously aimed at the pro-life demonstrators:

“We pray for women who have been made afraid by their paternalistic religion.”
Afraid? For feminists, they don’t seem to have much faith in women to decide for themselves whether to live as Christians and follow its tenets without fear forcing them into it. However, based on this prayer for blessings on abortions and the demand to spread it worldwide, I’d guess that they’re less interested in faith than they are in their own political agendas anyway.


September 5, 2013

At a physician’s roundtable years ago, I asked Senator Orrin Hatch why I couldn’t punch out of Social Security, happy to leave all that I had paid “into the system” on the table. Why couldn’t anyone, I asked, willing to leave behind all they had paid in, be allowed to walk away from these entitlements, as long as they were willing to forgo a future claim to these “benefits?”
He wouldn’t answer me. The answer is obvious, though, isn’t it? Without the current “contributions” of the young (and yes, draws on the credit line of the unborn), the current beneficiaries would discover that these programs were bankrupt.
Virtually all of the legislators that brought us Medicare are dead and gone now. All of the legislators who brought us Social Security are dead and gone. This is no coincidence, for these men realized that it was politically much more popular to give away government goodies paid for by the young and unborn than to tax the very same people who were to “benefit” from their “ideas” and “programs.”
Dead now, these criminal politicians have largely escaped the harsh judgment they deserve for buying votes with property that would belong to future generations. Currency depreciation (“inflation”-the current political class’s favorite way to rob the young for the benefit of their current constituents) has the same effect on future generations.
This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme. That is a fraudulent investment scheme that pays investors not out of profits but out of money paid in by later investors.
If you think about it, all government programs are Ponzi schemes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the same can be said about the [Un]Affordable Care Act. I call it the UCA, instead of the ACA.
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UCA can’t let young people out for the same reason that Social Security can’t. Young workers aren’t paying or saving for their own benefits, but for older, sicker people.
UCA rules force insurers to charge them more than they actually cost to help offset the higher cost of insuring older and sicker people. If the young don’t sign up, premiums for everyone in the insurance pool will dramatically increase, as will the cost to the government.
People generally don’t volunteer to be overcharged so that strangers can be undercharged. Hence the individual mandate, and tax penalties.
Young adults are beginning to see the reality as the UCA takes shape, and understand how they wind up losing from every angle. Hence the $600 million advertising campaign and multimillion-dollar Navigator program to steer people into the program as quickly as possible. UCA promoters know how hard it is to take away an entitlement once people are trapped in it.
The idea is to entice people with subsidies so they won’t notice how outrageous the premiums are. When enough are lured away from private insurance-the “crowding out” effect shown so well with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)-private insurance will collapse. Like Medicare beneficiaries now, all Americans will be without options for major medical insurance.
The success of the UCA hinges on the successful fleecing of the young people. This is the same immoral basis for Medicare and Social Security, “programs” that are still alive because participation in these Ponzi schemes is involuntary. With Bernie Madoff, at least people could take their lumps, having learned their lesson and move on. They didn’t have to continue to give him money after they learned what he was up to.
I am optimistic that today’s young people will reject the shackles that many of their elders have embraced.

-Keith Smith, MD


August 19, 2013

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack. Feel the weight of that bag.” – Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air

Are you exhausted? I am.

Part of my exhaustion is my work schedule, my responsibilities, and my commitments…the accumulation of my life circumstances that Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is talking about in the quote above. Your job might be different than mine, you might have fewer kids than I do (or more), and you might be older than I am (or younger). But whatever your circumstances might be, or whatever stage of life you’re in, admit it: you’re tired.

The fact is, real life is long on law and short on grace—the demands never stop, the failures pile up, and fears set in. Life requires many things from us—a successful career, a stable marriage, well-behaved and emotionally adjusted children, a certain quality of life. When life gets hard, the hardworking work harder. Is it any wonder we’re all so weary? We do our best to do better, do more, and do now. The cultural pressure to take care of yourself and “make it happen” by working harder and smarter wears us out. We live with long lists of things to accomplish, people to please, and situations to manage. Anyone living inside the guilt, anxiety, stress, strain, and uncertainty of daily life knows from instinct, and hard experience, that the weight of life is heavy. We are all in need of some relief.

Believe it or not, the reason we’re so tired isn’t simply because our children are difficult or that life is busy or that the demands at work keep piling up. The reason we’re so tired is that we’re trying to save ourselves. Let me explain.

Every single one of us is plagued by performanicism. Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. Performancism sees achievement not as something we do or don’t do but something we are or aren’t. The colleges we attended are more than the places where we were educated – they’re labels that define our value. The money we earn and the car we drive aren’t simply a reflection of the job we have – they’re a reflection of us. How I look, how intelligent I am, how my kids turn out, what people think of me…these things are synonymous with my worth. In the world of performancism, success equals life and failure equals death.

In other words, we’re exhausted because we’re trying to rescue ourselves from a meaningless, valueless, worthless existence by what we do and by who we can become. We’re weary because we feel the burden to make it, to get it done, to impress, to earn, to succeed, to be validated. After all, we conclude, our very identity is at stake.

So if the real cause of our exhaustion is the drive to save ourselves, what’s the cure?

In short — it’s the Gospel.

When Jesus announces in Luke 4 that he came to set the captives free, we have to ask, “Free from what?”

In Christ, we are free from the slavery of having to rescue ourselves. Free from the pressure of having to make it on our own. Free from the demand to measure up, from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves and find ourselves. He came to liberate us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life doesn’t have to be an exhausting effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, validate ourselves. We don’t need to spend our lives trying to get to the front, control outcomes, and manufacture a safe, controllable existence. We don’t have to live under the weight of having to make all our dreams come true if we’re going to matter.

The Gospel of grace frees us from the obsessive pressure to perform, the enslaving demand to become. The Gospel liberatingly declares that in Christ “we already are.”

Here’s some really good news to the weary and heavy laden: Who you really are has nothing to do with you — how much you can accomplish, who you can become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your past, your present, your future, your family background, your education, your looks. Your identity is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours.

The Gospel, in other words, doesn’t just free you from what other people think about you, it frees you from what you think about yourself.

So…relax. And rejoice. Everything you need and long for you already possess in Christ. The pressure’s off.

The only thing that can silence the internal (and exhausting) voice that is constantly telling us to do more and try harder is to constantly hear the external (and inexhaustible) voice that says, once and for all, “It is finished.”



August 14, 2013

I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.
Psalm 101:2–3

“We Americans recently passed one of those cultural milestones we’ve been slouching toward for years: We now have more television sets in our homes than people.

Nielsen Media Research found that about half of us now have three or more TVs, with a sizable number boasting as many as seven or eight. And, believe it or not, 25 percent of two-year-olds have a TV in their room.”

Let’s remove this distraction from our homes, our lives.


Managing Conflict

August 13, 2013

Which one are you?

Relationships break down for a variety of reasons, but some feuds and fights could easily be prevented if, during the initial stages of conflict, disagreements were handled wisely. Relationships are more likely preserved when people on both sides recognize the different ways that people go about managing and resolving conflict.

In Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry, Duane Elmer draws on the work of R. H. Thomas and K. W. Kilmann to summarize five ways those of us in the West handle conflict:

1. The Win-Lose Strategy

“Win-lose people assume that everything should be seen as right or wrong,” Elmer writes (34). For this reason, they see things in black and white and resist any notion of “gray.” Negotiation is a form of compromise. When differences of opinion arise, the win-lose person assumes that the one who disagrees is the one who is wrong.

Flexibility is a sign of weakness. Energy should be expended not in trying to find common ground, but in trying to convince the other person of the wrongness of their viewpoint. Elmer lists a variety of tactics used to convince others to change their minds: physical force, threats, intimidation, silence, verbiage and volume, pointing out past failures, pulling rank, rewarding or spiritual one-upmanship (35).

It is not surprising that a win-lose person is willing to sacrifice relationships in order to get their way and remain “right.” The way to confront a win-lose person is to avoid an argument and instead rely on a group to show the person where they are wrong and why it is important for them to resist being dogmatic or stubborn in areas of preference, not principle.

There are, of course, certain areas we should be dogmatically unchanging in (certain doctrinal commitments or moral standards). But to allow convictions on personal matters become all-encompassing, to the point where relationships break down due to unbending dogmatism, is to go beyond Scripture and fail to take into consideration the possible flaws in one’s own thinking. Elmer recommends we “be dogmatic and stubborn where God is, and flexible where He is” (36). This is good advice, but win-lose people too often assume that their position and God’s are the same!

2. Avoidance

On the opposite spectrum of the win-lose person, those who avoid disagreement assume that differences are always bad because they might lead to relational breakdown. Confrontational conflict may cause a rupture in the relationship; therefore, we ought to minimize the opportunities for confrontation and hope that the disagreements will resolve themselves.

There may be times when avoidance of conflict is the best approach. After all, we should not crave confrontation in our relationships. Wisdom may dictate a season of silence, in which heated emotions have time to cool off so that reason can prevail.

But those who tend to avoid conflict usually wind up with weak and superficial relationships that are unable to stand up under the strain of differing opinions. Important decisions are postponed. Issues bubbling up under the surface are never addressed, and as a result, relationships remain surface level. Avoiding conflict at all costs is often a sign of weakness and insecurity.

3. Giving In

Another approach to managing conflict is to give in to the stronger person. In order to accommodate another point of view or smooth over the differences, this person yields to others and maintains peace.

Like those who avoid conflict, relationships are seen as more important than “being right.” But unlike the “avoiders,” those who give in are more likely to yield so that the relationship can still be robust and disagreement be minimized.

Elmer calls this person a “people-pleaser.” They tend to minimize their difference of opinion to the point their own personal goals and values are forfeited. Occasionally, the one who gives in will be pushed to the limit and will adopt a win-lose posture on other issues. But for the most part, they are likely to give up their own viewpoint in order to keep the peace.

There are times when giving in is the wisest option. Elmer points out certain times when giving in is the preferred choice. For example, when the issue is of little consequence and the relationship is obviously more important than the disagreement, it is wise to admit you may be wrong.

Another example would be to give in at one point in order to win at a different point. Every relationship has a built-in amount of give-and-take.

Or perhaps you might give in so that others may have room to make their own mistakes, face the consequences, and grow as a result. The difficulty is in knowing when to give in and when to stand firm.

4. Compromise

For the win-lose person, compromise is the same as capitulation and should always be avoided. But there are many people who choose to view conflict from a “realistic” perspective in which it is already assumed that no one will get everything they want all the time. Because it is impossible for everyone to have everything, they believe all people should be willing to give a little in order to get a little. “Life is the art of negotiating to some happy middle ground,” Elmer writes (41).

Compromise is the best approach when both sides are pushing to extremes, asking for more than they want, so that in the end all are expected to meet in the middle and still walk away with most of their desires met. In theory, everyone should be happy with the end result.

But, as Elmer points out, this method means both parties must be willing to give up something important to them (42). The risk is that the “happy middle ground” will make both sides unsatisfied and unhappy. Compromise is also problematic if one of the negotiating parties has disproportionate power. At this point, it is likely that the powerful party will get more of its demands and the other party will walk away dissatisfied with the results.

5. Carefronting

According to Elmer, “carefronting means directly approaching the other person in a caring way so that achieving a win-win solution is most likely” (42). In order to accomplish this task, the two parties must agree to come together, commit to preserve the relationship, creatively find a solution that satisfies both sides, utilize reason over emotion, separate the person from the issue, and strive for a solution that will bring peace.

Many assume that carefronting is the biblical approach to resolving conflict. Indeed, there are similarities with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 for confronting a wayward brother or sister in Christ.

But Elmer cautions us against thinking that carefronting is the only model of conflict resolution. Certain cultural tendencies may make this model more applicable in some settings as opposed to others.

What About You?

Which of these approaches do you tend toward? How have you resolved conflicts with people who manage conflict differently than you do?

Trevin Wax


August 13, 2013

Christianity is all about forgiveness. And a great marriage is, in the words of Ruth Bell Graham, “the union of two good forgivers.” Two imperfect people living together will need to forgive each other multiple times–maybe even each day. And by the way, If you add children to the family, the need for forgiveness will be compounded because of the increased number of sinful people who are living under one roof!


August 12, 2013

As Henri Nouwen wrote, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.” And because we love poorly, we must forgive frequently.

Children Apologize

July 22, 2013

Parents frequently ask me if it is wrong to require their children to apologize when they are disrespectful or disobedient. Usually, they’re concerned that they might be training their child to lie. Wouldn’t it be better to wait for the child to apologize on his own when he feels genuine remorse, rather than to just repeat an apology he has been taught?

It is definitely commendable to want your child to speak and act only out of right motives. And yes, godly obedience goes beyond just saying the right words; godly obedience is right actions plus right motives, doing the right things for the right reasons.

But how is godly obedience instilled? How is it trained? The answer might surprise you. Unlike adults who typically learn by reasoning, young children learn by doing. Adults must usually be convinced a course of action is the correct one before they will pursue it. Children, on the other hand, learn to perform the correct action before they are developmentally able to assess the reason it is correct. Doing the right thing actually precedes understanding why it should be done.

Parents intuitively understand and employ this “training truth” with young children in many areas:

We train them in the language of courtesy before they desire to be courteous (please/excuse me).

We train them in the language of gratitude before they desire to be grateful (thank you).

We train them in the language of respect before they desire to be respectful (ma’am, sir, Mrs., Mr.).

We train them in the language of prayer before they desire to pray (“God is great, God is good,” the Lord’s Prayer).

In short, we teach our children the language they need to interact with others well before they have any real concept of why such language is necessary and good.

Because of this, I would answer the question “Should I require my child to apologize?” with an emphatic “Yes.” If we faithfully equip our children with the language of courtesy, gratitude, respect, and prayer, why would we not also equip them with the language of forgiveness? Is it not equally important for them to know? How would training them to apologize encourage them to lie any more than training them to say “thank you” before they are truly thankful? Isn’t it unloving to leave them verbally empty-handed when facing a situation where forgiveness needs to be sought?
Liturgical Child

Children are wonderfully liturgical creatures: they love repetition. This accounts for their ability to enjoy the same book or video over and over again, their attachment to a bedtime ritual or a particular pair of socks, their tendency to shout “again, again!” when they ride a carousel. Children are wired for repetition because repetition helps them learn.

A pastor wouldn’t assume his congregation possesses genuine faith because they repeat the Apostles’ Creed each week. And we parents don’t assume our child feels genuine repentance just because she has been trained to say “I’m sorry.” Still, we give them the right words, trusting the right motives will come as they mature.

Just as the congregation needs to witness their pastor live out the truths of the liturgy as he ministers to them, so our children need to witness us live out the truth of the language we teach to them. Children who see their parents genuinely and remorsefully apologize when they have been wronged learn quickly to do the same. Every time we apologize to our children we give them a picture of what mature, God-honoring apologies sound like: “I am so sorry I hurt you with my words. If I were you I would have felt so scared and sad that Mom yelled. It isn’t right for me to speak to you that way. You are precious to me. I love you so much, and I don’t want to do that again. I didn’t honor God, and I didn’t honor you. I’m praying God will help me to stop. Can you forgive me?”
Older Children and Apologies

Should we require older children to apologize? As our children grow, they learn to link right motive to right action. They become capable of seeking forgiveness without prompting or memorized words. An older child who has demonstrated genuine remorse in the past (and has seen it modeled) is probably ready for a different approach when an apology is needed.

“That was a big outburst. What do you think needs to happen next?” [“I need to apologize.”] “Yes. Would you like to do that now, or do you need a few minutes to think about what you want to say?”

“I think you know the right thing to do. I am praying the Holy Spirit will show you your need for forgiveness. We’re ready to talk to you when you’re ready.”

“You should apologize to your mom. Why don’t you take some time to think about what you want to say, and when you’re ready, come tell her how you feel about what happened?”

And then, yes, wait for genuine repentance. If it is slow to appear, you may need additional conversations about how unforgiveness harms relationships, and you may need consequences to drive home the point. But a child who knows the security of having a parent who quickly repents and forgives will typically run to do the same.

So, yes, require an apology from your young child. Don’t let the fear of raising a liar keep you from training your children in the liturgy of repentance. Model what godly repentance looks like for them, train them faithfully in the language of forgiveness, and pray the Lord uses your words and example to bring about genuine repentance in their young hearts.

Jen Wilkin

Sad Day

June 28, 2013

I agree with you Dan. And I will continue to support CFA.

ATLANTA (AP) — The president of the fast-food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has once again injected himself into the gay marriage debate, this time criticizing U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Dan Cathy posted a comment Wednesday on Twitter criticizing a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Those decisions will extend federal recognition to same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal, and will add California — the most populous state — to the 12 others in that category.

“Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies,” Cathy wrote, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ( ). The post was later deleted.

Chick-fil-A issued a statement acknowledging the post, saying Cathy was offering a personal comment.

“Dan recognizes his views do not necessarily represent the views of all Chick-fil-A customers, restaurant owners and employees, so he removed the tweet to eliminate any confusion,” the company said.

Cathy’s view on gay marriage has created controversy for the Atlanta-based company best known for its fried chicken sandwiches and closing on Sundays. Last year, Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” In a later radio interview, he ratcheted up the rhetoric: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

Public officials in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago told the company it was no not welcome, though the firm said it set a one-day sales record when after its supporters — including many religious conservatives — held a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” last year. Gay marriage supporters held a “Kiss In” at the restaurants to protest Cathy’s views.