How much do we need to know in order to be saved?
How much do we have to know about Jesus and the gospel in order to be saved, and thus in order to be fully Christian? What is the bare minimum of doctrinal content that one must embrace as a prerequisite for receiving God’s gift of salvation in Jesus? The Bible seems to indicate that when it comes to salvation the required doctrinal knowledge is pretty basic; in fact, so basic that even a young child can grasp it at some level.
For example, Romans 10:9 says that “…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.” (ESV) The simple-yet-profound gospel truths that Jesus of Nazareth is the Divine Lord and that God raised him from the dead are basic Christian truths that are necessary to embrace by faith for eternal salvation from our sins. (See also the Apostle Paul’s summary of the gospel by which we are saved as recorded in First Corinthians 15:1-8, especially verses 3-5.)
Or consider what Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailer in answer to his vitally-important question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30, ESV): “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (v. 31, ESV) As with the Romans 10 passage, the essential thing of utmost importance is faith in the person and saving work of Christ, not the ability to intellectually grasp complex doctrines.
And, of course, probably the most well-known verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16, also highlights the importance of a personal faith/trust in Christ for salvation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)
Passages like the ones quoted above help to make the point that we are not justified before God by our intellectual grasp of sound doctrine or by the supposed merit of striving after a faithful intellectual understanding of the faith. Rather, we are justified and saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, and apart from our works (including the work of attaining advanced doctrinal knowledge and theological competence).
At the same time, while God doesn’t expect us to be professional theologians in order to receive his gift of salvation, we dare not denigrate the vital importance of a basic doctrinal understanding of the good news about Christ. After all, we need to know at least some Bible truth before we can be saved and become fully initiated into the Christian life.
For example, we must know at least something about our sinful and lost condition before God, about God’s infinite holiness and righteous judgment against sin, and about the Jesus of the Bible and what he did to save us sinners, before we can come to trust in him as Savior and Lord with a penitent faith. After all, how can we trust in a Jesus about whom we know nothing? How can we confess Jesus as Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead if we’ve never heard about His Divine Lordship or the miraculous historic event of his resurrection from the dead on the third day?
Thanks be to God that he only requires that we come to Christ with a child-like trust in order to receive the salvation that is freely offered in the gospel! Thank God that the amount of knowledge required for entrance into the kingdom of God is very minimal. But once we come to Christ with a child-like faith, he expects us to grow into maturity. While we should never depart from a child-like trust in the gospel promises, let us not be content with a childish and immature faith. Let us not be content with the bare minimum of doctrinal knowledge. Instead, let us heed the Apostle Peter’s exhortation to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Second Peter 3:18, ESV) Having become Christians both personally and publicly* through baptism, public confession of faith and church membership, let us grow in our discipleship in the fellowship of a faithful local church.
In my next blog post I will follow up this post with a discussion of some Christian basics that all professing Christians should know.
In the meantime, let me ask you, dear reader: Do you know Christ as your Savior from sin? Have you embraced him with a child-like trust? He welcomes all who are weary and heavy laden under the burden of their sins to come unto him and find rest (read Matthew 11:28-30). Dear reader, come to Jesus Christ in penitent faith, and he will give rest to your soul. And then find a faithful biblical church to become part of, one devoted to a word-and-sacrament ministry which will feed you spiritually every week with more of Jesus and his good news.
*One very common but dangerously false belief out there in the contemporary evangelical world today which needs to be vigorously challenged is the claim that “Christianity is not an organized religion; instead, it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This common claim, which is rooted in American hyper-individualism, pragmatism and anti-authoritarianism, sets up a false dichotomy. Certainly biblical Christianity is a deeply personal reality, and it does indeed involve having a “personal relationship with Jesus” if by “personal relationship” we mean a living communion with the living Christ mediated to us by the Holy Spirit through the objective (outside of us) word and sacraments, and not (as often seems to be the case today) the subjective (inward-focused), mystical, romanticized, “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of understanding of that relationship. But historic, biblical Christianity is not merely a private, personal relationship (although it certainly does involve that, properly understood!). Instead, historic Christianity is a public Faith which publicly confesses God’s revealed truth before the world and is marked by distinctive public ordinances (such as the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, the exercise of church discipline and order, public worship, church government, etc.). The New Testament knows nothing of a “Lone Ranger Christian” who refuses to be connected to the visible, organized church. In Scripture, to deliberately cut oneself off from the church is to show oneself to be cut off from Christ (First John 2:19), all claims to a “personal relationship with Jesus” notwithstanding. To refuse to be part of the Body of Christ (the church) is to reject the Head of that Body, Christ Himself. And that, dear reader, is a spiritually dangerous thing.