By Cole Douglas Claybourn, Crosswalk.com
It can be tempting as Christians to engage in a pursuit of more knowledge about God instead of a deeper relationship with God. The former can produce self-fulfilling feelings of a conquest of knowledge, whereas deepening our relationship with God can sometimes feel like hard work and opening our hearts to be vulnerable.
There is nothing inherently wrong with learning as much about God as we can, but sometimes all we need to do is focus on the basic principles of who God is and what the Christian faith consists of in order to deepen our relationship with Him.
Here are five core doctrines of the Christian faith that Christians should hold to in order to strengthen their relationship with God and walk the Christian walk well.
1. Jesus Is the One True God
Christianity is unlike any other faith in the world, and it’s because the story centers on the one person who is unlike any other — Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:16 that He is the Son of the Living God, that no one can enter the gates of Heaven except through Him (more on that later). Virtually every other tenant of Christianity falls from this branch.
No other religion or faith worships a God who claims that He was, is, and yet to come. Christians worship a God who is fully God, but also fully man — one who came to earth as a human to meet us where we were, to reconcile what sin brought in the world, and provide a way for us to enter Heaven.
As it says in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The Easter story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is the greatest story in mankind. But there’s always one thing more important than what Jesus came to do, and that’s who Jesus is. Throughout the Bible, Jesus tells us who He is through what are known as the “I am” statements.
Christians can rest in the assurance that God is who He says He is and His promises will be fulfilled.
2. Love God Above All Else
The greatest commandment we’ve been given as Christians is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” as we’re told in Luke 10:27. Though it’s not explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments, it goes hand-in-hand with the first commandment that we should have no other gods before our Lord Jesus Christ.
In church sermons and Bible studies you might hear that God is “a jealous God.” That’s not meant in the way that we mean it when we say jealous, where it has a negative connotation. It’s actually a statement of God’s undying love for His people. It’s Him offering fatherly protection over us from chasing after false idols and worldly possessions and titles that will ultimately leave us feeling unfulfilled.
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
It seems countercultural in the world we live in, but we are told that as Christians we do not store our treasures on earth, but rather in Heaven. We are called to live according to God’s Word and His will, not according to the world. When we seek God first, we can rest in the assurances of God that we have confidence in because of who He is.
3. Love Others
The second part of Luke 10:27 contains the next most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself."
This is another countercultural concept. In a society that encourages self-promotion, how do we fight against that and actively put others first? Well, as Christians, we don’t have much of an option. It’s what we’re called to do.
Jesus did not come to this world to be served. He came to serve, as evidenced by his life and ultimate sacrifice on the cross. As Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of God and display Christ’s serving love to others. We are called to love others as Christ loved us.
That’s pretty hard to do if we’re preoccupied with trumping up ourselves.
There are all sorts of warnings throughout the Bible about the dangers of putting anything above God, particularly ourselves. God knows the tendency of our hearts to think of ourselves first, then everyone else next. We’ve been struggling with that ever since the Garden of Eden when Satan convinced Adam and Eve to doubt God and fulfill their own desires instead of resting in the promises of God.
God knows the evil that can enter our hearts when we do this — pride, greed, envy, comparison, lust. The antidote to all of these things in contentment, and the only path to contentment is to celebrate the successes of others and love others before ourselves.
4. Christians Must Repent, Ask God for Salvation, and Accept His Grace
We will always fall short of the command of loving God above all else, and there will be times where we struggle to love others as we’re called to. We are humans living in a fallen world with a predisposed condition to sin.
You might be a great person, but you are not immune to sin.
Because of this, we must repent and seek forgiveness for our sins. But unlike other religions, Christians do not earn their forgiveness. It is given to us by grace.
To put it simply, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We cannot earn salvation by our own works. We are given the gift of grace through Jesus alone.
We must be vulnerable with our hearts and approach God with a heart of true repentance. That means we are appalled by our sin and actively turn away from it. That means we don’t demand anything from God, but rather confess our sins and allow our hearts to change. It must result in a change in our behavior, a genuine acknowledgment of our sins, and the ability to accept God’s forgiveness.
Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Jesus died on the cross for every human being. It’s simply up to us to accept that salvation.
5. Extend That Same Forgiveness to Others
Christians are called to be like Jesus. In all that we do, we are called to emulate and model the life that Jesus lived while on earth. Just as Jesus forgave us for our sins on the cross, we are called to forgive those who harm or hurt us.
While our ability to forgive pales in comparison to what Jesus did for us, what God is looking at is our heart. Once again, it goes back to putting God first, then others above ourselves. It takes putting others ahead of ourselves first to be able to truly forgive someone, especially when they have genuinely hurt us.
But when we sin, we are doing the same to God, yet He continuously extends grace to us.
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Matthew West has a song about this, aptly named “Forgiveness.” Perhaps the most profound lyric of the song is the one that speaks to the freedom we feel when we forgive someone.
“It’ll clear the bitterness away, even set a prisoner free. There is no end to what its power can do. So let it go and be amazed by what you see through the eyes of grace. The prisoner that it really frees is you.”
Forgiving someone not only brings us back closer to them, but it brings us closer to Jesus. It allows our hearts to be aligned with the heart of God. When we extend forgiveness to others, they see the grace of God in us.
The Christian walk is not a cakewalk. We are promised that there will be trials and there will be joy. There will be pain and there will be pleasure. In the midst of the walk, it’s tempting to look for answers in so many other things.
But when we go back to the core beliefs and keep things as simple as possible, it allows us to get back to the heart of God and realign our hearts to be in step with God’s design for our lives.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/artisteer
Cole Douglas Claybourn is a writer and podcaster living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with his wife, Emily. Cole teaches high school English and is the host of the In No Hurry Podcast. His work has been featured in RELEVANT Magazine, Sports Spectrum Magazine, Outreach Magazine, Think Eternity, and USA Today. He enjoys telling stories of where faith and creativity intersect and sharing his story to help Christians navigate through their own journey. You can also find his work at coleclaybourn.com.