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What Christians Should Know (#WCSK): The Five Core Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Updated on July 22, 2016


What does the Bible say are the crucial principles to know about God and how He restores a broken relationship with people? Why are these principles so important? This hub will provide meaningful answers to these questions. Here, I will explain the five core doctrines of the Christian faith, why they matter, and why deviation from any of them disrupts a person’s relationship with God.

The fact of the matter is saying you are “Christian” in 21st century America can mean many different things. The large number of Christian denominations testifies to this fact, and even within denominations, there can be variations in what people accept as true, teach, and practice. The Bible actually anticipates the reality of “disputable” matters in Romans 14. Here, the apostle Paul clarifies that whatever stance one takes on these disputable (or peripheral) matters will not fundamentally change the core fabric of the Christian faith. There are, however, foundational principles of the Christian faith that are indisputable because deviation from any one of them will fundamentally change the core fabric of the Christian faith. These foundational principles are the five core doctrines. As long as believers stand on this common ground, peripheral disagreements won’t change what God has already done for us through Christ.

Accordingly, the community of the followers of Jesus are supposed to be unified and without internal strife or divisions. Hence, in I Corinthians 1:10 Paul writes to the Corinthian church and says, “I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Christians can, for example, disagree on who gets baptized, how to worship, when to have communion, who gets ordained, and how to interpret “day” during the six days of creation, but none of these disputes will change the fact that everyone holds the five core doctrines in a closed, tight grip. Hence, Christians can agree to disagree on matters that they hold with an open hand.

Why do these doctrines matter?

Because they clarify what you believe. Because they equip you to be able to answer the question, “What truth claims make Christianity unique?” Because these doctrines explain the foundation of salvation—how we are delivered from sin and our relationship with God is restored—and able to dwell with God eternally in heaven. The five core doctrines are the crucial truth claims of the Bible. The word crucial in no way suggests that other doctrines lack significance. Crucial does imply that in regards to salvation, the five core doctrines make clear what must unquestionably be for salvation to happen. Why is salvation so important? Because that’s why Jesus came in the first place. He did not come to institute social reform, give us new ethics, or show us what compassionate leadership looks like. Jesus came to save sinners (Matthew 9:13; Luke 5:32, 19:10; Mark 2:17; I Timothy 1:15; c.f. John 3:16). The central thrust of the Bible is for God to reveal Himself to us. The reason why God reveals Himself is because a big problem exists (sin), and God provides a timeless answer (Jesus).

Where do the five core doctrines come from?

The Bible of course! Each is an explicit doctrine explained in the Bible, but the distinction of “five core doctrines” is derived. Of note, the resurrection of Christ has particular importance because of what I Corinthians 15:13-14 (NIV) says: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

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The first core doctrine: The Trinity

The Trinity is a unique truth claim of Christianity. The Trinity is one God (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6; Isaiah 43:10; I Timothy 2:5). The Father is God (John 6:27; I Corinthians 8:6). Jesus is God (John 1, John 8:58 c.f. 3:14, John 14:9-11; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:1-3). The Holy Spirit is God (II Corinthians 3:17-18; Acts 5:3-4; Psalm 139:7). Yet, the Father is not Jesus, Jesus is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. What this means is that in the sense of being, all three Persons of the Trinity are the same, but as they relate to one another and to humanity, there is a distinction. This informs us that God is relational, and God was in a relationship with Himself prior to the beginning of humankind. In this relationality, there is love, the essence of the Trinity. I John 4:8 says, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

The Trinity (cont'd)

God giving the world His Son, Jesus, is the most clear and concrete demonstration of His love for us. Because God is relational, He did not have to create humankind to demonstrate love. If God did need humanity in order to enter into a relationship, then God would be dependent on humanity. God is not dependent on humanity because God is sovereign.[1]

Why the Trinity is so important: Without the Trinity, there is no relationality in God, and therefore, there is no love. No love means there is no sacrificial giving. No sacrificial giving means there is no Jesus. No Jesus means there is no hope for salvation, and the Christian faith crumbles.

[1] See I Chronicles 29:11-12; II Chronicles 20:6; I Samuel 2:6; Isaiah 14:24, 45:7, 46:9-10, 55:8-11; Jeremiah 27:5, 32:27; Job 23:13, 42:2; Psalm 103:19, 115:3, 135:6; Proverbs 16:4, 16:9, 16:33, 19:21, 21:1, 21:30; Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; Lamentations 3:37; Daniel 4:35; Matthew 28:18; Romans 8:28, 9:18; Colossians 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:10; I Timothy 6:15

The second core doctrine: the God-Man, Jesus

The full divinity and full humanity of Christ is a unique truth claim of Christianity (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7). A very easy way of thinking about this doctrine is to remember that Christ, remaining what He was (God), became what He was not (a man), and will be so forever.

On the Incarnation, written by Athanasius roughly 2,000 years ago, is the classic defense of the full divinity and humanity of Jesus. There, Athanasius uses Scripture to resolve the paradox of how God is still God in the form of a human being. Ultimately, there is only one mediator between God and humans (I Timothy 2:5) and the only one who can bridge such a gap is a Person who is both divine and human. Athanasius articulates that we have been given the perfect mediator, Jesus, because of the love of the Trinitarian God.

Why the full divinity and humanity of Christ is so important: Because without Jesus, salvation is impossible: Someone just human cannot pay the eternal debt of sin, and someone eternal cannot die in order to satisfy God’s justice that demands a penalty to be paid for that sin. A Person who is both divine and human can accomplish both tasks. To suggest that Jesus is not God suggests that God would give us someone who is imperfect to mediate for humanity. Jesus is perfect and without sin (Luke 1:35; John 8:29; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:22; I John 3:5; Hebrews 4:15)

The third core doctrine: Atonement

The atonement is a unique truth claim of Christianity. The word atonement simply refers to making amends for something done wrong. In our current context, it refers to the fact that the death of Jesus on the Cross made amends for sin (Luke 24:25-26; Isaiah 53:6, 12; John 1:29; II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13). God, being holy, couldn’t just say “Nevermind” to sin because God is also just, and His justice requires that the moral debt of sin be paid. The Trinity is love, which makes Jesus possible, who made the atonement possible on the Cross.

There is a very easy way to think about atonement. Imagine that you owed someone a ridiculous sum of money like 100 trillion billion dollars. The reality is that you will never be able to pay that money back. If the debt collector angrily knocks on your door, you may have a few tricks to turn the collector away, but you can only hide but for so long. At some point, you have to pay or be condemned in prison.

In this example, Christ is the one who transfers money from His account into the collector’s account, and we are therefore declared “debt-free.” But not only does Jesus do this for you, he does this for all the elect members of humanity as well. Here, the debt owed represents sin and the atonement on the Cross is what settles our accounts.

What facilitated the atonement was the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Indeed, this was a brutal way to facilitate debt payment, but that is because God takes sin very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that He sent Jesus to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice to pay for it.

Why the atonement is so important: Because without it, the eternal debt owed to God because of sin would not be paid, and salvation would be impossible. Because without the atonement, there would be a wedge forever separating God and humankind.


The fourth core doctrine: The Resurrection

The resurrection is a unique truth claim of Christianity. Jesus has an exclusive claim as the only religious figure to have ever died, rose from the dead, and then come back to tell people about it. Death is the great equalizer of existence since no one can get out of this life alive. This is an absolute certainty. The resurrection of Jesus proved that He stands over creation and had conquered the great equalizer. The resurrection therefore validates God’s promise to raise us up to new life so that we will not perish (Luke 14:14; John 3:16, 6:40, 11:25, 14:19; Acts 3:15; I Thessalonians 4:14; Romans 6:4, 8:11; I Corinthians 6:14, 15:12-32; I Peter 1:3). Hence, our efforts on earth are not in vain.

Why the resurrection is so important: I Corinthians 15:13-14 (NIV) says it best: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

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The fifth core doctrine: By grace through faith

By grace through faith is a unique truth claim of Christianity. What this basically means is that our salvation is possible exclusively as a function of God. He is the loving Trinitarian God who sent Jesus, who atoned for our sins on the Cross and rose from the dead. The reason why any of this happened is because of God’s grace, or unmerited favor. Humanity did not merit God’s grace because then it wouldn’t be grace—it would be fair recompense. If a person we able to save themselves apart from God they would, but this is impossible. If we were able to save ourselves, then the problems that presently plague humanity would have been solved long ago.

Through faith refers to the idea that the grace of God is what empowers people to respond to Him in faith. So, we don’t choose God, He chooses us. Grace is not meant to crush an individual’s sense of free choice. Why? Because left to our own devices, we would not choose God. This paradigm portends only adverse consequences. The good news of God’s grace means that you do receive what you don’t merit (salvation), and you do not receive what you do merit (condemnation).

Grace is not fair. It is nonsensical and cannot be explained by a scientific equation. The reason why is because the love of God transcends reason. If God did not truly love us, then He would have good reason to have said “never mind” to all of us a long time ago.

Why by grace through faith is so important: Because if salvation was by merit through works, then God would not be necessary. In this case, god is not God, because god is not sovereign—we could win the “salvation race” simply by checking off enough boxes on our scorecard.

Share your thoughts and comments. Does your home church provide instruction on core Christian beliefs?

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