Stripping Down the Gospel: We Must Believe More Than the ABCs

The true content of the Gospel, which must be understood and believed, cannot really be reduced from the twelve articles contained in the Apostle's Creed.

We live in an increasingly pluralistic and pagan age, and so our culture is becoming more like the culture of the ancient Roman Empire. Fifty years ago, we may have been able to rely on a cultural consensus and collective understanding that was generally monotheistic and Judeo-Christian. Today, that’s simply not the case. Unbelievers’ understanding of the nature of truth, the existence and nature of God, the historicity of the Gospels, etc. is all really shaky and unknown. We need to take more time to understand people and their understandings and to carefully explain what it is we believe and why we believe it.

 

What must I do to be saved? The Philippian jailer asked this question in Acts 16. Paul’s answer was simple and powerful: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:31, ESV).” 

But what does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus? For the Philippian jailer, coming to Christ meant turning from polytheistic paganism to belief in one true God. Believing in Jesus meant believing the truth of who Jesus is, what He has done, what He is doing now and what He will do in the future.

Right after Paul’s simple response to the jailer in verse 31, we’re told in verse 32, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” Paul didn’t just make a simple statement and immediately lead the jailer in The Sinner’s Prayer. He taught him and his whole household the word of God.

As the early church grew, they developed a creed that would contain all of the vital information. The Apostle’s Creed has, for centuries, been the standard creed of Christianity for all denominations and traditions on all continents. The Heidelberg Catechism, which belongs to the Reformed Protestant tradition, affirms the Apostle’s Creed’s central place as the summary of what Christian must believe to be saved.

Q. 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?

A. All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.

Q. 23. What are these articles?

A. 

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe a holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
11. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting.

The true content of the Gospel, which must be understood and believed, cannot really be reduced from these twelve articles contained in the Apostle’s Creed. It is necessary (not optional) that we believe these truths, and it is necessary that we understand what each of these twelve articles is asserting in order for our belief to be meaningful.

We live in an increasingly pluralistic and pagan age, and so our culture is becoming more like the culture of the ancient Roman Empire. Fifty years ago, we may have been able to rely on a cultural consensus and collective understanding that was generally monotheistic and Judeo-Christian. Today, that’s simply not the case. Unbelievers’ understanding of the nature of truth, the existence and nature of God, the historicity of the Gospels, etc. is all really shaky and unknown. We need to take more time to understand people and their understandings and to carefully explain what it is we believe and why we believe it.

How different is this approach from the quick, drive-by evangelism common in many evangelistic programs and Gospel presentations? One common evangelism tool is based on ABC:

Admit that you are a sinner.
Believe that Jesus died for your sins.
Confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

This simple formula runs the risk of being simplistic and of missing so much that someone must believe in order to be a Christian. For example, Jesus is more and did more than just die for our sins:

1. He is the only begotten Son of God who was born of a virgin.
2. He lived a sinless life.
3. He suffered humiliation and rejection and died on the cross for our sins, being buried and remaining under the power of death for a time.
4. He rose again from the dead on the Third Day.
5. He ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand.
6. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

We need to be able to share a simple Gospel message with our non-Christian friends, family members and neighbors. But a simple Gospel is not a stripped down, simplistic Gospel that leaves holes in the essential truths we believe and would leave people confused and conflicted.

Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.