Essential Tenets of the Faith Adopted by the Session of West Valley Presbyterian Church October 1, 2010
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:13-14
Table of Contents
What are the Essential Tenets?
The Essential Tenets
Authority of Scripture
God (Trinity, Creation, Providence, Sovereignty)
Humanity - Original Righteousness and Fall into Sin
Jesus Christ - Incarnation of the Eternal Word
Jesus Christ - His Atoning Work
Salvation By Grace Through Faith
What are the Essential Tenets?
“Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?” (Book of Order, G-14.0405b(3))
This question is one of our ordination vows. Every ordained Presbyterian—deacon, elder, minister—must respond yes,which means that they choose to respect, know, “sincerely receive and adopt” certain truths or doctrines which our constitution calls “tenets.”
What are the essential tenets?
Foundational convictions.The essential tenets are our foundational convictions, contained in our creeds and confessions that bear witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “They guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures; they summarize the essence of Christian tradition; they direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines; they equip the church for its work of proclamation.” (G-2.0100(b))
The Session of West Valley Presbyterian Church hereby adopts this summary of the essential tenets of the Christian faith, for use in our church, commissions, committees, and departments. It distills the 300 pages of the Book of Confessions to a helpful summary—six essentials. It was initially developed by The San Diego Presbytery and their Committee on Ministry.
As nominating committees consider candidates for church office, as PNCs interview prospective pastors, as elders examine newly-elected elders and deacons, it is their responsibility to ensure that the essential tenets of the Reformed faith have been understood and sincerely received and adopted as the Constitution requires. We commend this summary as a tool for teaching, training, and evaluation.
A confessional heritage.Reformed Christians have never been at a loss to explain what they believe. We love explaining our faith. It is a distinguishing mark of our heritage. John Calvin’s Institutes, the most influential and seminal work of Reformed theology, established the theological precedent with a near-exhaustive and systematic explanation of the cardinal truths of Christianity. Since Calvin, the proliferation of Reformed creeds, confessions, catechisms, and other theological works is a robust continuation of this thoughtful and devout impulse to explain our faith—speaking in the language and to the issues of each generation.
The Reformation began as a bold profession of Christian faith based on “the plain Word of God.” It was also a fearless “protestation,” explicitly rejecting and disavowing what institutional Christianity had become—a religion of human accretions and accommodations. This is why for centuries Reformation Christians were called Protestants.
“If men…pretend to forge for us new articles of faith, or to make decisions contrary to the Word of God, then we must utterly deny them as the doctrines of devils, drawing our souls from the voice of the one God to follow the doctrines and teachings of men.” (Scots Confession, 3.20)
Explanation is proclamation. This then is no idle or esoteric exercise. The spiritual blessings from it flow broad and deep:
To explain is to proclaim. The gospel—which is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16)—is released into the church and into the world;
Our faith is clarified and strengthened;
We prove ourselves faithful stewards of the “sound teaching…guarding with the help of the Holy Spirit what was entrusted to us” by the prophets and apostles (2 Tim 1:13-14);
We fulfill one of the great ends of the church—“the preservation of the truth” (G1.0200) and we “identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions” (G-2.0100b);
We obey Jesus’ command to “love the Lord our God with...all our mind” (Matt 22:37); and
The revealed truth of God is articulated and distinguished from the ideologies and errors of the world.
We explain our faith with humility and with a profound reverence for its mysteries, while at the same time we boldly declare what the Word of God has plainly revealed to us as truth.
How will this summary be used?
As a tool for instructing our congregation in the foundational truths of our faith.
As a reference for training our prospective church officers as they prepare to take vows and enter office.
As guidelines for communicating to prospective ministers our theological expectations concerning what Reformed ministers must sincerely believe and proclaim.
Why this summary is needed. First, because “theology matters”—to quote the most memorable phrase from a recent General Assembly. What we believe—the content of our faith—matters. If it matters, we should be able to articulate it and to explain how this truth stands against the competing truths of the world.
Second, because there is considerable confusion in our denomination. We are in the midst of a theological crisis—the result, in large measure, of a long neglect of our foundational truths. Our church is ordaining people who do not know or believe the essential tenets expressed in our confessions—such as the doctrine of the Trinity, a Nicene Christology, the doctrine of Atonement, or the conviction that people need salvation in Jesus Christ. In addition, PNCs are nominating pastors and resenting candidates for ordination who cannot articulate a basic theology that reflects a knowledge of or appreciation for our confessions or the Bible.
Scenarios.Consider the following scenarios:
A PNC is interviewing a candidate for the position of pastor. She is very appealing on paper and in person. She feels right for their church. Nobody bothers to ask questions about her theology. They assume—if she got this far, she must be a certified Presbyterian; her theology must be OK. Besides, the committee is composed entirely of lay people, none of whom feels competent to evaluate an ordained pastor on her theology. Only one of the committee members actually admits to having read the Book of Confessions, but he could not tell you what the Reformed “essentials” are. Imagine how empowering it would be if the PNC had such a list—guidelines they could use to ask questions that would help them discern and evaluate their next pastor’s theological convictions.
A week before a newly elected elder is to be installed at your church, she comes to the pastor and says, “I see that I must take a vow that I ‘receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith.’ Pastor, I know what you preach and teach—and I mainly agree with it,” she says, “but I don’t know what Presbyterian means. To be able to take this vow with integrity, I need to know what the essentials are. You gave me this 300-page Book of Confessions—and a lot of it is really good stuff—but not all of it seems equally important, and some of it we obviously don’t believe anymore. Can you tell me which of these tenets are essential?” These scenarios, disturbing and recurring, are the real background of this document. This summary is intended to provide guidelines that should equip our church to resolve these problems with confidence and consensus.
Do Presbyterians really know what they believe? Yes. Is our theology so infinitely inclusive that any theological expression, if it is sincerely held, is permissible? No. Are there theological and confessional standards that can be appealed to, which would reveal whether a person is inside or outside the boundaries of our basic Reformed convictions?Of course. Is the language of our tenets so elastic that every candidate for ordination will be able to receive and adopt them? Not necessarily.
“Terms of admission.”The Nominating Committee and the Session are the primary credentialing committees of our Church; they perform a legitimate and necessary gatekeeping function that is delegated to them by the Memebership. Yet members of our Nominating Committee frequently struggled with assessing and evaluating candidates’ theology because of the lack of clear guidelines that stake out the boundaries of our Reformed essentials. Pastors, presbytery commissioners, PNC and COM members have all reported that they share this frustration. We are not looking for an exhaustive list of all the Reformed truths; we are trying simply to identify the foundational truths—non-negotiables, essentials.
Our historic principles of church government—in the opening chapter of the Book of Order—explicitly state: “Every Christian church, or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members.” (G-1.030(2)). That is exactly what this summary is—a good-faith attempt to declare the theological terms of admission into our communion. Being a Reformed minister or elder or deaconmeans something. And we owe it, in integrity, to our members to be able to declare what it means.
The committee’s work. John Calvin’s own treatment of the essential tenets—in a treatise entitled On the Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543)—provides a helpful framework for organizing this summary. Calvin differentiated between those things in the Christian religion that pertain to its very soul and those things that are secondary. For him, the essence of the Christian religion consists in (1) the due worship of God and (2) “the source from which salvation is to be obtained.”
Following Calvin’s lead, we list as essentials the doctrines of Scripture, God (Trintiy, Creation, Sovereignty), Sin, Christology, and Atonement—the most catholic elements of our theology.
If you glance at the table of contents, you will recognize a list of the “Big Truths” that emerge from our tradition’s interpretation of the Bible. These are truths that are prominent in our confessions and are expressed clearly and robustly not in a single confession, but in many of them. There is nothing new about this theology. This is a summary of what our confessions say we have always believed, without a great deal of elaboration.
A working document. We know no human summary is perfect. Consequently, these tenets constitute a working document that is open to amendment, clarification, and improvement as the Holy Spirit leads us and gives clearer understanding. We will provide for a committee of Session to have stewardship of the Essential Tenets, to receive and evaluate amendments submitted by elders or by overture of session, and to recommend and refer proposed revisions back to Session for action.
What this summary is not. This summary is not a subscription document; no one may be required to subscribe. Nor is it a strict formulation; we are delighted when core convictions are expressed in fresh and revitalizing language. This document has no authority in itself to qualify or disqualify a candidate; it provides a tool which a committee may use at its discretion in its theological assessment.
Guidelines are not a guillotine. Our tradition has always respected a candidate’s right to declare scruples—to identify areas in which she or he can express biblical dissent with points of doctrine. Accordingly, Session and its delegated committees have the authority and responsibility to discern and assess whether this professed dissent is a “serious departure” from the confessional standards or within the acknowledged freedom and latitude of our theology.
While we believe this summary of essentials will prove helpful in training, educating, and guiding, it may prove a blunt and inappropriate instrument in specific pastoral situations which require sensitivity and compassion. In this context, the example of Jesus should always be followed, who never compromised God’s truth, but was always a “friend of sinners” and unfailingly inclusive in showing love and mercy.
Membership vs. leadership. The constitution of the PC (U.S.A.) distinguishes between the criteria for membership in its churches and the standards for its leaders. The only essential requirement for membership is a profession of faith—“all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church.” (G-5.0103) The standards for church leaders, on the other hand, are understandably stricter: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church.” (G-6.0106b) [italics added] “It is necessary to the integrity and health of the church that the persons who serve in it as officers shall adhere to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government.” (G-6.0108a) [italics added]
Theological boundaries and liberty of conscience.In pressing for confessional fidelity, we are occasionally challenged by a historic phrase from our tradition and the Book of Order: “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” The implication is that no one but God may bind our theological conscience in terms of what is to be believed. And we agree! The full quote explains the proper context and understanding of this phrase:
God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. (G-1.0301(1)) [italics added]
In other words, precisely where God’s Word has spoken and precisely in matters of faith and worship—that is where our conscience is bound and not free. Being an ordained Presbyterian means doing ministry within specific theological boundaries:
In becoming a candidate or officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) one chooses to exercise freedom of consciencewithin certain bounds. His or her conscience is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church so long as he or she continues to seek or hold office in that body. The decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity is made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the governing body in which he or she serves. (G-6.0108b)
In this paragraph our constitution indicates: (1) becoming an officer imposes limits on our theological liberty; (2) our confessions are the authoritative standard for interpreting the Bible; (3) as long as we are in office, we are bound by that authority and those standards; (4) determining whether a person is theologically in or out of bounds is initially the responsibility of that individual; and (5) evaluating an officer’s confessional integrity is ultimately the presbytery’s responsibility.
Choosing to be Presbyterian. We are not called to challenge anyone’s sincerity as a Christian or to dispute their right to believe what they choose. But when a person chooses to be an ordained Presbyterian, they must in good faith and with a clear conscience receive and adopt our confessional identity. We do not have the right to pick and choose the foundational truths we will believe in, with the expectation that other foundational truths can be ignored or will soon be changed. That is bad faith.
There may be ordained Presbyterians who, in their education and personal development, realize that their true convictions never were or are no longer Presbyterian. This is an issue of confessional integrity that they must wrestle with and resolve. Will we be led and guided by our confessions—even through our personal changes? “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Some may complain that this document is too focused on doctrine. That’s because this is a document about what Presbyterians essentially believe. Yes, the Christian faith is about much more than doctrine. It is about God finding us and our finding salvation, community, healing, love, and life in all its fullness. But these wonderful realities are founded on certain truths revealed in God’s Word. That’s why theology matters and why doctrine is foundational and critically important. Choosing to be Presbyterian means understanding and embracing Presbyterian doctrine.
Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary for the ordained leadership of the church to diligently direct, teach, correct, and make inquiry concerning the doctrines that elders, deacons, and ministers of Word and Sacrament “sincerely receive and adopt”— that these doctrines are consistent with the Bible and our Reformed standards.
Essential Tenet - Authority of Scripture
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are God’s uniquely revealed and written Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are the church’s first and final authority in all areas of faith and life including, but not limited to, theological doctrine, mission, church order, character, and ethical behavior.
The Bible speaks to us with the authority of God himself. We seek to understand, love, follow, obey, surrender, and submit to God’s Word—both Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written Word of God, which bear true and faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
Scripture - Matthew 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Confessions - Second Helvetic Confession 5.001, 5.003, 5.010 Westminster Confession of Faith 6.006, 6.009 Larger Catechism 7.113-114
What is Not Affirmed
that seeks to invalidate or subvert scriptural teaching concerning what is to be believed or how we are to live;
that attempts to subordinate biblical authority to any human authority, cultural norm, or ideology— whether religious, ecclesiastical, governmental, political, economic, psychological, sociological, scientific, historical, philosophical, or other—as though the church should listen primarily to another voice than the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed in scripture;
that seeks or asserts a revelation from the Spirit of God which contradicts the Bible as Word of God, or that attempts to separate the Spirit from the Spirit-inspired words of Scripture, or that elevates the authority or modernity of the Spirit’s revelation above the revelation of Scripture;
that rejects as historical fact the witness of Scripture to the incarnation, birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (as, for example, summarized in 1Corinthians 15:3-7 and Acts 10:38);
that seeks to follow a “Jesus Christ” apart from the Person, Work, and Will of Jesus Christ revealed in scripture.
that regards Scripture as subjectively, but not objectively, God’s written Word, or that maintains the Scriptures contain the Word of God, but are not in themselves the Word of God.
Orthodox reformed faith does not include any notion of a Church “reformed and reforming” that moves outside the boundaries of the authority of Christ and confession of his Lordship which are clearly revealed in Scripture. Or any ecclesiology or morality that attempts to subvert the headship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture in the interests of an “inclusive” and over broad institutional concern for “unity, peace, and purity.”
Jesus Christ is Lord of the church, and he rules the church through the written word of scripture, illumined by the Holy Spirit.
Essential Tenet - God
We worship the one only living and true God who is revealed in the Bible and who is the source of all life, glory, goodness, and blessedness.
Trinity. With the holy catholic church in all ages, we confess the mystery of the holy Trinity—that there is one God alone, infinite and eternal, Creator of all things, the greatest good, who is one in essence or nature, yet who exists in a plurality of three distinct persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Creation/Providence/Sovereignty. God in the beginning created the universe and everything in it for the manifestation of God’s glory, eternal power, wisdom, and goodness. He is the sovereign ruler of creation, working all things according to the counsel of his omnipotent and righteous will. In gracious providence God continually upholds, directs, oversees, and governs creation—all creatures, actions, and things.
In sovereignty God has seen fit to accommodate free will among moral creatures, resulting in great cultural and cosmic good and terrible evil, disorder, and disobedience. Nevertheless, God is in no way the author of evil or sin, but continues to govern creation in such a way as to cause all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. God opposes all evil and will certainly triumph over it and bring creation to a glorious consummation.
Grace. God is a God of love. In grace God chooses to show love and mercy. When we were dead in trespasses and sin, God made us alive with Christ, saving us by grace through faith, as a sheer gift of sovereign love.
Worship. God—and God alone—is worthy of worship. We respond to God by consciously and intentionally seeking to declare, explore, celebrate, and submit to God’s righteous and gracious kingship over all of creation and over every aspect of our individual and corporate life, and thereby “to glorify him and enjoy him forever.” (Westminster, 7.01) This is true worship.
Scripture - Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 47:2; Isaiah 45:5 Matthew 28:19; Luke 1:35; John 14:26; Romans 1:23; 8:28; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 1:7-11; Jude 1:25; Revelation 4:11
that denies this doctrine of God’s triune nature, or refuses to confess the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
that minimizes this doctrine as an unessential or secondary Christian tenet;
that asserts that all religions are essentially true, that all religious beliefs are essentially in accord; or that the views of God held by the world’s major religions are equally valid;
that confesses or celebrates belief in multiple gods or goddesses, or that identifies God as a goddess, or that worships God’s uncreated glory through idols or images representing creatures or creation.
The biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty excludes:
the notion that, if God is sovereign, our human efforts are in vain;
the deistic notion that God created the cosmos like a watchmaker but is no longer personally involved in its operation or unfolding;
any theology that denies or downplays the reality of evil or the enmity between evil and a holy God or the moral responsibility of humankind for sin.
Essential Tenet - Humanity - Original Righteousness and Fall into Sin
Human beings were created by God in God’s own image—in true righteousness and holiness—to know, love, and obey God and be righteous stewards of the creation. Our earliest forebears, instead of acknowledging, worshiping, and obeying God, became disobedient sinners and brought sin and death upon themselves and all creation.
There is now a radical brokenness and corruption in human nature that is the result of and results in sin. Sin is rebellion against God. No human effort can fully resolve or redeem this defect. Sin is destructive, contagious, parasitical, polluting, disabling. Human beings are sinners by nature, by influence, by choice, by action.
While there is an inalienable glory and nobility to human beings because they are God’s image bearers, this image is now broken and distorted, and even our best and noblest actions are contaminated by sin. Every part of our human being—our personality, intellect, emotions, will, motives, virtues, and actions—is corrupted by sin. The human will, originally free and righteous, is now crippled and defective.
As a result, human beings are in bondage to sin and subject to God’s holy judgment. Without God’s intervening grace and salvation, they are lost and condemned.
The notion that human nature is basically good and self-redeemable through good effort, discipline, improved environment, etc.
The notion that man’s defective nature is the result of heredity or environment to such a degree that human beings are not morally responsible for their nature or behavior.
The notion that God is the author of sin or that sin is part of his original plan to educate and improve humankind.
Essential Tenet - Jesus Christ - Incarnation of the Holy Word
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God uniquely entered human history and became a real human being. He is truly the Word of God (John 1:1-3)—that is, the perfect and culminating expression of God’s mind and heart, of God’s will and character— present in the intimate fellowship of the Holy Trinity from eternity and fully engaged with the Father in the work of creation and redemption.
Becoming human, Jesus was “all of God in a human body” (Colossians 1:19) and “God with us” (Matthew 1:23)—a living tabernacle of God’s holy presence, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14-18). His divine-human identity is corroborated by the true witness of scripture—in his divine conception and virgin birth, in God’s own testimony concerning Jesus, in Jesus’ supernatural works of healing and deliverance, in his obedience to the point of sacrificial death, and in his bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension, and exaltation. He is now Lord over everything in creation.
The early church in the creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon accurately interpreted and expressed the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus—fully God and fully human. The significance of this is: in Christ we are dealing with God himself; in Christ we have a human being who truly represents us.
Jesus Christ is God’s only Mediator between God and humankind and God’s unique agent for the salvation of the world. He is also the perfect expression of what humanity was designed to be. In his complete obedience, he became the representative Human Being, a second Adam, modeling for us human life and offering to God on our behalf human life that is rightly in God’s image—reflecting God’s glory in a wholly submitted life of steadfast love and righteousness.
This same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, as attested in scripture, is to be the center of the Christian Church’s proclamation, worship, discipleship, and mission. As we eagerly and prayerfully anticipate that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead” and to establish God’s righteous kingdom in fullness and perfection, we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
Scripture - Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:31-35; John 1:1-3, 14-18; Romans 5:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 John 4:2-4
Confessions - Nicene Creed 1.1-1.2 Westminster Confession of Faith 6.044 Confession of 1967 9.07-9.08 Brief Statement of Faith 10.2
What Is Not Affirmed
that affirms the deity but not the full humanity of Christ, or the humanity but not Christ’s full deity (as, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do);
that asserts that Jesus was an inspired or extraordinary or holy man, but was merely human in nature and not the incarnation in history of the eternal Son of God;
that attempts to supplement the authoritative revelation of the Old and New Testament scriptures concerning Jesus Christ and proposes a corrected or revised revelation of Jesus (as, for example, the Book of Mormon and Mormon teaching do);
that discounts or discredits as untrue or as myth all or portions of the New Testament record concerning Jesus;
that does not affirm as biblical and true the death of Christ as the central saving act of our Christian faith, or
that asserts that Jesus is merely one example, however noteworthy, of a divinely approved or divinely enlightened life;
that asserts that Jesus is one Mediator between God and humankind among other religious options or among other spiritual or enlightened teachers or mediators;
that contends that the Jesus Christ attested by scripture is essentially and significantly different from the historic Jesus of Nazareth;
that misrepresents Jesus’ mission in terms compatible with pantheism or as a message of human self-fulfillment and divine self-realization, that God is one being with the world or that human beings are essentially divine, and that all religious truth is harmonious and convergent.
that detracts from Jesus’ supreme authority over every human authority, over the church, and over our individual moral lives
Essential Tenet - Jesus Christ - His Atoning Love
Jesus’ death on the was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In this act of obedience to God’s will and love for humankind, Jesus acted as the divine agent for the salvation of the world. In his death he perfectly fulfilled the office of High Priest and was also the perfect sacrifice for sins—“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) The Cross became an altar on which his life was sacrificed as a substitute for ours, and satisfaction and expiation for sins were completely accomplished. On the sole basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, sinners may now be reconciled to a holy God and set free from their bondage to sin and death to live for God in holiness and joy.
Exalted to the place of honor beside God the Father, Jesus Christ the eternal Son, now Lord of heaven and earth, continues his saving work, advocating and interceding on behalf of the church and functioning as our eternal prophet (God’s living and revealed Word), priest (ever making intercession and mediation for us), and king (ruling his church by Word and Spirit and with sovereign love and power).
Scripture - Matthew 1:21; Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 1:23-25; 2:2; 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21; Galatians 3:13; 6:14; Ephesians 1:19-23; Hebrews 9:11-12; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2
that does not affirm as biblical and true the death of Christ as the central saving act of our Christian faith, or
that rejects these teachings—atonement, substitutionary sacrifice, expiation for sins on the basis of Christ’s death—as obsolete, unworthy, unessential, or irrelevant, or
that seeks to substitute some other basis or to promote some “more culturally relevant paradigm” for our salvation, justification, and reconciliation with God than Christ’s death on the Cross for us.
We also do not affirm the notion that Christ’s atoning work is universally applied to all or most of the human race, so that all or most are saved, regardless of their religion or non-religion and apart from hearing the gospel and believing in Christ.
Essential Tenet - Salvation By Grace Through Faith
Salvation is God’s gracious work through Jesus Christ to reclaim humankind and all creation from sin and its consequences. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace received by faith. Christ’s righteousness and atonement are the sole basis for human salvation. Faith in Christ is the only instrument by which this righteousness is received by individual believers, resulting in their justification.
Justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed to a sinful woman or man through faith alone in Christ. Their faith appropriates Christ’s atonement, resulting in their sins atoned for and forgiven and God reckoning them to be righteous.
Scripture also describes salvation as a ransom or redemption from slavery (Mark 10:45); a sacrificial substitution (Christ’s death for our death); reconciliation of sinners with a holy God; our sins being sacrificially expiated, satisfied, covered over, forgiven, and removed. All of these ways describe how God has given us “the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work.” (Heidelberg, 4.021)
Faith is (1) accepting the message of salvation as true and (2) trusting God to apply this salvation to us. Faith is “certain knowledge” and “wholehearted trust,” that is created in us by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. In faith we accept, receive, and rest “upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.” (Westminster, 6.080)
Scripture - Mark 10:45; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:22-26; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9
Confessions - Second Helvetic Confession 5.107-109, 5.112-113; Heidelberg Catechism 4.021, 4.060; Westminster Confession of Faith 6.080; Brief Statement of Faith 10.4
What is Not Affirmed
that asserts that salvation can be obtained through other religions or that other religions have equally valid solutions to the human problem, or that there is salvation in some other name besides Jesus Christ
that denies the radical sinfulness of human beings, their condemnation before a holy God, that denies that human beings are lost apart from Christ, or denies their need for a Savior
that teaches that God saves or will save everybody (or nearly everybody) regardless of their faith in Jesus Christ or whether they hear the gospel or not or whether they put their faith explicitly in Jesus Christ or not.
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