We know as Christians, that we are saved by grace. Yet, the pull to fall back into legalism, or a works-based mentality, is strong. This can manifest itself in many ways, and each tradition in Christianity has its own dangers to look out for.
One way I’ve seen this happen is the tendency to equate genuine faith with a series of correct doctrines to believe. We have our interpretation of what the Bible teaches and we view with suspicion anyone who steps outside of that.
The thing is, we are not saved by a checklist of doctrines. We are saved by a relationship with Jesus.
There are some things that are essential to believe in order to enter into this relationship. We must believe that Jesus is God’s Son. We must believe that his death and resurrection make us right with God. We must believe it is by grace, not by our own works.
But outside of these essential truths, there are many, many secondary doctrines. And, among Christians, there are different opinions on these doctrines.
Have the spiritual gifts ceased or are they for today?
Can women be pastors or is that reserved for men?
Can we ask for the saints’ intercession or is that completely out of bounds?
Even doctrines that hit close to the essentials can be secondary.
Are we saved purely by God’s election or do we have free-will in responding?
It’s important to study the Scriptures and see where we fall on these issues. But what we need to be careful of is using these doctrines as a checklist to see whether someone is really Christian.
I’ve seen it happen before. We look at people who are too Pentecostal, too Catholic, too liberal, too conservative. We think if they believe this or that (something that we disagree with) on a particular issue, then they can’t really be a Christian.
And, my friends, when we go down that road we are getting dangerously close to salvation by works. Salvation by a doctrinal checklist.
We are saved by faith in Jesus. When we respond to his grace, Jesus forgives our sins, gives us the Holy Spirit and unites us with himself. He does not make us sign a checklist of doctrines to believe.
Growing in our understanding of Biblical doctrine is something that comes as part of the sanctification process. But we must be careful using secondary doctrines as benchmarks to whether someone is truly a Christian.
As Christians, we need to guard against legalism – in whatever form we find it. We must always remember that our salvation and our continuing in the faith is purely by God’s grace.