“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
WHILE EVERY WORD OF GOD IS OF ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE, THERE ARE SOME THINGS JESUS, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND THE APOSTLES EMPHASIZED ABOVE OTHERS. A fearless, searching question: are the things they emphasized the same things we emphasize in our faith? Answering that question honestly may result in profoundly changed priorities as we seek to draw more closely to the heart of God. In a culture of confusion, division, tradition, politics, and competing agendas, we would do well to be recalled to those great truths that God has designated as such.
Some have exhorted that we must “keep the main thing the main thing.” Naturally, we must first understand what the main thing is! What are those things that God (not man) has said matter most?
- The Bible is first and foremost a book about God. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1).
- Secondly, the Bible is about covenant relationship. The Bible begins and ends with a beautiful picture of covenant relationship between God and his people, first in Eden and finally in the New Jerusalem which is the church (Genesis 2; Revelation 21). In between, God continually repeated his covenant with man manifested in various forms (Genesis 17:7-9; Exodus 6:7; Hebrews 8:10).
- The greatest problem is sin, for sin separates man from our greatest need, to be with God (Isaiah 59:1, 2; Romans 3:23).
- Thus, the Bible is also a story of redemption, God’s plan to restore what was lost (Ephesians 1; Romans 5). The greatest theophany was when God the Son (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt with his people in human form to redeem lost humanity (John 1:14; Matthew 1:23). The greatest gift was when God the Father gave his beloved Son for the redemption of mankind (John 3:16) by his grace (Romans 3:24).
- The greatest confession is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30, 31).
- The greatest step of faith is the first: baptism into Christ for the remission of sins to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Romans 6).
- The greatest command is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor—including serving the helpless (Matthew 22:34-40; James 1:27)
- Love means we will obey and live for God with all of our being (John 14:15; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).
- The greatest law is the law of Christ, the law of love and liberty; the holy, inspired, true, authoritative, complete, and guiding word of God (Galatians 6:2; James 1:25, 2:12; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:3).
- The Great Commission was to go to all the world with the good news teaching and baptizing—this is the mission of the church (Matthew 28:18-20).
- The greatest offering in worship is our very lives (Romans 12:1, 2).
- Virtues like justice, mercy, and faith are weightier matters than tithing illustrating that we must obey from the heart or our religion is vain like Cain (Matthew 23:23, 25, 26; Genesis 4; 1 Samuel 15:22).
- Perhaps the greatest prayer in all scripture was not the famous Lord’s prayer, but the one before his death which contains Jesus’ plea for love and unity among his followers (John 17).
- The greatest goal is to be conformed to Christ in the way we live and die (Philippians 1:21; 2:5-8; 3).
- The greatest prize is to be with Christ in heaven (Philippians 3), and the greatest words any believer can ever hear are: “Well done… enter in…” (Matthew 25:23).
- The greatest tragedy is to be lost in eternal hell, forever separated from God, the source of life, light, beauty, joy, and everything that’s good (Matthew 25:41).
This list is not intended to be a comprehensive list of “salvation issues,” but rather it represents the things that I have discovered in scripture to be sacred above all others. Note that clearly rebelling or neglecting any explicit instruction in scripture would violate The Greatest Command of loving God and thereby keeping his commandments. I am not excusing error, neglect, or rebellion nor am I advocating we fellowship blatant apostates. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” suggesting that even the little things are important. But realizing what matters most has led me to be more open to embrace in fellowship those with whom I disagree on lesser matters though they may still be important to God and to me.
1 John 1, 2 John, Galatians 1, Galatians 5, and other such passages are clear in context to refer to belief in Christ, not all of our personal scruples. Yes, Hebrews 6 says the mature should advance beyond these basic teachings, presumably aiming toward knowledge of all of the truth taught by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25, 26). But the longer I live, the more I realize how far from perfect I am. I am learning to keep my ambitions high, but lower my expectations of both my myself and my brethren. Saying “I’m not perfect” doesn’t do it justice. It almost makes it sound like I’m close to perfect with a few small blemishes. The truth is that I am far from perfect—we all are. The church is far from perfect. Consequently, we often face challenges in our walk of faith and circle of fellowship. The careful, prayerful study and application of the many passages referenced here have led me to choose with intentionality to fellowship with brethren who are committed to what I understand to be the things that matter most to God, even though they may not be getting everything right all the time. I know I’m not getting everything right either!
Jesus reserved his strongest rebuke for those who emphasized lesser matters as paramount, contrary to the heart of God and the gospel. Even as he did so, the tone of his language was one of love and deep agony (Matthew 23). The letter to the Ephesians of Revelation 2:1-7 calls us to repentance from outward focused religion which often leads to inward decay. Jesus calls us to return to our first love. Let us return to (or discover for the first time) the eternal, radical, passionate love of our Holy Father. May a love of such enduring worth be ignited within our own hearts and shine forth for the world to see.
Son of God, eternal Savior,
Source of life and truth and grace,
Son of Man, whose birth incarnate
Hallows all our human race,
You, our Head, enthroned in glory,
For the church will ever plead.
Fill us with Your love and pity,
Heal our wrongs and help our need.
Lord, as You have lived for others,
So may we for others live;
Freely have Your gifts been granted,
Freely may Your servants give.
Is there want, or pain, or sorrow?
Make us all the burden share.
Are there spirits crushed and broken?
Teach us, Lord, to soothe their care.
Bind us all as one together
In your church’s sacred fold,
Weak and healthy, poor and wealthy,
Sad and joyful, young and old.
As You pray and as You will it—
That Your people should be one—
Grant our hope to be united,
Here on earth Your will be done.
Hymn: 188.8.131.52D – Somerset C. Lowry (1894)