The Essentials: A Simple Faith Is Enough

September 28, 2011

The Word of God dominating my thoughts these days is Matthew 5 through 7, Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” Two eager groups meet— one on Tuesday night and one on Wednesday morning— to discuss the text one week and report back the following week on how that Word was integrated into real life. It is a challenge to write a blog post between those two class sessions; and yet, this week, the topic of the Beatitudes is full of inspiration and relevance for PCUSA application. 

Dallas Willard, in chapter 4 of The Divine Conspiracy, has a most interesting discussion of the Beatitudes. He says that Jesus begins his discourse with a signal to the spiritual zeroes (poor in spirit) and the theological simpletons (pure in heart) that even they are within reach of the Kingdom of God. Even they can partake of the blessing of seeing and knowing God and living in complete alignment with his will.

But to follow some of the convoluted explanations offered by progressives for what the Bible means—and not just on the sexual ethics topics that have been covered here for weeks, but on the atonement, the resurrection, and other central tenets of Christianity—one would think a PhD is required even to acquire saving faith.

But Jesus said, it is not that complicated. A simple faith is enough, if it is a centrally and rightly placed faith. Jesus later in the gospel calls this “faith the size of a mustard seed” (Matthew 13:31, 17:20).

Evangelicals within the PCUSA have been called a lot of things in the last twenty years, but little do progressives know that “spiritual simpleton” is a compliment, not an insult. The Reformers simplified the message with the five “solas”: sola fidei (faith alone), grace alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, and only to God’s glory. For some, this formulation represents a faith view that is all too black and white. But if Jesus demonstrates anything in his sermon, it is that a very simple faith can lead to a very radical life, a life completely transformed by the reality he embodied and taught. The Apostle Paul put it nicely in Romans 8:11: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” And Ephesians 2:4f, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” This simple faith accepts one reality (the Kingdom of God under Christ’s Lordship) and rejects another (the kingdom of this world under the influence of the evil one). In day-to-day life, the choices one makes consistent with this simple faith can have life-altering consequences.

What did Jesus teach were essentials of faith and daily living?

• Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; nobody can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

• Jesus and the Father are one; that is, Jesus is God, always has been, always will (John 10:30, 8:58).

• Jesus—God come in the flesh—gave his life on the cross in order to save ours (Matthew 20:28, 1:21; Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3).

• After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead and lives and reigns today and forever (Mark 10:34; 1 Corinthians 15:4-7; Revelation 1:8).

• “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

• Confessing Jesus as Lord is a commitment to do what he says (Luke 6:46; John 14:21).

• Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to indwell his disciples and empower them to do what he said (Acts 1:8).

The essentials of Reformed faith and practice rest on these basic affirmations. If one believes them, one’s life is characterized by repentance, obedience, and joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ. If one does not believe these things, one does not know Jesus Christ (yet!) and without faith cannot please God. It’s as simple as that. This is good news for those who are spiritual simpletons, who can expect a new, transformed life if they will abandon theirs for the sake of knowing Christ. May that be true for us and for the people of the Presbyterian tribe.


6 Responses to “The Essentials: A Simple Faith Is Enough”

  1. “God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let MEN (emphasis mine) or devils do their worst!” George Whitefield

  2. Interestingly, I saw a re-post at Virtue on Line today ( with a different, but parallel formulation from an Anglican perspective based on the historic creeds of the Church universal.

  3. Steve Niccolls Says:

    Mary, thank you for the reminder of how simple the Christian faith can be. Now can you explain why I spent the big bucks in pursuit of a MDiv.?

  4. Steve Niccolls Says:

    Not sure why the last part did not appear on the last post about how I hope the sarcasm is apparent.

    • revmary Says:

      Ha ha, Steve. We’re talking here about saving faith, and that really is pretty simple. However, meeting Jesus opens the door to the riches of knowing God and so much of what God is up to. That is what you have spent years and thousands of dollars exploring, and you will not regret it 😀 Karl Barth’s answer to the question (paraphrasing here) of what is the most important theological concept you teach is a good reminder here: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” One does not want to lose sight of the essential core of our faith!

  5. Danny Griffith Says:

    You just reinforced what I already believe in my heart, that my simple faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient. Than God for his magnificent gift of Grace.

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