Sometimes in talking with someone, the conversation takes a sudden shift and I’m focusing on a different topic altogether. Later, I might even wonder how we got there from where we had been talking.
Christian theology is beset by rabbit trails of that sort. Although the Scriptures are printed in black and white (if you have a “red letter” edition highlighting Jesus’ words, also in red), there’s a lot of gray. For instance, where do the dinosaurs fit into the creation scenario? Or, what did Jesus really look like?
These “gray areas” might lead Christians to debate – even argue over – matters such as what form baptism should take, what version of the Bible to read, who qualifies for leadership roles, what type of music is most suitable for worship, or exactly when the end times will arrive and how they will affect those still living and breathing.
It’s not that such concerns are unimportant, but as the late Ted DeMoss used to say, we’ve got to keep “the main thing the main thing.” Listening to Alistair Begg on the radio recently, he said something similar: “In the Bible, the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”
Exactly what does that mean? I think DeMoss and Begg both were saying that although some elements of the Christian faith are disputable, and things in the Bible that are hard for even the most astute theologian to understand, there are plenty of truths and principles plainly expressed. Crystal clear. And those are the “main things” upon which God wants us to focus.
For instance, are there many ways to God? Is it “multiple choice,” depending on one’s preference or inclination? Jesus emphatically said no. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Such statements leave us with only three options: Either Jesus was lying; He was a lunatic, with a mentality comparable to a poached egg (as C.S. Lewis put it); or was telling the truth – He was God in the flesh.
What about earning eternal life on the basis of the good we do, weighed against the bad? That’s certainly one of the Bible’s main things, but it’s also very plain. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And Titus 3:5 affirms this reality, declaring, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Okay, what about striving to live for God after we become saved by faith through His grace? Are we saved by grace but sanctified by sweat? What Jesus told His followers 2,000 years ago remains true today: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Plenty of other “main things” are plain in the Scriptures, but one of the most important is the final thing Jesus commanded before His ascension to Heaven: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
More than anything, Jesus wants others to know Him, follow Him, and be fruitful in living out all that He and the Scriptures teach. As the apostle Paul wrote, asserting another main thing, “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).