Below is my notes/outline of my very first sermon/sermonette, preached in front of 50 or so 12-18 year olds during my church’s youth camp. Enjoy.
It is a pleasure to be speaking in front of all of you today. This is my first right and proper “speaking engagement,” so please excuse me if I’m a bit nervous. But in keeping with the theme for this week’s camp, which is, as you may have noticed, “Fusion,” I wanted to discuss one aspect of the question, “What is it that fuses us together as Christians?” What keeps us unified?
One very clear answer from Paul is that it is the Holy Spirit that unifies us and keeps us together. Consider this teaching from 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul speaks of the diversity of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” If, indeed, the Spirit dwells in us, then we are unified as the body of Christ, the visible representation of his kingdom here on earth.
Consider further this passage from Ephesians 4, which ties in to the aspect that I wish to speak about: “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.”
I want to echo Paul’s point. We as Christians are unified in the Spirit and in the body, but also in our common confession as Christians; basically, when it comes to the important stuff, we all believe the same things, and this is what unifies us.
So what is it that Christians have always believed? I want to outline a few key beliefs that unify us as Christians, that speak of our common salvation, as stated by Jude.
Let us first start with God.
The first assertion we must make is that yes, God exists. Those who deny his existence are suppressing the knowledge that they have of him (Romans 1:20). But who is this God. Well, We believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the doctrine that naturally follows from two key points, demonstrated clearly throughout Scripture:
- There is only one true God.
- There are three divine persons who each possess the fullness of that God’s being.
To defend statement number one, we could go back to Deuteronomy 6, with the Shema, which proclaims, “Shema, Yisrael! YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad!” or “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One.” There is only one God. This is an assertion of monotheism, a word which simply means, “belief in only one God.”
However, at the same time, throughout the Bible we are told that there are three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that each of these divine persons are co-equal and co-eternal; none of them is greater than the other, and none of them ever came into existence apart from the others – God has always existed.
Combine these two realities and you’re left with the doctrine of the Trinity: within the one being of God there exists eternally three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This doctrine unites us as believers, but it also separates us from (again) groups like the JWs, the Mormons, and even the Oneness Pentecostals. The Oneness Pentecostals hold to an error called Modalism, which asserts that instead of there being one God in three distinct persons, there is only one being of God and one divine person, who is sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. It is an easy error to make, but is not biblical.
This ties in to the central belief that Jesus is God, made flesh; that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The eternal God of all creation entered into that creation in the person of Jesus Christ; he humbled himself mightily, not thinking that his divinity was something to be held on to; and being thus humbled, he died a horrible death on a cross for our sins. Jesus’ divinity is part and parcel of his atoning sacrifice (which I’ll get to in a moment). He is the Messiah (contrary to what the Jews and Muslims claim).
This doctrine is central to the Christian faith; it separates us from non-Christian pretenders like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And this is mightily important and something that you should keep in mind: each of these doctrines unifies Christians with other Christians, but they also divide us from groups who claim to be Christian, but who are really sub-Christian, or less than Christian.
Now we move to man.
Man is inherently sinful. We have a sin nature, according to the Bible, that puts us on a road to hell from the day we are born. In Ephesians 2, we find Paul’s words, that we are dead in trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath. This, of course, is why Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was so important; he paid the price for our sins and lived the life we could never live, so that when we believe, his righteousness is given to us, and our sinfulness to him. This is the great exchange, laid out in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is the very heart of the gospel itself. The doctrine of justification by faith, which states that a man is made righteous before God not by his own doing, but by having faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. All Christian groups believe that a man must have faith in order to be saved, but some, like the Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox, add works to that faith, mingling the two together. This is dangerously unbiblical.
Rather, we find asserted throughout Scripture that it is by faith that a man is justified. In Romans 10:10, it says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Earlier, in Romans 3 and 4, Paul argued at length that a man is justified only by faith, and not by works of the Law (Romans 3:28). Justification by faith became the central controversy surrounding the Protestant Reformation, with Rome on the one hand proclaiming that justification is accomplished by faith and works, and Martin Luther on the other hand proclaiming that justification is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. He asserted with Paul that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith: and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.”
When we preach the gospel, we preach that people must repent of their sin and put their faith and trust in Jesus for salvation. That is what must be done to be justified, to be made righteous, in God’s sight. If you take away anything today, I want it to be this. This is the heart of the Christian message, that Jesus died to save sinners.
We also, I think, need to keep the fundamentals of our faith before our eyes at all times. There are many other doctrines that are important to the Christian faith that I don’t have time to go over, but these are what I thought are the most important ones. And we must remember that many people may claim to be Christians, but if they don’t believe what I’ve said here, which has been believed by Christians down through the ages, then they need to be corrected. Only after loving correction has been offered and received can we have unity with them.
Our unity in the Spirit is driven by our beliefs. I hope I’ve shown that. We are fused together by our “common salvation” as found in the Scripture. Take these things to heart; believe them. But don’t just take my word for it. Be like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things the Apostles were telling them was so.