The Essentials


“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26 NIV).


God supernaturally revealed his truth to us through the scriptures. When we try to understand and explain those scriptures, the results are human doctrines. Doctrines themselves can be divided into two major categories: basic doctrines and distinctive doctrines. Basic doctrines are those truths that almost everyone gets from the Bible as they read it. Most Basic doctrines are taken for granted by every believer, and the Church demonstrates a good deal of unity in its interpretation of them.

Distinctive doctrines are where most of the differences occur. These are generally based on scriptures which are not as clear as the ones the basic doctrines are based on. So, it stands to reason that there will be differences.

I think that there are a few basic doctrines that are so emphasized in scripture, and so important to salvation, that to ignore them is to be unfaithful as a believer and as a church. These are the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is all of the essentials3basic doctrines upon which the church is practically unified. The tip is what must be visible, and what must remain visible. I call this tip of the iceberg the essentials.

Today’s text focuses on some of those essentials. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans as an introduction to himself and his message, because he planned to go to Rome and minister there. He wanted the Romans to know what he was all about. As a consequence of that desire, Paul did not waste a lot of time on trivial issues in the Epistle, so it is a good place to look for the things he felt were essential to the Christian faith.


Salvation by Grace is taught throughout the scriptures. Noah’s ark was a great symbol of this truth. God looked at a whole world and was justified in destroying it all, but he chose Noah and his family to be rescued from that destruction because of his grace.

Notice with me what Paul says about salvation in today’s text.

The word “salvation” is not found here, but there are a few other words used which clue us in that salvation is what Paul is talking about.


God is righteous, but Paul is not talking about that. He’s talking about righteousness from God, a gift of God’s righteousness imputed to everyone who is in Christ.

This is salvation by grace. It is important because Satan wants to keep people away from accepting Christ by telling them that they are not good enough.

None of us are good enough. If we had to earn our salvation, the ark would have been empty, and the cross would be useless.


Justification is another term for salvation. It is a legal term. It means that God declares us not guilty based on the fact that the penalty for our sin has been paid in full at the cross.

This is salvation by grace.


essentials7The term redemption comes from the slave market. A slave could be redeemed for a price, and then his owner could choose to set him free. The slavery we are redeemed from is the sinful nature, which leads to death. The redemption we have in Christ will make it possible for us to have eternal life.

This is salvation by grace.


This term that the NIV translates as sacrifice of atonement is the old word – propitiation. It describes a change in relationship. It was used in the Old Testament for the “mercy seat” where the Israelites sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. When God saw the blood on the mercy seat, he forgave the nation. They would no longer receive his wrath. Jesus’ blood at Calvary has appeased God’s wrath.

This is salvation by grace.


Some people think that Jesus was a great man, like other great men. But if we take the Bible seriously, and accept what Jesus said about himself, we no longer have that option. Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the father.

Jesus said he was going to die, be raised, ascend to heaven, and then return to reign over the universe eternally. If he was just a great man, then he was a liar. If he believed those things about himself, and they are not true, then he was a lunatic. But if he is what he said he is, and he did what he said he did, and he is going to do what he said he will do, then he is LORD, and should be worshiped as LORD.


Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because God’s righteousness comes through faith in him alone.

He’s not just one of the great men pointing the way to God. He is God’s one and only Son. He is the only one worthy to be called Lord.



Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because he is the only one who can set us free (24). The redemption is in Christ Jesus.

If God had a number of ways of redeeming us, then we could just choose the one that most suited us. But there is only one way out of the slavery of sin.

That’s why Jesus is the only one worthy to be served as Lord


Paul explained that Jesus is LORD because he is God’s only plan for salvation (25-26). God does not have a plan B. God is the one who made up the idea of salvation, so he has the right to set the rules. He is not obligated to accept all those other ways of salvation made up by the various religions of the world.

There are some things that don’t allow options. One plus one always equals two. H2O always equals water. You can’t live without air. God made salvation simple: Jesus is either Lord or he is not. If he is your Lord, you are saved.

If anyone or anything else is lord of your life, you are not saved.


The book of Hebrews calls the elementary Christian doctrine a combination of “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (6:1).

These two choices make up what we call conversion. It is the only way to get into the kingdom of God. You have to turn away from your sinful life in the past and trust God for your future.

It doesn’t matter if you are a theologian like Nicodemus, or a tax collector like Zaccheus. We all get into the kingdom the same way: repentance from sin, and faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross.


Notice that Paul said that God’s righteousness is apart from the law(21).

The law was God’s way of telling the Jews how to act so that they brought Glory to him. But it could not save them from their sins: not now, and not even in Old Testament times.

Conversion to Christ is necessary because no-one (not even the Jews) could be saved without it.


Paul says that in God’s sight there is no difference (22). Everyone comes into the family of God by conversion.

There are no spiritual grandchildren. Your parents can give you a lot of things, but they cannot give you a relationship with God.



God shows that he is fair to all now by making faith in Jesus the only means of salvation (26).

Have you made that choice. I made that choice when I was about ten years old in a church much like this one -only down in Florida. I walked down the aisle and I gave my life to Christ.

I realized that I could never be good enough to please God by myself, but Jesus has already done that.

Repent from your sins and trust Jesus as your savior today!


When you get serious and talk to people about God, what is it that shows through? What is the tip of your iceberg?


LORD, help us to focus on the things that really matter.

May we care enough about the bible and truth to have distinctive doctrines and know how to defend them.

But please help us to focus on the essentials that we must teach: things like salvation by grace, the Lordship of Christ, repentance and faith.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !

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