I have often pondered the question of how much theological error one can hold and still be a Christian. Salvation cannot be an easy thing (in the sense of believing and living however we want and still be saved) for we are told the way is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). When asked a question of the particulars of worship Jesus answered the woman at the well that we are to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, 24). The conclusion I have come to is that any doctrinal error that perverts the worship of God is salvation-effecting. One must worship God in truth – as he truly is – in order to be saved.
The first essential in worshiping God in truth is worshiping as he is. This plays out in many ways. The worship of God is distorted when you worship an idol instead of the one true God. An idol may take a physical form, for example a statue or picture, or it may take the form of self-worship, or the worship of money or things or any other person other that God.
John 1:1 and 14 says that Jesus Christ is God himself in the flesh. Therefore one must worship God in the person of Jesus Christ. To claim to worship God but deny the deity of Jesus Christ is to deny God. To know Jesus Christ is to know God (John 14:7).
Theologically Christ is referred to as the second Person in the Trinity (God the Father being the first). The third Person is the Holy Spirit. The deity of the Holy Spirit can be illustrated for example in Acts 5:3, 4, where lying to the Holy Spirit is said to be lying to God himself. To know the Holy Spirit is also to know God. To deny any of the persons in the Trinity, the Father, Son or Holy Spirit is to deny part of who God is. In doing this you end up worshiping a God distinct from the God of the Bible, and are thus cannot be worshiping God in truth.
Worshiping God as he is also involves worshiping him as his personality says he is. If your idea of what God is like is distorted – if you think he is a cruel God, or else a complacent God who doesn’t really care what you do, or if you treat him like a genie in a bottle who answers your every wish, or anything of this sort – then your worship of God will not be in truth.
Secondly, one must worship God in truth by understanding the way to be saved. Salvation comes through no one else but Jesus Christ. We are told that the only name under heaven by which we must be saved is the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). The Lord says that he is the truth and that no one comes to God except through him (John 14:6). You are not saved by good works but by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). At the same time, your faith must show itself in the way you live (James 2:14-26), because that is how it is displayed that there has been an actual saving change in your life. Neither can you be saved by following any other religion. There is only one way to the heaven, and it is through Jesus Christ (John 4:12; Acts 4:12).
Thirdly, worshiping God in truth involves receiving salvation God’s way through the method God provided. John 3:3 says that we must be born again. This is a spiritual rebirth that puts to death the sinful nature and makes us new in Christ Jesus. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our born-again experience is possible only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ died on the cross to put to death the sinful nature, and he rose again from the grave to claim victory over it. If Christ has stayed dead there would still be no salvation. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Because Christ is risen from the grave, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Finally, worshiping God in truth cannot be done unless we affirm the infallibility of his Word, the Holy Bible. The Scriptures are God-breathed, completely inspired by God and thus completely trustworthy (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12). If you do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, you cannot trust anything else you think you know about him. You have then traded God as he has revealed himself through Scripture for a false god of your own making. You have also then traded the message of salvation for your own methods. You can no longer know God or worship him for who he is and what he’s done.
So here we have the essentials of Christian doctrine. Every biblical doctrine is connected with these three things. Without believing these you cannot say you are truly worshiping God or are truly saved:
1. The nature of God – in his personality and attributes and his existence as a Trinity
2. The nature of salvation – that we cannot be saved unless we are born again, having died to the sinful nature and been made alive in Christ; that Christ died to pay the price for our sin because we cannot save ourselves or die to sin under our own power; and that he rose from the dead to conquer the grave
3. The nature of the Bible – that the Bible is the inspired, perfect and complete Word of God; if you don’t believe what the Bible says, you can know nothing of the first two points or anything else connected to them.