“You’re so arrogant! How can you think that your lived experience and beliefs are the only ones that are right?” she sneered. “Do you not realize how many different views there are within Christianity alone? Just because you believe something doesn’t make it right.”
I went to Bible college with this girl.
These words weren’t hurled at me but at another Bible college graduate who claimed that true Christians believe in the perfection of Jesus. As an ex-Christian joined in on the argument, the timid Christian was shamed into believing and admitting she was wrong and that perhaps she should be more open-minded and willing to hear other perspectives.
There are many variations of beliefs within Christianity. There are many, many differences, experiences, and opinions. But does that mean we can’t be certain about anything that we believe? Is it truly prideful to be certain on any part of what we believe?
Before we answer this question, we first need to consider theological triage. Albert Mohler explains that there are three different levels of theology: primary issues, secondary issues, and tertiary issues.1
He defines primary issues as the “doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.”
On secondary issues, he explains that “[these] doctrines [are] distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.” And finally, tertiary issues “are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.”
With this as our backdrop, let’s ask again: Can Christians be certain of what they believe? On secondary and tertiary issues, it’s not as clear. We can love and learn from each other, and we can have humility and patience with one another because when Christ returns to bring us to our eternal home, we will all be there together. We can welcome and support one another as fellow siblings in Christ. What unites us is our shared faith in the same gospel and worship of the same God.
Certain on What Is Certain
But can Christians be certain of anything they believe? Yes—all that God has revealed about himself and the gospel. The Bible is clear: anything contrary to the gospel is heresy, and without the gospel a person can’t be saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5–6). Paul had strong words for those who twisted the gospel:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.Galatians 1:6-9
And what is this gospel? The Bible tells us over and over again: Christ lived the perfect life that we couldn’t and died for our sins. By his death he endured the wrath of God meant for us, and by his resurrection we will rise to eternal life. Paul lays it out clearly in Romans:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Romans 5:6-11
This gospel and the God who saves us are clearly portrayed to us in the Bible. While some things like baptism, the end times, what music and instruments we use for worship, and the like can be a bit muddy, the gospel and the character of God are plain. As the Westminster Confession of Faith declares, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”2
Real Pride and Humility
Beloved, it’s not prideful to cling to the clear truths of Scripture. Consider the schoolroom: If a student declared that two and two make five, it’s not prideful for the teacher to correct her student that the right answer is four. It’s actually a kindness to the child, because now they know the true answer. How much greater of a kindness is it for believers to tell nonbelievers that Christ, and Christ alone, is their only salvation? Chesterton comments with wit on this wrong understanding of pride and humility:
But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason.3G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Pride is when we are overly confident in ourselves, to the point of being blind to our faults. Humility is when we recognize both our weaknesses and strengths but give the glory to God for them. Remaining steadfast in the plain teachings of Scripture isn’t confidence in ourselves and our knowledge, but confidence in our God who declared them to be true and who safeguarded them thousands of years from error. It’s never prideful to hope without faltering in our God—it’s a fruit of humility. Pride comes in when we bolster ourselves in our ability to perceive the truth and the belief that we could never be wrong. Yet as believers we aren’t even confident in our finding of knowledge, because we know that only God supplies it by the Holy Spirit.
What has been made clear as absolute truth we should have no shame in declaring its reality in the face of heresy and opposition. We may be bullied, gaslighted, and manipulated when we do—told that we’re arrogant, blind, and stuck in our ways. Yet the truth remains the same: Jesus Christ declares himself as the way, the truth, and the life, and no one can be saved except through him (John 14:6). And if we get that gospel wrong, we’re set on a path of destruction.
When others hurl accusations of arrogance for your courage in standing firm on the clear truths of Scripture, remember your Savior. He experienced the greatest suffering at the hands of those who despised the truth, and he promises to not only equip you in the face of persecution (John 14:26) but to remain faithfully by your side (John 16:33).
1 R. Albert Mohler, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, July 12, 2005), https://albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity.
2 WCF 1.7
3 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2022), 39.
Photo Credit: _emilee_carpenter_
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments.