By Mike Miller
This time of year, as we are greeted once again by the old familiar story of the birth of Christ, it is important to guard our hearts to make sure we don’t lose the wonder of the incarnation. In order to hold on to that wonder (or recapture it), we need to take time to consider what makes it so wonderful in the first place. While I could write volumes, let’s just consider one aspect: the virgin birth.
The Bible teaches that Mary was a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her and miraculously impregnated her with the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). Of course, as with any other biblical doctrine, many have rejected the belief in the virgin birth, and many have downplayed its importance. This is why some have asked if we need to believe in the virgin birth to be saved.
I’d like to start generally and then hone in on that particular question. What I mean is that instead of asking what a person needs to believe to be saved, let’s first ask what we need to tell people in order to share the Gospel. You see, I am of the conviction that much of what is passed off as “gospel” today is actually either less than or more than the Gospel (and really, when we add to the Gospel, we end up taking away from it–stay tuned).
First, what are some obvious ways that what is often proclaimed is not enough? How about statements like, “All you gotta do is believe in Jesus,” or “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” Those statements cause me to ask things like, “What Jesus?” and “What about repentance?” and “Why do people even need Jesus?” You see, so often, any discussion of who Jesus is and what He did is absent. Also absent is a confrontation of sin as rendering us under the wrath and just condemnation of God. Surely there must be more to the Gospel than “Believe in Jesus.”
At the other end of the spectrum, however, is the addition of information. This can come in the form of doctrines that one must believe. For example, I’ve been told that I am not a Christian because of my particular view on the end times. Some would also lump beliefs about creation (i.e., age of the earth issues) or Bible translations (KJV-onlyism) into necessary beliefs for salvation.
Others, however, are moralists. They would proclaim faith in Jesus as a necessity–even being doctrinally right about sin, Jesus, and the atonement. But when asked what it takes to be a Christian, they say things like, “You have to believe in Jesus and be baptized,” or “You have to believe and Jesus and keep the sacraments,” or “You have to believe in Jesus and go to church (or read your Bible, or whatever).” That is moralism–not the Gospel. Moralism is all about our performance and obedience, but the Gospel is all about the performance and obedience of Jesus Christ.
I hope you can see how adding requirements to the Gospel is really in essence taking away from the Gospel. When anything is added, something is detracted from the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Either Jesus has done everything necessary to secure our salvation, or He has not. This is why we need to make sure that we share everything necessary and not anything more when presenting the Gospel.
So, back to the question as to whether belief in the virgin birth is necessary for salvation. But I defer again, because I want to explain the essential elements of the Gospel.
First is the truth that God made us, and we are accountable to Him. We cannot see our need for salvation until we realize that we are accountable to our Creator–that we will stand before Him in judgment.
Second is the truth that sin is our problem. Until we acknowledge that we are sinful, separated from God, under His just condemnation, and unable to do anything about it, we cannot be saved. If we don’t see ourselves as sinners in need of a savior, we are still having some amount of faith in ourselves.
Third is the truth that God has provided the only solution to our problem–Jesus Christ. We must believe that Jesus Christ is both human and divine. If He is not God, then He is unable to save us. If He is not human, then He is not able to overcome real temptation and keep the law perfectly on our behalf. But as a man, He fulfilled the law for us so that He can impute His righteousness to us. As God, He is the risen King who is Savior of all who believe.
Fourth is the truth that we can be included in God’s plan for salvation by repenting of our sin and placing our faith in the finished work of Christ alone for our salvation.
I don’t think that we have the Gospel without any of those four elements (remember, the Gospel is “good news”–not an action, like saying a prayer). This is the raw information that must be imparted, and this is the minimum of what must be believed.
But what about the virgin birth? The virgin birth is actually part of number three above. Without the virgin birth, Jesus is not both God and man. In telling others about Jesus Christ, we must tell them He was born of a virgin. Without that belief, there is no Gospel, and there is no salvation.
Now, does everyone understand the virgin birth when they are saved? No. Like someone said this recently (we were discussing this), “When I came to Christ at age 12, I didn’t understand the virgin birth.” I asked, “But had you heard it, and did you believe it?” “Of course,” was the answer. So, it’s not a matter of understanding it, but believing it. To deny the virgin birth is, in essence, to deny the Gospel, and salvation comes by grace through faith. Without believing the Gospel, there is no salvation.
Therefore, after a very long answer to a short question, if a person denies the virgin birth, he cannot be saved.