Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.
Here is a pivotal gospel statement in the entire teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the means by which Jesus says that true belief is distinguished from false belief. He teaches at the Feast of Tabernacles six months prior to His death, at which hundreds of thousands would attend.
Who are Jesus' true disciples? Who actually believes in Him? They are those who continue in His Word. He is their Lord, they are His servants. They deny themselves to follow Him. Earlier in the same setting, Jesus said (8:12):
I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
How is it someone follows Jesus? He does that by continuing in Jesus' Word. That is the example of Jesus Himself, as read in two verses previous to the pivotal text:
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
Jesus always did those things that pleased the Father, so anyone who was following Jesus would be doing always those things that pleased the Father.
The fundamentals or the essentials are not all there is to always pleasing the Father. Jesus never hinted at anything else. You can work your way through John and see this all over, but never is it more apparent than in the upper room in John 14, when Jesus said the following verses 15, 21, and 24:
If ye love me, keep my commandments. . . . He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. . . . He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.
Who determines what is essential and non-essential? When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, in the model prayer, He said to pray that the will of the Father would be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Do they sort through the essentials and non-essentials in heaven? Do they rank commandments in heaven?
The sort of teaching above isn't incidental or some kind of side teaching. It's all over the gospels and in the epistles. John repeats this type of teaching in his epistles again and again. A test of faith is whether someone will do everything that the Word of God teaches and it will not be burdensome to the one who is born of God. He will love it.
The essential and non-essential teaching cheapens the grace of God. Actually, it isn't even the grace of God, because the grace of God teaches someone to live righteously. Righteousness isn't reducing the teachings of scripture to essentials and keeping those. That is legalism. When someone in the flesh cannot keep everything God says, he ranks the commands based upon his ability to keep them. He can't keep them all, so he must reduce them to what he says is important. Jesus isn't Lord anymore in that system, and that is the system of essentials and non-essentials.
I understand that those advocate for the triage and the fundamentals and the essentials and the first order teachings will argue against what I am saying they are doing. It sounds horrible. It is what they are doing though. This is not the gospel. It is a false gospel that attempts to hold together coalitions and crowds by diminishing the gospel to something ordered by men and not God.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 7:21:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
This wasn't all. He ended the Sermon with this account in 7:24-27:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
The essential and non-essential teaching encourages apostasy. It comforts false profession. It alleviates the distinction between true and false belief. It lends itself toward turning people into twice the children of hell they once were, and all in the name of the gospel.