October 8, 2017
I don’t have time for an attention-grabbing introduction this morning. You see, today we are talking about Christ Alone. And so, we could and perhaps should spend the rest of our lives on this topic. After all, Christ is the central figure of Scripture. And so, I struggled all week contemplating various introductions – but, how do you introduce the most glorious of all topics? Any attempts, I concluded, would fall woefully short. So let’s get to it.
Last week, we learned there were Five Solas which summarized the biblical and theological convictions of the Protestant Reformation. Remember they’re Latin; the word sola means only. The Five Solas of the Reformation, then, are Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated, they are Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and the Glory of God Alone. I found a great quote in a book this week that summarizes these truths:
“Reformation theology is often summarized by the five solas. Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) stands as the formal principle of the Reformation and the foundation of all theology. God’s glory alone (soli Deo Gloria) functions as a capstone for all Reformation theology, connecting its various parts to God’s one purpose for creating this world and humanity in it. In between these two solas, the other three emphasize that God has chosen and acted to save us by sovereign grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), which is grounded in and through Christ alone (solus Christus).” – Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone
That’s a great summary of the Five Solas, and it explains why the graphic in your bulletins and on the screen are designed the way they are – with Scripture as the foundation, the glory of God as the capstone, Christ at the center, surrounded by grace and faith. I hope by the time we’re done with this five-week series you’re dreaming about these Solas.
But why were the Reformers of the 16th Century so committed to these five foundational truths? Because the Church of the Middle Ages had somehow inserted itself in the place of, or at least alongside these onlys. So, it wasn’t Scripture alone, it was Scripture and the Church alone. It wasn’t Christ alone, it was Christ and the Church alone. And so on.
So, last week we began with the foundational principle – Scripture Alone. For the Reformers, that meant there was only one divinely inspired, and therefore inerrant authority over the church, and that is, the Word of God. The Bible becomes our supreme authority for faith and practice. It’s not our only authority, but it the only inspired and inerrant authority, and therefore the foundation upon which we build. All other authorities, to include the church, must submit to and be consistent with Scripture. Christianity is built on the eternal truths of Scripture.
Remember, the church, seen embodied in the Popes and Councils, said it, alongside the Bible, was also an inspired, inerrant authority. In fact, truth be told, since the Church produced the Bible, they were actually in authority over the Bible. The Church and the Church alone has the authority to interpret the Bible – to give its meaning. Which is actually why people were discouraged from having a Bible in their language and why those who translated the Bible in the language of the people were hunted down and burned at the stake. In fact, the Roman Church was always out to get John Wycliffe for, among other things, translating the Bible into English in the 14th Century. They were never able to catch him, so after he died, they found out where he was buried, dug up his bones, burned them, and sprinkled his ashes in a nearby river.
Now to be sure, the Church of the Middle Ages did not dismiss the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture – they just placed themselves alongside the Bible, actually over it, and therefore, see themselves as the supreme authority in the lives of believers. And so, when the Pope gives a Papal Audience at the Vatican, it looks like this. But, when I’m standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, it looks like this.
You’ll also remember I said the truths recovered by the Reformers are just as important today as they were then. That we would spend each week looking at the 16th Century context of the Sola, the biblical basis for the Sola, and the current and abiding truth of the Sola. I also said while the Reformers were battling the church and its misplaced self-importance, again, placing itself alongside Scripture, Christ, Grace, Faith and Glory – today, the attacks against these eternal truths, while still coming from the Roman Catholic Church, also come from culture.
So, last week we saw culture has denied the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Catch that – they have placed human reason and autonomy above Scripture. Further, they’ve become it’s judge, jury and executioner. The Roman Church never did that. That wasn’t the problem of the 16th Century. The church affirmed Scripture, they just elevated themselves to the level of Scripture. Today, there are those both inside and outside the church who have dismissed the Bible. And if you think about it, they have to. You see, to accept the authority of Scripture is to make yourself submissive to it and therefore accountable to its author, God. And in our rational, personal, autonomous freedom, we certainly don’t want to be accountable to anyone or anything – certainly not a Holy God, with whom we have to do. So it’s quite convenient to deny Scripture and then God altogether. To make ourselves our own self-determining authority.
Well, in preparation for this week’s Sola – Solus Christus, as I typically do, I typed it in the Google search engine. And, as usual, I visited a number of sites, to include Wikipedia. Now I know Wikipedia is not inspired and inerrant, but it can be helpful to read. So this week, as I typed in Solus Christus, Wikipedia had its entry. It was fascinating.
It started with a definition of the term, which wasn’t bad: Solus Christus, Christ alone, “is one of the five solas that summarize the Protestant Reformers’ basic belief that salvation is obtained through the atoning work of Christ alone, apart from individual works, and that Christ is the only mediator between God and man. It holds that salvation cannot be obtained without Christ.”
That’s pretty good. Then following my pattern, the next section was entitled “Biblical Basis of the Doctrine.” The author of the article inserted seven passages of Scripture which affirm Solus Christus. But, Wikipedia, in its infinite wisdom, as it often does, threw a flag, with this inserted warning:
“This article uncritically uses texts from within a religion or faith system without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them. Please help improve this article by adding references to reliable secondary sources, with multiple points of view.”
Do you see what Wikipedia does? This article has the audacity to appeal the Word of God as its source of authority – how dare it? The article doesn’t refer to more authoritative secondary sources – in other words, human sources, which critically analyze and thereby judge those sources from within the faith system. Please help people, the article needs help – more, the Bible needs help – and be sure to provide multiple points of view. Do you see where we are in our culture? The Bible is not to be trusted as a critical, reliable source of truth. I’m sure you’ve been told the same thing. For example, you cannot cite the Bible in your research papers. You must cite more credible sources.
Okay, so remembering our points for each of these five weeks:
- The 16th Century Context of Solus Christus
- The Biblical Basis of Solus Christus
- The 21st Century Context of Solus Christus
Let’s begin with a definition followed by the Reformers’ context which gave the need for Solus Christus. A simple but thorough definition of Christ Alone goes like this, “Christ alone is Lord and Savior, and therefore He alone is able to save, and His work is all-sufficient.” Said another way, Christ alone is exclusively the Son of God as to identity and therefore all-sufficient as to His work of atonement.
Now again, like last week, that may sound painfully obvious to us, but it was not so in the 16th Century. It was obscured. So while the Roman Church would affirm the divine identity of Jesus, they added to His work, that is, to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. And by doing so, the Reformers said they actually diminished the all-sufficiency of His work. They taught the work of Christ was important, in fact, indispensible, but, it was insufficient. The work of Christ was not enough – you had to do your part to gain salvation.
How did the Church do that? By adding a sacramental system for justification. The Church claimed to be the guardian and dispenser of God’s saving grace. In short, they said, salvation is not by grace through faith in Christ alone. Rather, salvation is to be earned through the observance of their sacraments. Here’s how it went. There were seven sacraments:
- Anointing the Sick (which includes Extreme Unction or Last Rites)
- Holy Orders
Now, I’m not going to define each of those, nor would the Church likely rank them, but I would suggest Baptism, the Eucharist, and Penance are most important, as they deal primarily with sin and justification. Follow this:
At baptism, typically as a baby, the guilt and consequences of your original sin – the fact that you are born a sinner – are washed away. You are actually regenerated. That’s great, I suppose. But there’s a problem. As we grow up, we still sin. And those sins have to be dealt with. No problem. That’s what the Eucharist and Penance are for. First, the Eucharist or Communion during the Mass, is how you receive the body and blood of Christ and are thereby sanctified. Remember last week I told you the Roman Church still teaches transubstantiation – that is, when the priest blesses the bread and the cup, the elements literally turn into the body and blood of Christ, making each Mass a re-sacrifice of Christ. Which is great, since you likely sinned since the last Mass.
Not only that, but the sacrament of Penance also deals with ongoing sin. Penance is made of three parts: contrition (that is, feeling sorry for your sin), confession (to a priest), and satisfaction. Satisfaction are works or duties assigned by the priest, depending on the severity of your sin, by which actions you receive absolution – that is, the removal of the guilt of your sin.
Now, of course, no one, besides saints, can adequately do enough penance – to include works of satisfaction, to skip temporal punishment. Your sin still clings to you, so you’ll have to spend time in purgatory to purge the remaining pollution of your sin. Yes, Christ, through His cross work will provide eternal salvation for you, but it’s up to you to purge the dross of remaining sin.
All of this led to an important distinction. The Catholic Church taught a system of infused grace. What do I mean? They said Christ, by His death, provided grace for you. And through the sacraments by which you cooperate with Christ, you receive infused grace. Think of it as a bank account. Every time you observe the sacraments, you get a deposit of grace. But, every time you sin, you lose grace – big withdrawals. At the end of life, your remaining balance of grace determines your time in purgatory. In the end, you’re earning grace.
We’ll talk about that more when we get to Grace Alone and Faith Alone, but the Reformers came along and said no. This sacramental system diminishes the full sufficiency of the work of Christ. There is nothing to be added to the grace He gives. First of all, five of those sacraments as sacraments, can’t even be found in Scripture. And second, while baptism and the Lord’s Supper may be a means of sanctifying grace – they disagreed on that – they agreed they were not the means of justifying grace. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
In 1520, after the posting of the 95 Theses and before the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther wrote three important works: To The Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. The middle one was a scathing critique of the Roman sacramental system – accusing the abusive system of holding the church in captivity. In fact, while he was writing this work, Pope Leo X was writing his papal bull, Exsurge Domine, in which he was condemning Luther’s works as heretical and giving Luther 60 days to recant, or be excommunicated. So, while the Pope was judging Luther, Luther was at the same time judging the sacramental system. He condemned it. By the way, the 60 days came and went. On the 60th day, Luther publicly burned the papal bull. I guess that means he didn’t recant.
All that brings us to, what is the biblical basis for this teaching that salvation is to be found only in Christ? Let me give you a few obvious ones:
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” You come to God through Me.
Acts 4:10-12 – “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
I Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Meaning, there is only one to whom we confess our sins and find forgiveness, and that is through Jesus Christ. This is the truth of Solus Christus.
The book of Hebrews is filled with the truth that Jesus is not only better than anyone or anything, but the only way through whom our sins can be atoned. We’ll be studying Hebrews after Mark, so I’ll save it until then. The book of Galatians, which I’m sure many Protestant churches are studying this month, is clear that nothing can be added to Christ. To add anything to Christ is to make Him of no value.
The Reformers were clear to say that Jesus alone is our Prophet, Priest and King. Meaning, Christ is the Prophet of whom Moses spoke, who alone brings us the full and final revelation of God. He is the only High Priest who makes intercession for His people through His sacrifice. And He is the only King – the ultimate authority to whom we owe our sole allegiance.
Earlier, I suggested there was a critical distinction to be made between the Roman Church and the Reformers and their theology. Whereas the Roman Church says we receive the infused righteousness of Christ through our observance of the sacraments, and thereby earn grace, the Reformers said no, we receive the imputed righteousness of Christ as a free gift of His grace. Paul makes it clear we are counted righteous in Christ. Martin Luther called it the great exchange – Jesus gets our sin, we get His righteousness by which we are declared, counted righteous before God. Right now – by simple faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t have to jump through sacramental hoops in order to be saved.
The Reformation recovered the exclusive identity and full sufficiency of Christ. That brings us lastly to, what about today? Is Solus Christus still true and needed today? Now, more than ever, for the following reasons:
- First, never has the person or identity of Jesus been more attacked – both inside and outside the church. Again, the Roman Church never denied the deity of Christ. By their sacramental system, they denied the sufficiency of His work, but never His divine Sonship. We, however, have people all over who deny His deity. Listen carefully – your eternal destiny lies in a proper confession of Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – God in the flesh.
Cults always deny the person or work of Christ. For example, some deny His deity in a couple of ways. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny His essential deity. That is, they say He was not God like the Father is God. Mormons deny His exclusive deity. That is, at the heart of Mormonism, everyone who follows the teachings of the so-called Church of Latter Saints will one day be a god like Jesus. (God Makers)
This is not unlike false world religions. Islam, for example, denies the essential deity of Jesus – they say was a good prophet, but not the Son of God. Hinduism and Buddhism denies the exclusive deity of Jesus, because to follow their teachings results in followers being absorbed into the divine.
But bringing it more close to home, to us. The Enlightenment, the age of reason, followed by Liberalism followed by modernism followed by postmodernism denies both the exclusive identity and sufficient work of Jesus. That is, they deny His deity – that’s untenable – and they deny His miraculous works, to include both His miracles and His atoning work since they deny His resurrection. Many will say He was a good man, one whose teaching changed the world – one whose moral teaching we should follow. But, He was neither the divine Son of God, nor was His work in anyway, atoning.
- Second, and perhaps a greater challenge to the church – one I’ve been suggesting is the greatest threat to the church for over 20 years – is pluralism.
Listen carefully. The Roman Church never said Jesus was unnecessary for salvation. They just added to simple faith in Christ. But pluralism is quite different. Pluralism is the teaching that there is more than one way to heaven. That trust in any belief system – any religion – will get you there. That there is truth in all faiths, and we shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that Jesus is the only way. He may be a way, but He is not the one and only way. In other words, Jesus is unnecessary for salvation. Believe sincerely in Buddha or Mohammed or whatever you want, and you’ll be fine. I have several problems with that thinking:
- First, it makes Jesus a liar, or at least mistaken. It makes the writers of Scripture liars, deluded or mistaken. Oh, but that’s okay, because we’ve denied the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture anyway. People understand that to accept the Bible as God’s Word is to make Jesus exclusive. You say, that sounds arrogant – no, that’s Christian. Jesus is the one who said He alone is the way to the Father – that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Later, in John 17, He said this is eternal life – that people may know the only true God and the One God sent, His Son Jesus Christ.
C. S. Lewis addressed this famously in his work, Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
- Second, such teaching makes missions – the preaching of the gospel around the world – unnecessary. What a wasted life, let’s bring our missionaries home. Worse than that, if people can make it apart from faith in Jesus, it seems to me we make people culpable by preaching to them. It would seem better to let them remain in blissful ignorance. Why in the world would Jesus tell His disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth if people can get there without the gospel?
- Third, as I already stated, if people can get to heaven apart from Jesus, than ultimately His cross was nice, but altogether unnecessary. Why would Jesus have to die, taking the sins of the world in His body on the cross, to be raised again the third day, if such suffering and sacrifice was not needed?
Listen, the truth of Solus Christus is, Christ alone is not only sufficient for salvation, Christ alone is necessary for salvation. One final thought as I close. Martin Luther said, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.” Jesus plus nothing is salvation.
When you ask many today, even in churches, where will you go when you die, some say something like, heaven, I hope. When you then ask why, you’ll get all kinds of answers. Well, I try to be a good person. I’m good to other people. I follow the golden rule. I’m better than a lot of people, and certainly not as bad as most. As if God grades on the curve.
Church people will even give you spiritual answers, I try to go to church and pray and read my Bible. If you follow those answers with, what about the gospel? That is, what about who Jesus is and what He did for you when He died on the cross, as a substitute, bearing your sins in His body on the cross? And not only that, He was raised again the third day, as proof that God had accepted His sacrifice. What about the gospel? Often, I’ve had people say, well yeah, that, too. I want to suggest to you that Jesus will not be, that too. He is either everything, or He is nothing. It is either Christ alone, or no Christ at all.
Why will you go to heaven when you die? Because of Christ and His finished work alone. Which means, the strength of your salvation is not dependent on the strength of your faith. It is found in the strength of the One believed. So, you can stop asking yourself the question – did I believe enough? Is my faith strong enough? Did I do it right? Your salvation is dependent not on the strength of your faith, not on doing it right – it is based on Him doing it right – and He did. Christ alone.