Pastor Scott Andrews | October 30, 2022
A few weeks ago, I mentioned recent survey results. And the results were startling. Not because we live in an increasingly secular or non-Christian culture – those kinds of unbiblical survey results are expected. But these surveys were conducted among the churched and the unchurched. More, in American culture at large and those professing to be evangelical Christians. I suppose given the downward spiral of our country we should expect some impact of the culture on the church. We wish it was the other way around – that the church would impact the culture – but the opposite is glaringly apparent.
One of the surveys has been conducted by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research every other year since 2014 which shows this decline. Now, it’s obvious the survey questions deal with some contemporary issues. And significant shifts in contemporary culture have had a demonstrable effect on the church. Consider the following evangelical results (I’m not going to address these today – just by way of illustrating the culture’s impact on the church):
- The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true. 26% of evangelicals agreed with that statement – which is almost double what it was just two years ago. By the way, one of the tenants of evangelicalism is the inerrancy of Scripture – so 26% don’t meet the qualification to be called evangelical.
- Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth. 38% of evangelicals agreed – again, up 15 percent from two years ago.
- This one is interesting: Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God. The old tabula rosa or blank slate, I guess. 65% of evangelicals – 2 of 3 – agreed.
- Gender identity is a matter of choice. Again, obviously a contemporary issue – but 37% of evangelicals agreed – more than one in three said yep, gender is not tied to biology – to God’s creation of humanity as male and female, but to freedom of choice.
- Another hot topic today: The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today. 28% of evangelicals agreed – up more than double from two years ago. Do you see how culture is impacting the church?
- There were some encouraging results – 94% agreed that sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin, and 91% agreed abortion is a sin.
But again, I’m not going to talk about those today. To be clear, I do believe the Bible has some clear teaching on those topics, but not for today. There were a couple other shocking results that grabbed my attention that I do want to address. Are you ready? These two were the most distressing to me:
God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Up 14% from two years ago – 56% of evangelicals agreed. Let me say at this point, if you agree with that statement, you do not understand the gospel. Which leads to the next one.
Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God. 43% of evangelicals agreed.
These are stunning statistics and attack the very foundation of the Christian faith. Why do I bring this to your attention today, October 30? Because tomorrow is October 31, a most important day in church history – the anniversary of the start, if you will, of the Protestant Reformation. It was 505 years ago on this date that a 33-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. The door was the community bulletin board – but the document was written in Latin as an invitation to his academic colleagues – pastors, monks, professors – to a debate. To discuss some of the teachings of the church. But someone got a copy of the Theses, translated it into German, printed it on Gutenberg’s new invention called the printing press, and Luther was an overnight sensation.
You see, in the document, he was calling into question a number of teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church – most notably, the abuse of the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was an official church document you could purchase to reduce yours – and later others like deceased parents – reduce your or their stay in purgatory. You see, while sins committed in time could be forgiven by the work of Christ in eternity, the sinner still needed to be purged of his sin through purgatory’s purging fires. For those declared saints by the church, they could bypass purgatory and ascend straight to the glories of heaven. But for the average sinner like you and me, purgatory could last millions of years.
It was an amazing invention of the church – without biblical support, of course – but was quite the money maker for the church. Luther would later question and dismiss many false teachings of the Middle Ages church. But it was this event on October 31, 1517, that eventually launched all of Europe into this protest of church abuses – now called the Protestant Reformation.
I’ve shared this with you before, but the motto of the Reformation was Post Tenebras Lux – After Darkness Light. There were five central biblical and theological convictions of the Reformers call the Five Solas of the Reformation. They, too, are in Latin, and the word sola means only or alone. The Five Solas were:
Sola Deo Gloria
God’s Glory Alone
Why were these the central convictions of the Reformers like Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Theodore Beza and a host of others? Because, frankly, the church had lost its way. It was no longer that salvation or justification was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as found in Scripture alone to the glory of God alone. In fact, Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary once wrote, “We must always remember that what was at stake in the Reformation was nothing less than the authority of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And I want to suggest that the church today, unduly impacted by the culture, is losing its way. Why? Well, we don’t want to be seen as different or odd or strange or old-fashioned or exclusive or out of touch. Acceptance by the culture has become supremely important. They killed Jesus for being out of touch with culture. Well, as survey after survey reveals, even the evangelical church no longer holds to the Five Solas. Many no longer believe:
Scripture Alone – that is, many in the church today no longer hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. As a result, many churches have become concerts or shows or pep rallies or motivational talks. Why, the Scripture is full of outdated morals and ancient myths that are no longer true nor applicable.
Many in the church today no longer believe in grace alone through faith alone. Talk to the average church goer, and their ticket to heaven, is not by God’s unmerited favor through simple faith in the gospel – most think themselves basically good – certainly better than the average – and God will receive them into heaven because they’re just good. They deserve it – they’ve earned it. Besides, God would never send people to eternal torment in hell anyway. That’s the stuff of Dante’s Inferno – we don’t believe that.
And most concerning, and what I want to address today, is, as the surveys reveal, about half of so-called evangelicals no longer believe in Christ alone. After all, God accepts the worship of all religions – not just Christianity. And besides, Jesus was just a good teacher, but He was neither the Son of God, nor God the Son. Satan’s most dreadful attacks against Christianity have come, yes, against the truth and faithfulness of Scripture, against the biblical understanding of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but most egregiously against the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ alone.
A simple but good definition of Christ Alone goes like this, “Christ alone is Lord and Savior, and therefore He alone is able to save, and His work [alone] is all-sufficient.” Another said it this way, “Christ alone is exclusively the Son of God as to identity and therefore all-sufficient as to His work of atonement.” Alistair Begg said it this way, “There is no other Savior than Jesus, because there is no other person who is qualified to save.”
Now, let’s take a quick aside and remember the church context in the 16th Century bringing about the Reformation. You see, while the Roman Church would affirm the deity of Jesus – which puts them ahead of about half the evangelical church – they added to His work, that is, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. And by doing so, the Reformers rightly said they diminished the all-sufficiency of His work. Christ’s work is fine, as far as it goes, but it needs more. The church actually taught that while the work of Christ was important, in fact, indispensable, it was insufficient. You need to add to the work of Jesus.
How did they do that? They added a sacramental system by which you could earn grace. In short, they said salvation is not by grace through faith in Christ alone. Oh no – rather, salvation is to be earned through the observance of the sacraments – of which there were seven:
- Anointing the Sick (which includes 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 with sin and salvation. So, follow this briefly:
The church taught that at baptism, typically as a baby, the guilt and consequences of your original sin – the fact that you are born a sinner – contra the 65% that say we are born innocent – the consequences of being born a sinner are washed away at baptism. 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 thereby receive grace. You see, 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. You may know that as transubstantiation.
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 (assigned by the priest). Satisfaction – don’t miss this – are works assigned by the priest depending on the severity of the sin by which actions you receive absolution – that is, the removal of the guilt of your sin. What happens if you don’t confess every sin, or forget some? That’s the problem.
You see, no one except saints can adequately do enough penance 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 will provide eternal salvation for you eventually, but it’s up to you to purge the pollution of your sin.
All this led to an important distinction – and ultimately the Protestant Reformation. The 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 a sacrament, you get a deposit of grace. But every time you sin, you lose grace – a big withdrawal. At the end of your life, your remaining balance of grace determines your time in purgatory. So, in the end, you are earning grace.
The Reformers said no. This system diminishes the full sufficiency of the work of Christ. There is nothing, they said, to be added to the grace He gives. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
So, that was the church context for the Reformation and the Five Solas – especially Christ alone. But, what is the biblical basis for the teaching that salvation is only to be found in Christ? And that Christ is indeed the divine Son of God? And that, as such, His work is all-sufficient? Let me give you a few obvious passages:
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.” Don’t miss that – does God accept the worship of any religion? Doesn’t sound like it.
Acts 4:10-12 – “let it be known to all of you and all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by that name this man stands 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 is given among men by which we must be saved.”
1 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. This is the truth of Solus Christus. As Alister Begg says, we must “realize how revolutionary such a notion is, one way through Jesus, one mediator in Jesus, and one name, the name of Jesus” by which we must be saved. The truth of the Christian faith all centers on the person and work of Jesus.
Earlier I suggested there is a critical distinction to be made between the Roman Church and the Reformation Church of the Middle Ages. Whereas the Roman Church said and 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. We are counted righteous in Christ. Luther called it the Great Exchange – Jesus takes our sin, we get His righteousness by which we are declared and counted right before God. Simul Justus et Peccator – at the same time just and sinner.
This brings us lastly to – what about today? Is Solus Christus still true and needed today? The clear answer is yes! There was another cry after the Reformation: Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda – The church reformed, and always being reformed. The church is always in danger of slipping away from the truths of the gospel and the Christian faith. We must always be alert and reforming – correcting our path.
And the surveys of today cry for semper reformanda – the need to always be reforming by coming back to the truths of Scripture. Consider:
First, never has the person or identity of Jesus been more vigorously attacked – both inside and outside the church. Listen very carefully – your eternal salvation depends on a proper confession of Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – God in the flesh. The 43% of professing evangelicals who say that Jesus is not God are not Christians.
Listen, cults always deny the person or the work of Jesus Christ. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny His essential deity – that is, they say He is not God. Just like some evangelicals. Mormons deny His exclusive deity. That is, at the heart of Mormonism, everyone who follows the teaching of the Church of Latter-Day Saints will one day be a god like Jesus. They deny His exclusive deity.
Second, also a great challenge to the church is pluralism. What is pluralism? That God accepts the worship of any religion. Listen – the Roman church never said Jesus was unnecessary for salvation. They just added to simple faith in Jesus – which you can’t do. But pluralism is different – it suggests there is more than one way to heaven. Jesus may be a way, but He is not the only way. This makes Jesus, frankly, unnecessary. The 56% of evangelicals who believe that neither understand who Jesus is, nor the gospel.
You say, that sounds so arrogant. No, that’s Christian. Let me briefly share three significant problems with pluralism – or the idea that God accepts the worship of any religion. Know this – it is the opposite of Christ alone.
First, is makes Jesus a liar, or at least mistaken. It makes the writers of Scripture liars, deluded, or mistaken. People understand that to accept the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture is to make Jesus exclusive – the only way – because that’s what Jesus and the Bible say. In John 17, as He prayed to the Father, Jesus 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 issue famously in his book, 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 you cannot 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 the He was and is God.”
Second, such teaching makes missions – that is, the preaching of the gospel around the world – unnecessary. What a wasted life – let’s bring our missionaries home. But even worse than that, if people can make it apart from faith in Jesus – Christ alone – 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, if people can get to heaven apart from Jesus, then 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 Christ Alone is not only sufficient for salvation, Christ Alone is absolutely necessary for salvation. Luther once 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.”
Let’s go back to those surveys. Barna Research just released the results of a similar survey – conducted this summer – but from 24,000 teenagers in 26 countries. The results – unfortunately as expected – revealed, and I quote, “only 50 percent among teens who identify as Christians say Jesus was resurrected; not even half (44%) say Jesus was God in human form.”
I finish with these thoughts. When you ask many today, even in the church, where will you go when you die, some say, heaven, I hope. When you ask why, you 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 most and certainly not as bad as most.
Some in the church will even give you spiritual answers – I go to church and pray and read my Bible. I do Christian stuff. If you follow those answers with, what about the gospel, that is, what about who Jesus is and what He did when He died on the cross, as a substitute, bearing your sins in His body on the cross, and was raised the third day as proof that God accepted His sacrifice – what about the gospel? You often hear people say, yeah, that too. I want to suggest that Jesus will not be, that too. You do not receive salvation by trying hard, getting partway there, and allowing Jesus to make up the rest. He is either everything, or He is nothing. He is either Christ alone, or He is no Christ at all.
Why will you go to heaven when you die? Because of Christ and His all-sufficient, finished work alone. Which means, by the way, that the strength of your salvation is not based on the strength of your faith. It is based on the strength of the One believed. Stop asking yourself the question – did I do it right, did I believe right, did I say the right words? Ask yourself this question – did Jesus do it right? Was His death and resurrection enough? And rest in His saving work.
Stand for prayer. Close your eyes please, and listen to me. If you were to die this week, and Jesus met you at the gates of heaven and asked, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” what would you say? Would you present your resume – look at how good I was. Look at everything I did for you. Lord, I did lots of things in your name – cast out demons, did many miracles. I went to church, I read the Bible, I even said grace before meals. It’s an impressive resume. What would Jesus say to you – depart from Me, I never knew you. There is only one answer to that question – Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your cross I cling. Christ alone.