Solus Christus: By Christ Alone
June 29, 1997
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ’Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ’Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets’” (Matthew 16:13-14).
We live in a day of unparalleled spiritual confusion. A few weeks ago a small group of highly-educated men and women shocked the nation by committing mass suicide. They hoped by this act to join the aliens on a UFO on the other side of the Hale-Bopp Comet. As the news media made clear, these people were the usual types associated with cults. For the most part they were people a lot like us-decent, caring, thoughtful types-who followed a man they believed in, and he led them to an untimely end.
But that’s not all. In just a few days thousands of people will congregate in Roswell, New Mexico for the 50th anniversary of the crash of an alien spaceship in the desert-or so they believe. Interestingly, a recent poll suggests that almost 60% of all Americans believe that this planet has been visited by aliens from another planet (or another galaxy).
On another completely different front, have you taken a look at the best-seller list lately? At the very top is a book called The Bible Code, which purports to find secret predictions of modern events buried deep within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. According to the author, by counting the letter sequences of the Old Testament, you can find a prediction of many 20th century events, including the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust, and even the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin. The book has become so popular that some stores are having trouble keeping it in stock.
On the local level, I should point out that U2 has come to town. What is U2, you ask? If you have to ask, it means you simply aren’t tuned into the modern music scene. U2 is the widely-acclaimed Irish rock band that is currently touring the US. They’ve come this weekend to Soldier Field for three sold-out concerts. Their popularity is worth remarking on since by all accounts there is a strong spiritual element in much of their music. In fact, in earlier years some people even called them a Christian group.
Consider the words to “The Wanderer” from their album “Zooropa” released in 1993. It was sung by Johnny Cash.
I went out walking through the streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones
Saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walking under an atomic sky
Where the ground won’t turn
And the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said good-bye
Yeah I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering
I went drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it
I went out riding
Down that ol’ eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name
I went with nothing
But the thought you’d be there too
Looking for you
I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents
I went out searching, lookin’ for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his fatherÃs right hand
I went out walking with a Bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
Now Jesus, don’t you wait up
Jesus, I’ll be home soon
Yeah I went out for the papers
Told her I’d be back by noon
Yeah I left with nothing
But the thought you’d be there too
Looking for you …
Yeah I left with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you …
I went wandering.
I realize that some of you may read those words and feel that they don’t exactly compare to “How Great Thou Art”-and you are right of course. But “The Wanderer” is not a hymn in any sense, but rather a plaintive ballad, the cry of a man searching for something to give meaning to his life. It is the heartcry of an entire generation.
This weekend well over 100,000 rock fans will fill Soldier Field three times to hear U2. Why? Is it the music alone? No. Is it the shared experience of being with thousands of others? Not entirely. Is it not in part at least that U2 speaks for so many people who feel their need for God but don’t know where to find him?
As we approach the 21st century, there seems to be a renewed interest in spiritual things. People are searching for truth as never before. They are looking for answers to the deepest questions of life. Perhaps you’ve heard the slogan “Jesus is the answer.” I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said, “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” That’s a good question.
Two weeks ago we began looking at the four solas of the Reformation. We started with Sola Scriptura: The Bible and only the Bible as the basis of our faith. Today we come to Solus Christus: Christ and Christ alone as the object of our faith.
I. Christ the Exclusive Savior
We live in a “postmodern” age. If that term is new to you, it simply means that we live in an age in which our culture has largely abandoned the notion of truth. One hundred years ago most Americans shared a common moral code based to a large degree on the teachings of the Bible. Even people who were not Christian made their moral judgments based largely on what we today call the “Judeo-Christian” tradition. There was a large consensus that certain things were right and others wrong, that some things were permitted in society and others were not. That shared consensus gave enormous stability to the culture and allowed people from diverse backgrounds to live together in peace.
In 1997 that consensus has almost entirely disappeared, which is why Americans can’t decide how they feel about abortion, pornography, adultery, divorce, and gay rights. In the old days we didn’t debate those issues because our shared value system taught us that it is wrong to kill unborn babies, that adultery is always evil, that homosexuality is shameful, and that pornography corrupts public morality. Today there is simply no widespread agreement on those issues. If the old Trinity was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the new trinity is tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. “All truth is relative.” We worship tolerance, we celebrate diversity, and we praise pluralism. And woe to the man or woman who dares to speak against the New Trinity.
This week my friend Bill Fillmore-former village trustee-wrote about the ongoing debate in Oak Park regarding the drive to establish a registry for gay and lesbian couples in our midst. Although Bill and I differ on this issue, he correctly identified the central issue. Most of us who oppose the registry do so on moral grounds because we believe God has spoken and declared homosexuality to be always wrong. (I pause to say that even 50 years ago this statement would seem completely unexceptional.) Those who support the registry appeal to fairness, civil rights, justice for gays, and so on. As I read his article, it again occurred to me that there really is no middle ground on this issue. No compromise is possible between those who believe God has spoken, and those who either don’t believe it, don’t accept it, or don’t think moral judgments should inform public policy.
Against the prevailing moral relativism of the day, consider these “exclusive” claims regarding Jesus Christ:
A. He is the only Son of God–John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”).
B. He is the only name–Acts 4:12 (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”).
C. He is the only way–John 14:6 (“Jesus answered, ’I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”).
D. He is the only mediator between God and man–1 Timothy 2:5 (“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”).
E. He is the only sacrifice for sin–Hebrews 10:12 (“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God”).
No Right to Water Them Down
These are utterly exclusive statements of the New Testament. Let me say frankly that we have no right to water them down. You may choose to reject them, or to call them “narrow-minded” or to pass them off as not applying to us today, but the fact remains that the Jesus of the Bible is an utterly exclusive Savior. He stands alone and no one can be compared with him.
Let’s also honestly face the fact that this flies in the face of contemporary thinking. To say that Jesus is the only way to heaven-that is, to say and to mean it and to believe with all your heart-this is nothing short of intellectual suicide in the eyes of many people. If you dare to proclaim what the Bible really says about Jesus, you risk being branded a fool, a nut, or worse, a narrow-minded fundamentalist. You could be ostracized, pigeon-holed, criticized, and even ridiculed.
However, we have no right to pretend to follow Jesus unless the Jesus we follow is really the Christ of the New Testament. It is precisely his exclusivity that forever separates him from every other “religious leader” in the world. I would even say that it is better (or at least more honest) to reject Christ altogether than to water down these statements.
Intolerance Isn’t Always Wrong
In putting the matter this way, I am simply saying that we must come face to face with the strong Jesus of the New Testament. He is not one among many. Picking a Savior is not like buying a jar of pickles at the supermarket-“Do you want dill or sweet? Dill spears or crunchy gherkins?” You can’t afford to be cavalier when your eternal soul hangs in the balance.
All truth is narrow-including the truth about Jesus Christ. Two plus two still equals four, not five or six or seven. Jesus is either who the New Testament says he is, or else he’s not the Son of God and is in fact simply a mythical creature-like the “gods” of ancient Greece. Some may regard that statement as the height of intolerance. But I would answer that intolerance is not always bad. When I get on an airplane I want to know that the mechanics who checked it out were absolutely intolerant. I don’t want a mechanic who says, “It looks like the engine is about to explode, but maybe it can handle one more flight.” Likewise, I want a doctor who is intolerant of cancer and who doesn’t mind hurting my feelings in order to save my life.
Of all the disciples only Peter voiced the correct answer to Jesus’ question: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). To this day there are still many opinions about who Jesus really is. Some think he is just a good man, others a great teacher, still others an historical figure. Some call him a mystic, others a sage, others a peasant rabbi. The Bible calls him the Son of God. Each person must answer for himself. And no one will ever discover the truth about Jesus unless God reveals the truth to you. It is that truth-the truth about Jesus-that is the living foundation of the church. When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” he meant that the church would be built upon men and women who would steadfastly proclaim the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
II. Contemporary Counterfeits
There are many spiritual counterfeits in circulation today. Let me mention four of them briefly.
A. Christ plus the church. This is the notion that you find Jesus simply by joining a church and maintaining regular membership. People who believe this tend to be loyal supporters of the church and base their hope of heaven on that fact.
B. Christ plus baptism. Many people believe that salvation depends upon baptism-whether at the hands of a priest when you are young or at the hands of a pastor in a baptistry or a creek or a lake or an ocean.
C. Christ plus Mary or the saints. Many Catholics-consciously or unconsciously-have added Mary and the saints to their faith in Jesus Christ. They truly believe that they can find God through the veneration of Mary and with the aid of the saints. This leads to such things as lighting candles, burning incense, and making special offerings in the name of a saint.
D. Christ plus good works of any kind. I include this as a counterfeit because it covers everyone who trusts in Jesus and also in their good works to get them to heaven. They know that Jesus must save them, but they also believe there is something they must do to “close the deal,” so to speak.
Against all of this we have the united testimony of the New Testament that salvation is predicated on the simple and single condition of trusting in Jesus Christ-and him alone-as Lord and Savior. I would stress that it is the little phrase “and him alone” that trips up many people. Everyone who claims to be a Christian understands that Jesus must play some part in our salvation. But “some part” is not the same thing as saying we must trust in Christ “and him alone.” In fact, those two statements cannot really be harmonized.
Here’s my definition: To trust in Jesus means to trust so completely in him that you are willing to go to hell if Jesus alone cannot save you. It’s Jesus and Jesus alone or we aren’t going to heaven at all. In the words of Dr. James Montgomery Boice, solus christus means “that Jesus has done it all so that now no merit on the part of man, no merit of the saints, no works of ours performed either here or in purgatory can add to the completed saving work. In fact any attempt to add to it is a perversion of the gospel and indeed no gospel at all.” Nothing needs to be added to that statement. Luther and Calvin would gladly say “Amen” to those words.
Boice goes on to say that Jesus is the Prophet we need. We need no other self-proclaimed prophets to reveal God’s Word or will. Jesus is the Priest we need. We need no other human priests to mediate God’s salvation. Jesus is the King we need. We need no other kings or popes or pastors to control our thinking and living. We need no evangelical gurus or cult leaders. Jesus alone is the king of his church.
Christ is all in all. He is preeminent. He must have the first place. And there can be no number two.
III. Contemporary Implications
Let’s wrap up this message by thinking together about five contemporary implications of Solus Christus.
A. We may come directly to Christ without human mediators. This clearly was the central implication of the Protestant Reformation. To this day many people instinctively doubt that they can come to God on their own. That’s why they come to pastors or priests or other religious leaders asking for their assistance. This is not to say that spiritual leaders are unnecessary. Far from it. But no spiritual leader can say, “You must come to God through me or you can’t come at all.” The most a priest or pastor can do is to point people to Jesus Christ. That is indeed a noble work, but pointing people to Jesus is far different from claiming to be a human mediator of God’s grace. Such a claim is nothing short of blasphemy.
B. When Christ died on the Cross, he completed the work of salvation. That’s why he cried out “It Is Finished” (John 19:30). That three-word phrase is only one word in Greek-tetelestai. Archaeologists have found the word on scraps of first-century paper that appear to be ancient shopping lists. When a purchase was completed, the seller wrote tetelestai across the paper, meaning “paid in full.” Even so, when Jesus had paid the full price for our salvation, he cried “It is finished” because the work of salvation was complete. By his death he had paid for the sins of the world.
C. Saving faith is nothing less than total reliance on Christ alone, wholly apart from human works or human effort of any kind. This follows from everything I have said so far. We must trust in Jesus Christ alone and that trust must not be partial but total. In leaning on the Lord, we come to him not claiming any merit of our own, or depending on our good works-no matter how wonderful they may seem to us or to others who know us. Good works may gain us an entrance into many glittering palaces on earth, but they cannot pry open the door of heaven. Our fine reputation may win for us friends in high places, but it will not win for us the One Friend we need in the Highest Place. We may win the Nobel Prize for Peace or the Congressional Medal of Honor, we may be toasted, honored, praised, welcomed, and serenaded for the wonderful things we do on the earth. But none of that matters in the least in the eyes of Almighty God. If you want to gain his attention, then put your trust in his crucified Son.
D. When Christ saves us, we are completely saved and eternally saved. This follows from everything I have said. Since salvation does not depend on us-and in fact is entirely outside of us-and since we are depending wholly on Jesus Christ, we may rest assured that those whom God saves, he saves forever. The God who cannot change, will never change his mind toward us. He who called us is faithful, and he will finish the work of salvation he has begun. When God saves a person, he saves them completely and he saves them eternally.
E. We must preach Christ and not self-improvement, because apart from Christ there is no hope of salvation. Here is an important insight. Apart from God, there is no basis for self-esteem and no sure foundation for self-improvement. To speak of becoming a better husband or father, or to teach people how to build a large income or to overcome their bad habits-to do that without first leading them to Jesus is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What’s the point of helping people be more successful as they rush headlong toward eternity without God?
Hand Grenade Faith
When it comes to Jesus, too many people have a “hand grenade” faith. They think that “close” is good enough! Wrong! Most everyone believes in Jesus a little bit. That is, they believe in Jesus plus something else. But when you scratch under the surface, they don’t believe in Jesus alone as their only hope of salvation. But to believe in him 95% is to be 100% lost!
Let me share with you five words that will take you all the way to heaven. If you take these five words to heart, and make them part of your life, if you will say them and believe them and rest upon them, these five words will take you to heaven when you die. Jesus only and only Jesus!
Run to the Cross
Several weeks ago I met a new friend who came to see me one afternoon. She and her husband have recently started attending the church and she wanted to come by and ask me to pray for her. About a week after we met, she sent me a very nice letter in which she talked about how the Lord was helping her in some very specific areas of her life. She mentioned the story of Peter walking on the water, then taking his eyes off Jesus and beginning to sink. These are her words:
I am so tired of feeling afraid and miserable all the time. I decided after seeing you that I want things to be different. I think I’m at the point where I’m ready to reach my hand up out of the water and say, “Lord, save me.”
Then she added an additional thought:
Out of all this the only thing that seems real to me is the Cross. You know how some times in church you say, “Run to the Cross!” Please keep saying it, sometimes that’s the only thing I hear.
Let’s go back to that bumper sticker I mentioned earlier: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” Here is my answer:
How can I find God? Jesus is the answer.
How can I find peace? Jesus is the answer.
Who can forgive my sins? Jesus is the answer.
Who can give me new life? Jesus is the answer.
Who can open the door to heaven? Jesus is the answer.
How can I get rid of my guilt? Jesus is the answer.
Who can save a sinner like me? Jesus is the answer.
Who can put my life together again? Jesus is the answer.
Jesus is indeed the answer to the deepest questions of life. If you want to meet Jesus, run to the cross. Lay hold of the bloody cross of the Son of God and never let go. If you want your questions answered, if you want your sins forgiven, if you want to be sure of heaven, then go to Jesus and Jesus alone.