Last week we celebrated the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. I talked about four of the five Solas of the Reformation in a series I called “A Sola A Day to Drive the Heresies Away.” The five Solas were Latin phrases that emerged as slogan of the Protestant Reformation. Today we consider Solus Christus — Christ alone.
The Reformation called the church back to faith in Christ as the sole mediator between God and man. While the Roman church held that “there is a purgatory and that the souls there detained are helped by the intercessions of the faithful” and that “Saints are to be venerated and invoked;” “that their relics are to be venerated” — the reformers taught that salvation was by Christ’s work alone.
As John Calvin said in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him … we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!”
As the Scripture says:
There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:13-18)
Jesus + nothing else. That’s the essence of Solus Christus and it was necessary to reassert because by the time of the Reformation, the unique work of Christ had, in practice, been overshadowed by the works of humans. Questions arose about whether or not Christ’s atoning work on the cross was fully sufficient to save people from their sins and bring them into eternal life with God the Father.
The Roman Catholic Church had developed a Jesus plus personal penance, plus indulgences, plus the accoutrements of the church which had produced an elaborate self-perpetuating establishment. Specifically, the Mass itself is described in the Catholic catechism as “reparation for the sins of the living and the dead.”
Parishioners were discouraged from petitioning Christ directly. Instead, they were instructed to utilize a myriad of intermediaries including their local priest, bishop, the saints, and Mary. With one sweep, the Reformers cut through these obstacles and came down to the heart of the gospel—Solus Christus! They declared that:
Christ alone is the mediator with the Father.
Christ alone has paid for our sins through his death on the cross, once and for all.
Christ alone is God’s solution for humanity’s ills.
Christ alone, plus nothing.
Christ alone is the way to salvation.
There is no other way to salvation and nothing need be added to Christ to attain salvation.
Solus Christus reminds us that in all of human history, Jesus Christ is completely unique: the God-man, the Savior, God’s anointed Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God, Emmanuel, Christus Victor!
The link between the demotion of Sola Scriptura and the denial of Solus Christus is significant. When human opinion is acknowledged as having greater worth than Scripture, statements from Christ himself or statements about Christ in Scripture carry little weight. Even statements as clear as, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) are ignored in favor of a more inclusive cultural narrative that puts all religions on a par with one another. The result thwarts the fifth Sola directing all life toward the glory of God alone. Denials of the singular saving work of Jesus Christ are evidence of a pervasive erosion of classical Christology in the church today.
Others may deny Him, but we will not. There can be no denying that the decay of Solus Christus is partly the responsibility of those who knowing the truth, did not contend valiantly for it. Somewhere between our “Jesus Freak” t-shirts and “Jesus is my Best Friend” bracelets, we have so focused on Jesus the human brother that we allowed the church and the world to lose sight of Jesus the eternal God. Jesus left the eternal presence of the God-head and came down to earth to do more than make us feel better about ourselves. He came to conquer the realities of sin and death that separate us from God. He came to lift us into the koinonia, the fellowship he enjoys with the Father. He came to inaugurate and initiate the kingdom of heaven, and he came to do what no other sacrifice could ever accomplish: offer himself as a thoroughly sufficient atonement for sin.
When we are confronted with someone challenging the revelation that Jesus is the only way, are we prepared to give a reason for the hope within? Do we know the Scriptures well enough? Are we sufficiently reliant upon the Holy Spirit at work within us to speak through us? Are we equipped and have we equipped others to give a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, biblically grounded, faithful and winsome answer? People are literally dying to know the assurance of things hoped for that we possess by faith in Christ. Do we care enough and are we willing to appear foolish enough to declare: “Here is the Way! Here is the Truth! Here is the Life! Here is Jesus!”?
We must humble ourselves before the Lord and pray, with Paul, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). From that place of humility, we can begin to be the beggars who show other beggars where to find bread.
This blog is taken in large part from “Falling Short of the Solas,” by Carolyn Poteet, Theology Matters. Jan-Feb. 2013.
Thank you for placing the “flower of the Reformation” before us in all of it’s simplicity, power and beauty.