Our Elders recently held a workshop on the 5 solas of the Reformation. There was singing, food and fellowship (what can I say, we’re Lutherans!) and a brief talk on each sola (speakers ranged from age 17-70 something). I thought I’d post my talk on the topic Christ Alone. Let me know what this sola means to you!
At first blush, Christ Alone may seem like a no brainer. After all, we call ourselves Christians and we don’t have a collection of gods for every occasion like the ancient Greeks or modern day Hindus. Doesn’t that mean we worship Christ alone? Well, think again. How many people, even Christians, have you heard say things like this:
- We all worship the same God by different names
- There are many paths to God
- God is loving and would not condemn anyone who is a good person, or has sincere religious beliefs, even if they are wrong. After all, how can someone be held accountable for the family or culture they are born into?
Because we live in a society that values tolerance and diversity ideas like this are widespread. They may seem fair. They may make sense to us. Unfortunately, they aren’t scriptural. In John Chapter 14, verse 6 Jesus says:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.”
He doesn’t say I am one of the ways that some people come to God. He says he is the way, the only way. There is no wiggle room.
This is a big challenge to us as American Christians today, and one we should keep in mind when we think about “Christ Alone.” Those of us studying the book of Ezekiel in our evening Bible Study are learning that God’s wrath was aroused not because his people abandoned Him, but because they were worshipping the gods of other nations along with Him.
The Christians of Martin Luther’s time had a different challenge to face, and in order to understand why “Christ Alone” was a rallying cry of the Reformation we need to know what it meant to them. If you want a fancy term for this, it’s “sitz im leben”, a German phrase which means the setting or context in which something is placed.
In the 1500’s the Christian church in the West was the Roman Catholic Church. Although the church taught that Christ’s death atoned for our sins, church doctrine added to Christ’s work by teaching that our souls must go to purgatory after death where they suffer and are purified of any sins not dealt with in life. The prayers of the saints and the faithful could release them more quickly from purgatory. Good works and certain rites of the church (especially confession and penance) would also shorten the time in purgatory. This led to many abuses, such as the selling of indulgences, and caused anxiety among the faithful, who could never be sure that they, or their loved ones had done enough, or fulfilled all the requirements necessary to be saved. If you’ve read a biography of Martin Luther you know that he also fell prey to these kinds of doubts and fears. Luther spent as much as 6 hours a day confessing his sins and still felt no true peace with God.
The Catholic Church no longer sells indulgences but their basic doctrines have not changed. Indulgences are now granted for a long list of things that include studying the scripture, praying the rosary or obtaining a blessing from the Pope. They can be earned by individuals and also religious institutions and still have the same purpose – to lessen the time of suffering in purgatory.
As Protestants we do not believe in purgatory but many of our denominations have fallen into other kinds of legalistic practices. Perhaps you have heard someone say “do your best and then rely upon Christ to do the rest?” Or met a Christian who insisted that you must “invite Christ into your heart”, pray the sinner’s prayer, be fully immersed in baptism or perform certain specific works if you want to be saved.
Again, this thinking may make sense to us. We like to know the rules. We are accustomed to believing we get what we deserve and what we earn. But the Bible tells us in Romans 10:9:
“…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in you heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
And in 1 Timothy 2:5-6
“For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.”
The Reformers pointed to these and similar verses to prove that the sacrifice of Christ for our sins is sufficient. In fact it’s presumptuous to think man can add anything to what God has done.
I’ve been a Lutheran for most of my life and have had good Lutheran instruction, so I find it fairly easy to accept and understand the doctrine of Christ Alone intellectually. Maybe you feel the same way. However, as I prepared this talk, I realized that if I owe my eternal life entirely to Christ, shouldn’t I also be living completely for Him? I’be been asking myself questions like this:
- Do I trust in Christ Alone? Or do I trust in my pension, my savings accounts, my education or the military might of my country?
- Is Christ Alone my heart’s desire? Or are things like an attractive home, a successful family life, or an exciting vacation what I really want?
- Do I strive to “put on the mind of Christ when making a decision? Or am I influenced by my friends, family and even well-known experts?
- Do I long to hear Christ say “well done good and faithful servant”? Or would I rather hear words of approval from my fellow church members, spouse, children or friends?
- Is my service to the church and my works of charity something I do for Christ? Or something I do look good in the eyes of others and gain their admiration?
- Do I mean it when I say ‘thy will be done’? Or do I really want my own plans to be blessed by God?
So today, I’m asking you….
Where do your thoughts linger? How do you spend your time and your money? Do your checkbook, your calendar and your thoughts reflect a life lived for Christ alone? Remember John the Baptist said, “I must decrease so he can increase.” Are you living your life every day so that people will see more of Christ and less of you?
I’d like to close with a quote from a Christian classic called The Christian’s Guide to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitehall Smith that I find personally challenging.
“Once it was ‘I and not Christ’. Next it was ‘I and Christ.’ Perhaps now it is even ‘Christ and I.’ But has it come yet to be Christ only and not I at all?”