Reformation 500_Solus Christus- Christ Alone
Solo Christo! By Christ's Work Alone are We Saved
We have been exploring the meaning behind the Five Solas of the Reformation. We have already looked at Faith Alone and Grace Alone, we are now going to look at Christ Alone, or Solus Christus.
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!" Likewise the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 30 asks, "Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour who seek their salvation and happiness in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else? They do not; for though they boast of him in words yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Saviour: for one of these two things must be true that either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or that they who by a true faith receive this Saviour must find all things in him necessary to their salvation."
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, the testimony borne at the proper time...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. (1TI 2:5-6; COL 1:13-18)
God has given the ultimate revelation of himself to us by sending Jesus Christ, Colossians 1:15. Only through God’s gracious self-revelation in Jesus do we come to a saving and transforming knowledge of God.
1 Timothy 1:5. Because God is holy and all humans are sinful and sinners, 1 John 1:1 Hebrews 7:25 Romans 8:34. Neither religious rituals nor good works mediate between us and God. Acts 4:12 by which a person can be saved other than the name of Jesus. Hebrews 7:23, and his sacrificial death alone can atone for sin.
What did the Protestant Reformers mean by the slogan "Christ Alone?" The essence of this question boils down to a matter of justification: How is sinful man made right (justified) before God? If you will recall, this was the material cause of the Reformation. Martin Luther, and those who followed after him, argued that a man (a person) is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to God alone be the glory! We've already looked at "grace alone" and "faith alone." What we need to understand is what role Christ plays in our justification before God.
When we say we are justified "by grace," what that means is that salvation is a gracious gift of God that is freely provided. However, grace doesn't justify us, it simply denotes that we don't have to do anything to be justified. Additionally, when we say we are justified by grace "through faith," that means that faith is the means through which we appropriate justification. Again, faith doesn't justify us, rather we are justified through our faith. The foundation of our justification rests on Christ alone. It is the person and work of Christ that justifies. What Christ did is then graciously given to those who respond by faith. So what did Christ do that earns justification for God's people? Reformed theologians answer this question by referring to the active obedience of Christ and the passive obedience of Christ. The active obedience of Christ refers to the perfect obedience of Christ to God's law. Jesus Christ lived a life of sinless perfection in full accordance to God's holy law. Christ, and Christ alone, perfectly fulfilled all righteousness and earn merit before God. The passive obedience of Christ refers to his death on the cross as an atonement for the sins of his people. Through the passive obedience of Christ, our sins are paid for and the sin debt we have before God is erased. Through the active obedience of Christ, the perfect righteousness that Christ merits before God isimputed to us by grace through faith. Therefore, we are justified before God by the perfect righteousness of Christ (an alien -- i.e., outside of us – righteousness) being credited to our account. When God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of Christ, not our sin (which has been canceled).
All of this speaks of Christ's mediatorial role. Jesus Christ serves as the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). We cannot earn our way into heaven, only Christ can. We cannot stand before God "naked and unclothed," but only when clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. Christ serves as the mediator making reconciliation between a holy God and sinful man. This idea of Christ being the only mediator between God and man is opposed to much Roman Catholic teaching on justification and merit.
Roman Catholicism teaches that man can perform meritorious good works that result in our ultimate justification before God. To be fair, Catholicism does teach that God enables man to perform these good works, therefore there is a gracious element present. But the main difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is that Protestantism teaches that our good works are the result of us having already been saved; they flow from our justification. Quite the opposite is true in Catholicism. The good works that God enables us to perform work toward our justification.
Furthermore, in Catholicism, the church essentially usurps the mediatorial work of Christ. The benefits of Christ's sacrifice are meeted out through the sacraments of the church. Instead of the believer resting in the finished work of Christ by faith, in Catholicism, he must perpetually avail himself of the holy sacraments, perform good works to merit grace and do pennance to make satisfaction for sin. In the final analysis, this all may not be enough since there is a good chance that the Catholic will spend some time in purgatory purging himself of any remaining venial sin. All of this stand against the perfect, finished work of Christ who alone merits salvation for his people to be received through faith. What were the words uttered by Christ from the cross? "It is finished" (John 19:30).
Our right standing before God is through the active and passive obedience of Jesus Chrsit, the only mediator between God and man. It is in Christ alone that we stand justified before a holy God.