Solus Christus: Christ Alone
Romans 8:1-4 – The Five Solas
20th Sunday after Pentecost–October 22, 2017 (am)
From Faith Alone to Christ Alone
This past week, Todd Walker, when teaching us on faith alone, made the statement that we are not saved by our faith alone. Rather, we are saved by the object of our faith. Tim Keller offers us a helpful analogy in his book Jesus the King:
Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” That could actually be translated as “Where is your faith?” I love that way of phrasing it. By asking the question in this way, Jesus is prompting them to see that the critical factor in their faith is not its strength, but its object. Imagine you’re falling off a cliff, and sticking out of the cliff is a branch that is strong enough to hold you, but you don’t know how strong it is. As you fall, you have just enough time to grab that branch. How much faith do you have to have in the branch for it to save you? Must you be totally sure that it can save you? No, of course not. You only have to have enough faith to grab the branch. That’s because it’s not the quality of your faith that saves you; it’s the object of your faith. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the branch; all that matters is the branch. And Jesus is the branch.
This morning we will be focusing on what ought to be the object of our faith, which is Christ alone. And I want to begin by saying, this is an incredibly offensive idea in our day and age. To illustrate it, let’s look at an interaction that took place between the Pope and the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump.
In February of 2016, while Donald Trump was still running for office, the Pope was asked about Trump’s immigration policies. Pope Francis responded by saying, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not a Christian.” Upon hearing of the Pope’s comments, Trump responded by saying, “. . . for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful . . . No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
And yet, we gather this morning to affirm that salvation is in Christ alone. By doing so, we are calling into question the eternal salvation of every person who has, or who is, or who will one day place their hope for salvation in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ Alone. So our topic for this morning would certainly be labeled by many in our world as intolerant, old fashioned, and bigoted. I am confident that there are many would point the finger directly at me and ask what right I had to preach this sermon and thereby question another person’s faith. There are some who would condemn me for my pride and arrogance. And they wouldn’t be entirely off base for doing so! For what right, on what authority does a 34 year old man who, let’s be honest, spends most of his time hanging out with middle school and high school students have questioning the salvation of millions of people world wide?
But I do not teach on my own authority. We don’t come together this morning to learn from the wisdom of man. Rather, we are leaning entirely on Sola Scriptura. We affirm Christ alone not pridefully claiming any authority inherent in ourselves, but rather claiming the authority of Scripture. And, I pray, it is with humility and a posture of trembling at the Word of God, that I seek to explain why it is that eternal salvation is found in Christ alone, and why those who don’t have Christ have no hope of being saved.
Read Romans 8:1–4 (page 944 in pew Bibles) & Pray
Oh Lord, through the prophet Isaiah you tell us that this is the one to whom you will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at your word. (Is. 66:2) Give us the proper posture before your Word this morning. Help us to humbly affirm truths that ought to cause us to tremble at the greatness of your salvation, as well as the exclusivity of how mankind is to be saved
Your son prayed for his disciples before his death, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Thank you Father, for putting your truth in our hands this morning. Give us eyes to see the truth in it, and ears to hear it, and hearts to perceive it, that we might be sanctified by it.
In Jesus name, Amen
My goal this morning is to affirm the Reformation doctrine that salvation is found in Christ alone using Romans 8:1 - 4 as our guide. We will study it under four headings. A hopeless situation, which speaks of our sin and our dire need for a savior. A unique Savior: how Jesus and Jesus alone fits of the mold of a savior who can actually save us from our sin. A sufficient act: how Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is the sole act that can and does save us from our sin. Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone: review of last week, how we access and apply why Jesus has done for us to our own dire situation
1. A Hopeless Situation
Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I want to begin by drawing our attention to 3 key words and 3 questions they should cause us to ask, they are: Therefore, Now, and No Condemnation. And the questions these words ought to cause us to ask are as follows. From “therefore,” we ask “What idea is Paul picking up on here that he discussed earlier in his book? (what’s the therefore, there for?)” From the phrase “No Condemnation” we ask “Does the no condemnation now mean that there was a period of condemnation before this?” Finally, from the word “now” we ask, “What has made it so that “now” there is no condemnation?
Question one, what’s the therefore, there for?, can be answered quickly. It refers us back to Romans 5:12 – 21 for it is there that Paul introduced the topic of condemnation that he picks back up here in Romans 8. Let’s turn there now.
As we do, let’s look at question two: Does the no condemnation now mean that there was a period of condemnation before this? The answer is yes, and we see this clearly in Romans 5. First, in Romans 5:12 we see that sin and death came through one man (ADAM) spread to all men (people, men and women). Then in Romans 5:18a Paul speaks of the one trespass, which is just another word for sin, and how this one sin results in condemnation for all people. In context, we can see that Paul is saying that from Adam to Christ all were condemned under sin, all were guilty before God.
Guilty of what you might ask. All were guilty of sinful rebellion against God. And all still are, for all are born into Adam’s sin, we’re born sinners. And lest we say that is unjust, we all also contribute their own sin to Adams.
What is so bad about sin that it leads to our condemnation before God? Genesis shows us that sin is a rejection of what we were created for. We were created for obedience, to rule over creation as God’s representatives, and for relationship with God. Instead, we rebelled against Him, and lived only for ourselves, and gave no thought to who God is or what he asks of us. Paul puts it this way, “. . . although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)
The result of this sin is that we are left in a nearly hopeless situation. Our situation is explained by Anselm of Canterbury (an 11th Century Medieval Theologian) in his work “Cur Deus Homo” which means “Why did God become Man.” In this piece, Anselm conveys his thoughts through an imaginary conversation between himself and his debate partner, Boso.
- Anselm: How then do you repay God for your sin?
- Boso: If I already owed God myself and all my powers, even before I sinned, I have nothing left to give to him for my sin.
- Anselm: What will become of you then? How will you be saved?
- Boso: Looking at your arguments, I see no way of escape.”
This is a hopeless situation, there is no way of escape, no way for us to reconcile what was lost by our sin, no way to become right with God. This is exactly the point Paul is making in our passage in verse 3 when he says that “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” After Adam, God eventually called Moses and, in His grace, God had given the people of Israel his law through Moses. This law was to show them how to live perfect and holy lives, how to once again live in obedience to God. And yet, this law could not save us. Not due to a weakness in God’s laws, but due to the weakness of our flesh, of our humanity, to put it these laws into practice
Paul makes a similar argument at the end of Romans 7. There he explains that though he desires to do what is right, to do what the Law says, the power of sin continues to rule over him. The hopelessness of this scenario causes him to cry out in angst, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)
Perhaps that is where you find yourself today, crying out with Paul “Wretched man that I am!” Perhaps you’ve tried, like Paul, to live a good life, to do what is right, to be righteous, only to find time and again that the power of sin is too strong. Perhaps you cry out with Paul – “Who will deliver me from this body of death?:
You may want to know that Paul doesn’t stop there. That this isn’t the final word on the subject. Instead, his very next statement is, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25) Which answers our third question: “What has made it so that “now” there is no condemnation?” The reason there is no condemnation now is because of Jesus Christ. This reason demands yet another question: Why? What is it about Jesus that makes him uniquely gifted to save us where no one else can?
Before we answer this question, let’s look just for a moment at why the doctrine of Solus Christus may not be as arrogant and intolerant as our world would have us believe.
Let’s assume that Scripture is God’s Word, and thus is true and our condition really is as dire as Scripture says it is. If all of humanity really is sinful, condemned, and unable to save themselves isn’t it only logical that we would begin to look for a solution to our problem?
And if our condemnation is at the hands of God, the just Judge, wouldn’t it make sense that we would look to God to provide a means of salvation for us? Wouldn’t it make sense that we would look to a religion or philosophy that has something to do with God, to find our salvation? Like Harold Crick in the movie “Stranger than Fiction.” He finds himself the subject of a novel and hears the author narrating his every move. Imagine his surprise when he hears her say that the malfunction in his watch that morning would lead to his death. What does this cause him to do? It leads him on a wild goose chase of trying to get in touch with the author so that he can try to get his fate reversed. So also, wouldn’t we go to the author of our condemnation to get our fate reversed.
And if the religions of the world make opposing and contradictory claims about how God saves us, (which they do) wouldn’t it make sense, by logic alone, that they can’t all be correct. That in fact, some must be right and the others wrong? And if it is true on this basis that some, maybe even one religion, is right and the others wrong, if one of them genuinely leads to eternal life where the others don’t, is it really arrogant and intolerant to teach that salvation is by that religion alone? Or is it something entirely different? Could it even be said to be kind and loving to question another person’s faith and teach that salvation is by Christ alone, if in fact, it is true?
But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves – Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:24) He answered with, “ Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25) We want to know why.
2. A Unique Savior
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
What is it about Jesus that makes him uniquely suited to save sinful humanity? Let’s look for some clues. As stated earlier, our sin problem is first and foremost a problem with God. It is he who created us. He is the one we have wronged and rebelled against. He alone has the right condemn us. Which means only he can extend the forgiveness that we need and only he can save us from our condemnation. This truth is affirmed in Isaiah 43:11: “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.”
But our sin is also a problem with humanity. As we’ve mentioned, we can’t keep God’s good and perfect laws. We can’t measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. What we need is someone who can. We need someone who can do it for us, on our behalf, and in our place. We need someone who can live a life of perfect obedience so that he might earn God’s blessing and maybe, somehow, distribute it to us
Now you might think this sounds like an easy fix. Why doesn’t God just come down and obey all his laws for us? After all, they’re his laws and he’s already perfect so he could just earn his own blessing and then give it to us?
But that won’t do. If someone is to keep God’s law on our behalf, as our representatives, it only makes sense that they’d have to do it with our same limitations. You wouldn’t accept the results of a footrace if one person was on a motorcycle! And you’re imperfect, human. So why would we expect God accept the sacrifice of one who kept his law without being given all the same limitations we have that make it so hard to keep His law? This representative must do it with our same weaknesses and while enduring our same temptations. He must be prone to hunger, and thirst, and exhaustion. He must be susceptible to temptations and trials. He must be able to fail. In other words, he must become one of us, he must be fully human. And so, our unique savior must be fully man, and fully human. That is exactly who Jesus Christ was and is.
We see this also in Romans 8:1 – 4. There, it is clear that God has acted as our Savior. “God has done what the law could not do by sending his own Son” (v. 3). And in sending His own Son, God himself came to save us. Scripture teaches this is clear from the combination of Isaiah 40, which says to prepare for the coming of the Lord, with Mark 1 where John the Baptist was said to be preparing the way for the coming of the Lord, and the next person we meet is Jesus. So Jesus is clearly God, having come down to save his people
God has also come to us as a human. Romans 8:3 goes on to say, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This is Paul’s way of saying, Jesus is fully human. He uses the term sinful flesh to designate that Jesus came as one of us, for that is what we are, sinful flesh, Paul is saying Jesus was fully human. But he also uses the word likeness, not to say Jesus wasn’t fully human, but rather, that he wasn’t sinful like the rest of sinful flesh. How? Only two men were born without sin and both had God was their “biological?” father – Jesus and Adam. Jesus is protected from original sin, from Adam’s Paternal sin, by having God has his father.
Thus, Jesus is our unique Savior. He alone is fully God and fully man. He alone can save us from our sin. But that is not enough. Stephen Wellum observes “As Scripture makes clear, Christ with us is not enough; our Lord must also act for us.” Jesus doesn’t save us simply by coming to us, he saves us by what he did when he came to us. So what did Jesus Christ, the God Man, do to save us? Romans 5:18 says he completed one act of righteousness which leads to justification for all men. What was this act of righteousness?
3. A Sufficient Act
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The first element of this sufficient act is that Jesus came to us in the likeness of sinful flesh. He came as one of us. Philippians 2:6-7 gives us a fuller picture of this when it says, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. . . .” He gave up heaven! To become one of us. Paul in Philippians goes on to say, “. . . And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (2:8) Another way of saying this is that he came “for sin.”
When Paul says that Jesus was sent “for sin,” he is using a phrase that is used throughout the Greek old testament to refer to a sin offering, and that is what it means here too. Jesus was sent “as a sin offering.” In the OT, a sin offering was when an animal was brought to the Holy temple, it was sacrificed, as a substitute for the one who sinned, and it’s blood was poured out in the place of the human sinner. This offering would then secure a temporary redemption from sin for the one offering it, until they sinned again and needed to offer another sacrifice.
But here, this sin offering is much greater. It refers to Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross. A sacrifice of a human in the place of all humanity. Not just any human – a perfectly obedient human, one who had fulfilled the law at every point, and thus the only one who had no need to die for his own sin, so that he could die for the sins of others. And because he is also God, Jesus was able to die not just for the sin of one, or of a few, but for all. Hebrews 9:12 explains, “he [Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
Romans 8 tells us that in this act, “Jesus condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (v. 3-4). What does it mean that he “condemned sin”? John Calvin says, “Jesus died so that sin would fail in it’s cause.” Doug Moo says, “God effectively removed sin’s ability to ‘dictate terms’ for those who are ‘in Christ’ (v. 2). Jesus defanged sin, he removed its power to harm us.
He does so in order that the “righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” That is to say, by coming taking on humanity, living a perfect life, and dying in our place, Jesus completes what theologians have called “the great exchange” – at his death, our sin became his and his righteous become ours. John Calvin explains, “And thus what was ours Christ took as his own, that he might transfer his own to us; for he took our curse, and has freely granted us his blessing.” Doug Moo explains, “Christ becomes what we are so that we might become what Christ is.”
This act of Jesus coming in the flesh, living a life of perfect obedience, and dying for sin, as our substitute, in our place is the one act of righteousness that leads to justification for all men referred to in Romans 5. It is what we would say is a sufficient act, with sufficient meaning that it is enough, enough to do what it was intended to do: to deliver us from God’s condemnation, to justify us before God, and to earn us eternal life
It is at this point that the Reformers saw the need to affirm “Christ Alone” in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, which brings us to our last point.
4. Salvation is through Faith Alone in Christ Alone
During the Reformation, 500 years ago, the predominant question that required the affirmation of Christ alone was not directly “Was Jesus’ death sufficient for salvation?” Rather, it was, “How is Christ’s substitutionary death in our place appropriated to us?” Or more simply, “How do we get the grace Jesus bought for us applied to us so that we saved?” But we will see that the way you answer that question determines whether or not Jesus’ death really was an act sufficient enough to save us.
To understand the Rmoan Catholic position, we must begin by looking at what was said by the great 13th century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas. Long before the reformation he said, “Christ’s passion [suffering] works its effect in them to whom it is applied, through faith and charity [love] and the sacraments of the faith.” That is to say that one way God’s grace was accessed by sinful humans was through the Catholic sacraments as mediated by the church. Medieval theology developed this idea until the sacraments were viewed as necessary for salvation, saying it is through them that Christ’s work becomes ours and through them that we Christ’s righteousness becomes our own. Thus, for Rome, salvation was through faith in Christ plus the church applying Christ’s work to us through the sacraments, and it requires our faithful cooperation with the Church if we are to merit eternal life.
The Reformers however, affirmed that Christ’s gift of grace and salvation from sin is appropriated or received by guilty sinners through faith alone. Thus Martin Luther says: “I teach that people should put their trust in nothing but Jesus Christ alone, not in their prayers, merits, or their own good deeds.” The Reformers believed that in Christ, God’s righteous demand against sin was completely satisfied and need only to be received through faith. They recognized that Catholic theology called into question the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrificial death, for how does grace continue to be gracious if it must be earned through our participation in the church’s sacraments?
And Romans 8 affirms for us this morning that the Reformers were right to do so. Look back at vs. 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How could this be possible if the Church is able to condemn you for not being baptized or not going to confession? What confidence this ought to give to us as believers! It shouldn’t cause us to tremble before the church, wondering if we’ve done all we need to be saved. Instead, as John Calvin says, “the trembling consciences of the godly have an invincible fortress, for they know that while they abide in Christ they are beyond every danger of condemnation.”
Once you’ve been freed from condemnation by Jesus Christ, no person or group of people or institution or church can ever take that away from you, they can never say that you are now condemned before God for sin. Thus Romans 8:34 says, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” In other words, you have been justified from God’s condemnation by God’s grace alone on the basis of Christ alone.
And this grace is appropriated or received by the believer through faith alone Romans 8:1 affirms “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We must enter into the righteousness that he has earned for us and Romans 3:22 affirms that we do so through faith in Christ Jesus when it says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (NIV)
Which brings us back to where we began this morning – which is the offensiveness of this doctrine – that our salvation is available only through faith alone in Christ alone. John Calvin wrote in his Institutes, “we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. For the Reformers, the doctrine of Christ Alone offended the religious authorities for it challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is no less offensive today, but today it offends because it challenges the religious pluralism of our day. It is offensive because it is suggests one way is better than others. By doing so it calls into question what others believe. It is offensive because it disregards the popular notion that truth is relative. The idea that each person can believe whatever they want, and so long as their truth is true for them, no one should question it. It is offensive because it exclusive, because it says that salvation is through Christ, and through Christ Alone, and by doing so it condemns every religion and belief system that does not teach reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is offensive because it claims to be true.
But we don’t only affirm Christ alone in the name of truth, we must also affirm Christ alone in the name of love. For salvation in Christ alone, while exclusive, is also astoundingly inclusive. For it is a way of salvation that is open to everyone. No matter where you were born, what your ethnicity is, what your social rank is, no matter how righteous or unrighteous of a life you’ve lived. It takes no account of how old or wise or rich or successful or good looking you are. It is a gift – purchased for you by Jesus – and a gift that you need not earn – you only need to receive, through faith in the one who offers it. And this gift – when received – is not just an affirmation of the truth that salvation is in Christ alone it is the means by which we enter into God’s incredible love for us. For it is out of love that God sent his Son to the world to save us (Jn 3:16). And when we put our faith in Christ alone, we are welcomed back into the loving relationship with God that was lost when we sinned. And when we enter into this love, Scripture teaches we will never be able to lose it – saying in Romans 8:35 – 39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And the reason we can never lose the love of God in Christ Jesus is because we did nothing to earn it. Our possession of God’s love is based entirely on what Christ did for us, received solely by faith, and because we did nothing to earn it, we can do nothing to lose it. And so, by affirming the doctrine of Christ alone, we affirm the goodness and love of God to save hopeless and helpless sinners.
How ought we to respond?
In the words of John Calvin, “let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”
 Wellum, 263. Quoted from Martin Luther, “Letter to Johann von Staupitz (March 31, 1518),” in D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe; Briefwechsel, 19 Vols. (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1930-83), 1:160)
Calvin, John. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Public Domain. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.html.
Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1996.
Wellum, Stephen. Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2017.