The phrase Christ alone is at the center of the well-known declaration of the sixteenth century Reformers. They based their teachings on God’s justification of those who come to Him by His sovereign grace alone, through faith alone, grounded in Christ alone, for His glory alone.1
Another phrase the Reformers emphasized was Scripture alone. They insisted that Scripture stood as God’s singular, objective revelation and that it alone clearly taught the uniqueness and primacy of Jesus, our only Savior.
The good news of Scripture is the good news of Jesus!
Only true Redeemer
The New Testament’s witness to the truth of God’s justification in Christ alone is widespread. Notice the definite article the (emphasized) in just these three sample passages:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
“By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. . . . Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10, 12).
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).
The life, the name, the Christ: It is Jesus alone. Salvation is found in no other.
The law of Moses does not qualify as our redeemer. In his sermon in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13), Paul first summarized Israel’s history up to John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner. Next, Paul turned personal: “to you the word of this salvation has been sent” (v. 26). After telling of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, he proclaimed, “And we declare to you glad tidings — that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus” (vv. 32, 33). Paul quoted three scriptures that foretold of Jesus’ resurrection (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3; Psalm 16:10), then declared, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (vv. 38, 39).
Paul is adamant: The works of the law do not qualify for justifying an unjust person. Only faith in Jesus Christ can (Galatians 2:16a).
Good news battle
The battle to keep the good news the good news has kept God’s people alert in every generation. A number of church history books in my library tell a similar story. Within one hundred fifty years after Jesus’ sacrifice, other “justifiers” were added. Despite Jesus and the apostles’ clear teaching, the doctrine of Christ alone has been challenged, ignored, ridiculed, and rejected. Penance, pilgrimages, gifts to the church, vows, and rules were added. Humanity’s additions served to place burdens and restrictions upon the people that God never intended. Fears and superstitions troubled the hearts of millions. Threatening the loss of salvation for non-compliance, anathemas gave weight to church creeds and council decisions. The confidence and joy of first century Christians in the finished work of Christ alone was tragically replaced by a list that failed to satisfy the hearts of men and women searching for peace with God.
Martin Luther was among those so affected:
Between 1515 and 1519
. . . he found the peace of soul that he had not been able to find in rites, acts of asceticism, or in the famous German Theology of the mystics. . . . A reading of Romans 1:17 convinced him that only faith in Christ could make one just before God. . . . it was his study of the Bible that led him to trust in Christ alone for his salvation.”2
Humanity needs more than reviving the good within. Those without Christ are not in a deep coma from which they need to be awakened. Their condition is much worse. The only solution is to be made alive, and the only way to this life is through Jesus: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. . . . Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:15, 17).
John 8 begins with the well-known story of the scribes and Pharisees who brought an adulterous woman to Jesus but ended up being convicted by their own conscience and leaving (v. 9). Jesus asked, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (v. 10). Then He told her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (v. 11).
The story ends. We are not told what happened to the woman. Did she obey Jesus and live from then on free from sin and its condemnation? I suspect she did because of the next story in this chapter.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (v. 12). The Pharisees used a familiar ploy: Change the subject and question the credentials of the speaker. Jesus played their game for a while. They tried again to change the subject by asking, “Where is Your Father?” (v. 19). Jesus touched on their question, then quickly got back on subject: “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come” (v. 21). He did not let their next attempt derail the discussion. He proclaimed, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (v. 24).
If this scenario is correct — that the woman allowed Jesus’ words to rescue her from darkness and enter His light — then the contrast with the religious leaders’ refusal to submit is dramatic. Often those who know, by personal experience, the exceeding darkness of sin yearn for someone or something to rescue them. They may not know how to word their inner longing, but when they learn about Jesus, they recognize that He is the one they were eagerly searching for.
Jesus, the light of the world, is the only solution for those living in darkness. But too often people who have been religious all their lives, as the Pharisees in this chapter were, reject Jesus’ offer to be uncondemned. They focus instead on extraneous questions and diversions.
In Acts 26 Paul gave his defense of faith to King Agrippa. He recounted the commission Jesus gave him years earlier while traveling to Damascus:
“I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (vv. 17, 18).
Jesus gave two choices: darkness or light. Living in a gray world is not an option. Failure to choose light automatically leaves one in darkness.
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).
Christ alone. No one else; no other way. The solution to being dead in sin is not found in therapy sessions, counseling, self-help books, gradual withdrawal, or any philosophy or religion. Life — real life — is reserved for those who have said “yes” to God through His Son Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the light of the world. This was the primary message of Jesus and the disciples.
The truth was revived five hundred years ago during the Protestant Reformation. The delight of this truth shines fresh each time one dead in sin and living in darkness is transformed by the light of Christ alone.
- Stephen Wellum, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Winter 2015).
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), 282.