Friday, October 29, 2021

Faith Alone: Necessary & Enough For Salvation


    When I was a little boy, I made it my aim to be the worst behaved child in Sunday School. I knew I could never be good enough to get a prize from the toy chest. I saw though that this did not go well for me. I decided to change my approach by trying to be perfect in my obedience of the ten commandments. I became miserable. Then I heard the Gospel, the "good news" that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life that I knew I could not lived and died on the cross to absorb the judgment of God on behalf of my recklessness. Christ alone was "perfectly righteous" or "just" in his humanity to provide the perfect righteousness a sinner like myself needed to ever have relationship and fellowship with an infinitely holy God. Amazingly, Jesus Christ is also, by nature, this very same God, who being infinitely just, is the source of the perfect righteousness without end, as well as reconciling in Himself all those who come to and and through Him in saving faith. Paul summarizes this truth of what we call "justification by faith alone" in Galatians 3:23-24 "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." 

    We have noted in recent posts that October 31st is Reformation Day. We’ve looked at Christ alone – salvation’s Savior. Also, grace alone – salvation’s work. Today, we shall explore "faith alone" (sola fide), salvation’s reception. 

What is meant by "justification by faith alone"?

    John Owen’s work, “Justification by Faith”, defines Biblical “justification”: “So by justification, a man is only esteemed, declared, and pronounced righteous, as if he were completely so.” 

    The righteousness or “rightness with God” which is declared by God about the believing sinner is the accrediting of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. The means through which God’s judicial declaration of the sinner as being as righteous as Christ is faith, apart from works. Romans 3:28 "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

How is it that a sinner is regarded good enough to be in relationship with God (i.e. righteous)? Must they do enough good works to be actually righteous? Or is this state of “being in the right” with God received by faith apart from good works? This was the issue that occupied the minds of many in the 16th century and is at the core of what the Bible terms: “justification”. 

    When we turn to the account of the woman who hemmoraged for twelve years in Mark 5:25-34, we observe a situation in which a poor, miserable soul was in desperate need. She had nothing left. The woman in this account had "spent all she had". Her one desire was to somehow touch the hem of Jesus' robe - the man whom she had heard so much about. The entire account, which we can also read of in Matthew 8 and Luke 9, is most detailed in Mark 5:25-34. Notice the underlined terms I highlight in the text, since we will reference them in grasping how the truth of "justification by faith alone" is underscored in this passage:

"A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” 29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

    Certainly, this woman in our account knew she did not have what it took to be right with God – for as we shall see, she lived a life of unrighteousness. 

    To contrast the woman in Mark's text, we can note the sixteenth century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Luther was a Catholic Monk, who attempted to be right with God, but fell short, knowing that despite trying to be self-righteous – He could not get hold of the righteousness of God needed for salvation. Whether someone lives a life devoid of any evidence of "rightness", or if someone lives a life of self-righteousness, both approaches result in the person falling short of the glory of God. 

    If good works cannot make me right with God, nor avoiding good works all together (as I had discovered in my own little childish way or as we shall see in the lives of this woman and Martin Luther), what then is necessary and enough for salvation, if every sinner neither possesses righteousness nor can attain it by being self righteous (as I had)? Consider these three thoughts that will help us answer this most vital of all questions: object of faith is Christ alone; reception of salvation is faith alone; faith in Christ is never alone.

1. Object of faith: Christ alone. Mark 5:25-27

Faith is only as strong as its object. Justification by faith alone tells us that Christ alone is the object of faith (Acts 16:31). What happens though whenever you see yourself very far away, unworthy of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and yet you see Him as the only solution to your deepest need? Before we can be brought to the point of saving faith, we first must be made desperate by the working of the Holy Spirit in saving grace. John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”


Mark 5:25-29 gives us some clues as to the sort of life this woman had lived, and what it took for God to get her attention. 

*Confidence in man, not God (Mark 5:26). 

    Mark 5:26 states:“and had endured much at the hands of many physicians.” The underlying Greek text reads: "πολλὰ παθοῦσα" (polla pathoosa), literally, "many continual sufferings". This woman had placed all her proverbial apples in the carts of men - men failed. Psalm 118:8, the middle verse of our English Bibles reads: "it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men".

*Careless living in unrighteusness. (Mark 5:26). 

    Mark 5:26 goes on to state: had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” In Luke 15:14 we read of the prodigal son:“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.” Notice the underlined phrases in both texts. Both underlined phrases employ the same identical Greek verb, meaning that like the more familiar "prodigal son", this woman had become reckless in her pursuits. We are not told of course what all she may had done. We do know from ancient reference works pertaining to medical treatments, it was quite common for the wealthy in the ancient world to get "addicted" to the latest fads in medicine. 

*Call of the Gospel. (Mark 5:27) 

    Mark 5:27 tells us: “after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.” God in His providence, His common grace which He supplies to all people, made available an opportunity for this woman to somehow hear about Jesus. In so doing, God positioned her to then become a recipient of His "seving grace", wherein it would arise within her heart to desire to seek Jesus for the healing of her soul and body.

Now lets consider this same sort of desperation in a man that was self righteousness.


    I won't go into too much detail pertaining to Luther's life. Instead, I will only highlight his achievements before his conversion. Note how old he was, how much he had achieved, and yet how miserable and wretched he was in his heart. Also notice too how similar his story is to the woman in Mark. Although he and she had different lives, yet the underpinnings of why they did what they did are very similar.

*Confidence in man, not God. 

-Born: 1483. Died: 1546

-teens to 22 Luther trained as a lawyer

*Careful living in self-righteousness

-22 yrs becomes a monk, July 2, 1505

-24 yrs Ordained priest, May 2, 1507

-mid-twenties, he could not obtain peace in the soul

-26yrs, Bachelor of theology, 1509

-27 yrs, Pilgrimage to Rome. 1510

-29 years, Doctor of Theology, taught Psalms and Romans.

*Call of the Gospel.

    Luther would later reflect back on his life before salvation: 

“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit (of good works) would satisfy Him. Therefore, I did not love a just, angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet, I clung to the dear Apostle Paul and had great yearning to know what He meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement: ‘the just shall live by faith’” 

    I do not find it a mystery that Martin Luther identified with the Apostle Paul. Paul too was, by all human accounts, quite an accomplished fellow by the time he reached thirty years of age (that is how old someone had to be before having the chance to join the coveted ruling body of the Jews, "The Sanhedrin"). Paul notes in Philippians 3:7 "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ."

2. The reception of Christ: Faith alone. Mark 5:27-32

    So the object of faith must be "Christ alone". We once again compare the woman in Mark 5 to Martin Luther. Notice now how each of them received the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ alone through faith alone.


*Mark 5:27-29. As we turn once again back to the woman, we see her faith come forth in response to the Gospel. What is faith? Faith is firm persuasion and trust (Hebrews 11:1). Mark 5:27-29 gives us what I call “the working forth of faith in the heart”, that is, there is that working of the Spirit in the heart and on the mind that brings me to freely draw the conclusion that Christ alone can save me from my miserable condition. Jonathan Edwards in his “Religious Affections” notes it this way: 

“Their conviction is an effectual (conclusive) conviction; so that the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the Gospel have the influence of real and certain things upon them….and govern them through the course of their lives.” 

*Mark 5:30-32. We know it was the power of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ that reached this lady, as seen in His comments in Mark 5:30-32 

"Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this." 

    This lady was physically healed, but more importantly, her soul was saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Jesus speaks to her these words in Mark 5:35 "And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”


    Martin Luther writes about his marvelous conversion experience- 

“Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before "the righteousness of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...".

3. Faith in Christ is to be never alone.  Mark 5:33-34

So we have seen how the object of saving faith is Christ alone. We then observed how salvation is received by faith alone. Typically people who contest that there must be something more we can do to merit salvation accuse those who proclaim the Biblical Gospel of "justification by faith alone" as advocating a reckless gospel. "Afterall", they counter, "if salvation is a simple matter of faith, then it must not matter how one lives! Where does ones works or deeds fit into the Gospel?" 

    As we look at this woman once more, Mark’s version is the most detailed of the Gospel records of it (compare Matthew 9:20-22; Lk 8:43-48). As we noted already, Mark 5:34 is the key verse: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Peter writes of the healing of the soul that occurs at saving faith in 1 Peter 2:24 “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” You may notice that justification by faith alone, true saving faith, leads to a life of faith that puts forth works. 

    It must be underscored that in the case of the woman and the man, Martin Luther, their lives were changed and did abound in good works following their justification. To quote John Owen once again, he writes about the relationship of works to saving faith: “We are saved by grace through faith alone unto a faith that is never alone.”  In other words, if you have been justified by faith alone, there must be fruit which follows. Take note of our final comparison between the woman and Martin Luther below.


    Almost immediately, Mark 5:33-34 displays fruits flowing from this woman's newfound faith in Christ. 

*She had an awareness of change, seeing Christ as her Lord, drew near to Him, rather than hiding from Him. 

Mark 5:33 “But the woman, fearing and trembling aware of what had happened to her”.  

*She hungered for truth. 

Mark 5:33 “came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.” This reflects what we read of in John 8:31-32 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

*She had the assurance of having been adopted into the family of God. 

Mark 5:34 “And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Whenever one reads Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6 and Hebrews 2:11-14, the rich truth of the believer's adoption is spelled out as follows: God the Father becomes my heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, per his humanity, becomes my elder brother. 


*Luther had an awareness of change. 

    A few years after his conversion (which historians refer to as his "Tower Experience"), Luther would nail his famous "95 theses" on the church door at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, wherin he protests the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in their selling of indulgences (what I call "get out of purgatory free cards"). In Thesis #62, Luther wrote: “The true treasure of the church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

*Luther had a hunger for truth and would have the assurance of being an adopted son of the Father. 

    Luther evidences the fruit of faith when defending the Gospel against opponents at his trial during the Diet of Worms in 1521 (note:"diet" was a German term to refer to an official meeting, "Worms" was the name of the town in Germany where this confrontation with Luther occured). Would he recant everything he had come to embrace? His reply was as follows:

“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted one another-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen”. Diet of Worms 4/16/1521


    In today's post we have looked at the important truth of "justification by faith alone". To remind ourselves of what this means, let's once more consider the definition offered by John Owen: “So by justification, a man is only esteemed, declared, and pronounced righteous, as if he were completely so.”

    We saw this marvelous truth illustrated in the lives of the woman who had hemmoraged for twelve years and from the life of the 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther. We noted three important points regarding justification by faith alone:

1. Object of faith is Christ alone. 
2. Reception of salvation is faith alone. 
3. Faith in Christ is never alone.

    Faith, by itself, is certainly necessary to receive God's salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church, in the 16th century and today, would agree. However, contrary to what Roman Catholic teaching espoused, and the reason too why Luther protested so strongly against them, was that faith by itself is also enough for salvation. Praise be to God, one need not to add participation in the sacraments, nor the merits of saints to faith to receive God's declaration of being "right" or "just". The woman who hemmoraged evidenced this. Martin Luther experienced this. Anyone who by the wonder of God's saving grace places their trust in Jesus Christ will be, in an instant, made right with God. I close with a wonderful hymn the 19th century hymn writer E.E Hewit that captures what we explored in this post:

"My Faith Has Found A Resting Place"

1 My faith has found a resting place,
from guilt my soul is freed;
I trust the ever-living One,
his wounds for me shall plead.


I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
it is enough that Jesus died,
and that he died for me.

2 Enough for me that Jesus saves,
this ends my fear and doubt;
a sinful soul, I come to him,
he’ll never cast me out. [Refrain]

3 My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God,
salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation thro' his blood. [Refrain]

4 My great Physician heals the sick,
the lost he came to save;
for me his precious blood he shed,
for me his life he gave. [Refrain]

Monday, October 25, 2021

Heaven's Credit Card: Justification By Faith Alone Based Upon Christ Alone

Romans 4:1-3 "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Introduction: How Credit Cards Illustrate The Biblical Truth Of Justification By Faith Alone

    Most everyone today has used credit cards to make purchases. The idea of a credit card is simple: one has pre-approved funds provided by the credit card company that includes a monthly interest rate. When you or I go into a store or restaurant, the card can pay for whatever item we choose. The store recognizes the card and accepts the payment made from it. The money is not the cardholder's money, but the credit card company's. Each month a bill is sent with the appropriate interest charges. Whenever one slides their card through a machine (or inserts it into a "chip-reader" slot), the transaction is complete and the words "card approved" will appear, telling the merchant and the customer that everything is in order. 

    Did you know that there is a credit card spoken of in the Bible? We could call this credit card "The Heavenly Credit Card". This special card's balance was pre-approved by God the Father, paid for in full by God the Son, and is guaranteed by God the Holy Spirit. In Romans 4 we find the Apostle Paul writes about this "Heavenly Credit Card" by referring to it by another name: "justification". 

    In the Book of Romans, justification has certain legal meanings attached to it - referring to declaring the sinner "not guilty" at saving faith. There is another dimension to this marvelous truth of justification, derived from the world of commercial credit that is called by theologians "imputed righteousness". Imputation has to do with God regarding a sinner, at saving faith, as positionally having the righteousness of Jesus Christ - even though the sinner is not inherently righteous (i.e. the imputation of Christ righteusness at saving faith). For on the cross, God imputed the sinner's sin to Christ as if He were that sinner, even though Jesus Christ was never inherently sinful.  R.C. Sproul spells out the implications of the doctrine of imputed righteousness:

"If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

    Thus, the idea of the sinner being a "debtor" to a Holy righteous God gives further detail in one's overall understanding of justification. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 defines justification along the lines of being both a legal and financial transaction of the spiritual sort: 

"Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."

Heaven's Credit Card is Justification by Faith

    When God credits forgiveness of sin and Christ’s righteousness at saving faith, such Heavenly crediting is called “justification by faith”. What follows is an explanation of how Christ is the source of justification by faith and why He and His accomplished life and atoning work is the basis for the believer's justification before a Holy God. 

First, the source of Heavenly Credit: Christ Alone.     

    By what source or grounds does God justify believing sinners? Whenever we explore the wider context of Romans, we find the answer: "Christ alone." We read for example in Romans 3:23-24  

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." 

It is in Romans 4 that Paul uses the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham, as an illustration of justification by faith alone. Why the Apostle Paul choose Abraham to illustrate this central truth? How was it that Abraham was justified by faith before a Holy God? If we can think of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as a Divine credit card machine, the heavenly credit card of "justification" had to be slid through Calvary to pay the bill of debt accrued by sinners to Holy God. Upon each sinner's acknowledgement of Christ by faith, the credit of Christ's righteousness is applied.  

    If we look at the entire Old Testament era up to the cross, when can liken God's justification of people like Abraham as being placed on a huge I.O.U. Every instance of God forgiving believers in the Old Testament had attached a promissory note: "to be paid". Paul's point was that the basis of justification in the Old Testament was not the Law of God - for all the Law could do is demand that I be right with God. Instead, the Old Testament believer was justified by faith alone in the promises of God that looked toward Christ, just as believers today are justified by faith in the Person of Christ. At the cross, the credit card bill came due. Who would pay it? Christ alone.. Romans 3:25 summarizes: 

"whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed." 

    So the Old Testament saints, like Abraham, were justified by faith in Christ just as much as New Testament saints are today. Christ paid the bill for sinners not only in times past but also included future generations of those who by God's grace would respond in trust in Him. Romans 4:25 states - 

"He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." 

Romans 8:3-4 restates the power of justification by faith as grounded in Christ's accomplished work for believing sinners: 

"For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

    Thus the Heavenly credit card of justification is grounded in and based upon Christ alone. Great 19th century Baptist preacher C.H Spurgeon notes: 

He was cast into the prison of the grave until it had been certified that our liabilities were fully discharged, and ‘If Jesus ne’er had paid the debt He ne’er had been at freedom set.’” 

    So Paul is mentioning Abraham and then referring ultimately to us to remind us of from which basis justification by faith is administered: Christ alone. He is the grounds, the foundation or the basis of justification. The next question is, why must Christ be the grounds for justification by faith?

Secondly, the reason why Christ alone is the ground for justification by faith

    The righteousness conferred upon the sinner at salvation is not the sinner's righteousness, since they have none. The ability to be right with God neither derives from the Law of God: since all it can do is demand the sinner to be righteousness, and thus not supplying it. The only source for the necessary righteousness or grounds of acceptance before Holy God is Christ alone. Theologian Loraine Boettner explains on pages 300-301 of his "Studies in Theology":

"By that life of spotless perfection, then, Jesus acquired for His people a positive righteousness which is imputed (that is, credited) to them and which secures for them life in heaven. All that Christ has done and suffered is regarded as having been done and suffered by them. In Him they have fulfilled the law of perfect obedience, as also in Him  they have been rescued from hell; and by His active obedience they are given entrance into heaven."

    This is certainly exciting truth, isn't it? Jesus Christ is the ground for Heavenly credit - justification. In Christ, the believing sinner is declared or reckoned by God as "approved". This approval by God in justification is equivalent to other statements with which we are familiar today. "Paid in full." "Nothing is owed". 

    One of my favorite authors, Anselm of Canterbury, wrote a wonderful book in the eleventh century that answers the the question: "Why the the God-man?" (Latin, "Cur Deus Homo"). In that two part work, Anselm expresses the Biblical truth of Christ's substututionary death on the cross for sinners, and why it was necessary. As to the debt of sin every sinner justified by faith owed to God, Anselm works forth a thorough logical and Biblical argument for why Christ alone must be the source of "Heavenly credit" in justification. He writes in Book 2, chapter seven, the heart of his whole argument:

"For God will not do it, because he has no debt to pay; and man will not do it, because he cannot. Therefore, in order that the God-man may perform this, it is necessary that the same being should perfect God and perfect man, in order to make this atonement. For he cannot and ought not to do it, unless he be very God and very man."

    Anselm's remarks reflect what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23-26 on the relationship between Christ being truly God and truly man and the believer's justification:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."


   In short, Christ alone must be the grounds for Heavenly credit (i.e. the credit of His Perfect life and achievement as man, and the inifinite worth of that credit which He can bestow as God).  Because of Jesus Christ, all who rely upon Him by faith can claim Him as the sole basis for why they can have confidence before God in this life and in the next. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Grace Alone: Why grace is so amazing


    In what is arguably the most familiar hymn of all time, "Amazing Grace", there is a line which I heard a former pastor friend of mine object to in a sermon he preached. That line goes as follows: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch, like me". As he began his message, he labored over how no one could possibly be a wretch, since deep down, everyone is a good person. When I heard him go on from there, I was shocked - to say the least. I mourned, since his departure from Gospel truth would soon unwravel from that day.

     The pivot point of the hymn "Amazing Grace" is the observation that none of us deserve God's kindness and unmerited favor. Apart from Christ, we are all "wretches". In today's post, I want to explore another important truth recovered from the Protestant Reformation for Biblical Christianity - "sola gratia" or what is simply known as "grace alone". 

What is God’s grace? 

    The most common way of defining God's grace is the simple two word phrase: "unmerited favor". Authors throughout the centuries have attempted to capture the essence of this well-known and yet profound word. Jonathan Edwards, the greatest of the 17th century theologians and arguably the greatest thinker born on American soil summarized grace as follows: "grace is but glory begun; glory is but grace completed."  

    A twentieth century theologian by the name of Lewis Sperry Chafer made this observation about God's grace (which by the way incorporates the Reformation summary "grace alone"): 

"The supreme purpose of God is to be realized through the salvation of men by grace alone. So fully does that supreme purpose now dominate the divine undertakings in the universe that everything in heaven and in earth is contributing soely to the one end." 

    In my comparitively small way of attempting to define grace, I utilize the following acronym: God Reaching Across Comforting Enemies. 

A brief, wider Biblical survey of "grace alone"

    A quick survey of the Bible reveals how much "grace alone" or "sola gratia" is mentioned. Some may wonder why the Reformers attached the word "alone" to grace. To say "grace alone" is to say that Christian salvation and all that undergirds the Christian life in sanctification are ultimately attributable to God alone. 

    The human will is never excluded in the act of receiving salvation and cooperating with the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Nevertheless, what "Grace Alone" asserts is that the human will contributes nothing in making salvation occur nor can the Christian's cooperating will in sanctification be credited with any good that comes forth in the Christian life. To put it another way, no one coming to Christ nor anyone who grows in Christ can give themselves an "atta-boy" and boast of what they did. Paul states it perfectly in 1 Corinthians 15:10 "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."

    God's grace is operative from the beginning of creation. God had given Adam an original command in Genesis 2:17 to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam was supposed to had conveyed this to his wife. Upon their temptation in Eden, Adam stood by as the serpent beguiled Eve, with he himself partaking of the fruit with her. God's warning to Adam was that in the day he ate of the fruit, he would surely die. Adam and Eve should had died the day they rebelled, yet we read in Genesis 3:7-15 and 3:21 that God chose to deal graciously with them. Theologians sometimes refer to what God did for Adam and Eve as the issuing forth of "The Covenant of Grace". 

    Another example of how we see God providing grace is in the prologue to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." People may not realize that grace was revealed to show the ancient Jews that they needed God's grace to live lawfully. The 5th century theologian Augustine of Hippo expresses it this way in His "Confessions": "Command what you will; and will what you command".  

    The law of God was never meant to convey salvation. The Law could only demand the need for grace. The prophet Isaiah records in Isaiah 45:17 “Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” Jonah states God as the sole source of grace in Jonah 2:10 “salvation is of the Lord”. The N.T. affirms this truth of "grace alone" as well, Paul writes in Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men”. The Apostle John notes in Revelation 7:10 “Salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”  

    As you can see, the above is but a sampling of the wider Biblical witness of God's amazing grace. In what follows, I will offer a Biblical explanation of "grace alone" by specifically considering Jesus'exorcism of demons from the Gadarene demoniac. 

       A Biblical explanation of “grace alone”.

*God’s grace alone can reach you.  Mark 5:1-5

First note that when we say "sola gratia" or "grace alone", we mean that God's grace alone can reach the sinner in the depths of their lost condition. Note this demoniac in Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-40. He was unreachable, by human standards. Only a Sovereign, intentional act of God could reach this man. I would argue that the demoniac is a picture of how all of us could be if God did not manifest either His common grace (which I'll explain later), let alone His saving grace (which Jesus extends to this man in the deliverance of his soul). Note this man’s condition.

-Matt 8:28, without cleansing. “country of the Gadarenes”. A cross reference of Genesis 10:16 reveals that the demoniac delivered from Jesus was likely of pagan descent (one of the sub-groups of the Canaanites were the "Gergashites"). This would had rendered this man ceremonially and spiritually unclean, meaning that he was viewed outside the reach of any Jew. 

    The above map depicts "Geresa" on the Eastern shore of Galilee and "Gadara" some 5 or so miles SE of the Sea of Galilee. Both towns had regions which overlapped one another, thus possibly explaining why both appear in our best manuscript witnesses of Matthew, Mark and Luke's versions of this account. Some may wonder why Matthew (in most English translations) describes the people in question as from the "Gadarenes", with two demoniacs; while Mark and Luke feature only one demoniac and the region being "the Gerasenes" in many English translations. It is plausible, as some commentators note, that Matthew mentions two men because one is Jewish and the other is Gentile, with the Gentile demoniac the focus of the Markan and Lukan accounts.

    The explanation of the interesting textual history behind the Greek and Latin manuscripts of the underlying text would risk distracting us, so I won't give it here. Suffice it to say, Adam Clarke comments that Matthew lists the region from whence one of these men hailed, “Gadara”, whereas Mark and Matthew list the region of the Gerasenes, the place where Jesus and his disciples landed their boat on the Eastern shore of Galilee. My point is that readers need not worry over the differences of regions, since explanations like the ones above satisfactorily handle the evidence at hand. The takeaway here is that the demoniac was viewed as an "untouchable" by his society.  

-Mt 8:28 without peace. “extremely violent that no one could pass by”

-Mark 5:3 without friends. “And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain”, also Mark 5:4b “and no one was strong enough to subdue him.”

-Mk 5:5 without health. “he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.”

-Lk 8:27b without a home. “and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.”

-Lk 8:29 without rest. “For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard.”

-Lk 8:29 without hope. “and be driven by the demon into the desert.” Two things to remind ourselves of if we are to appreciate grace alone.

How much do we believe ourselves to be "wretches" apart from the grace of God alone?

    Some readers may object to being compared to the above individual. My question to all of us is this: do we picture ourselves as "wretches". Two passages capture the essence of how the demoniac pictures unbelieving man without the grace of God. Romans 5:6 "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."  Ephesians 2:12 “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

    As I heard one preacher remark: "we can never appreciate grace until we grasp the sinfulness of our sin." Scripture describes in vivid detail how much in need we are of God's grace. Solomon states in 1 Kings 8:46 ..”for there is no man who does not sin…”. David writes in Ps 58:3 "The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth." Paul notes in Romans 3:12 “All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” This man was arguably the most severe case Jesus handled in the realm of His exorcisms. Commentator Adam Clarke observes of this demoniac: 

“in this person’s case we see a specimen of what Satan could do in all the wicked if God should permit him; but even the devil himself has his chain and he who often bounds others binds himself."

It was not ritual that delivered this man, but God's grace alone through the Person of Christ.

It may be important at this point to note that the Jews had beliefs about exorcisms. Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, records an alleged tradition that he claims derived from King Solomon himself in his ""Antiquities of the Jews", Book 8, chapter 2, section 5, (written around the sametime as the Gospel of Mark):

He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a Foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils. 

    Acts 19:13-20 records the failed attempt of the sons of Sceva, trying out Jesus’ name as another ritual.  Several other Jewish sources could be cited. All of them claim the ability to cast out demons. In my reading at least, there was never any proof that Jewish rituals worked. Jesus was different. He knew that for this man, it was not a change of behavior, nor a change of location, nor human tradition or ritual that could reach him. God alone, in the Person of the incarnate Son, was able to reach Him, which is what grace is all about (see Ephesians 2:8-9). So we have seen that God alone, in His grace, can reach sinners. But what else can we say of "grace alone" in its meaning?

*God’s grace through Christ alone seeks you. Mark 5:6-9

    So we have witnessed how God's grace alone can save anyone. We now observe this second thought of how this grace is through Christ alone in seeking sinners for salvation. The Reformers recaptured the Biblical emphasis of "Christ Alone" being the source of salvation (readers may refer to my last post, wherein I explored "solus Christus", Christ Alone, here: ). The relationship of "Christ Alone" to "grace alone" is that of a "fountain" to water. Christ alone is the channel through whom God's grace is dispensed. He is the source of grace (note: not Mary, not the saints, not even the church). As we shall see later, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, conveys His grace through the "Scriptures Alone", another emphasis recaptured by the Reformation. Before I explain how God's grace through Christ alone seeks you, two distinctions need made about grace.

Common grace

    When we speak of God's grace in the Gospel, to distinctions are important to note: "common grace" and "saving grace". All sinners receive what is called “common grace”. When I say "common grace", I refer to that good will and intent God shows to all people without exception, whether they recognize it or not. Hence Matthew 5:45b “He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust”. Paul states too about "common grace" in Acts 14:17b “in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Furthermore, we understand the reason why God ordains people to live where they live in Acts 17:27 "that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” None can claim to never have not experienced God’s grace in this sense. 

    Sadly, unbelievers resist this and still ignore or reject God. The Gerasenes here in Mark had the same access to all that Christ did for this man. Yet they cared more about the plight of the pigs than the Person of Christ. Notice Mark 5:16, as to how they were concerned “all about the swine.” The people’s choice of the pigs over Christ explains why they chased Him away. It is like what we read of in Acts 13:46 “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life”. Christ alone can save. Christ alone can cleanse.

Saving grace

    A second important distinction exists when we talk of God's grace in salvation - "saving grace". All human beings experience common grace. Sinners that trust in Jesus are recipients of this “saving grace”. So why "saving grace"? The natural human will opposes God in His common grace, and regards the Gospel as foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:14). All human beings resist God's common grace. Therefore, God’s saving grace is needed to convince the sinner to cease running from God, and to freely choose Christ. The saving grace of God is received by some, with the idea that God alone is credited for why anyone receives the Gospel. Daniel Whittle in his marvelous hymn, "I know whom I have believed", captures this saving grace in his third stanza: 

I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing men of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him.

    Scripture abounds with samples of what saving faith looks like once the human will surrenders in its persistant opposition against God. Luke writes of "saving grace" in Acts 16:14b “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Author Carl Trueman notes how unbelievers are like blocks of marble, that is, they need someone outside of themselves to transform them into a marvelous work. 

    To take Trueman's word picture one more step, God the Holy Spirit breaths into the unbeliever's heart, a spiritually lifeless block of stone, to render him or her a life-filled lover of the Lord Jesus. The prophet Ezekiel captures perfectly what saving grace does in this regard in Ezekiel 36:26 - "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

It is important to remember God's freedom in having mercy upon whom He will have mercy as foundational to embracing the significance of "grace alone"

As we continue on explaining God's seeking of us in Christ alone, we must consider a question. Whenever we read the end of Mark 4, why did Jesus have his disciples go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? He did so to save one man. The demoniac, as we already observed, was spiritually dead. Christ did what He did for this man, whom He chose to save. Before anyone loves Christ, God first loved them (1 John 4:19). All sinners never seek God apart by grace, as Paul states Romans 3:11 “There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” 

    Why does any sinner trust in Christ? God's grace alone. The seeking, intentional mercy of God is captured in the following hymn: "He sought me, and He bought me, with His redeeming blood". Those sinners who trust in Christ do so because God sought them. God, by nature, is the Reconciler, making His plea to all sinners, in His grace to their physical ears to “be reconciled” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Salvation is His idea, not ours. It is His saving grace, which brings Christ’s voice by the Scriptures to the ears of the heart. Paul writes for example in 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

    God's Sovereign freedom in showing grace to whomever He so desires is captured in the aftermath of the golden calf incident of Exodus 32-33. Israel committed flagrant idolatry at the foot of Mount Sinai. The only thing God owed them was their utter destruction, since they broke covenant with Him. He would not had been any less good if He had chosen to express justice. Yet, God chose to reveal the goodness of His grace, rather than justice, before Moses in Exodus 33:19. What God says in Exodus 33:19 is repeated by Paul writing about God's Sovereign work in salvation in Romans 9:15-16 

“For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."" 

    Paul's point is that just as God chose to show mercy to those individual Israelites that day, the motive for His saving grace to any believing sinner is sourced within Himself, not the sinner. Anyone who chooses Christ can only credit God’s grace as to why they do so, since they did not merit anything to earn such favor. We read in John 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God". Peter echoes too this freedom of God in showing mercy upon whom He will show mercy in 1 Peter 1:3a “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again…”. 

    By understanding the sinfulness of our sin and God's freedom in bestowing grace, we come to appreciate how amazing grace truly is. The cross is where the awfulness of the sinfulness of sin and the decisive act of God's mercy meet in the Person of Christ, the Mediator of God's saving grace. 

*God’s grace by Scripture alone changes and sustains you. Mk 5:10-21

So we have observed a building up of thoughts in understanding this truth of "grace alone". First we noticed that God's grace alone can reach and that God's grace alone through Christ is what seeks sinners. We now add a third and final point: God’s grace by Scripture alone changes and sustains you. 

    Notice what happened in Mark 5:15 --> the man was sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind. He was cleansed. Why didn’t the people experience spiritual cleansing for themselves? Human beings make their choices on what their minds hold as the greatest desire. This act of the mind (i.e. “the will”) is rooted within the nature of each person. Unbelievers make choices that will please themselves, the world, and their flesh. Grace alone explains why the demoniac experienced change.

    Throughout this account we find Jesus exorcising these demons by the words of His lips (Mark 5:8-9). No ritual. No Jewish traditions. Instead, Jesus conquered the powers of darkness by His words - alone. The Bible is God’s Word. The Bible alone is how God conveys saving grace to unbelievers and feeds the souls of believers. James 1:21 “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Ephesians 5:26 “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

    Jesus is able to convey God's grace (He being God and man, mind you) by simply speaking words to these demons to leave this man and addressing the man himself. The Reformation recaptured this priority of God's Word as being the sole means of saving grace. It came to contrast the Biblical "grace-based" description of salvation versus the Roman Catholic Church's "merit-based system", which claims participation in the mass and sacraments is how anyone accesses the grace of God.

The day a storm came: contrasting a merit-based view of salvation to that of a "grace-based" view of salvation

    To illustrate, I can recall living in Florida at a time when our home area was struck by three hurricanes. Needless to say, the devastation was widespread. My wife and I had to put in an insurance claim, since our car was totalled in all three storms. Our insurance company set up a tent near our home for anyone making similar insurance claims on their home or auto. We could "lay claim" because we had paid our insurance premium every month. The insurance company included storm damage in its coverage, which meant they had an obligation to cover our car, since we had paid our due. 

    In merit-based systems of salvation, the coverage of salvation is accessed by participating in things like the mass and sacraments. Roman Catholicism teaches that Christ has achieved the merit, however, to obtain what He has done, as well as the merits done by Mary and the saints, their must be something I do in addition to believing in Christ. Even then, the coverage is questionable, since Roman Catholicism teaches the addition of purgatory after death to cleanse away remaining sin before the believer arrives in Heaven. This view makes it appear that people have a claim on God, since merit has been paid in by way of participation.

    Now to return to my illustration, there was a man going around my neighborhood with a gas tank on the back of his truck. The storms had knocked out the gas stations, and people needed a way to run their generators. The man in question was under no obligation to put gas in anyone's generator. Some he would give gas, and others he would not. None could say the man was "being unfair", since no one had any claim on him. What the man did was out of the sheer kindness of his heart. 

    This highlights a grace-based system of salvation. The Bible tells us that yes, Christ has achieved merit on behalf of sinners. The difference here between "grace alone" and merit-based systems is that God uses Christ's merit and Person by Himself as the source of grace, with the words of Scripture conveying saving grace by the Holy Spirit, having mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Merit-based systems add man's participation, effort, to God's grace. 

    No one can ever say they did what they did in salvation. No one can claim because of merit, family upbringing, or any other human effort that they became recipients of saving grace. 

    When Jesus delivered this man, He did so through His words. The man was not only delivered, and cleansed, but was given a commission to tell others of this marvelous work God had done in His life. Mark 5:18-20 

"As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed."

Closing thought:

    Today we considered the wonderful Biblical truth and emphasis of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: "Sola Gratia" or "Grace Alone". First, we noticed that God's grace alone can reach you. Secondly, God's grace alone through Christ is what seeks sinners. Thirdly, God’s grace by Scripture alone changes and sustains you. I want to close out this post by noting the wonderful hymn of David Whittle, from 1883, that I alluded to earlier in the post, which I think captures marvelously this truth of "Grace Alone".

"1 I know not why God’s wondrous grace 

to me is daily shown,

nor why, with mercy, Christ in love

redeemed me for his own.

2 I know not how this saving faith

to me he did impart,

nor how believing in his word

wrought peace within my heart. [Refrain]

3 I know not how the Spirit moves,

convincing us of sin,

revealing Jesus through the Word,

creating faith in him. [Refrain]

4 I know not when my Lord may come,

at night or noon-day fair,

nor if I’ll walk the vale with him,

or meet him in the air. [Refrain]


But “I know whom I have believed,

and am persuaded that he is able

to keep that which I’ve committed

unto him against that day.”"

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Solus Christus - In Christ Alone: A Biblical, Historical, And Personal Reflection


    I’m reminded of the fairly recent hymn, “In Christ Alone”, by Keith Getty and Staurt Townsend” (2001), which sets the tone for today's post. The second stanza of that hymn is: 

“In Christ alone, who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless babe

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones He came to save

'Til on that cross as Jesus died

The wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on Him was laid

Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.” 

    The reader can note that I highlighted one of the phrases in the stanza. To some, it may seem odd that expressing how Christ's work on the cross had satisfied God's wrath would stir opposition. Yet, the 21st century American church scene is, in many respects, in need of reformation just as much as the European church of the Middle Ages. So how controversial did the song "In Christ Alone" become in the eyes of some? 

    The General Session of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in America), in 2013, decided that unless the lyrics “The wrath of God was satisfied”, were changed to “the love of God was magnified”, it could not include it in its hymnals. One PCUSA minister expressed his agreement with this sentiment in his refusal to think of "God killing Jesus", since the cross, to him, was not an instrument of wrath. To their credit, Getty and Townsend refused to change the lyrics, thus, the PCUSA expunged the hymn. Getty and Townsend's refusal to compromise is an expression of why it is the church always needs reformed.

    The church in every age always needs to measure its experience, doctrine, and practice by Scripture and the Lordship, Saviorship and Headship of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:18 "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." 

Reformation Day, October 31st

    October 31st will mark the 504th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was a combined effort on the part of certain leaders in 16th century Germany, France, Switzerland, England and Scotland to get Christianity back to the original truths of the Gospel revealed in the Old Testament; taught by Christ and preached by the Apostles in the New Testament; and nearly lost by Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages (which I'm defining as spanning from 590-1517). 

    One of the doctrines that was recovered by the Reformation is summarized by the two-word phrase: “Christ Alone”. If we had lived in the 16th century, we would had heard the Reformers, who had studied theology in the Latin language, express "Christ Alone" as "Solus Christus". This truth, along with four others (grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone, and God's glory alone), is, in terms of the history of Christian doctrine, the root from which the other four follow. In other words, if one affirms the necessity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ to convey the grace necessary for salvation and the Christian life, apart from Mary, appeals to saints, or reliance on human merit; then the four other Biblical truths (grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone, the glory of God alone) follow. Once "Christ Alone" began to be eclipsed in the Middle Ages, the other "alones" would become altered. Truly, if the Biblical reclamation of the Gospel, which the Reformation of the 16th century sought to achieve, is to be held in the 21st century, the church must assert "Christ Alone".

    In this post, I will briefly explain the Biblical, historical and personal significance of “Christ Alone”. It is important to understand what is meant by this terse phrase: "Christ Alone". James Montgomery Boice in his book, "What Happened to the Gospel of Grace", defines what is meant by this foundational doctrine of the Reformation: 

“Justification because of Christ Alone means that Jesus has done the necessary work of salvation utterly and completely, so that no merit on the part of man, no merit of the saints, no works of ours performed either here or later in purgatory, can add to His completed work.”

    So in defining this phrase, let us first consider the Biblical foundations of this truth by observing how it is featured in an episode of Christ's earthly ministry in Mark 4:33-41.

1. The Biblical significance of “Christ alone”.           Mark 4:33-41

    In this text we find Jesus having finished a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. As He and His disciples prepare to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus decides to get some rest. While He is asleep in the boat, a sudden storm blows up, rendering the Sea of Galilee into a tulmult. What follows below is a summary of three sub-themes that characterize this truth reaffirmed by the Reformers: "Christ Alone".

*Christ’s Work Alone Can Save Your Soul.                   Mk 4:33; Mt 13:34

    Mark 4:33 has a parallel in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew writes in Matthew 13:34-35 - 

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables;I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” 

The reason why Matthew's remark is important is because the fulfillment attributed to Jesus derives from Psalm 78. When we turn to Psalm 78:2-4, we read:

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 

    Why would Matthew attribute Jesus’ parables to fulfillment of Psalm 78? If we were to read Psalm 78, we would find that it rehearses the history of God’s faithfulness in delivering His people, His wondrous grace, and Sovereign purpose being fulfilled through what He promised to David. It would be Christ Himself, descended from David per His humanity, that would become our Sole Mediator. Amazingly, where Psalm 78 ends (referencing David), Matthew 13:34 picks up with referencing its fulfillment to David's descendant according to the flesh - Jesus! 

    These observations scream out "Solus Christus" (Christ Alone). Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. Also, Luke records one of the clearest summaries of the Gospel of salvation as having to do with "Christ Alone" in Acts 16:31, They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

*Christ’s Person Alone can soothe your troubled soul.  Mark 4:35-39

Jesus is asleep. We read Mark’s account of the disciples’ accusations: “Do you not care?” Luke 8:24a grants further detail about the disciples: They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”  God certainly cared for His people, even when they didn’t care about Him. Remember, Matthew is attributing Jesus’ telling of parables to fulfilling what is found in Psalm 78. Let us consider another portion of that Psalm that is relevant to Mark 4:35-38, Psalm 78:24-26 - 

"Yet He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; 24 He rained down manna upon them to eat And gave them food from heaven. 25 Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance. 26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens And by His power He directed the south wind." 

    Yahweh, Jehovah God, is attributed with complete authority over the wind and storm. Here in Mark, Jesus exercises Divine power over the wind and storm. He shows Himself all-caring, as well as all-able to soothe the soul. 

*Christ’s power alone addresses what can paralyze your soul.    Mark 4:41

What can paralyze the soul? We could name several things: Satan’s accusations, the condemnation of the law against our sin, the cravings of our flesh and intimidation. Romans 8:1 deals with Satan. 2 Corinthians 5:21 shows how God the Father credits to me Christ’s righteousness, thus appeasing the law’s condemnation. Galatians 2:20 and Romans 13:14 enable me to fight the good fight of faith against the flesh. Christ alone grounds me in silencing such things. 

    But what of fear? Intimidation? When the Disciples responded the way they did to Jesus, they were face-to-face with the fear of God. Whenever you and I have a proper fear of God, it means we fear the thought no longer sensing His presence in our lives (see Ephesians 4:30). The fear of God leads to hatred of sin (Proverbs 8:13) and is the heart of true worship, since to fear God means to be in awe of Him (see Isaiah 6). When we fear God, all other things that can bring crippling fear are put in their proper perspective. 

2. Historic significance of Christ alone.

What led to the erosion of “Christ Alone” in the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter "R.C.C") of the Middle Ages? We could cite several causes in the long and involved history of Roman Catholic teaching, yet two major doctrines, which are still held to this day by the R.C.C, can be cited. 

*The first is the rise of Papacy.  

    As to the Pope as head of the church, the belief that the Bishop of Rome was above all other Bishops became certified shortly after the days of Pope Gregory I in 590 A.D. Gregory I never accepted attempts to make him chief among the Bishops of the Western church in his day. Regardless, Gregory's leadership and writing embodied for many what such an authority could look like. The Roman Catholic Church had taught already the doctrine of Apostolic succession, meaning that subsequent Bishops of Rome could trace their office back to Peter. Due to a certain interpretation of Matthew 16, in which Jesus states: "upon this rock I will build my church", many Roman Catholics today assume that Jesus was referencing Peter as "that Rock", hence making him the first "Pope". As one studies Matthew 16:18 in concert with other passages (such as Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6-9), the "rock" to which Jesus references is not Peter, nor Peter's faith, but Christ Himself. 

    As the office of Pope grew in influence, the much later crowning of the Holy Roman Emperor by Charlemene in 800 A.D. by Pope Leo III at a Christmas Mass would be a second major event. What would follow for the next several centuries would raise the question: "who has more power, the Emperor or the Pope?" Much of the wrangling that would ensue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor and nations of Europe centered on that very question. Truly, whenever Christ is no longer understood as Supreme Authority in all matters of life, confusion can abound, whether in the secular realm or churchly sphere.

    The Middle Ages had cast a trajectory that would lead the R.C.C to reaffirm Papal supremacy in the Counter Reformation church council known as "The Council of Trent". To risk oversimplification, we skip several centuries to developments in the 19th century. The doctrine of papal infallibility became affirmed 1870, meaning that when the Pope spoke "ex cathedra" or "from the chair" of Peter in Rome on matters affecting Roman Catholic faith and practice, he could not err in such instances. As we will see below, most of what has been spoken "ex cathedra" has had to do with the R.C.C view of Mary.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 882, notes of the Pope: 

"For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." 

    There was good reason why before the Protestant Reformation of 1517, cries for Reform were being heralded all over Europe. John Huss, in 1413, wrote in his major work,“The Church”, the following in chapter 12:  "But Christ is the Roman pontiff, just as he is the head of the universal church and every particular church." Huss would give his life at the stake on July 6, 1415. Ironically, the same Council of Constance that condemned Huss for opposing Papal authority was tasked with trying to resolve a 70 year long dispute as to who was the rightful Pope of the R.C.C. (known by historians as "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church"). 

    Nearly a century later, the Reformer Martin Luther, who posted his 95 Theses, opposing abuses by the R.C.C over a system that distorted grace (called Indulgences), wrote near the end in thesis #94: "Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell."

*The second major source of erosion in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, especially as the sole Mediator between God and sinners, came about through the elevation of Mary.

    In the New Testament we find reference to Jesus' Mary in almost a dozen episodes. Too often, none-Catholics (also known as "Protestants", which was first coined at a government sanctioned meeting called "The Diet of Spyer" in 1529), almost ignore Mary.  Mary was used greatly of God in bring forth the humanity of Jesus in the Spirit's miraculous work of His virginal conception. With that said, the opposite error is to make too much of Mary. Virtually all that the R.C.C. has taught about Mary developed through centuries of tradition, rather than from the New Testament. It may surprise some to note that after only one appearance in the Book of Acts, Mary is never mentioned again in the New Testament. If anything, Christ as the Sole Mediator between Himself and His people for their salvation and subsequent Christian life is asserted (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:7-10; Colossians 1:16-20; 1 Peter 2:6-9; 2 Peter 3:9-10, just to name a few).  A couple of examples from the teaching of the R.C.C. will suffice to show how its elevation of Mary departs from the New Testament insistence upon "Solus Christus" (Christ Alone).

    Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus" (December 8, 1854) expressed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, asserting the non-Biblical idea of Mary herself having been conceived without having inherited Adam's sin nature through her mother. In 1950, another pope expressed the doctrine of Mary’s assumption into Heaven, thus signifying Mary's authority to intercede for Christians in Heaven alongside Jesus. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 975, states: We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ. 

    Protestant Reformer John Calvin, in a letter to Richard LeFavre, dated January 1551, expresses one of the clearest denialsof the R.C.C doctrine of Mary as a "Co-Redeemer" with Christ: “it is not for us to appoint advocates in paradise, but for God, who has appointed Jesus Christ a single one for all.” 

Why the Reformation must still carry on among our American Protestant Church world, particular evangelicalism.

    As we saw at the beginning of this post, contemporary attacks within our American church scene on the doctrine of “Christ Alone” persists. In the 2020 “State of Theology” poll conducted by Ligonier ministries and Lifeway research, 52% affirmed that Jesus was a great teacher, but not God. Also, less than 50% of American evangelicals agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The slide away from Christ as the unique way to the Father and as uniquely revealing the truly Divine nature, which He shares with the Father and the Spirit as the One Triune God, is increasingly eclipsing Gospel preaching in many quarters of the American Church. This is why the effort of Reforming the church is never done. As Erwin W. Lutzer notes in his book, “Rescuing the Gospel”, our task of continual reform is more challenging, since we not only protest unity with R.C.C, but also protest the health and wealth Gospel, pluralism and attacks on Christ’s uniqueness. 

3. Personal application of “Christ Alone”.

We saw today those three Biblical truths of Christ’s uniqueness, or "Christ Alone", Christ alone means He alone can save the soul; Christ alone can soothe the soul and Christ’s power alone can address what paralyzes your soul. Let me close out this post with why this Biblical truth has personal meaning.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of things I have been praying about, some of which I can honestly say could be paralyzing. The little two word phrase: “Christ alone”, or “Solus Christus”, is what has kept my faith anchored. Applying "Christ Alone" in the realm of prayer is exemplified by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:14-15  

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."

I have also found in thinking upon “Christ alone”, my soul is soothed in the face of what is going on in our world, as well as waiting Him to answer some major prayer requests. Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Lastly, Christ alone can save your soul. Romans 10:9-10, 

"that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."