Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on September 24, 2017
“Sola Christus: Christ Alone”
First of five sermons on the Reformation’s Principles
Scriptures: Hebrews 10:4-14 and Isaiah 64:5-9
On October 31, 1517, a thirty-three year old monk named Martin Luther, climbed the steps of a church in Wittenberg, Germany and nailed a list of 95 Theses on the door. Out of that act emerged an historical movement known as the Protestant Reformation. The monk did not create any new truths. Rather, he rediscovered some Biblical truths that had been lost by the Church for a long time. Because our sermons for five weeks will focus on the Five Principles of the Reformation, someone will surely ask, “Why are we commemorating an event which occurred 500 years ago?” History scholars will remind us that the Reformation was one of the most influential events in world history and in the Christian Church. We will also recognize that the historical, social, theological and political motivations which prompted the Reformation are similar to the challenges the world faces today.
Our five sermons on the Reformation will not focus on one or two men, Martin Luther and John Calvin. Instead, we will consider the Reformer’s rediscovery of the central message of the Gospel; insistence on the authority of God’s Word; and the majestic emphasis on God’s Grace. During these five sermons, I pray you will come away with an understanding of the Reformation’s primary concern about the relationship between a holy God and sinful people. It is a theme which theologians call, “justification by faith in Jesus Christ.”
When Martin Luther penned the first edition to his collected works in 1545, he wrote that when he realized what “justification by faith” truly meant, it felt like the gates of Heaven had been opened to him for the first time. In recognizing the power and importance of “justification by faith,” Luther did not mean that he suddenly realized the Church should not sell indulgences, or monks and nuns could get married, or the Pope was the antichrist, or that human beings needed freedom for self-development (themes associated with the Protestant Reformation). Instead, Luther reintroduced a central theme of the Bible, namely that men and women could be saved from God’s judgment by the free and unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ. This renewed understanding of that Biblical message altered the world!
Today, as people in this nation and worldwide desperately seek after peace, justice, release from hate and guilt, reconciliation and forgiveness, it is that same Biblical message of “justification by faith in Jesus Christ” which provides humanity hope. Only as the Christian Church faithfully proclaims and demonstrates the five Biblical truths which transformed our world five hundred years ago, will this world realize the peace, justice, truth and unity it yearns after. Let’s begin our study of the Five Principles of the Reformation by examining Sola Christus – or Christ Alone.
The sound of our home’s doorbell chimed, prompting me to open the door to two young men dressed like corporate executives in white shirts and ties. They introduced themselves as missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. They politely began telling me about their church and quoted some verses supporting their beliefs. After politely listening to their presentation, I first commended their religious commitment and service, and then informed them that I was a Christian pastor with sincere disagreement with their interpretation of the Bible. I cited some Biblical passages where Christianity and Mormonism have radically different ideas concerning the deity of Jesus Christ and my reservations about the inspiration of the Book of Mormon.
I’d love to say my erudite, scholarly arguments convinced them – but that would be a lie. After an hour and one-half of discussion, we agreed that our beliefs were worlds apart. I reiterated my admiration for their commitment and invited them to return for further discussion. As they left my home, I prayed God would open their eyes and reveal the error of their beliefs and the truth of God’s Word.
Was that arrogant and intolerant of me? Was I expressing religious superiority towards some devout, sincere young men? No. I was thinking of the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the false teachers of his day who claimed to believe in Jesus, but who insisted that other works were necessary in addition to faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2: 4-5; Phil. 3:1-2; Col. 2:8-15; Matt. 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2: 1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). Over and over again, Paul refused to deviate from the one message God had given him: Jesus Christ alone is humanity’s means for salvation!
Throughout history people have strenuously resisted the idea that Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross is God’s chosen means for attaining our salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). For Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:24-26; 1 John 2:1-2). It explains why the Cross became the universal symbol of the Christian faith.
Luther confronted the same distortion of the Gospel message in his lifetime. Under the authority of the Pope, men distorted the Gospel message of Christ alone as humanity’s Savior. The controversy which precipitated Luther’s action involved the sale of indulgences as a means for obtaining forgiveness of one’s sins. The popular slogan used by the salesmen of indulgences was:
“As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to Heaven springs.”
The Church was promoting an economic method for keeping a person and their loved ones out of Hell. It involved Christ plus your sacrifice; Christ plus your baptism; Christ plus your good works. Paul continually replied: “Christ alone is our means of salvation. Salvation is found in no one else.” (Acts 4:12; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Tim. 3:14-15)
Today, there are still plenty of folks who try to add something to the completed work of Jesus Christ. It may be Jesus and your offering; Jesus and giving to the poor; or Jesus and rock music. We don’t need any more religious rules, instructions, or sacrifices. What we desperately need is Christ alone!
We glory in Christ. (Rom. 15:17).
We appeal to Christ alone. (Acts 4:12).
Christ alone is our sufficiency. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Christ alone can comfort a shattered heart and restore hope. (Col. 1:27)
Christ alone can make a sinner a child of God. (John 1:12; Romans 8:16-17)
Christ alone can set the prisoners free. (Eph. 3:1)
Christ alone! Sola Christus!
Have you given your life to Jesus Christ…alone?