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Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
Rev. Michael J. Moffitt, September 24, 2023

Only in Christ Alone

Text: John 14:4–14

Last week we began a 5-week series on the “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 and ended in 1648. The five solas are five Latin phrases popularized during the Reformation that emphasized the distinctions between the early Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. The word sola is the Latin word for “only” and was used in relation to five key teachings that defined the biblical understanding of Protestants. They are

Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
Solus Christus: “Christ Alone”
Sola gratia: “Grace alone”
Sola fide: “Faith alone”
Soli Deo gloria: “To the glory of God alone”

Each of these solas was understood by the Reformers as an exhortation or corrective to many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at the start of the Reformation and as a positive biblical declaration. Last week we began the series with Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone. It asserts that the Word of God, the Bible, is the only rule of faith and of practice for those who are followers of Jesus Christ. The Confessions and Catechisms of the Christian faith all testify to the supremacy and authority of the Bible. Articles 6 and 7 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Anglican Church subscribe to the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments and declare,

Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith or thought to be requisite or necessary to salvation.

I love the clarity of the Belgic Confession first written in 1561.

Article 7: The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures to Be the Only Rule of Faith:

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith….Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures; nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees, or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself.

Today we turn to the second sola, Solus Christus—Christ Alone.

I want to begin with an example of someone who was affected by situations that ordinarily didn’t have much to do with them but who listened to the heart of Christ through the Spirit who indwelled her. The result was the beginning of something much greater than her own vision.

Amy Carmichael (1867–1951), an Irish Christian missionary in India saw the tragedy of the abuse of children abandoned or sold into slavery and prostitution. Some were sold by their parents for money to survive in their poverty. Some were left orphans due to the death of their parents. Either way Carmichael couldn’t ignore what she saw and ended up giving her life running an orphanage for 55 years. This was something that was very different from what she felt called to and had been doing as a missionary. She once said, “The mission of Jesus always has two directions, to the ends of the earth and to the ends of our hearts.”

She was convinced that the mission outside of us is married to the mission inside of us, and that God through the Holy Spirit has joined them together. Once you see this truth you see patterns of this in the gospels and the Book of Acts, and it should play itself out in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. If it isn’t then it may indicate that something has taken its place that has turned us from the mission that God gave to us as followers of Christ.

Jesus was always pressing into the hearts of his disciples asking them for a singular and clear allegiance to him. The words that he used with them were usually very simple and designed to capture the vision that he had for them.

His opening invitation to his disciples was simply, “follow me.” Toward the end of his mission the majority of those who had been following him chose to leave because of his teaching on what we call The Eucharist, partaking of Christ’s body and his blood. Jesus came to his disciples asking, “Are you too going to leave me?” After the resurrection Jesus takes Simon Peter, who had denied that he even knew Jesus three times on the night of his arrest, and asks, “Peter do you love me more than these?” I suspect that many of us have had those moments where we sense the Lord speaking to us asking, “Am I your greatest love, the first love in and over all things?” This is a question that needs to be considered. This is not rhetorical but requires an honest answer. Do you love him more than all your desires, ambitions, your plans, and all your stuff? More than your own life?

In John 21:15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Simon, do you love me?” each time pressing deeper into Peter's heart. Finally, the answer came out in frustration, ”Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus was in a very simple way freeing Peter from the guilt, self-loathing and doubt that were certainly his after his betrayal and then Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus restoring him gave him a chance to accept forgiveness for each betrayal. Now Peter was ready for what Jesus planned for him.

Jesus had taught his disciples to “love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a command but also a promise. Before Jesus is done with us “we shall” love him to the ends of our hearts. Another way of phrasing that might be, “loving Jesus with all we have to offer him.” If we obediently pursue the command the result will be living for his glory, not our own.

Jesus was always pushing people in order to tear down walls separating them from God and each other. His goal was and still is to set us free from who we were so that we might become who he wants us to be. We see examples of Jesus doing that in the woman at the well in Samaria, a leper who was “unclean” and therefore had no contact with anyone, or a tax collector up in a tree. He reached out to them with compassion, mercy, and a new life. He had said, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That too is a command, but more than a command. It is also a promise. Before Jesus is finished with us, “we shall” love our neighbors, “to the very ends of the earth.”

We can see examples of this in the lives of the disciples. In Acts 2 Peter is given the task of preaching to a gathered group of people that likely was comprised of those just a few weeks before were screaming, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Is he going to preach to that crowd? Yes, because also a few weeks earlier Peter had denied the Lord three times. This chapter is not just about the conversion of thousands of Jews. It’s also about the ongoing conversion of Peter. The gospel pushes in. The gospel pushes out.

In Acts 5, the Jewish religious leaders arrested Peter and John for once again preaching the gospel in the temple. Finally in verses 40–41,

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

They were honored to be counted worthy to suffer for the glory of Jesus. I think they were excited that they finally were becoming more and more like Christ and therefore an irritant to the enemy. For Peter it was an affirmation that he did indeed love Jesus. Therefore they continued to preach. The life of Jesus pressed in as it pushed out.

One more example. In Acts 7 Stephen is being stoned to death for preaching the truth of the gospel. As he is being martyred he catches sight of Jesus, standing at the right hand of the Father, and prays “Father forgive them” as Jesus did. Saul later known as Paul was standing there guarding the cloaks of those throwing stones. He was converted two chapters later. As the gospel pushes out, it presses in.

When people heard these young Christians teaching about Christ they also saw the lives they now lived. They saw their devotion, their radical generosity, their love of one another and of everyone around them. They saw their fearlessness in the face of death. The words of their testimony were confirmed by the life that they lived.

However, history records that it wasn’t long before those who followed Jesus fell prey to heresy and a very different life than the early believers. We can see this in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians. False teachers were wreaking havoc because the battle was fully engaged.

Whatever time in history, whether in the age of the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, the Reformers, or even today in America, we are tempted to betray the love and beauty of Christ with our idols. Idols are not merely items made with wood, stone, or metal that we worship as a deity. Idols are anything that takes the place of Jesus in our hearts and minds and there are many to choose from.

This problem became very clear during the Reformation as the church in Rome was seeking an equal place within the hearts of men, a place reserved for Christ alone. The Holy Spirit began a yearning within men like Martin Luther and a realization that there was more to being a Christ follower than merely growing your position of authority in the church. It had to be more than just keeping the rules of the church and denying himself the delights that God had so richly provided for those who were in Christ.

A hunger within his heart would not leave him alone as he continued seeking the answer to his dissatisfaction and misery. It’s interesting that Luther was a very learned man, a scholar who found no joy in the pursuit of education. The more he studied the more he became despondent because he found no rest within his own heart.

It’s then he came to understand that justification was entirely the work of God, not of man. Salvation did not come from faithfulness to the doctrines and demands of the church in Rome but through faith alone by grace alone In the risen Savior and Lord. Everything else in the Scriptures and doctrines of the church rested upon this truth. Anything else that sought to take the place of this truth was not from God but a deception of the enemy who seemed to have infiltrated the church in Rome all the way to the top.

As he sought the answer to this dilemma he suddenly had the revelation that he couldn’t earn his salvation, he could never be righteous enough to save himself, but must trust God in Christ alone, he was set free. The joy that he had been lacking flooded over him, a new creation in Christ alone.

It was also the beginning of a very difficult battle with the Roman Catholic Church which would seek to have him killed.

This problem impressed upon the Reformers the need to purge anything that would throw shade upon the absolute brilliance of Christ’s supremacy in our salvation. The Reformers clearly identified this problem and brought a biblical and theological solution that provides application for our own day.

Much like it had been in Israel at the time of Jesus and the disciples, the church was the center of social life in Western Europe. You probably remember the stories in the gospels of those who were cast out of the synagogue because they were considered unclean or unworthy to be in the presence of God. The woman with an issue of blood in Mark 5, the man who was crippled for over 38 years testified to the Pharisees that Jesus healed him and was kicked out of the synagogue. That meant they were outcasts within the religious community in Jerusalem. In the same way those who opposed the Roman Catholic Church were considered anathema and excommunicated and denounced by the Pope. The problem wasn’t that men like Luther were not living in accordance with the word of God, but they had turned against the corruption of the church.

It became clear to Luther that the people in his day believed that salvation was a gift of the church given by those who were in authority. Instead of trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their salvation they looked to the church. Instead of in Christ alone, they were encouraged to appeal to Mary, the mother of Jesus as well as the saints that had gone before them.

From a human standpoint I can see why praying to Mary might have appeal. If Jesus is seen as the Son of God, creator, and sustainer of the universe he must be really, really busy so praying to His mother might be an easier way to get to Jesus. I laugh but I have heard it explained to me like that. Of course Paul had been very clear in 1 Timothy 2:5–6,

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

However, in Luther’s time everything that the common person needed to be right with God was provided by the church and administered by an ordained priest. It was kind of a “one stop shopping” affair but what was given were cheap replicas instead of the real thing. D. Blair Smith wrote of this time during the Reformation.

In 1520, Luther wrote “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”, where he attacked the sacramental system of the church. That system, Luther said, represented a captivity that had become its own Babylon, holding captive the people of God from cradle to grave: In the church one was baptized as an infant, confirmed as a youth, married as a mature person, and received extreme unction on one’s deathbed. Each of these sacraments, along with ordination, were seen as conveying grace when administered by a priest. The grace conferred was supplemented throughout one’s life by two further sacraments: regular confession of sin to a priest and the reception of the Eucharist through a priestly Mass.

Luther found in the Scripture only two sacraments, Baptism and The Eucharist. Salvation was not dependent on any man, no matter who he was or what position he held in the church, it was through the finished work of Christ upon the cross.

Each of the solas rests on the first: Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is the place where we go to gain our picture of Christ.

The interesting thing about this time in church history is that men like Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and others weren’t trying to do away with the Roman Catholic Church but to bring reform to it. They understood that in order for there to be a strong church there must be a commitment to the Word of God as the final authority in all matters of life and the church. The church's traditions must be submitted to the scrutiny of God’s word, not the other way around. They knew that if there was to be a strong church it must be in reliance and obedience to their strong Savior.

Listen to 1 John 1:1–4,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

The Reformers were not against all the teaching of the church. Rome and the Protestant church agreed on the doctrine of the Trinity, being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed that we publicly affirm every week was accepted by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches then and now.

The core doctrines for the most part were agreed upon. It was the way of salvation that was the problem. Salvation could only be accomplished through the finished work of Christ upon the cross being received by grace through faith. Any other item being added to that was to attempt to share the glory due to the Savior alone.

As we discussed last week on Scripture Alone, the Reformers sought to bring every doctrine and teaching under the scrutiny of the Bible. Any other authority would pollute God’s word. In Isaiah 48:11 God made it very clear that he would not share his glory with anyone. Consider Colossians 2:8–10,

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Using the examples of philosophy and empty deceit Paul isn’t pointing to the rational pursuit of truth but on occult practices focused on discerning cosmic mysteries and powers. Paul was making it clear to the Colossians that all truth would be found in Christ alone not in those things that take their focus off of Christ. When we lose our focus on the supremacy of Christ over all things, especially empty works, or false mediators we preach what Luther called a “theology of glory” instead of a “theology of the cross” we rob Jesus of the glory due Him.

Was this a problem only found in the late medieval Roman Catholic Church? Absolutely not! It’s a huge problem today, especially in Western Christianity. In much of what is called the church today the main focus seems to be on social justice, and unity at all cost. Rather than seeing the word of God as the only rule of faith and practice and Jesus as the only way to the Father, both are seen as one way possible but not the only way.

We are always tempted to pursue a “theology of glory” that pollutes the pristine picture of salvation given to us in the Word. A theology of glory wants God but bypasses the cross, thus inserting human devices in reaching up to God. Solus Christus was needed in the sixteenth century and is needed in the twenty-first century in order to press upon us the fact that our relationship with God can be mediated by none other than Christ alone.

Let’s pray.

©2023 The Rev. Michael J. Moffitt

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