By Kent McCrimmon
“Jesus Christ is the only savior of sinners and his atoning sacrifice is sufficient to save them.”
Several years ago I was watching a sitcom where one of the characters meets Jesus. After meeting Jesus, he returns home and tells his family some things he learned. The character informs them that it is actually Jesus Hong, not Jesus Christ, and that somewhere along the line there was some mix-up with his last name. Obviously the bit is intended to be funny, yet I think it is something that is relevant for us.
In Christian circles there seems to be a revival of Jesus-centered churches. We love to talk about Jesus, which is great! But, as much as we love to say Jesus, we don't seem to speak of Christ all that often. In some ways, as in the sitcom, we see Christ merely as a last name. Though, as we read the New Testament, we cannot miss that Christ is paramount to Jesus' identity. In Paul's letters he uses Christ almost twice as much! For Paul the simple content of the gospel message is “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ leads Jesus to call Peter the rock on which the church will be built (Matthew 16:13-20). If we want to get Jesus right, we must understand that he is the Christ. The reformers understood this and as such the doctrine of Solus Christus, Christ Alone, was a central part of their rallying cry. I believe that we have much to learn from the reformers in understanding the significance of the profession that Jesus is the Christ. In what follows, we will first consider in greater detail what is means for Jesus to be the Christ. Second, we will define what the reformers meant in proclaiming “Christ Alone.” Finally, we will close with some of the implications that flow from the doctrine “Christ Alone.”
Jesus is the Christ
The New Testament word “Christ” simply means anointed one. The Greek term comes from the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which also means anointed one. Thus, in order to understand what the New Testament authors mean when they talk about Christ or declare Jesus to be the Christ, we must first know what Messiah means in the Old Testament. Early in the narrative of the Old Testament, God's good creation is sent into turmoil by man's rebellion. From that point onward is the story there is a building expectation of deliverance for God's people. This expectation is the basis of hope for the people of God throughout the Old Testament. This hope is often pictured as coming through a human agent. In Genesis 3 it is the seed of the woman who will defeat the enemy. Later on it is Moses who leads the people of God to freedom, and it is promised that one greater than Moses would come. In the Psalms, it is David's household that stands to rule over God's people with justice, particularly it is God's anointed, the Messiah. The one who will defeat the enemies of God, bring freedom, and rule with justice for the people of God is the Messiah, the Christ.
It is with this context in mind that we can consider the confession that Jesus is the Christ. With these lofty expectations in mind we can understand why the disciples might have been expecting a powerful, dynamic leader to change their circumstances. We can imagine that they were confused by Jesus' words about his death. Peter himself was rebuked for not understanding Jesus' words about his death. This is the surprising part about the Christ, that he must suffer. Victory does not come in the expected way, but rather it comes through apparent defeat. It is the Christ's death on the cross that affirms his identity and provides the means for reversing the circumstances of God's people. Isaiah 53 powerfully describes this reality of the Christ.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
Jesus is the Christ. He is the one promised in the Old Testament. Through his crucifixion the enemies of God are defeated, and for this reason we can boldly preach Christ crucified as good news. The natural continuation of this recognition is that it is by Christ alone that we are saved. Christ is the only savior, and his sacrifice is sufficient. Jesus claimed this for himself, saying that no one could come to the Father except through him (John 14:6). The hope spoken of in the Old Testament is found nowhere else; there is no other name which brings salvation (Acts 4:12). He is the one true remedy. Furthermore, he is sufficient in every way! As the author of Hebrews succinctly puts it, “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) The salvation we have is not our own, but Christ's. As such we cannot lose it! What a great confidence we have in our savior Jesus Christ.
There are a few implications of the doctrine of Solus Christus that I want to press in by way of application. Faith in any 'savior' other than Jesus Christ is worthless. Christ is the only mediator between God and sinners. To strive after anything else is a vain effort. This challenges us in our evangelism. What are we trying to win people to? Do we want to simply see them come to church? Or do we want them to know Christ and his saving work? Christ and his cross must be central to our evangelism. Additionally, it challenges us to examine where we place our own confidence. Is our confidence in what we have done lately? Or is our confidence placed squarely upon what Christ has done? To answer yes to the former is to have misplaced confidence. Yet, to answer yes to the latter is the basis for great assurance. It assures us of God's love for us. He has shown us that his love by giving his son for us (John 3:16) and has promised that he will never lose a grip on us (John 6:39).
The saving work of Christ is complete, effectual, and cannot be nullified. As we consider the doctrine of Solus Christus we ought to be comforted and challenged. Comforted in our own status before God, but challenged to proclaim the hope that is in Jesus Christ alone. That we may sing and many others with us, “In Christ alone my hope is found...”