Rev. Mark Buetow
When Lutherans say “Solus Christus (Christ alone)” or sometimes “Solo Christo (by Christ alone)” we mean exactly that. Jesus and nothing else. Nothing else added to our salvation. Nothing else added to our standing before God. Nothing else in our good works and daily lives. Just Christ. Only Christ. Christ alone.
To confess “Christ alone” is to say that it is Jesus only who saves us. We don’t mean, of course, that the Father didn’t send the Son or that the Spirit doesn’t “call, gather, enlighten, sanctify us” by His gifts in the church. When we say “Christ alone” we just mean all Jesus and none of US.
This is true of our salvation. We are born dead in our trespasses and sins. Christ alone can speak life into us, like He did to Lazarus. We could never be good enough to make up for our sins. Christ alone lives perfectly and keeps every commandment and law for us. We could never answer for our sins other than to be damned forever. But Christ all by Himself answered for our sins and the sins of the whole world by being saddled with the sin of the world, forsaken by the Father and damned alone on Calvary. So much so that He could cry out, “It is finished!” Jesus Christ alone did it. All by Himself. There’s nothing left to be done. Your sins are wiped out. And while many people were raised from the dead in the Bible, it was Christ alone who came to life without any help. He rose and left death behind. Only Jesus can do that!
Christ doing all this alone, without any help, because He is God and man, matters for our salvation. You see, when it comes to being square with God, we like to think that if we contribute even just a little bit, we’ll be OK. If we just have enough faith. Or try to balance our bad with some good. Or change our lives. Or give up our sins. Or do something, anything, however small and religiousy. If we just add SOMETHING, then that will count. “Christ alone” rescues us from that false and despair-inducing belief. It means we rest confidently in the fact that Jesus has done all the saving that we need done and ours is just to enjoy being the savee, as it were.
Now, the real kicker is when preachers tell you, “Of course it’s all Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. But now that you are saved, Jesus expects this or that sort of behavior to show that you love Him and are still saved.” In other words, you get SAVED by Christ alone but you LIVE by Jesus’ grace and some good intentions and effort! The Lutheran cry of “Christ alone!” answers that sort of thinking too! In his epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). He makes it clear that we don’t start with Jesus and keep going under our own steam!
When it comes to “Christian living” and “doing good works” and “living the sanctified life” and “bearing the fruits of faith,” Lutherans also cry out “Christ alone.” After all, the Word of God likewise ascribes all of our good works and sanctified (holy) living to Christ living in us. This is hammered home in such passages as “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption -- that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD." (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
And that, really, is what “Christ alone” means. It means we boast in the Lord and not ourselves. That wicked Old Adam wants nothing else than to take credit for even the smallest improvements we seem to make. It’s not enough he hates God and wants to do his own thing. Our Old Adam knows how to play the game, get some religion and make it all about himself. So we cry out, “Christ alone!” We won’t go looking to catalog and measure our good works. We’ll let the Lord worry about living in us and through us, in bringing forth fruits of the Spirit in our lives and in working through us those good works which by which Christ loves and serves our neighbor through us.
It’s important to point out one other aspect of our confession of “Christ alone.” And that is that “Christ alone” does not mean “so now we don’t need to go to church or hear the Word or have the Lord’s Supper.” It is those very ways, by the water of the font, the Word heard in the Bible and preaching, and by the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, that Christ alone comes to us. These gifts teach us what “Christ alone” means because each of these gifts is from and about and of Jesus Himself. That means with the Word and water and body and blood, Jesus rescues us from emotions or our good works scorecard or comparing ourselves to others or anything else that would cause us to trust in anything other than Him. And lest you object, “But going to church, that’s DOING something,” recall your Catechism which teaches us that receiving those gifts is really nothing other than the Spirit “calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying” us by giving us Christ alone.
The Lutheran confession of “Solus Christus, Christ alone!” is a cry that says in the matter of our salvation, it is Christ alone who accomplishes it. In the matter of our sanctification and Christian life, it’s Christ alone there who also accomplishes and does it. It is all Jesus and none of us. And that is to be a CHRIST-ian, that is, those who boast not in themselves but in Jesus and all that He is and has done and still does for us. Solus Christus! Christ alone!
Created: October 21st, 2013