Solus Christus (Christ alone) or Solo Christo (through Christ alone) is the phrase the 16th century Reformers used to speak of the unique and necessary work of Christ in reconciling us with God. Yet how often do we glibly pass over the reality and significance of our separation from God?
A central theme bubbling through the Scriptures is that our broken relationship with God lies at the heart of our human dilemma. Too often we align our thinking with our culture, putting our trust in other remedies – thinking better government, better education, better laws, more acts of charity, more equal distribution of wealth, as the solution to our human dilemma. While these things are useful they can never rescue us from our deeper problem: vain-glory.
I am not saying that we should give up on the political process of our democracies – voting for governments that enact laws protecting Christian values. But the Bible tells us we need a radical remedy – not just band-aids.
On March 23 this year I quoted a New York Times article (03/15/2016) where David Brooks wrote of the way a ‘shame culture’ is replacing a ‘guilt culture’. ‘In a guilt culture’, he wrote, ‘people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad’.
Paul the Apostle sees our deeper problem: ‘You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else’. (Ephesians 2:1-3).
‘Nonsense!’ may be our first thought. But Paul sees our inner being, our hearts, through God’s lens. He says that God views us as dead in our relationship with him because of our trespasses and sins. Trespass is a false step – crossing a boundary and stepping away from ‘the right’. Sin speaks of missing the mark – falling short of God’s standard.
‘We have followed the course of this world…’ We like to think we are ‘free’, yet ironically we tend not to have a mind of our own. We are slaves to pop-culture, political correctness, and social trends.
Paul identifies another slavery – the prince of the power of the air. It’s not fashionable these days to speak about the reality of evil, but this ignores the plain teaching of Jesus. All injustice, terror, and violence can ultimately be traced back to an evil power at work.
And there’s a further slavery – the passions of our flesh,… This refers to our flawed, inward looking vain-glory. Paul has in mind, not just sexual lust, but intellectual pride, false ambition, the rejection of truth and vengeful thoughts.
In our natural state we are subject to oppressive influences. Outside us is the world – the prevailing secular culture and its political correctness. Inside us is the flesh – our flawed, self-preoccupied, twisted nature. And, beyond both, but working through both, is the Ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us captive.
What then is the solution? ‘We are by nature children of wrath,… But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…’ (Ephesians 2:3b-4).
We might struggle with the idea of the anger of God. However, careful reading shows us that God’s anger is not like ours. He is not subject to fits of bad temper. His anger is not spite, animosity or revenge. It is his response to evil.
But God who is rich in mercy… made us alive together with Christ. Consider the scene of Jesus’ cross. He was innocent of all charges laid against him; even Pilate agreed. But when Jesus died he didn’t curse. Rather he prayed, “Father, forgive them”.
When one of the criminals near him said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”, Jesus responded, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. Today. Not after years of purgatory or some future time. In Romans 3:21-26 Paul sets out the unique significance of Jesus’ death.
In his Homily, On Salvation, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote, ‘there are three things “which must concur and go together in our justification: ‘Upon God’s part, His great mercy and grace; upon Christ’s part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God’s justice, or price of our redemption, by the offering of His body and shedding of His blood, with fulfilling the law perfectly and thoroughly;… So that in our justification is not only God’s mercy and grace, but also His justice, which the Apostle calleth the justice of God; and it consisteth in paying our ransom, and fulfilling of the law’…”’ (Philip E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers, 1965: p.49)
When we turn to Jesus in repentance and faith God promises to pardon and absolve us from all our sins – no matter what we have done. In the richness of his mercy, God in Christ has done, once and for all, everything that is needed to satisfy his perfect righteousness, enabling us to enjoy life with him forever. Hallelujah!
© John G. Mason