It is nigh impossible to state any of the five solas in isolation. After all, if we hold to Scripture alone as our final and all-sufficient authority for all that we believe and do, we are immediately confronted with the question, what are to believe about salvation?
Our answer is, we believe that salvation is “by grace alone.” But we cannot stop there, for there is a means to this. And so we say that salvation is also “through faith alone.” But faith that saves must have a worthy object, and that object is “Christ alone.” And when you consider such a worthy Saviour, who was sent into this world, you are compelled to say, “To God alone be the glory!”
In this study, we will meditate upon this vital Christocentric sola—“Christ alone.” As we do so, we will focus primarily on the soteriological truth that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. Let me explain.
When it comes to salvation (justification—and even sanctification), the issue is not primarily the amount of our faith but the object of our faith.
When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, a man met him there with the news that the disciples had been unable to help his demonised son. When he begged Jesus to help his son, Jesus replied, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The man immediately responded, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus did not tell the man that he must go and muster up more faith; instead, He honoured the faith that the man had and healed his son (Mark 9:14–29).
The disciples once asked Jesus, “Increase our faith,” to which Jesus replied, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:5–6). Again, it was not the amount of the disciples’ faith that mattered, but the object of their faith.
The lesson is quite simple: Faith does not save; rather, faith lays hold of the one who saves. Faith is not independent of reason, but neither is it simple assent to a series of facts or propositions. Our faith must be well-placed in a particular person: the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the very reason that John wrote his Gospel and his first epistle. In his Gospel, he stated his reason for writing as follows: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). His stated reason for writing his first epistle is as follows: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
John was not the only one who grasped the need for faith in Christ. All of the apostles did, including Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians,
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
If people will be saved, they need to know Christ—and Him alone—as the only Saviour of sinners. Jesus Himself claimed this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Paul echoed Jesus’ words when he wrote, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
But not is Jesus the only Saviour of sinners; He is also the only sanctifier of sinners. The angel said to Joseph, who was contemplating a quiet divorce when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus Christ is the only one who can completely save people from sin. He is the very measure of holiness and the mark toward which we strive (Philippians 3:9–14). He is the consummate goal of the saved (Romans 8:29–30; Galatians 4:19). And how did Paul “labour in birth again until Christ” was “formed” in his young converts (Galatians 4:19)? He did so by preaching Christ.
Jesus Christ is, in short, as the only complete Saviour of sinners, and He alone must be our message. Therefore, we must make much of Him. This should not be hard to do, since He is an inexhaustible treasure.
Paul preached Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and we must do the same. If we don’t preach Christ we will preach ourselves! Let’s not do so. Let’s make much of Jesus, as Paul did, for as the object of our faith is exalted, the amount of our faith will increase.
The Context of Paul’s Manifesto
According to Wikipedia, “a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer.” This is certainly an appropriate description of the text at hand. In fact, 2 Corinthians as a whole might be described as a manifesto relating to Paul’s ministry. But what lay behind it?
In this letter, Paul somewhat reluctantly found it necessary to defend His ministry against his critics, whom Paul, somewhat facetiously, labelled “super-apostles” (11:5; 12:11 ESV). There were no bells and whistles with Paul and his ministry. History records that Paul was less than five feet tall, bald, unattractive, scarred and perhaps even disfigured. We are told that his voice was even “contemptible.” Like his Saviour, he was despised and rejected by majority of men.
On the contrary, the “super-apostles” were outwardly impressive, charismatic personalities. They made a big splash in the religious headlines of the day. The big issue, however, is that they were false teachers. Whatever their message was, it was people-pleasing, popular, crossless and Christless. There was a reason why they were readily accepted and Paul was not!
Paul’s concern therefore, and consequently his defence, was pastoral and not personal. His sheep needed the Shepherd—alone (2 Corinthians 10:1–7). He was not concerned about winning a popularity contest; he was concerned for the souls of the sheep. Paul’s concern was passionate, not personal or polemical. He loved His Saviour and did not take kindly to Him being either “eclipsed” or misrepresented.
Paul therefore appeals to evidence that he was faithful in preaching the good news of the new covenant (3:1–18). The “super-apostles,” it appears, preached Moses rather than Jesus; that is, they did not preach Christ alone. Paul refused to play fast and loose with the gospel of Christ. He wrote,
For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.
(2 Corinthians 2:15–17)
By implication, the “super-apostles” were quite willing to play fast and loose with the gospel. Paul, however, preached Christ whether it was popular or not.
We should pause here to recognise that the Christ whom Paul preached was largely unpopular. The biblical Jesus is controversial. He made a lot of claims that people do not like. For example, He claimed to be the only way to heaven. Such exclusivity is frowned upon by the lost world, but that did not matter to Paul and it should not matter to us.
Paul took responsibility for His message, but not for the results of that message (4:3–5). He preached Christ. That is all that mattered to him. He saw himself as simply a light bearer (v. 7), but it was the Light that mattered.
Sadly, throughout history this Light has often been eclipsed by those supposedly messengers of the Light. The era preceding the Reformation was a dark one spiritually, precisely because those who ought to have been declaring the Light had instead hidden that Light. In many ways, the crossless “Christianity” of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has had the same result. In our own day, much of Christianity so downplays the atonement that the glory of Christ is eclipsed.
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation statement highlights how Christ has become eclipsed by those who ought to be light-bearers. The official statement from the Vatican reads in part,
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.
And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
It is sad that those who ought to be bearing witness to Christ alone would eclipse His glory with the manufactured glory of “his holy Mother Mary.”
The Content of Paul’s Manifesto
But we must come specifically to the content of Paul’s manifesto. This can basically divided into three broad sections.
A Christ-Centred Motivation
Paul writes, “We do not preach ourselves” (v. 5). This was a stinging rebuke against the false apostles. The simple fact is, if you don’t preach Christ then you will preach yourself! James Denney once said, “No man can show Christ powerful to save and himself clever at the same time.”
Church member, understand that your leaders need help with this. It is good to encourage your teachers when you are blessed by their ministry, but hero worship has no place in the life of the church.
Why is it so important that we not preach ourselves? We can give at least three reasons. First, because we cannot save sinners. Local churches must be built on Christ, not on men. “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Second, because we will be gone one day; Christ will not. Third, because we will fail.
But how can we avoid preaching ourselves? The only way to do so is to ensure that Christ is our personal focus. If we are focused on Christ we will not want to draw attention away from Him and to ourselves. On the contrary, we will cry with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
A Christ-Centred Message
The second aspect of Paul’s manifesto that warrants some attention is his Christ-centred message. He did not preach himself, “but Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 5). That is, He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.
Our message must be the same. We must understand and declare that He is Lord, and we are not. He alone is worthy of worship, for he alone can save.
The need to declare Jesus Christ as Lord is evident in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). The key to the Great Commission is not vv. 19–20 but v. 18, where Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” We are to preach the gospel because He is Lord. Our message is predicated on His lordship. If we don’t preach Him as Lord, we will preach a false gospel.
A pastor once told me the story of Stanley Jones who said of Mahatma Gandhi, “If Mr Gandhi is not in heaven when I die, then neither will I be.” When the pastor relating this asked me what I thought, I expressed my sadness that Stanley Jones is not, then, in heaven. Jesus claimed to be the only way to heaven (John 14:6). If Gandhi denied this, then there is no hope of him being in heaven. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). If you try to get to heaven apart from Jesus Christ, you are without hope.
In our pluralistic world this is a very relevant issue. In the midst of the relativism of our day, there is a great need for the church to resurrect its confidence in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
But what precisely does it mean to preach Christ Jesus as Lord? Bryan Chappell suggests, “A sermon is Christ-centred, not because it always cites the name of Jesus or draws to mind some event from his earthly ministry, but because it demonstrates the reality of the human predicament that requires divine salvation.” Chappell says that preachers are always to preach with a fallen condition focus. That is, we must always point people to the truth that we are hopeless apart from Christ. Our sin has rendered us spiritually dead, and Christ is the only Saviour who can rescue us from this predicament.
Along the same lines, Jay Adams helpfully writes,
If you preach a sermon that would be acceptable to the member of a Jewish synagogue or to a Unitarian congregation, there is something radically wrong with it. Preaching, when truly Christian, is distinctive. And what makes it distinctive is the all-pervading presence of a saving and sanctifying Christ. Jesus Christ must be at the heart of every sermon you preach. That is just as true of edificational preaching as it is of evangelistic preaching.
. . . Edificational preaching must always be evangelical; that is what makes it moral rather than moralistic, and what causes it to be unacceptable in a synagogue, mosque, or to a Unitarian congregation. By evangelical, I mean that the import of Christ’s death and resurrection—His substitutionary, penal death and bodily resurrection—on the subject under consideration is made clear in the sermon. You must not exhort your congregation to do whatever the Bible requires of them as though they could fulfil those requirements on their own, but only as a consequence of the saving power of the cross and the indwelling, sanctifying power and presence of Christ in the Person of the Holy Spirit. All edificational preaching, to be Christian, must fully take into consideration God’s grace in salvation and in sanctification.
The health of the local church requires preaching and teaching that highlights both our fallenness and Christ’s lordship and exaltation. That is, the church’s ministry must keep us dependent upon Christ. This must be true in every area of life: relationships, trials, marriage, childrearing, economic hardships, ministry, etc.
What will result in the church and in our lives if we fail to preach Christ as Lord? The outcome will be mere moralism, self-help and self-salvation. Our experiences will become the authority, and we will preach at rather than to people. In fact, we will miss the entire point of Scripture, which is to point us to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:39, 46; Luke 24:25–27, 44–45).
Biblical preaching is always relevant, because Christ is always relevant. Our need is ever-present, and He alone is able to meet our need. He is God. He is eternal. He is timeless. And therefore, it is always relevant to be pointed to Him through biblical preaching.
What results when we preach Christ? When Christ is held up before people, it results in a Christ-centred and Christ-dependent church. The spiritual depth of such a church will result in spiritual breadth. That is, the church that grows in its knowledge of Christ will reach out beyond its own borders, even as its people minister to one another within the body (Ephesians 4:11–16).
When we understand Christ as He is revealed in Scripture, we will leave the convicting, converting and conforming to Him. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). When we understand this truth, we will simply point people to Christ and trust that His sheep will indeed hear His voice and follow accordingly.
A Christ-Centred Manner
Finally, Paul had a Christ-centred manner. He preached Jesus Christ as Lord “and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5). He did not see himself in some way as superior to the Corinthian believers, but as their fellow worker (1:24). In many ways, this is key in keeping the church focused on Christ alone. After all, this mindset is precisely that which Jesus Christ had.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
We are sent by Jesus just as Jesus was sent by the Father (John 20:21). That means that we are to live and to minister as Christ did—with the attitude of a servant. To see oneself as a “slave” of others requires that we are focused on Christ alone. And maintaining this focus keeps us serving!
This helps us to have a Christlike tone as we proclaim a Christ-centred text. Chappell writes, “Accurate exposition requires us to reflect a text’s tone as well as define its terms.” When we pursue Christ alone and preach Christ alone we will desire to please Christ alone as we serve others.
So let us then proclaim the supremacy of Christ; the object of our faith. As we do so, our faith too will grow.
The Conviction of Paul’s manifesto
Paul closes in v. 6 by stating his conviction: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The opening word (“for”) shows that this statement is closely connected to what has gone before. That is, Paul knew that salvation is of the Lord; therefore, according to Scripture alone, he proclaimed salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—all to the glory of God alone!