Reformation Series Posts
We are nearing our final week here in this Reformation series. We’ve been looking at the five solas of the Reformation, five statements of something “alone” in the Reformation. We started looking at Scripture alone, Sola Scriptura, how Scripture is the sole, infallible authority of the church for the Christian. There is no higher authority. And then we looked at Sola Fide, how salvation is through faith alone, and faith itself is actually given to us as a gift by God when we couldn’t even desire it. And last week we looked at Sola Gratia, how salvation comes by a sovereign work of grace alone. Man does not contribute anything. Man was dead in sin and it took a decisive act of specific application of grace to make him alive and to have even desires for God. And then this week we will look at Solus Christus, how salvation is found in Christ alone.
There are actually many facets to this. We’re not going to be able to get through all of them, and we’re not honestly going to be able to look at any of this in as much detail as I would like to. But here we go, at least with the summary.
Christ the savior
Here’s what we’re talking about today:
We are saved by Christ without any addition of our own works or merit, and without the addition of anyone else’s works or merit, and that salvation is mediated by Jesus alone.
There’s a lot there; we’ll unpack it. And if some of this sounds familiar to the faith and the grace weeks, in some way it is. I hope what this points out to you is that theological topics never exist in isolation. They always exist as a network of interrelated topics of interrelated truths that all fit together nicely and neatly. In fact, if we ever hold a system of beliefs with things that contradict each other, one or more of those beliefs is false. So when we start out looking at Scripture, we build our beliefs from there, we are going to end up with an interconnected web of related beliefs and doctrines. And so let’s look at Jesus’ work today.
We are justified by Christ’s work and his choice alone, not by our work and our choice. We have a fundamental problem, and we’ve talked about this in previous weeks: what accounts for one person believing the gospel and another person in the exact same set of circumstances with the same experiences not believing the gospel? Well, if God gets the glory alone, which is a sola we’ll talk about next week, it cannot be something in that person that is determinative between one person coming to faith and another not coming to faith. The difference must belong solely in God.
I think it’s fair and necessary to make a qualification here that at the time of the Reformation, and still today, the issue was not, “is faith required or is faith necessary?” Roman Catholics believed then and believe now that faith is necessary. The question wasn’t is grace necessary? No, grace has always been seen to be necessary.
Here is the hinge point though. Is faith in Christ sufficient? Or is there something else that is necessary? Or did Christ, by his work on the cross, accomplish everything, all possible merit that was required for the sinner to be saved? And the answer, from the Protestant perspective, that came out of the Reformation—that was recaptured in terms of what has always been taught in Scripture—is that Christ’s work is not just necessary; it is sufficient. You can’t add anything to it. Because think about it: What would the infinite sacrifice of Christ on the cross possibly have that could be added to it? Nothing. And how would our acts even compare if we were looking to add on to something more than Christ’s work? They couldn’t. This is a very fundamental, important idea for us to understand, that faith in Christ is not just necessary; it’s sufficient. The grace of God to bring the sinner to salvation doesn’t need anything to cooperate with it. In fact, the sinful man, dead in his sin, cannot cooperate with it. Christ’s work alone is necessary and also sufficient.
One of the differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is that in Roman Catholicism, you can grow in justification. You can become more justified over time. Your works actually contribute to your justification, to how God views you, to your standing before God, to the righteousness that you’re seen to have by God. And yet this flies in the face of what we’ve looked at before and the week we looked at Sola Fide, how justification comes by faith, that gift of God, alone. But since you can grow in justification, what that actually means is you are contributing to what will make you saved. You are saved based on partially grace, but also partially works in the Roman Catholic system. And also in a Mormon system, by the way. So we’re not just talking about Roman Catholicism here. But these beliefs stand in stark contrast to the fact that grace is the beginning, the middle, and the end, the entire work of salvation. Salvation itself is totally devoid of human merit.
We don’t contribute anything. We looked at this last week in John 6, how the flesh is of no help; salvation depends on the Spirit. And really, when we go back to John 6, we see that the work of salvation is unilaterally God. The Father gives the people to the Son, the Son atones for and redeems those people on the cross, and the Holy Spirit brings that same group of people to new spiritual life at some future point in time.
When we have a view that works contribute to salvation, that it’s not just the work of Christ, then you end up with something like purgatory in Roman Catholicism, where you have to pay the temporal punishment for the sins that have yet to be paid for when you die. So they would say Jesus paid for your eternal punishment, but you have some temporal punishment, some punishment that takes place in time in a definitive period of time, that you will have to pay.
That’s why, in the Reformation, Martin Luther was railing against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, which were ways to get out of paying that temporal punishment in purgatory. And he said no. You can’t say that there’s still punishment for the Christian to undergo, because Christ paid for it all, which is how Paul can say “there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ,” not even temporal condemnation. And so that’s really important for us to understand. If you have a view where works contribute, you may have to work off more of your sin in purgatory; you may have to contribute your own merit.
So that’s a really important distinction for us to understand, and yes, that brings together some of the things we’ve looked at in previous weeks, but kind of from a new dimension. But there’s another aspect to this idea that salvation is found in Christ alone, and that is who is the mediator between God and man?
Christ the mediator
A mediator is a go-between. You may have heard that there are sometimes legal disputes where two parties cannot agree, and sometimes what a judge will do is not make a determination and a judgment, but what he’ll do is refer that case to mediation. What he’s saying is, “I’m appointing some mutual third party to be the go-between for these two parties to help them arrive at peace in the situation.”
Biblically speaking, there has always been a mediator. It used to be in the Old Covenant that the priests, the Levites, were the mediators between God and men. They offered sacrifices on their behalf. They interceded to God on behalf of the people, and that type of thing. Well, in Roman Catholicism, the church, in some ways, stands as the mediator between God and man, because Catholics believe that the church is a “second Christ.” They believe that Christ is incarnated in the church, and so the institution of the church is divine. Also, priests in Roman Catholicism are actually called “alter christus.” That’s Latin for “another Christ.” They believe they stand in the place of Christ. The pope is called the “vicar of Christ,” the image of Christ. And so you see, they have this very high view of the whole actual Roman Catholic system of the church—the pope, and the priests—where they actually stand in the place of Jesus. (I would love to say so much about that, but we simply don’t have time.)
But here’s why this is important, because it’s not just the pope, the church, and priests that are seen kind of as go-betweens, where in Roman Catholicism you would confess your sins to a priest. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is seen to be a co-mediator with Jesus. She can mediate between the Father and us on our behalf. This is what the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church says in the Roman Catholic Catechism.
“Taken up to heaven, Mary did not lay aside this saving office that she possessed, but by her manifold intercession, continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. Therefore, the blessed virgin is invoked in the church under the title of advocate, helper, benefactress, and mediatrix.”
A Mediatrix is a female mediator.
I think it’s interesting that they do affirm that she continues to bring us salvation, so in some way our salvation is dependent on the work of Mary here, but more than that, the ongoing relationship of the Christian to God should have Mary in some way as a mediator, as a go-between. She was righteous enough on her own – that’s what they believe – that she is able to commend us well to God the Father. And so when we want to be heard well, can pray to Mary, and then she could pray for us, talk to Jesus on our behalf, and that type of thing.
There’s so much I want to say about that, but let’s just say for he sake of argument she is a mediator along with Jesus. Under what circumstances would I ever want to pray to Mary if I could pray to Jesus? Why go to the mother of God when you can just go to God? Why go to the copilot when you could go to the pilot? This doesn’t even make much sense on the face of it. But more than that, biblically speaking, there is no mediator besides Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 says,
”There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man: the Man Jesus Christ.”
Christ is the one (sole) mediator between God and man.
Now you may say this verse is very clear; why do Roman Catholics believe something different? Because the Vatican—the pope, Roman Catholicism—has declared as a matter of belief that you must believe if you are a Roman Catholic that Mary is a mediator. They’ve also declared that you must believe a lot of other things that are not found in Scripture. But the reason for this is that Roman Catholicism does not affirm Sola Scriptura. They actually believe the pope and the church can speak with the same authority as Scripture.
And as an aside, I would say they actually believe it has more authority than Scripture, because the church, on a Roman Catholic view, is the only thing that can tell you what is Scripture, and they’ve claimed the right to tell you authoritatively what Scripture means. So they actually stand over and above Scripture on their belief. But that’s how you can end up with non-biblical beliefs, because like I said, 1 Timothy says there’s one God and mediator; it’s Jesus Christ. It’s not Mary. It’s not the other saints.
But Hebrews 7:25 says a lot about this, and honestly, I would encourage you to read through all of Hebrews, but specifically starting maybe around 6 and going through 10, just to understand how much it says about Jesus, and you’ll see a lot of parallels to Roman Catholicism today in what the writer to the Hebrews is actually rejecting.
But here’s what it says in chapter 7:25.
”So Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Well, if Jesus is interceding for me, what could Mary possibly add? There’s a parallel problem here if you remember. If God died for me in the person of Jesus on the Christ, what could I possibly add to that? I think the answer is obviously nothing, and we’ve looked at that through Scripture in previous weeks, but we’re confronted with a similar question here. If Jesus is interceding for me, who could possibly add to that?
But we also see in Hebrews 9:15 that
“Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who were called may receive the internal inheritance he has promised. Since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant.”
Isn’t that interesting? Right here, the writer to the Hebrews has linked several things. Jesus mediates for those for whom he died. There are some parallels here to what we looked at in John 6 last week. These people who were called – remember, you can only comes if Father draws/calls you, and everyone who is drawn will come to the Son – those people are the same ones that Christ is mediating for.
Once again, here we see Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. There’s not room for another mediator. If Jesus is the mediator, there is no need, nor is there room, for another, and this work of mediation is inextricably linked with the people that he also atoned for.
Doesn’t that just make sense, that there would be harmony in the Trinity in salvation, such that the same people the Father gave the Son are the same ones he atoned for on the cross, are the same ones the Spirit brings to new life as a result of that atonement, are the same ones Jesus intercedes for later on after that regeneration? It just makes sense that there’s harmony in the intention of the Father and who he gives to the Son, and the intention of the Son when he goes to the cross, and in the intention of the Spirit in bringing new life to people. It just makes sense that they all are participating with their unique roles in the one plan of salvation for the one people of God.
I hope what you see here in these scriptural passages, in the logic and reasoning we’ve worked through, is there’s not room for another mediator. There is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, not Mary. She doesn’t stand alongside Jesus. The whole idea that she would be righteous enough on her own to do so blatantly flies in the face of what Paul says in Romans, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes, that would include Mary. And in Ephesians 2, that everyone was dead in their transgressions and sins; yes, even Mary. That God had to make alive any person who came to faith in Christ; yes, that would include even Mary.
Is it a great honor that God would choose Mary to be the earthly mother of the incarnate Christ? Yes, that is an amazing thing. But that doesn’t mean that she’s divine. That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t stained by initial sin, which the church also affirms that she was not actually guilty of original sin, nor did she ever sin. It doesn’t mean those things because Scripture doesn’t say those things.
But more than that, when we look at this doctrine of Solus Christus, we see that salvation is the work of God alone, is the work of Christ alone on the cross, that leads to us being justified. We can’t add to that. But even more than that, the ongoing relationship for the Christian, it’s not mediated by anyone but Jesus Christ. It’s not mediated by Mary. And even if Mary were a mediatrix, as the Roman Catholics claim, would we really want her to mediate for us instead of Jesus? I think not.
This doesn’t mean that we should bash on Catholics and things like that, and generally when I teach in Roman Catholicism I actually like to say what the Catholic church has to say about the Protestant views, because any disagreement we have with Roman Catholicism is also a disagreement the Roman Catholic church has with Protestants. That’s a two-way street of disagreement, but it does no one any good when we’re not clear on the differences, because there are differences. Rome has a very different view of the gospel than Protestants do, at least conservative Protestants, and that’s important for us to understand. There are different gospels being talked about here. There are different gospels that are understood. It’s not just a matter of liturgy and worship preference and some authority difference. There are very stark contrasts that get to the heart of what it means to get right with God. Justification is that doctrine by which we understand how man is made right with God. Roman Catholics say one thing; Protestants say another. They both can’t be right, so the stakes are high. We must be very clear and take these items very seriously.
I hope this series has been helpful to you personally, maybe in your encounters with people with different faith backgrounds in your community, and next week we’ll finish the series off talking about how salvation is for the glory of God alone, and it will bring together many of the different themes we’ve talked about thus far.