Sola What?: Solus Christus

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This post was edited July 21, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

We continue in our journey through the hallmark doctrines of Protestantism, focusing today on the position and role of Jesus Messiah.

Solus Christus: Christ alone (sometimes rendered Solo Christo)

In our earlier discussion on Soli Deo Gloria, we looked at the necessity of honoring God. Living in such a way that brings Him glory is a mark of the true believer. Knowing the love and grace of God moves the Christian to obedience. We should seek to submit to His will in all things. He is the Lord, the Master, of every aspect of our lives.

It is my opinion that turning our eyes to gaze steadily on the beautiful countenance of God leads us to grapple with the Incarnation; whoever has seen Him (whether by common or spiritual vision) has seen the Father (Jn. 14:8-9). Jesus is God revealed. If we wish to know the Lord, we need only look to Him.

How, then, does the Messiah, the God-Man, tell us that we are saved?

Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 (NKJV)

Jesus intimately connects His own Person to the process of salvation. In the Gospel of John alone, He refers to Himself as the water (Jn. 4:10-14), the bread (Jn. 6:35), the light (Jn. 8:12), the gate (Jn. 10:7-9) and the shepherd (Jn. 10:11-18). These are just a few examples of how integral Jesus is in mediating between God and humankind. Water is essential for survival. Bread quiets hunger pangs. Light dispels the darkness. Gates let in those allowed and keep out those not. The shepherd knows His sheep – and He sheep know Him, following no other.

Protestants and Catholics agree on this, but there is sharp divergence on whether or not the redemptive work of Christ is enough to bring about salvation for each of us. Here we arrive at the role and meaning of the sacraments, meritorious works and the role of Mary and the saints (who, to my understanding, form a sort of repository or treasury of faith and works the Christian today can access and benefit from). Let us consider each separately.

The word “sacrament” is defined as a sacred act or ceremony. Most Protestant denominations engage in only two sacraments, Baptism and Communion/Eucharist, neither of which are understood to confer grace in and of themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, by contrast, defines the sacraments as:

efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. (1131)

In other words, to a Protestant, grace already exists in the life of the Christian by virtue of His belief and the sacraments are the outward signs or rites of that inward reality. The Catholic Church teaches that the sacraments (of which there are seven – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony) are avenues (instituted by Christ) through which grace is deposited into the Christian.

The contrasting ideas of the sacraments flow directly into the role and place of meritorious works in the believer’s life, a bone of deep contention between the two sides. The role of works is inextricably linked to the doctrine of justification (right standing before God); is the righteousness of Christ imputed (assigning a value, possessed by one, to another), imparted (bestowing a quality) or infused (fill and instill) into the life of the Christian?

In Romans 3:21-4:25, Paul goes into great detail about the imputed aspect of justification. Christ’s righteousness, His life of perfect and complete sinless obedience, is “charged” to or against the sinful account of the one who cries out in sincere repentance. Thus, while the sinful nature is not immediately eradicated, God may still look upon the Christian as if she is complete and pure.

Imparted righteousness may be more closely identified with sanctification (the process by which God, with the submission of the believer, works to remake her). The more we come to know and love God, the more we want to be like Him and do what He wants us to do. Sin becomes abhorrent as we submit to God and He heals our blindness, our deafness and melts our hearts of stone.

Infused righteousness must be maintained by meritorious works. We cannot be filled with the Spirit, or, really, filled with salvation if we are not doing what God wants us to do. Here we see that there is less distinction in Catholicism between justification and sanctification than in Protestant theology, which sees justification as a “moment” and sanctification as “life.” Catholicism, to my understanding, lumps the two together. We are both justified and sanctified over the course of our years. And yet it goes further; the emphasis on this infusing means that works become inextricably linked to maintaining one’s position in Christ. Instead of righteousness coming by faith and works being an expression of that faith, righteousness comes by what one does. There is a heightened sense in which man plays a role in his own salvation, a sense not found in even the most ardently Arminian Protestant theology.

It would be easy to spend the rest of our time in the discussion of works, but I would like to conclude this section by saying that I see ample evidence in Scripture and experience for justification as imputed (seen in the Romans passage above), imparted (2 Pt. 1:4, 1 Jn. 3:9) and infused (Jn. 14:15). God declares us righteous, remakes our natures and then expects us to live accordingly. But it is important to note that we are immediately made right before God the moment that we confess Christ and that our works, while showing evidence of imparted righteousness, are not what makes us pure before God. It is only the death and resurrection of Christ, and our faith in Him, that accomplishes such a thing.

Now it seems that we come back to Mary, and, frankly, that annoys me. I do not want to consider Mary, for she was only a human being. And yet it is impossible to escape the place of importance she occupies in Catholic theology. Mary is given the title “Co-Redemptrix” for her free cooperation with God in the plan of redemption, something that seems plainly offensive to me. Without her obedience, the Incarnation would not have happened, and so I am thankful that she chose to submit to God. Yet I cannot make the leap that Catholic thinking requires in asserting that, because of her obedience, Mary is thus a mediator, though of lesser value, between God and man. This blatantly flies in the face of everything Scripture teaches. For confirmation, we need only to consider the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Finally, the faith and works of the saints are available for additional “goodness” in the life of the Christian. While I am thankful for and inspired by the lives of Christians who have gone before me, neither their sins or their righteousness have anything to do with me. I am judged solely on whether or not I am in Christ, not on whether or not I “dipped” into some pool of obedience.

I do not believe that it is a stretch to say that Catholicism teaches that the death and resurrection of Christ is not enough to secure salvation for each person. We must have faith, but we must also work. And the work, when it becomes a means to salvation rather than an outflow of it, cheapens the faith.

Salvation is by Christ alone. He was the perfect sacrifice (again, read all of Hebrews). He did all the work. Our only role in the process is to respond to His offer. It is to take the complete and perfect package. We don’t do good things in the hope that they will save us. We don’t “start” with Jesus and then “add” to Him by doing good things. We don’t need to “add” to Jesus at all. We do good things because we are already saved. We do good things out of love and adoration.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

How I Came to Faith: These Days

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Gentle Reader,

That dark season when Chris and I both found a new level of intimacy with the Lord led directly to a season of testing. It seems as though the moment our hearts were stolen by Him, He determined to test our devotion. When a non-believer hears something like that, strange visions must arise. Again, there were no burning bushes, no audible voices. The question we were asked is the one that believers have been asked time and again, whatever their era.

Will you follow Me?

For awhile this question made sense in the context of getting our lives on track. We stopped partying. I dove into Bible study and found that it thrilled me. Chris took his medication and went to his therapy sessions. We just kept doing “the next thing,” whatever it was. When your life is mostly about surviving one day at a time, that’s all you can do.

As we both grew more confident in our faith, ourselves and our relationship, the implications of the question changed. Obeying God began to cost something. Friendships began to deteriorate as we no longer fit into a neat little mold. The worst came when it grew clear that we could no longer remain at the church we’d been part of for nearly four years. We both had serious misgivings about the direction the leadership was moving the people toward. Things began to feel uncomfortable. Theological questions began to arise – questions that we could not get satisfactory answers to.

Breaking up is hard to do. By the time we left, the damaged relationships and the spiritual abuse we experienced were intertwined in ways that shouldn’t have been. I was done. Though quite decided in following the Lord, I wanted nothing more to do with the church. Frankly, I thought most of His people sucked.

He kept on me. Will you follow Me? A friend of mine from high school moved back to the area. He and his wife invited us to attend their church one Sunday. I was skeptical, to say the least, but Chris seemed eager to go and I didn’t feel like arguing (again) about church. We went, heard a sermon, met some people, ate some food. Nothing earth-shattering.

Except, it was. The difference between the two churches was staggering. The one didn’t claim to be perfect. In fact, a certain level of dysfunction seemed to be expected. The very imperfect human journey with a perfect Lord was embraced. The occasional spat was tolerated as long as it led to growth amongst the parties involved. The pastor didn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, he admitted to his own struggles. His preaching came from a place of brokenness, rather than superiority.

I came to the realization that no dichotomy of perfect vs. fallen churches exists. There is rather a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. The place we left had begun well but had slid into unhealthy territory. Too much power was given to too few people with too little accountability. It became about processes and rears in seats rather than the work of discipleship. This new church, while certainly home to some unhealthy people, strove to be healthy. Christ was at the center.

I have hope for the church today because of the people I know in this little congregation. They are beautiful. The building isn’t. The coffers aren’t overflowing. The singing is sometimes off-key. The pastor gets distracted in his preaching. But there is warmth. There is heart.

There is Jesus.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. There is no more compelling figure in all of history. He steps into the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, our despair and provides the answer. That answer isn’t us. We can’t save ourselves. There is no golden utopia waiting to spring from the minds and hands of perfect people. Such a people do not exist. Look out your window. Look in the mirror. You know it to be true.

Jesus, God-Man, came into this world to rescue and heal it. Believers exist in the “already” aspect of His Kingdom while history looks forward to the “not yet.” It is only by living in light of His Lordship that life takes on purpose and meaning. Joy – the ability to look beyond the now and into something better – flows as a result of knowing Him. He grants grace, mercy, peace. He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. He kept my husband alive. He stopped me from killing myself just a little less than a year ago. I have seen Him work in time and space to such a degree that my father-in-law, after breaking both of his knees, was brought from Europe to the United States by a missionary who “just happened” to be in the area. The only missionary in the area that our church had any kind of contact with. I have seen babies who should have died thrive. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen prodigals return. I have had bills paid and needs met. I have witnessed testimonies of those who tumors have disappeared.

Above all, I have seen love. Real, selfless, lasting love. I have watched people spend money they can’t spare to help others in need. I have known some whose wretched tempers used to control them who are now gentle as lambs. I have seen big men rock children to sleep. I have seen women with nothing in common embrace each other as sisters. I have siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all across this area because of Jesus.

I could not see Him until my eyes were opened. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of His will and ours. All I know is that I reached a point where I wanted to see. I no longer desired to suppress the truth. And there is truth, my friend.

His name is Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here

Oh, Snap!

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Gentle Reader,

For the last few months the ladies Bible study group that I am part of has been examining hymns and popular Christian songs, discussing their Scriptural basis (or lack thereof) and the impact that music has on us both culturally and individually. This week one of the songs that we looked at was Family Force 5’s “Drama Queen.” The group isn’t one of my favorites, but in our bully-infested and manipulative environment, the message contained within “Drama Queen” is extremely important.

Listen, and then we’ll go on.

“You dish it out, I take it.”

We don’t know how to deal with bullies. When confronted with a manipulative person, fight or flight kicks in. We lash out or we knuckle under. Anything to get the person to stop. Sadly, neither reaction creates the necessary break in this crazy cycle. Bullies feed on our dramatic responses and they enjoy being able to use us.

We must be the ones to exit the cycle. The bully isn’t going to willingly give us a way out.

Nothing good comes from “taking” the abuse a bully dishes out. It isn’t Christ-like to be a doormat. Check the Gospels; Jesus told it like it was (and He still does). He loved people, but He had no problem at all calling them “snakes” and “hypocrites.” Now, I’m not telling you to go out and call people names. That will only add fuel to the fire, and we don’t have the kind of divine authority that Jesus does. We can, however, take Jesus’ example and use it in a beneficial way.

We can say stop. We can tell the bully that we are not going to put up with the way that they are treating us. We can tell someone in authority if necessary. We can point out if they are creating drama out of thin air and declare that we will not be part of it. This kind of strong response shows the bully that we cannot and will not be manipulated. We will not give them power in our lives. Above all, we will NOT continue to behave in such a way that shows the bully that we are willing to maintain the status quo.

On the flip side, if we have been the bully, we need to repent. God doesn’t give us a pass on how we treat people. We need to apologize to those we have hurt and do what we can to right the situation. We need to examine ourselves and look for the reasons why we choose to bully others, and, if necessary, get professional help in dealing with them.

This is not a hopeless situation we are in! The Lord is big enough, powerful enough and gracious enough to give us the courage to stop being bullied and to stop bullying others. He is ready and willing to give us the confidence that we need – a confidence that comes only from Him – to live comfortably within our own skins, recognizing that our value does not come from the opinions of others.

Bullying. Gossiping. Manipulating. Yelling. Hitting.

Don’t you know that’s whack?

My journey to faith. (15)

The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Pleasure

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Gentle Reader,

As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I knew that there would be no leaving the house. I knew that it would be one of “those days,” when getting out of the bed and walking down the hall into the living room would be an accomplishment. That’s the nature of CFIDS. Yes, there are things I can do to manage the symptoms – avoiding certain foods, practicing good sleep hygiene, using the tools gained through these months of counseling to manage stress. Still, there are days like this. Days when it just doesn’t matter what kind of effort I’ve put forth. I’ll have to give way to the fatigue.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. – 2 Corinthians 12:10a (NKJV)

Oh, I want to shake Paul. I want to ask him how he can possibly take pleasure in these things.

Pleasure – eudokeo (yoodokeho): think it good; be well-pleased with

Infirmities – astheneia (astheniah): want of strength; weakness; infirmity; frailty; feebleness of health; sickness

Reproaches – oneidismos: a reproach as Christ suffered; disapproval; disappointment

Distresses – anaghe (anangkay): calamity

How can I think it a good thing to be laid out on the couch, drained of strength and desire? How can I be well-pleased with this body that surrenders so easily to every invader?

I suppose I should be used to being sick by now. I’ve always been the one who catches all the colds and all the flus. For as long as I can remember I’ve dealt with rashes, allergies, stomach ailments, pounding headaches and the like. This is nothing particularly new. And yet…I find myself hoping that I’ll wake up one morning and feel fine. That I’ll be in possession of health and vigor. That I’ll be able to bounce out the door instead of crawling like a slug.

If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I don’t yet have the maturity to have a right perspective on illness. But what is that right perspective? How do you move beyond the disappointment and the sense of isolation?

My comfort lies in God’s promised healing. Trouble is, that promise comes with a call to trust: I don’t dictate His timing. It may well be that I do not experience release from this until Heaven. That doesn’t mean He fails to come through – it means He knows more than I do.

That’s hard to deal with. That makes me uncomfortable. God does have good plans for us. I believe that. His good plan for me might involve sickness. It certainly seems to at this point. How can that be? Couldn’t I do so much more, be so much more, if my body were strong and healthy? Couldn’t I be of so much more use to Him?

That, I guess, is the real question: Is the value of a person, their usefulness in the Kingdom, tied up in how much they can do?

I’ve lived with the diagnosis of CFIDS for over a year-and-a-half now. I’ve lived with the mental diagnoses for seven months. Even after all that time, I am only just beginning to understand how illness reaches out and touches everything. Everyone.

All of me.

My journey to faith. (15)

  For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.