The Reformation 500 years on. Christ Alone


In these 3 talks we are thinking about the Protestant reformation which began 500 years ago on the 31 October 1517 when the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, pinned his 95 theses to the door of the university church in Wittenberg, in what is now Germany. It was the 16th C equivalent of a provocative blog post intended to stir up discussion about the corruption of the church of which Luther was a part. But it was also a watershed moment in the history of Western Europe and perhaps the whole world. It marked the beginning of the end of the middle ages; magic and superstitiion giving way to a new age of reason and truth. The complex series of events that followed in Germany and Switzerland, Scotland and England formed a reformation not just of theology or ecclesiology (the way that the church looks) but also a changing of the whole social order. The reformation. 




We saw last week that at the heart of the reformation was the rediscovery from the Bible of God’s revelation for how we can know him and how we can be right with him - how we can be justified? - that’s the Bible’s word. And the reformers great rediscovery was that justification being right with God is not a matter of our works and efforts to be holy. no, rather it has to be a free gift entirely from God. Justification is by grace alone, received through faith alone 


Because of the depths of our sin, the fallenness of our hearts, we cannot save ourselves. We cannot choose god, we do not want God, we are turned away, curved in on ourselves. And even our good works are not for God but for ourselves. We cannot earn righteousness, neither are we  gradually made righteous by cooperating with God’s assistance which was the official view of the church in Luther’s day. No, we must receive righteousness as a gift, totally external to us. Not a gradual change of our state but an immediate change of of our status. When we trust in Jesus God doesn’t remove our sins but he gives us the full righteousness of Christ and fully accepts us on that basis. Full welcome in. We are declared righteous, justified. We can know God, we are right with him. There is no further contribution to be made. there is no condemnation to fear. you are in the clear forever. Even your ongoing sins cannot shake your new status…


But how? How does this work? 

We said that it all feels a bit abstract and out there. Can it really be true that God sees me as righteous when let’s face it in my attitudes and thoughts and behaviour - i’m not righteous. And if i’ve been given this righteousness of Jesus that clothes me - well it’s not really me is it that God loves? It doesn’t really work does it? I feel unconvinced


But secondly. If it did work. If i really am seen as righteous and that status never changes so i’m in the clear forever … what’s to stop me just carrying on in sin. Can i keep sinning so that grace may increase? Can i just do as i please? Well in theory yes… It doesn’t sound great does it?


The curial way to answer these concerns and to see that our salvation really works - really sets us in the clear forever AND it really changes us in the here and now. The way to understand this is through the third SOLA. The third of the 5 rallying cries of the reformation. Last week we has Sola Gratia and Sola Fide Grace alone, Faith alone. But the centre of it all is CHRIST ALONE Solus Christus 


Salvation is found in no other name than Christ, and Christ alone 

This is really the centre that holds together all the other Solas (the others by the scripture and god’s glory alone) 

God really accepts me. I am forgive and righteous because he has given me his Son. he has given us Christ 


God the eternal son, the second person of the trinity, jesus Christ left his throne in heaven and came down and took to himself our human nature inorder that he might die for our sins and rise for our life - God UNITING himself with our humanity. 

He, Jesus …became what we are so that we might become what He is 

Though He was rich yet for our sakes he became poor so that we through his poverty might become rich 


UNION with Christ 

Jesus uniting himself with our humanity and us becoming personally united to Jesus through our faith and by the work of the Holy Spirit. THIS was the key for the reformers for HOW we ARE counted righteous in Christ. HOW it really happens. 


The reformers would point to the illustrations or analogies in the Scriptures used to impress upon the Christian the reality of union with Christ that comes when we trust him. 


So one of those pictures or anaolgies is the family. We’re all born into familes, parents and grandparents and maybe siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins - a family history. We’re born joined, connected to people whose likeness we bear. And Romans 5 teaches us that this is true of all humanity, the family of humanity. All humanity is born of Adam. The father of the human race who sinned and brought death. We were all born sharing Adam’s doomed status and sinful inclinations. Born in Adam. 

But Jesus comes into the world and joins himself to the human family as a new Adam, a new Man - a perfect man. And we through faith and by the power of the holy spirit can leave Adam’s clan  and be born again of Christ, sharing his status and his inclinations 

1 Cor 15v22 “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” 

We join a new family 


Another picture or analogy that is used - and this was definitely Luther’s favourite. is Marriage. It’s an image used throughout the Bible for God’s relationship to his people. God is a husband to his people. Jesus is the bridegroom. His church is the bride. 

When a man and a woman are married - in a very real way they are united. There is a sharing, a joining of lives. “All that I am i give to you” they pledge to one another. “All that I have I share with you” and this really happens. Husband and wife take on each other. All of the wealth, all of the debts, all of the good things, all of the problems and brokenness. They are joined. They share. 


Now remember our objection to the idea that believer’s sins are transferred to the Cross and Jesus’ righteousness is transferred to the believer. The two things are sort of beamed across the millenia. And it all sounds a bit weird. It’s all very abstract. Tom Wright says “How can a judge impute, impart, bequeath his righteousness to the defendent? Righteousness is not an object or a substance or a gas that can be passed around ….


BUT if Jesus takes our sin and we take his righteousness because we are united to him, joined to him ‘cemented to him’ said Luther just as (and in fact more deeply than) a husband is united to his wife and they share all things. If this is the case - that we are united to Jesus in his death… in his resurrection - then the objections begin to feel less problematic.


Luther loved to tell the gospel as te story fo the rich and divine bridegroom christ who marries the poor wicked harlot, redeems her from all evil and adorns her with all his goodness. 

Listen to Luther “Christ is full of grace, life and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace life and salvation will be the souls; for if Christ is a bridegroom he must take upon him the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things which are his. If he gives her his body and very self how shall he not giver her all that is his? and if he takes the body of the bride how shall he not take all that is hers”


United with Jesus in his death and resurrection - Judgement for sin is removed, Christ’s righteousness is given. His status.


See this in our passage. Romans 6 

v2 Joined to Jesus - everything that has happened to him is counted as having happened to us who believe. Jesus died for sin. Therefore Paul can say to us, v2 “We died to sin” 

In Christ we have died. We cannot now die. The judgement for our sin has been paid. it can’t be exacted twice. There really IS no condemnation for those who are in Christ. 


[Joy Bache - I’ve died already!]


v5 we have been united with Jesus in his death we will be (it’s unavoidable) united with Jesus in his resurrection 

v8 If we died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him. Joined to Jesus he takes our death, he gives us his life. 


Here’s the thing. At it’s heart, the gospel isn’t the good news that we have been given forgiveness or eternal life or freedom from judgement or the righteousness of christ. The good news is that we have been given Christ himself. The gospel IS Christ and Christ Alone - in whom all our salvation and the riches of grace are found. 


This is wonderful news

We naturally place ourselves at the centre of our own solar system. We might think that becoming a Christian means bringing Jesus somewhere into our orbit. But no, when we trust in Jesus, he unites our lives with his and at the centre of our lives it’s not just us but Jesus himself


Listen to the great Victorian preacher and heir of the reformation, Charles Spurgeon preaching to his congregation at the Elephant and Castle:

 remember that he sees us now in christ. Beholdhe has put his people into the hands of his dear son… He sees us in Christ to have died, in him to have been buried, and in him to have risen again. As the Lord Jesus Christ is well pleaseing to the Father, so in him are we well-pleasing to the Father also; for our being in him identifies us with him. 

If then our acceptance with God stands on the footing of Christ’s acceptance with God, it standeth firmly, and is an unchanging argument with the Lord God for doing us good. If we stood before God in our own individual righteousness our ruin would be sure and speedy. but in jesus our life is hid beyond peril. Firmly believe that until the Lord rejects Christ he cannot reject his people. Until he repudiates the atonement and the resurrection he cannot cast away any of those with whom he has entered into covenant in The Lord Jesus Christ.”  



But what about our second question?

Does the secure free gift of salvation just mean that we settle for our sin, we make peace with it?

Does the comfort of the gospel make us comfortable with sin?

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?


No, no way..says the apostle Paul and with him the Reformers 

Romans 6v2 We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?

we haven’t just been given complete freedom, assurance, unchanging righteous status as an abstract thing we have been given those things because we have Christ. He, who loves us and died for us is ours and so will we then easily sin against him? If you have been walked through the death of sin, someone paying it for you and brought to life on the other side. Why oh why would you ever want to go back to play with death causing sin? If he suffered so for our sins, for us why would we heap more pain upon his sacred head? We are christians not for all the free, secure benefits provided but because we came to love Jesus. That’s what eternal life is - knowing and loving Jesus. 


Grace will not lead us to shrug our shoulders at sin. the grace of Jesus leads us to gratitude and wanting to know him and be like him and please him. 


linked to this is the fact that when Jesus unites himself to our lives and changes our status. although our sinful natures are not removed. our hearts ARE changed, the holy spirit of Christ gives to us new desires within us - our hearts come to life and start fighting sin. Whereas before our hearts were darkened and we wouldn’t, couldn’t desire God. we were fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Now, we have been made alive to God. Our hearts have enlarged - the Lord is at the centre and we now can choose to love him and over time God, for the sake of our joy, will see that we do… 


look at v4 we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death INORDER THAT just as Christ was raised from the dead, through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life.

New life! New freedom, power - to choose life. To choose jesus. 

no longer slaves to sin v6 

no longer inevitable that sin reigns v12 in our lives. sin will no longer be your master v14

Finally, it is as we grasp our true status and identity in Christ - Justified. That we change and grow. 

Too easily I forget that Christ is my identity. I think that I am what I do - and i swing between pride and despair. But when I remember that Christ defines me i’m much more immune to both pride and failure. In him, whatever i do, I am no failure at all, I am triumphant, I am loved. And in him what have i really to be proud of but him! 


So the apostle Paul in v10 of Romans 6 says count yourselves (or better - reckon yourselves - i love that) dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

You are dead to sin. You are alive to God. You are in Christ Jesus. Reckon yourself. Remember who you are. Be who you are. 


Prince Charles - 'William, William … remember who you are.' Pulls himself up to the stature of a future king