What True Presbyterians Believe: Sola Christus
For four generations now, members of my family have served in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. For nearly forty years now, I have given my life to the service of Christ through the Presbyterian Church. I love the Presbyterian Church. However, over the last 15 years particularly, many within the Presbyterian Church have begun to devalue and diminish the great beliefs upon which the Presbyterian Church was built. I am not one of them. Therefore, over these next several weeks, I wish to focus upon the core beliefs, the essential tenets of our great Presbyterian/Reformed faith in the hope that you will join me in standing firm for “What True Presbyterians Believe. ” Today I focus upon Sola Christus—Christ Alone.
When I first heard it, I have to tell you that I was rather shocked … A Presbyterian minister speaking at a Presbyterian conference began his address with these words, “Jesus is one way to salvation, but Jesus is not the only way to salvation.” He went on then to describe in great detail how he views God reaching out to people through other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Islam. Then he spoke words which were profoundly disturbing to me. He said, “If God is at work in our lives, whether we are Christian or not, then what’s the big deal about Jesus?” When I first heard that, I was indeed shocked. But then it dawned on me that that minister was reflecting thoughts which are held by many, both within and without the church today. Many people today are saying what that Presbyterian minister was saying, namely, that the other religions of the world are just as valid as Christianity; that what Christ is to the Christians, Buddha is to the Buddhists, and Mohammad is to the Muslims.
Now that view of Jesus Christ is simply a polite way of saying that Jesus Christ does not hold the singular, central position as this world’s hope. It is a tactful way of calling Jesus a liar when He claimed to be the only way to salvation. Therefore, over against that kind of misguided, wrong-headed thinking, I stand in this pulpit today to declare to you that Jesus is Christ is God Almighty in human form, and there is salvation in no one else. So what’s the big deal about Jesus? I’ll tell you: the big deal about Jesus is that Jesus is the only deal! Jesus said it Himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” Jesus said it, Jesus meant it, and I believe it.
Jesus said, “I am the way.”
Notice that, please. Jesus did not say, “I have come to show you the way.” No, He said, “I am the way.”
The best illustration of that that I know can be found in the words of Daniel Crawford, the great English missionary. Crawford told of being led by a guide through the thick African jungle toward the city of Elizabethville. There was no trail. No one had ever gone that way before. Crawford’s huge, African guide with a machete in his hand was literally hacking out the trail as they went. After a long time of following behind this man as he cut his way through the dense jungle undergrowth and seeing no sign whatever of civilization, Crawford began to fear that they were lost. At that point, Crawford said to his guide, “Are you sure this is the way?” The guide stopped hacking, pointed at the jungle and said, “This not the way. I the way.” Do you hear what he was saying? He was saying, “Listen, there are no maps, no paths, no signposts. You’ve got to entrust yourself to me. You have to place yourself in my hands. I am the only way. If you want to get where you want to go, you’ve got to go with me.”
That is exactly what Jesus means when He says, “I am the way.” If we want to get where we want to go, then we’ve got to go with Him. Jesus is the way. He was the way for people 21 centuries ago and He is the way for people now. He certainly has been the way for me. He gives me a power by which to love, a hope on which to stand, and a purpose for which I can live everyday. Not only that, but because of Him, I believe that death cannot conquer me. If I were to die today, the one undeniable reality of my life is that nothing can separate me from my Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord God Almighty rules in my life, and that means that one day, out of the weakness of this life, He will lift me to eternity with Him. I believe that with every fiber of my being. I long for you to believe it, as well. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Jesus said it, Jesus meant it, and I believe it.
Jesus said, “I am the truth.”
Notice, Jesus did not say, “I know the truth.” Nor did He say, “I have a book that contains the truth.” No, He said, “I am the truth.”
You know, in all my ministry, that which disturbs me most is to encounter an individual who says, “I just can’t decide what I really think about Jesus.” Well, let’s get something straight right here and right now. Jesus said, “I am the Son of God.” Once you’ve heard that, you have only two alternatives: either you kneel before Him and offer your life to Him, or you call Him the prince of liars and you reject Him. There is no middle ground. When Jesus says, “I am the truth,” either you believe what He says or you turn away. Not making up your mind is not an option.
You see, He is the truth. If you want to know about love, look at Him and see the children crawling up on His lap and running their fingers through His hair. If you want to know about forgiveness, look at Him as He takes into His own hands the rough, crude, profane hands of a fisherman who had denied Him, and then says to that fisherman, “Feed my sheep.” If you want to know about courage, look at Him standing before Pontius Pilate in what could only be described as a splendid silence. If you want to know about anger, look at Him driving the money changers out of the temple and learn that anger is to be leveled only against the forces of evil. If you want to know how to die, look at the way He died. If you want to know how to live, look at the way He lived. If you want to know when to laugh, look at when He laughed. If you want to know when to cry, look at when He cried. If you want to hear words that will thrill your soul and lift your spirit, and will set before you a challenge you will never reach but you will never get tired of reaching for, then look at Him. If you want to know the truth about anything and everything, look at Him. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Jesus said it, Jesus meant it, and I believe it.
Jesus said, “I am the life.”
Notice, please, He did not say, “I am alive.” No, He said, “I am the life.”
Mark this down: Life is a grinding stone. It either polishes you up or it grinds you down. Whether it polishes you or grinds you depends upon whether you know this One who says, “I am the life,” Because when you know Him, then life doesn’t wear you down. Life lifts you up and your life will be filled with the power of a profound and unshakable sense of peace.
Two artists were asked to paint a picture of “peace.” One painted a beautiful, lush, green countryside at sunset. He called it “Peace.” The other artist painted a picture of a raging rapids with white foaming, currents rushing over great boulders. Sticking out over the water was a branch of a tree, and on the branch was a nest, and in the nest two little birds were asleep. He called the picture “Peace.” That’s the kind of peace Jesus offers us in life. You see, life in this world is like raging rapids. Sometimes the spray stings our faces, sometimes the current spins us about and knocks us down, sometimes the roar and the tumble threaten to overwhelm us, but if we follow the One who is the way; if we know the One who is the truth; if we love the One who is the life, then we shall have the ability, even in the midst of life’s fearsome chaos to be at ease in the power of Jesus Christ and to be at peace in His everlasting arms. Jesus said, “I am the life.” Jesus said it, Jesus meant it, and I believe it.
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Notice how intolerant those words of Jesus are. Jesus was tolerant of many things in life, but there was one area in which He was absolutely intolerant. He was intolerant of anybody who would suggest that there is any other way to Heaven save through Him.
Now, of course, tolerance is a virtue in the society of which we are a part. People are deemed sophisticated and wise if they are tolerant of other people’s opinions. I mean who am I to say that Hinduism or Confucianism is not the way to salvation; who am I to suggest that Buddhism or Islam is not the pathway to Heaven? I mean it just sounds so sophisticated, doesn’t it, to be able to say that there are many ways to get to Heaven? Well, tolerance may be a virtue when it comes to our society, but tolerance is not a virtue when it comes to our salvation. In this one area, Jesus refused to be tolerant. In fact, He was downright narrow. He was downright dogmatic. He said, “When it comes to getting to Heaven, no one gets there except by me.” Well, I want you to understand that all of the great Confessions of our Presbyterian Church make exactly that same claim. Let me give you just a sampling. The Second Helvetic Confession: “Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world;” The Westminster Confession of Faith: “Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man; in the Gospel, God reveals fully and clearly the only way of salvation, promising eternal life to all who truly repent and believe in Christ;” The Confession of 1967: “The risen Christ is the Savior for all men. To receive life from the risen Lord is to have life eternal; to refuse life from Him is to choose death which is separation from God.”
Dear friends, that’s the heart and soul of our great Presbyterian belief. Therefore, let me say, as plainly as I can, that those in the Presbyterian Church who suggest surrendering the claim that Jesus Christ is the singular Lord and Savior of the whole world, while their position may seem tolerant, sophisticated, even humble, they are in fact engaged in the destruction of the central belief of our faith. I stand foursquare against them—and so does this church. The bottom line is this: If Jesus Christ is not the only way to God, then Jesus Christ died needlessly. If other religions and cults with their rules and requirements are all that is needed, then there was no need for Calvary, no need for a singular atonement for the sins of the whole world. If Jesus Christ is not the only begotten Son of God, then all authority in Heaven and on Earth has not been given to Him and His own words have been rendered meaningless and false. If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, then Jesus Christ is not Lord at all!
Maxie Dunnam, the President of Asbury Seminary, tells of attending a conference on evangelism where several speakers talked about the value of religious pluralism and the need for interfaith dialogue. Some even talked about the negative impact of Christian witnessing to people of other religions. Dunnam says, “We heard again and again that Jesus is our Savior, but not necessarily the Savior of humankind, and that the paths to salvation in other religions are just as legitimate as the way of salvation in the Christian religion. But then,” Maxie Dunnam says, “Suddenly a bishop from Pakistan, a country where Christians are definitely a minority, stood up before the assembled conference. With deep conviction and profound passion, this bishop said, ‘If what all of you are saying is true, then I must go back home and tell the Christians in our land that they don’t have to die for the faith anymore.’”
So Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus said it, Jesus meant it, and I believe it. Now I call you to believe it, too.