Jesus, Only Jesus

What ‘Christ Alone’ Really Means

It’s just Jesus. In Christ is all we get from God. Nothing more. Nothing other. He is the answer to our every need.

Does that disappoint you? Were you hoping for something newer? Or easier? Or cooler? Sorry, it’s just Jesus. He is who God is and all God gives us comes in and through him. Maybe that seems like dull news. But as we consider the great Reformation motto “Christ alone,” I hope to thrill you.

This one man who walked the earth long ago still lives. He interacts with us. He lifts away the blanket of guilt and blows the breeze of forgiveness. He fills in the yawning loneliness with a warm presence that will not leave us. He directs our wandering lives to eternally meaningful service. He calls us out of our endless self-loop to an abundant life of love. Just Jesus is a sky full of stars more than we can count. We can never reach the end of the beauty and mystery that awaits exploration. There’s always more.

Recovering Christ

The hallmarks of the Reformation are often expressed in five solas, five “only’s” that needed to be recovered to get Christians reconnected to the Savior. The first sola is Christ alone. All of our salvation, including our justification, comes from Christ Jesus, not from anyone or anything else.

“‘Just Jesus’ is a sky full of stars more than we can count.”

The Reformers labored to express what Christ alone meant in the context of the heavy-handed, burdensome requirements of the medieval church. The church had bottled Christ like a commodity. They had hidden him from the view of ordinary believers. But the recovery of Christ alone as the free gift of God for our justification cracked through those barriers and gave Jesus back to his people.

Of course, the Lord’s own people in every age are always prone to shade the searing light of Christ alone. So let’s consider now three aspects of what Christ alone might mean for the twenty-first century Western situation in which we find ourselves. Christ alone means God gives us Jesus in particular, only Jesus, and all of Jesus.

Jesus in Particular

Good mentors continually pressed this truth into me: There is no god behind the back of Jesus. God is nothing other than who he is toward us in Jesus Christ. Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). God is not an angry “Old Testament God” toward us one morning but then a sweetly accepting “New Testament God” toward us the next. When we see Jesus, we have a clear window into the triune God.

Jesus himself said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). There’s not God the Father over there and then God the Son over here (with the Spirit floating around somewhere). There’s only “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). In Jesus, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). As this specific man, who stood so high and talked in this distinct tone of voice, who walked with this unique gait, and with a scent like no one else’s, God incarnated. Indeed, there is a reason only Christians worship the human founder of their faith. Because, wild as it is, we declare that precisely this Jesus, of all the humans who ever lived, is God come to us in flesh and blood.

Some have tried to avoid this scandal and seeming foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:22) by separating Jesus from his beloved title Christ. A liberal theologian once said, “There is more to the Christ than we meet in Jesus.” Another wrote of a “universal Christ.” Christ would thus be a principle or power that Jesus embodied — a principle we also can embody if we live authentically. As if!

Still others ask the question, “Who was Jesus before the church made him out to be God?” Their idea is to find the real Jesus by scrubbing away as inauthentic all his claims to be the Son of God. Couldn’t we just get back to the humble, wise rabbi from Nazareth who lights a path, among many, to the one God? No, Christ alone means this Jesus of the Gospels is uniquely the fully human, fully divine Savior.

Only Jesus

This second aspect reveals a distortion that even good Reformed Christians make. We know that Christ alone means there is no other person or path that can make us right with God. Paul wrote, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). Final salvation relies on the righteousness of Jesus as its sole basis. Only Jesus saves us for eternity.

That’s our deeply held confessional theology. But in our daily working theology, we may well rely more on what kinds of rightness we can generate. We can, often unconsciously, develop some self-salvation systems. No, not for final salvation, but for the immediate sense that we are doing well with God today. These are ways we reassure ourselves that we are okay. We can expose the futility of these soothing strategies by hearing how it sounds to substitute some of them for the riches of Christ alone.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the church how alienated from God they had been. They were strangers to his covenants and promises, children of wrath, stuck dead in their trespasses. Then came an intervention: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–6).

We were dead, but God made us alive through Christ alone. There’s no more relieving and joyful news. But the truth is, I rely on other stories to comfort me. How silly they sound when inserted into this salvation:

But God, in reviewing your résumé, was so impressed that he raised you with Christ.

But God, when he noticed how great you looked after changing your diet and working out regularly, raised you with Christ.

But God, because you got his attention by your acts of creative compassion, raised you with Christ.

Ridiculous! All my reliance for rightness based on self-generated worthiness gets incinerated in the fire of only Jesus, every moment as well as into eternity.

All of Jesus

Finally, Christ alone means God has nothing else to give us than what he gives us in Jesus. But getting Jesus is getting everything. Joined to him by the Holy Spirit through faith, we receive all that Jesus is for us. So Paul could exclaim that God has relocated us into “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

This glory overwhelms the eyes; we struggle to take it in directly. We get a glimpse of what it means to have all of Jesus by looking at the benefits that flow from our union with him. We return to the treasury of Ephesians, specifically 1:3–14. Paul writes that in Christ we receive:

  • every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
  • the joy of being chosen before the foundation of the world
  • the promise of being made holy and blameless
  • the eternal adoption to himself as sons
  • redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses
  • the lavishing upon us of the riches of his grace
  • the gift of knowing the mystery of God’s will: his purpose to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth
  • an inheritance in heaven
  • the blessed Holy Spirit in our hearts as a seal and guarantee
“In giving us all of Jesus, the Father makes us jewels in his crown of glory.”

In giving us all of Jesus, the Father makes us jewels in his crown of glory. We become reasons for the triune God to be praised.

Christ alone means just Jesus. But this particular man Jesus is God incarnate. He only is our righteousness and our salvation, not just in eternity, but now as we live and work, needy for a sense of rightness. He gives us nothing less than himself. Christ alone. Just Jesus. That’s everything we need.