Things change. They always change. Some people joke that the only constant thing in life is change. With all the change it often seems as if we are just running in circles. The faster we run, the quicker we get back to where we started. Even the Bible agrees.
“What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.”
A major change occurred half a century ago. This October is the 500th anniversary of the month when a 34-year-old professor of theology nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. Martin Luther staked his soul on two revolutionary ideas: sola fide, that justification is dependent on faith alone; and sola scriptura, that Scripture is the only ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice and does not need oversight from church leaders or tradition to be read and understood.
Four years later the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther. The result was riots and rebellions, infighting among the reformers. And eventually a new church. That in a nutshell was the Reformation that gave us the protestant church. There are now 560 million Protestants across the globe, making up more than one-third of the world’s Christians.
The pendulum has since swung. There have been more changes. Because there are always more changes.
Today, in America, half of all Protestants disagree with Luther. In Europe, 61 percent of German Protestants no longer agree with Luther, according to the Pew Research Center this month.
At the same time, 41 percent of Roman Catholics have come to believe in sola fide.
Overall it shows the two great branches of the Christian church created by the great split of 1517 have come back towards each other. And round we go again.
To simplify, sola fide says justification is by faith alone. And sola scriptura says scripture is the only authority.
That is not all though. The Reformation had five solas. Another is solus Christus. In Christ alone. This one states that Christ is all we need for salvation, and he has already done all that needs to be done for salvation.
One of the things that has changed dramatically since Luther is the understanding of sola scriptura. It has come to mean that diligent Bible reading every day produces people who love and follow Jesus. Evangelical Christians in particular sometimes appear to have elevated this one sola above all others. The world they painted was one where, sooner or later, with the right amount of study and spiritual practice, one would master this thing called “biblical Christianity.” Because, they said, the Bible was by and large clear, so “becoming biblical” was mostly a matter of hard work.
And so by a winding road we have come at last to today’s Bible reading. We have come to Jesus for guidance.
Jesus is having a discussion with the Jewish leaders. They are unhappy that he has claimed to be the son of God, and are harassing him. They are also upset that he’s broken their rules regarding the Sabbath by healing someone. So Jesus starts to explain things to them.
He is talking to the experts in the Jewish Scriptures. These are the theologians and professors.
He tells them about his relationship with God. He outlines that what he did was because that is what he saw God doing. And he is the son of God because God is his father.
Then Jesus challenges them. In verse 24 he says, “those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.” This repeats his teaching to the respected Jewish leader Nicodemus in John 3:15. Jesus, talking about the son of man, told Nicodemus, “everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”
It is by having faith in Jesus, by believing in Jesus, that sinful people can escape hell and enter heaven. Jesus next explains that he has life-giving power from God, his father. He has authority from his father. It is all about his relationship with God, and nothing to do with him personally.
“I can do nothing on my own,” Jesus tells them.
And why should they believe him? Its not because that’s what John the Baptist taught. “I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.”
Having established in his teaching who he is, Jesus then suggests what it means that he is the son of God. He tells these respected leaders that they are missing the point in all of their study of the Scriptures. They know it so well, but they’ve not seen the deeper meaning. Scripture exists for a purpose. It isn’t the end in itself. That’s the same mistake that some people are still making today.
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life.” (verse 39) The Scriptures do not exist to give us eternal life.
The Scripture exists to bring us to Jesus. Scripture exists to introduce us to the Messiah.
That’s why in verse 40 Jesus slightly modifies his previous statements and says, “The Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”
The brilliant teachers “can’t believe!” Jesus explains the reason for this is that they “don’t have God’s love within you.”
Without love they cannot believe. In fact, Jesus says, they don’t really believe in Moses either.
We read Scripture with hard hearts, and it makes no sense however brilliant we are. We read it with soft hearts of love and it shows us Jesus. We then have faith in the Jesus it shows us. When we believe we have to act on our belief, otherwise it isn’t belief. It’s dead faith if we don’t follow through.
The action that is required is to come to Jesus. That’s all. It’s very simple. Jesus is the only one who can save us. Solus Christus.
All who wish to live the Christian life must come to Jesus, sit at his feet and learn from him.
What do you do if, for example, you want to answer the question, “Should a Christian support slavery?” People in the past looked in the Bible, where those looking for it found support for their racist slavery. I suggest that a better answer is to ask Jesus.
Should we bomb North Korea? Ask Jesus. Don’t look in your Bible, it will only tell you to go to Jesus and ask him. If he shows you verses to help you understand, then OK. But in fact what we should expect is to actually hear from Jesus.
As Christians, as people who follow Jesus, we can only succeed in relationship with Jesus. Just as Jesus told the Jewish leaders, so for us. We do what we see Jesus do. We get all our power from Jesus. Our life is a relationship with Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. Only Jesus. Not ourselves.
Brother Lawrence is a good example of this. He talks about how, each night, he talks to God and confesses all his faults and sins. Instead of getting God’s rebuke, which he expects, what he gets is lavish love and regard.
As followers of Jesus we should be looking for all the ways in which we can make our relationship with Jesus the centre of our life. And it’s not just out of a desire for eternal life and a seat in heaven. We do it out of a soft heart of love.
Our close relationship with Jesus is all we need. Solus Christus. Think about it. Think in what ways everything you do can include Jesus. Don’t do any of the things that exclude Jesus.
Jesus tells you to come to him. If you believe, then do what he says. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you and transform you. Jesus is the only way for you to become a new person, a heavenly person.
Jesus is not a book or a fellow human being. Jesus is our Lord. He is our authority. He, being alive and loving, can be trusted with that task. And that’s only good news, because for all the hardship of each of our lives, Jesus only brings good news.
Let’s learn together what it means to be solus Jesus!