Text: Acts 4:7-12
I once visited a family in Dehradun, while I was pursuing my Masters and I was surprised to find that the family I was visiting had a picture of Jesus along with other gods and goddesses in their prayer area. Perhaps, that is quite common in many houses in our country.
At the Chicago Parliament of the World’s Religions on 11 September 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke on Hinduism and at the heart of his speech was this creed, he said, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”
Renowned writer, politician, and speaker, Shashi Tharoor in his book, Why I am a Hindu echoes Vivekananda’s view. He writes, “This practice of acceptance [and tolerance] of difference – the idea that other ways of being and believing are equally valid – is central to Hinduism and the basis for India’s democratic culture”. He bases his claim on Indian society being a pluralistic society. It can also consequently be perceived as saying that one of the main barriers to world peace is religion, especially the major religions with their exclusive claims to superiority. I find myself agreeing with this to an extent.
Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slope in the heart. Each religion informs its followers that they have “the truth”, hence claiming superiority to those with differing beliefs. Once such a perspective is created, it can easily fuel marginalization or even to active oppression, abuse, or violence against others, which is not uncommon in our country these days.
What can we do about it? There are mainly three approaches that civic and cultural leaders around the world are using to address the divisiveness of religion - calls to outlaw religion, condemn religion, or at least to radically privatize it. Instead of being effective, I fear these measures will only aggravate the situation.
1. SOLUS CHRISTUS UNDER FIRE
At the heart of the teaching of the 1st Century apostles and the 16th Century reformers was Solus Christus - salvation in Christ alone/ through Christ alone/ by Christ alone as we read in Acts 4:12 -
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”
which was the teaching Jesus’ himself in John 14:6:
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.
And because of that -
3“And they arrested them and put them in custody”
7“when they had set them in the midst, they inquired”
9“If we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man” (see chapter 3 for the full story).
Why were they arrested? Why were they examined or inquired? They were arrested and examined because they did a good deed for a crippled man in the name of Jesus whom they crucified and who God raised from the dead (Acts 4: 1-3, 10). They were preaching the gospel: the good news.
It is true that many people don’t like to hear the gospel of “whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”, (v.10) because as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1: 23, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. But the apostles were convinced that “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (v11).
Many people today question the belief that salvation is only through faith in Christ. The truth of Solus Christus is now being questioned and doubted by many today. It is common to hear comments like, “Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth” or that, “It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it.”
Relativism is the view that reality depends upon one’s perspective. No one knows anything with objective certainty; it all depends on your point of view. Maybe each religion is true in its own way and the world would be a better place if everyone dropped their traditional religions’ views of God and truth and adopted theirs. And thus, if Christianity is true at all, it is only relatively true. Exclusive claims like “the Bible is God’s authoritative Word” or “Jesus Christ is the Only Savior” must be rejected out of hand. In fact, the people who make such claims are probably dangerous - fundamentalists. Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. All of these are unprovable faith assumptions. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs.
An ancient Indian parable goes as such - several blind men came upon an elephant that allowed them to touch and feel it. “This creature is long and flexible like a snake,” said the first blind man, holding the elephant’s trunk. “Not at all—it is thick and round like a tree trunk,” said the second blind man, feeling the elephant’s leg. “No, it is large and flat,” said the third blind man touching the elephant’s side. Each blind man could feel only part of the elephant—none could envision the entire elephant. In the same way, it is argued that most of the religions of the world each have a knowledge of a part of the truth about spiritual reality, but none can see the whole elephant (the truth) or claim to have a comprehensive vision of the truth.
This illustration backfires on its users. The story is told from the point of view of someone who is not blind. How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant? How could one possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have? It is no narrower to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways.
The apostles stood their ground when people were arresting and ever persecuting them for their beliefs and proclamation of salvation in Christ alone. This truth of Solus Christus was one of five key declarations made by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517. Today, it remains a vital reminder to Christians all around the world of the necessity of Christ for salvation.
WHAT IS SOLUS CHRISTUS?
“Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well”. (v10)
At its core, the principle of Solus Christus emphasizes that the sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are not only necessary for salvation, but they are entirely sufficient to save those who place their faith and trust in Christ’s finished work.
Commenting on the significance of Solus Christus, Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible”—meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture.
The apostle Paul made plain in the first two chapters of Romans that it is not enough to merely learn about God by observing his creation. This kind of knowledge—also called general revelation—can never unite God and man in right relationship. Union with Christ is the only way of salvation Redeemed relationship with God is only possible through repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ, and one comes to that understanding through a special revelation.
Christ, and Christ alone, is fitted to be mediator between God and man. He is the prophet, priest and king of the church of God (The 1689 London Baptist Confession).
Christ the Prophet
Christ is the Prophet who instructs us in the things of God so as to heal our blindness and ignorance. Moses declared in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen”. He is God’s Son, and God demands that we listen to Him. Matthew 17:5 says, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. We can expect to make progress in the Christian life only as we heed His instruction and teaching.
Christ the Priest
Christ is also Priest—our sorely needed High Priest, who, by the sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us.
Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly. Romans 5:19 - “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:10 - “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” There is no other way to come into the presence of God than through Christ alone.
Jesus’ sacrifice took place once only, but He still continues as our great High Priest, the One through whom all acceptable prayer and praise are made to God. We can grow in our enjoyment of access to God only by a deepening reliance on Him as our Sacrifice and Intercessor.
Christ the King
Finally, Christ is the King, ruling over all things. Over His church He reigns by means of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:30–33). He sovereignly gives repentance to the impenitent and bestows forgiveness on the guilty (Acts 5:31). Christ is “our eternal King who governs us by His word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the enjoyment of that salvation, He has purchased for us”. As the royal Heir of the new creation, He will lead us into a kingdom of eternal light and love. We can grow in the Christian life only as we live obediently under Christ’s rule and by His power.
If you are a child of God, Christ in His threefold office as Prophet, Priest, and King will mean everything to you. Is He your Prophet to teach you; your Priest to sacrifice for, intercede for, and bless you; and your King to rule and guide you?
2. SOLUS CHRISTUS AND ITS IMPLICATION
How does our belief of the Solus Christus affect and impact our life? What is its implication?
Our belief in Solus Christus should lead us to expect that many will live lives morally superior to our own. Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him attain salvation and reach heaven by leading a good life. Let’s call this the “moral improvement” view. Christianity teaches the very opposite. In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, He comes to forgive and save us through His life and death in our place, and in doing so paying the wages of our sins. God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.
Christians, then, can expect to find people of other faiths who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ’s work on their behalf.
Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one’s spiritual status depends on your religious attainments. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don’t believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel should not have that effect.
It is common to say that religious fundamentalism leads to violence, yet most of us have fundamental, un-provable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals make their proponents the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?
One of the paradoxes of history is the relationship between the beliefs and the practices of the early Christians compared to those from the culture around them. The Greco-Roman world’s religious views were open and seemingly tolerant—everyone had his or her own God. The practices of the culture were quite brutal, however. There was an unscalable divide between the rich and the poor. By contrast, Christians insisted that there was only one true God, Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. Their lives and practices were, remarkably welcoming to those that the culture marginalized. The early Christians were a mixed people from different races and classes in ways that seemed scandalous to those around them. During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, Christians cared for the sick and dying in the city, often at the cost of their lives.
How could an apparently exclusive belief system lead to behavior that was so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of Christianity was a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who were different from them. We cannot nullify the fact that there have been injustices done by the Church in the name of Christ, yet the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be a powerful motivation for peace-making in our troubled world.
Finally, if salvation is possible apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, then there is no pressing need to take the gospel to the 2.8 billion unreached people around the world. Or to the 2311 people groups in our nation. Solus Christus reminds us that the only hope for the nations is the good news of the gospel and the finished work of Christ on the cross. There is no way for humanity to be justified apart from faith in the atoning work of Christ. Moreover, there is no good news for those who never hear of the saving work of Jesus. As Carl Henry said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.”
Jesus? What is that?” not even who is that? He asked with a genuinely inquisitive look on his face. Although I had heard there were people around the world who have never heard of Jesus, I had never actually met one.
May God use the mighty truth of Solus Christus to inspire believers everywhere to spend their lives declaring the gospel to those who have never heard until our King returns again.