(Sorry about the audio, we’re working on it!)
One of my favourite preachers, Mark Driscoll, had a very good, insightful Facebook update this week. He said, “All theology is cat theology or dog theology. Let’s say two pets have an amazing, kind, generous owner. The cat thinks: ‘I must be an amazing and valuable cat.’ The dog thinks: ‘I have an amazing and valuable master.’” Someone else said, “Dogs have masters, Cats have support staff.”
That’s clever, and it’s also quite true – about people anyway. People seem to have two ways to look at their religious path: I can do it myself or I need someone to do it for me. The question is, which are you?
Most people, as we said a while ago, are do-it-yourselfers. They want to find their own way to their own form of god. This wasn’t always the case though.
What Religion Are You?
If you were to go down to the Byward Market, or stand in Bayshore Mall in 1950 and ask the question “What religion are you?” you would probably have received the answer “I’m Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican… and a lot of ‘I’m Catholic’”. There would be a few atheists, some Jewish people and a couple eastern religions, but they would have been few and far between. People would have basically divided themselves by Christian denominations – though they may or may not have been attending at the time.
If you were to go ask the same question today you’d get a lot of people saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious” or “I don’t go to church”. You would get a rainbow of different religious outlooks: Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Bahai, Hindus, Wiccans, Scientologists and probably a couple who practice Kabbalah.
You would find a lot of people, if pressed to give details, that have a sort of interfaith spirituality where they mix and match all sorts of practices and parts of different religions to come up with their own favourite blend.
My wife served me a tea the other day that had a mix of a couple different kinds of tea in it, and I’ve had coffee that was mixed with partly dark and partly medium roast, part decaf, part caffeinated. These people treat their religion like that – just mix some stuff together until it tastes right to them.
They read the Bible, use crystals, light candles, pray, practice meditation and have a spirit guide… and that’s their “faith”. Some will practice Native spirituality, go to a Buddhist temple, and then read The Secret so they can practice the Law of Attraction and make good things come to them. There are people who call themselves Christians, but read horoscopes, and believe in the karmic view that if you do good things then good things will happen to you. It’s all about finding their own path.
People can’t get away from their spiritual nature, because it is as much a part of them as their physical nature, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to let anyone dictate how they exercise their spirituality. In a short period of time the question you would ask to North Americans moved from “What Christian denomination are you?” to “What have you come up with as your way to practice spirituality?”
The Enlightenment Game
Take a look at this board game. It’s called “Enlighten” and its tagline is “The new board game that’s taking people on a spiritual journey to explore the world’s religions.” Let me read you the game’s description from the website: “Each individual will travel around the board, answering questions about the six major religions…. Once the players have completed their spiritual journey around the world, they enter the Enlightened Path, where players identify notable quotes from major religious and philosophical leaders…. To make this journey more fun, Enlighten summons players to debate questions in a quest to reclaim their turn. Players can also land on a Life’s Rough Patch where they lose their turn and have to atone themselves through sacred ritual. Enlighten is never dull, as players engage in renewing spiritual rituals while learning more about the world and its people.” In big red letters on the page are the words, “Open your mind, free your spirit, come play with the rest of the world!”
Very interesting, eh? This game is just replicating what perhaps you, your friends, family and neighbours are already doing. They are looking around the world at different religions, opening their mind, and they are no longer assuming that the only path is the one given in the Bible. It’s either somewhere else, or something they come up with all by themselves.
This is why the belief in Sola Christus, Christ Alone, is so foundational to Christianity. It is the belief that there is only one Saviour and one Mediator between God and man and that is the person of Jesus Christ. We reject all other mediators and all other forms of salvation, and anyone who claims to have a special connection to God.
We have already said, in previous weeks, that our salvation is because of the work of Jesus on the cross Alone, by faith in Him Alone, and because of the work that He did on the cross – something none of us could have done for ourselves. I don’t want to go over the same ground that we have covered with the previous three Solas (Scripture Alone, Grace Alone and Faith Alone), but instead want to make sure we all understand this essential belief that our salvation is through Jesus ALONE.
Arrogant, Closed-Minded Christians
I preached a series a few years ago called “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, which was based on a book by Dan Kimball, where on one week I talked about how most people in the world have no problem with Jesus, but they do have a problem with Christians who arrogantly think that all other religions are wrong. The idea is that being a Christian automatically makes you closed minded and judgemental because we don’t allow for anyone else’s beliefs and we say that everyone else is wrong but us. Which is true, but doesn’t sound very nice in the country that we live in.
Some Christians I know have a problem with this too, and really don’t like the idea that what they believe is right and what others believe is wrong. I’ve even heard them say, “I believe Jesus died for my sins, and that Christianity is the right way, but whose to say that other religions aren’t just different ways of getting to Jesus?”
Some people will talk about the basic tenants of religions and how they all have the same things in common, even though they have different names. But is that true? Are there overlaps between Christianity, Buddhism, Bahai and Islam? Are they all basically the same thing, leading to the same place?
Dan Kimball had a very helpful illustration in his book that I want to share with you to help us all understand the differences, and why Sola Christus, Christ Alone is so important.
Do All Roads Lead to God?
The illustration starts with a picture of a mountain. The basic idea that many people have about religion is that “all roads lead to God”. No matter what place you start at the bottom of the mountain, when you get to the top, everybody gets to the same peak. Now, is that true? It seems so when you are looking at it from the bottom of the mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain, there are similarities and crossovers in the path. For example, there are similar sounding teachings. For example, Jesus in Luke 6:31 said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Buddha said, “Consider others as yourself.” Jesus said in Luke 6:29, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Buddha also said, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” Sounds the same, and I would say that the person who is speaking doesn’t make it any less true. Truth is truth.
Many faiths not only have similar teachings, but similar rituals like prayer, fasting, special meetings and celebrations with food. Some are also exclusive, like Christianity, saying that their way is the only way. Many religions believe in a form of hell where non-believers go. So there are some similarities at the bottom of the mountain where some of the paths seem to cross over.
The problem comes when we get closer to the top of the mountain. Some people assume that all paths lead to God, but what they don’t realize is how different the gods at the top of the mountains really are. It is categorically impossible that all religions lead to the same place. Let’s just take three of them, for example.
On the path of Hinduism, when you get to the top of the mountain there are many gods. Jesus may be one of the gods, but is not the only one there, or the only way to get to the top of the mountain to meet God. In the afterlife, there is reincarnation to pay off karmic debt (someone sends you back down the mountain to try again!), and eventually when you finally get it right you don’t go to heaven to meet a personal God, you becoming one with the impersonal “unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world” called Brahman.
At the top of the Islamic mountain, there is one god, Allah. Jesus is a prophet, but not one of the Trinity, and not the Son of God. The afterlife is either paradise or hell, but salvation is not by grace, it is based on the weighing of the good and bad deeds done during your life. You can’t really be sure that you will get into paradise until you get there.
At the top of the Christian mountain there is One God in Three Triune Persons (Father Son and Holy Spirit). Jesus is the Son of God, and faith in His atoning death and resurrection is the way to salvation. And the afterlife is either heaven or hell, not based on anything we do, but on what Jesus did.
Certainly, there are things that different belief systems have in common, but when someone explores further, there is no way to say that all paths lead to the same place. They are three completely different mountains. And according to Jesus, scripture and Christian theology, there is only one path on one mountain that will lead to salvation – the way of faith in Jesus that leads to reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.
The Stumbling Stone
The consequence of believing in Sola Christus is that we put the entirety of our faith into one person, Jesus Christ. I think this is where a lot of people stumble. Romans 3:30-33 says that the Jewish people in Paul’s day had the same problem as many people today.
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
People want to hedge their bets on getting into heaven by wanting to put faith into themselves or someone else, just to make sure. Some put their faith in Jesus, and then also in some superstitions. Some put their faith in Jesus, but also in their good works. Some put their faith in Jesus, and also in their denomination, their pastor, their nationality, their tribe, or something else. For them (and they wouldn’t say this out loud), they believe they will get to heaven and God will say, “Ok, now prove you are worthy to be here.” And they will need to pull out whatever they’ve got – their membership card, their charitable receipts, the list of things they’ve denied themselves, or say, “Oh, I’m here with pastor so-and-so, or prophet so-and-so.” That’s not how it’s going to work.
That’s hard, isn’t it? It’s difficult to put all our eternal eggs into one basket. But that is what Christians do. Christians put their faith into one person, Jesus.
We believe we will get to heaven and stand before the judgement seat and have nothing in our hands. When God says, “Why should I let a sinner like you into my Holy presence for eternity?” Our only answer will be, “You shouldn’t.” except that Jesus will be standing next to us as our advocate and say, “Father, this one is with me. I took their punishment on Myself and You accepted that. I have traded their sin for My righteousness, and you have already paid out the wrath they are due. I took it for them and they have put their faith in me.”
Jesus is Prophet, Priest & King
( Joel R. Beeke’s, “Christ Alone” helped me understand this better.)
For centuries, tracing all the way back to the fourth-century writer Eusibius, Christians have talked about Jesus as their perfect Prophet, Priest and King. This might be a new and challenging thought to you because it goes against a lot of what we are taught about individuality and pluralism in North America.
First, Jesus is our only Prophet. In other words, Jesus is the person from whom we get our instruction in the things of God. He is our highest authority on what God is like, what God says, how God acts, what His priorities are, and how we are to conduct ourselves in relation to Him.
We love pluralism today. No one is wrong, everyone is right. There are some who believe that eventually we’ll figure out all this religious stuff and come to one final solution where we will incorporate all beliefs and religious systems into one united religion that will satisfy everyone. We’ll put away this petty squabbling about little issues like who God is, and what eternity is like, and whose religious text is right, and we’ll just all get along – that’s pluralism.
As we just talked about, that’s not going to happen because of the exclusive claims of Christianity, and the exclusive claims of Christ. It is Jesus who is the only one who heals our blindness and frees us from our ignorance about who God is. He is our greatest Teacher, and the supreme authority on God.
Jesus is also our only Priest. He is the person through whom we gain access to God. In Scripture, particularly in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is called our “High Priest”. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Propitiation has two basic meanings – to appease the wrath of someone, and then to make reconciliation with Him. That’s what a priest does. He brings the sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and then performs the necessary actions to bring reconciliation.
Jesus, as the perfect High Priest, not only brings the sacrifice, but became the perfect sacrifice. He, once and for all, finished the system of bringing blood sacrifices to God. He also stands before God continuously doing what is necessary to bring about reconciliation. We bring our prayers to God, through Jesus Christ. We ask things of God in Jesus’ name. We are forgiven in Jesus’ name, because of Jesus’ blood, as Jesus stands before God as our propitiation.
Jesus is the only one who makes intercession for us. There is no need for any other priest, holy man, family member, living or dead saint, or any other person, to mediate for us, because Jesus is the perfect mediator between us and God. He is God and He is Man.
We do not pray to saints because we pray to Jesus. In many religions, and in Christianity during the middle ages, the priest was thought to have special powers and a special relationship with God that no one else could have. People would have to go to the priest in order to access God and only a priest could grant forgiveness, only a priest could administer sacraments, only a priest could bring your prayers to God. Jesus ended all of that and gives every believer direct access to God through faith in Him.
How can Jesus claim all of this? Because of Jesus is our only King. He is the person who rules over all things. He is the highest authority. He is, in fact, God.
Jesus made a lot of promises that He would have to back up. He said He had the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:2). He said he could bring people back from the dead (Jn 5:21). He said he could protect the lives and souls of those who believe in Him (John 10:28). He said He had the ability to reward people in the afterlife (John 14:2, Mat 5:12). He said He is stronger than Hell (Mat 16:18). He said He has the power to answer prayers, even those said without speaking (Matt 21:22, Jn 14:13-14)
Those are big deals! He better have the authority to back that up. And if He does, why would we ever go to any other person or created thing instead?
Jesus Said and Proved He is God
We believe in Sola Christus, Christ alone, because Jesus is God. He is our Prophet, the one who tells us about God. He is our Priest, the one who brings us to God. And He is our King, the One who is God.
Why do we believe this? Because Jesus said it, and then proved it.
In John 8:58 Jesus said, “…before Abraham was born, I AM.” and the response of the Jews was to try to kill Him for blasphemy because they knew He claimed to be God.
In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews looked at him and said, “…you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:33).
Jesus accepts worship on many occasions because He was God, and Thomas, one of His disciples, looks at Jesus after He has died on the cross and rose on the third day and says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) and Jesus doesn’t correct him, because he was right!
Jesus did things that only God could do! We have eyewitness testimony, and accurate historical accounts that Jesus physically healed people who were born with infirmities. He healed people from a distance. He altered time and space – consider that He changed water into good wine, and what does wine need to taste good? Time. Jesus altered time. He commanded demons to do things. And in His greatest work, He died, was buried, and then… as He predicted over and over… rose on the third day to conquer death.
Sola Deo Gloria
And this leads us to our final Sola – Sola Deo Gloria. All for God’s glory. Not for our own but His.
He is worthy of all our glory, and all things work towards His glory. We bring Him praise, and honour, and glory, and power, and dominion and everything else because of who He is and what He has done.
We are saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, according to Scripture Alone, for the Glory of God Alone.
May God bless you as you find hope and peace in these truths.
Each week I write reflection questions and small group study material based on the sermon topic. I’m going to start posting here too.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- Do you have “Cat Theology” or “Dog Theology”?
- How have you noticed the answer to “What religion are you?” change over time?
- Have you ever considered Christians to be arrogant and/or closed minded?
- Do all roads lead to God? Why not?
- What How is Jesus your Prophet? Your Priest? Your King?
- What does it mean that all things are done Sola Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: If money were no object, what fun thing would you most like to do?
Read & Discuss: Hebrews 4:14-16
- What were the Old Testament priests for?
- What about priests from other religions?
- What descriptions from this verse qualify Jesus to be our High Priest?
- What does it mean that Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”?
- Was Jesus tempted in “every respect”? How can that be?
- Why can we draw near to God’s “throne of grace” “with confidence”? From where does that confidence come?
- In what ways do we sometimes come before God in prayer without confidence?
- What is “grace”? What is “mercy”?