1 John 1:1-4 Credible Witnesses of Credible Faith (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 John 1:1-4
Rev. Erik Veerman
Credible Witnesses of Credible Faith
We’re beginning a new series this morning in the book of 1 John. You can find 1 John on page 1210 in the pew Bibles.
I’ve been looking forward to our study and would encourage you to read through the book this week. It’s 5 chapters. It will take us about 4 months to work through - four sermons this month and then after an advent break, we’ll pick back up in January.
It’s highly likely that 1 John was written by the apostle John. John was one Jesus 12 disciples. His name is never mentioned in the book, but there’s very compelling Scriptural and historical evidence that he authored it. We’ll get into that today.
We’ll begin with chapter 1 verses 1-4.
Reading pg 1 John 1:1-4
Fact or fiction? Genuine or in-authentic? Real or fake?
We spend a lot of time these days trying to discern what is authentic and true.
You would think, in our digital age where so many things are captured in images and videos, that it would be easy to determine what really happened versus what is made up.
You would think that with all the information up there in the internet cloud, that we’d have all we need to know to figure out what is true and right versus what is false and wrong.
But we don’t. It’s kind of the opposite, today. We’re overwhelmed with the amount of stuff out there to sift through. Plus, everyone claims to know what is true and what is right.
• You see a picture of an event… but then later, someone claims it’s just a deep fake - photoshopped by an expert graphic artist.
• Or you watch a video, but then someone claims it’s been doctored with CGI.
• You hear a testimony of something that happened. But then you hear the other side – lies, they say. Fake news.
How do you know what is true? Who can you trust?
It’s very unsettling. It’s like the ground we are standing on is unstable and unsure. It affects our confidence in what we believe and know. Our souls are unsettled.
A recent Barna survey found that 2/3 of Christians experience or have experienced spiritual doubts of some kind. 1/4 of Christians have ongoing doubts about faith and belief. That number is higher for younger generations. I’ve experienced it… uncertainty in my life, and many of you have or do as well.
Doubt is part of the Christian experience. You are not alone. And the unsettledness of the world around us, the increasing plurality of views and beliefs only heightens the struggle.
And you know this, it’s more than just an intellectual exercise of figuring out what is right and wrong. It’s personal. We ask ourselves, am I dedicating my life to something that is true? Or we ask, am I genuinely a Christian? How do I know?
When you and I have these questions, we need to address them. If we bottle them up, that unsettledness is going to increase. And we need to come alongside of one another to think through and pray through those questions.
And that is where the book of 1 John comes in. It’s about discerning those things: what is true and right; what is authentic and credible; who to believe and what is faithful. 1 John is about you and me. It’s about knowing and having assurance of our own faith. In fact, that word “know” comes up 32 times in these 5 chapters. Some instances are about having confidence in what we believe. Other uses are about knowing what is true faith verses what is not. Flip over to chapter 5. If you look at verse 13, it captures the purpose of 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” The author wants his readers to have confidence in their faith.
My hope in this study is that we’ll each come out of it with a solid foundation for our faith. That 1 John will help us have confidence in our faith… knowing what is right versus what is wrong, truth from error, and what can be trusted and what can’t.
I hope that it challenges and reinforces our beliefs and lives - not just individually but for us as a church. Is what we believe and practice faithful and true?
Ok, let’s spend a majority of our time this morning on two things. Authorship and situatuation.
1. Authorship – Did the apostle John really write this letter?
2. Situation – When and why did he write it?
Does that sound boring? It may, but there are some really rich things in here for us. Understanding who wrote the book and why very much relates to knowing what is true and right and good.
Now, one of the big differences between this book, 1 John, and other New Testament letters is that there’s no opening salutation. The author doesn’t say who he is and to whom he is writing. And that’s the same for the ending. There’s no final greeting; no concluding thank you’s; no references to dear friends by name; and nowhere in the book does the author mention his name!
We have all these unknowns in the letter, yet so many have attributed this letter to the apostle John.
Well, let me give you some answers. And I think you’ll find them somewhat compelling and convicting.
First, in the opening verses, the author basically tells us that he was a disciple of Jesus. He does that by describing Jesus and describing his interaction with Jesus. He doesn’t name Jesus Christ until the end of verse 3, but he calls him “that which was from the beginning.” The author names him “the word of life.” He writes that this life “was with the father” and also “made manifest” which means, plainly revealed. All of that language is describing the son of God who came to us.
And notice that the author uses the plural pronouns “we” and “us” to describe his interaction with Jesus.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, wait, wait! You’re telling me that there’s one author to this book, and yet in the very opening verses there are 9 ‘we’ and ‘us’ references. It sure sounds to me like there are multiple authors!”
I would agree with that, if all we had were these opening 4 verses. However, 10 times in the rest of the book, the author says “I write” or “I am writing.” The difference is, in these first 4 verses, the author is establishing his credibility. He’s not just any other follower of Jesus who happens to be alive in the last decade of the first century. No, he was a disciple of Jesus. By using “we” he was emphasizing his identity as one of the 12 original disciples. “We” collectively witnessed Jesus personally. Multiple times: “we have heard,” “we have seen with our eyes,” “we looked upon and have touched with our hands,” “we have seen and heard and proclaim.”
It’s like the author was saying “My testimony about what is true and faithful (what you can believe!) comes from the word of life, himself, Jesus, and his message. We lived with him. We followed him. We were discipled by him. Even though these words are from my pen, they come from the credible testimony of all of us who were Jesus’ disciples.”
Beloved, these words that we will be studying are not just a letter from any old pastor to his congregation back in the first century. No, they are credible words from a credible source – a disciple of Jesus. It’s why the church, through the Holy Spirit has recognized this book as authoritative and true. As Scripture.
What I’m saying is that you can trust these words and believe them.
Before moving on, let’s go back to the specific question of authorship. You still may be thinking, “Ok, the author was a disciple of Jesus. I see that. But which disciple? Why John?”
Well, that answer comes from two places. History and the content of the letter.
On the history side, John was the longest living disciple of Jesus. Probably by 20-30 years. He lived into his mid-90s, which is incredible for that time period. Because of his age, he discipled many people. And John’s disciples lived well into the second century. His most well-known disciple was Polycarp. He’s considered one of the early church fathers. We have writings from Polycarp and other disciples of John. And they help answer our question. In their writings, they attribute this letter to John himself.
But besides the history, the other thing that you may have noticed is the style and content. The wording is so similar to the Gospel of John. Earlier in the service we read the beginning verses of John’s Gospel. The syntax and phrases are very similar… the word, life, in or from the beginning, made manifest. And the parallels continue throughout the book.
Add to that, both books are less structured and more free flowing than other books of the Bible.
This letter is beautifully composed with interwoven ideas. The author comes back around several times to earlier ideas, but adds further nuances and relationships. It’s a work of art.
It’s like a John Williams symphony. You know, like Star Wars. The opening introduces the themes, and those melodies are highlighted throughout in different ways. Different instruments with different dynamics.
The Gospel of John and this letter both have that style. As we work through 1 John, we’ll see those repeated themes. I think you’ll find it profound and compelling in different ways.
There’s a second content related reason why it makes sense for John to be the author. The book, in part, address the relationship between Jesus’ humanity and divinity. It directly answers the question, was Jesus truly God? The way John answers that question indicates that some were teaching that Jesus wasn’t fully God. Historically, those theological questions didn’t begin to come up until the very end of the first century and in to the early second century. So, this letter was very likely written near the turn of the first century. And as I mentioned, John was the only disciple still living at that time.
So, a letter written by a disciple of Jesus, a letter with very strong parallels to John’s Gospel account, attributed to John by his own disciples, and a letter dealing with issues that John would have dealt with.
I submit to you that this is God’s Word given to us through the pen of the apostle John. It’s credible. It’s authenticate. We can trust it and believe it. It’s not fake, but genuine. And it comes from a man who walked with Jesus. Who was one of Jesus’ closest friends, called the disciple whom Jesus loved.
The apostle John, disciple of Jesus, author of this book for us.
So, that’s the authorship question. Now let turn our attention to the situation.
What was the occasion for this book? Why did John write this and to whom did he write?
In a sense, we’ve already considered a couple of reasons. First, I mentioned the desire for John to give his readers assurance. To know whether their faith was authentic. Second, I mentioned that John addressed issues in the book related to Jesus’ divinity and humanity – that he was God and man.
But let me step back for a minute. Nowhere in the book are we told to whom John was writing. But what is really clear is that he knows them and he loves them.
Something about 1 John is so endearing and personal. He loves this family of faith. He is so personally concerned about their beliefs, their love for each other, and how they are to live out their faith. He calls them children. Six times he calls them “beloved.” He knows them well.
Now, I can’t tell you for sure who specifically John wrote to, but I can say that he very likely wrote this after his exile on the island of Patmos. John had lived there for a few years. It’s where God revealed the book of Revelation to him. Historical accounts indicate that after his exile, John lived the last years of his life in Ephesus. It’s probable that he wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus, while he was living his final days among them. Ephesus was a very influential city in the region. The apostle Paul had planted a church there 40 or so years earlier. As an older man, it would have been a natural place for John to spend his final years in ministry.
Now, we don’t know for sure. And I don’t think we will know who the audience is on this side of eternity.
It’s a good reminder that while yes, it was written by John to a specific people, yet we are also among God’s intended audience. We can’t lose sight of that fact. Yes, we have to understand it through the lens of the author and situation (and we’re given some clues here). But God has also given us this word. It’s for you and for me. It’s for us to be challenged, and assured, and for us to know God in Christ.
Ok, I have been thinking a lot about the occasion for John writing this letter and how it relates to us. While we don’t know whether his audience really was the Ephesians, we do know the broader situation of the time.
And I would say, challenges to Christianity at the end of the first century has some similarities to challenges that we face today, but from vastly different angles.
Let’s go back in time to sometime between the year 95 and 105 AD. And think about this: it had been 60-70 years since Jesus’ death and resurrection. In those decades, Christianity had spread far and wide in the region. Also by that time, the Gospel accounts of Jesus life had been written, several letters were penned by different Apostles, but there was no complete New Testament yet. Copies of the different letters and historical accounts were still making their way around. Add to that, Paul had died 30 years earlier, and, as I mentioned, historical accounts indicate that all of Jesus disciples except John had also passed from this world.
So they were in a precarious state. Different beliefs about Jesus and about Christianity began to emerge. Different teachers started teaching contradictory views. Imagine living in the early second century. And imagine hearing different teachings about Jesus, about your faith, about your living, about your relationships. Who do you trust? Where do you turn? How do you know what is right and wrong? How do you know if you are a Christian?
The vacuum of authority was being filled by different views that contradicted one another. Do you see how that would be spiritually unsettling back then?
And there’s a similar spiritual unsettledness today. No, it’s not a vacuum that’s being filled, rather it’s the opposite. It’s a preponderance of beliefs and views and lifestyles out there. It’s a similar struggle, but from the opposite side. We ask, how do I sort through it all? Where do I turn to find what’s true and right and good? How do I know that I am following the right path?
These are the very things that John is addressing in his letter.
And you ask, where do I begin to get those answers?
Well, in these opening verses, yes, John is establishing his credibility. Yes, he’s telling them to listen to him. But the very center of his appeal is not himself. It’s not him nor the other disciples who were with him that he’s emphasizing. Rather, he is directing them to Jesus.
Jesus is the overwhelming emphasis of these verses. He is where we should begin.
John establishes the identity of Jesus as God in the flesh. He existed in the very beginning. Verse 1. And verse 2, he is the eternal life and he is with the Father. He has full fellowship with God the Father because, verse 3, he is God’s Son. And John says his life was “made manifest.” He visibly and tangibly came to us. He became one of us.
This Jesus, whom they saw, and touched, and with whom they had fellowship was God’s very Son. He is God. Jesus is the one who makes their testimony credible. And all throughout this letter, John goes back to Jesus… to who he is and what he has done.
And I want you to notice something in the very opening words. Notice the book begins with the word “that.” “that which was from the beginning.” Why didn’t John begin with “who?” Why didn’t he say, “he who was from the beginning?” That seems like it would be the more natural way to write about Christ.
The reason is: John is not only speaking about Jesus (who he is), John is also speaking about Jesus’ ministry and message. He doesn’t just want them to know the person of Jesus. He also wants them to have fellowship with Jesus as well.
He calls Jesus the “word of life.” That’s very similar to the opening of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the word” and a few verses later “and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
Christ is eternal life and he brings eternal life. That is why he is the word of life. You see, John was affirming both the person and work of Christ. John was pointing to Jesus’ ministry which would bring life to them. The desire of John’s heart was that they also would have fellowship with God through Christ Jesus (that’s verse 3). And verse 4 reveals that John longed for this. It would be the joy of his heart for them to also know and believe and have fellowship with God through Christ. For those of us here who have that fellowship, it would also be our joy, for you come to the one true God through Christ.
John begins his letter with the foundation upon which to set our spiritual feet. He wants us to know the true Jesus and have faith in him.
Let me boil it down to this: the credible witness to which John and the disciples testified is Christ. He is the eternal God, the word of life, he came to give us life. It’s through him we can know God, and through which we can know what good and right and true.
With all the shifting sand below our feet, we can trust him.
When doubts come about our faith, we can look to Jesus.
When were not sure who to trust and what to believe, we can turn to the credible life and ministry of Jesus, who was from the beginning.
When we question our faith, when we wonder if we have true faith, we can come to the one who has given us faith… the word of life who is the only giver of life.Introduction
Our sermon text this morning is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 1-10. Page 1159. This letter was written by the apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus is on the western shore of modern-day Turkey. Paul spent about 3 years in Ephesus and he wrote this letter a few years after that time. The apostle’s purpose was to encourage them in what they believed and how that belief should be worked out in their lives.
The reason we’re studying these particular verses, is that out of the entire New Testament, I think these verses capture the very heart of Salvation in Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That Biblical teaching was the center of the Protestant Reformation. So, since tomorrow is the anniversary of the Reformation, we’ll be focusing on Ephesians 2.
READ Ephesians 2:1-10
Why does the Protestant Reformation matter? Why take one of our Sunday morning worship services to focus on it?
That question is very legitimate. You should be asking it. Many of you have probably wondered why. Well, I hope to answer those questions this morning with a little history and an analysis of these verses.
And by the way, I don’t intend this to be an annual thing. We just happened to be between sermon series, so I thought it would be a good day to focus on these reformation principles that Scripture teaches.
And another important question is, what was the Protestant Reformation? I can’t really answer why it matters without answering the “what.” And to do that, we need to begin with the early church. 2000 years ago Jesus commissioned his apostles to establish his church. As the New Testament describes it, the church includes the people of God throughout all time from every tribe, tongue, and nation, who believed in Jesus, God’s son, as Savior. The book of Acts, which we studied last year, describes the explosion of growth of the church beginning in Jerusalem. It expanded throughout the Mediterranean region and began to go to the ends of the earth. That growth and expansion to every tribe, tongue, and nation, is continuing today.
But even with the tremendous growth of the church over the centuries, the church has struggled in different ways. In the Roman Empire, Christianity spread all throughout. In the 4th century, civil leaders including the emperor became so sympathetic to Christianity, that it became the religion of the state. It was quite the turn of events, especially after the persecution of Christians in the first three centuries.
Becoming the formal religion of the empire may sound good, but it caused a lot of problems. It mixed the civil authority and church leadership. When that happened, the church began to lose its focus and mission. The purposes of the state filtered into the church. The civil magistrates became leaders of the church because of the overlap. Wars were even fought in the name of Christianity. Besides the unholy mixture, it also led to many abuses involving power and money. That only increased over time. Men could buy their way into leadership in the church. That’s how corrupt the church had become. And over the centuries, a separation grew between the people and the church authority. By the 14th and 15th centuries, Christianity didn’t look anything like Biblical Christianity today. The people were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves. No, that was reserved for the clergy. The worship services were in Latin, not the language of the people. The church even taught and practiced that you could buy forgiveness of sins for yourself and even your deceased loved ones.
You ask, how could all of that continue? Wasn’t there anyone who understood what the Scriptures taught and could stand up for the truth? Well, yes! Many tried to, but they were burned alive for their teaching.
On the outside, the Gospel had been lost, the Scriptures were obscured, and the church was corrupt.
But God was at work.
By the 16th century, God had begun to stir a revolution in the hearts and minds of his true people.
On October 31st, 1517, a young Augustinian Monk, named Martin Luther, walked across town. He lived in the little town of Wittenburg in the northern part of Germany. He unfolded a parchment and nailed to the door of Castle Church. It included 95 statements or theses. Each highlighted a different abuse in the church that didn’t align with what the Bible taught - 95 of them.
There was no fanfare or press. At the time, if you had something to announce, you put it on the door of the church. Luther merely wanted to dialog about these abuses. But some of Luther’s students took his 95 theses, copied them, and distributed them all over the region.
The 95 theses were the spark that started the flame of the Protestant Reformation. Protestant meaning protest and reformation meaning a re-formation back to what the Scriptures taught.
The reformation literally changed the world. Many have called the Protestant Reformation the most significant historical event of the last 2000 years, at least in western culture. And that Reformation is still continuing today. I think the further out we get from the reformation, the broader the impact that it has, not just in western culture, but all across the world. And it has impacted the world in lots of different ways… literacy and education, vocation and work ethic, the separation of church and state, seeing all people as being created in the image of God, to name a few.
But what was and is the most significant impact of the Reformation?
Well, the most significant impact of the Protestant Reformation was and is the recovery of the Gospel. God used the Reformation to restore to prominence the centrality of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
We may take it for granted today, but back then, the Gospel had been hidden, bottled up, concealed. It was, in a sense, lost.
And here is where Ephesians 2:1-10 comes in. It teaches the heart of the Gospel. These verses capture very well what was brought to light again. The phrase that summarizes it this: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
This is what the reformers taught, but they didn’t make it up! No, they were teaching what the Scriptures teach about salvation. Look at Ephesians 2 and jump down to verse 8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
We could probably end right there, and we’d be good. But let’s work some of these details.
• “by grace alone” point 1.
• “through faith alone” point 2.
• “in Christ alone” point 3.
1. By Grace Alone
So first, by grace alone. That word grace is scattered throughout these verses. It means an undeserved gift. And I think if you had to come up with a full definition of what grace is, you would look no further than Ephesians 2:1-10. It doesn’t just tell us that salvation is a gift from God. No, it also tells us why it is a gift.
Verses 1-3 get to the problem – we were dead in our sins! This is talking about spiritual death. We may have been alive in our bodies, but we were of the devil. We had no capacity to know God, no capacity to believe, no hope for any kind of reconciliation with God, and no future with him. Not half dead. Spiritually dead as a doornail.
But even though we were dead, we were made alive by God’s grace. That’s right in verses 4 and 5 “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.”
The image here is not of God coming halfway down to us, and we coming halfway to him, meeting in the middle. No! We had no spiritual pulse. We were doomed. We had no ability in any way to come to God. It is all God’s work. He fully comes down to us. “Grace alone” captures both the gift part and the undeserved part.
There’s a great quote about the reformation understanding of “grace alone.” I don’t know who to attribute it to because it’s been used so widely without reference. Grace alone means “grace at the start, grace to the end, grace in the middle, grace without fail, grace without mixture, grace without addition, grace that allows no boasting, and grace that precludes all glorying but in the Lord.”
Salvation is all a gift of grace from God from beginning to end.
When I was in college, a couple times we would go to the local community college and talk to people. Our desire was to share the hope of Christ. We used a survey to start the conversation – and one of the questions was this “why should God let you in to his heaven?” Almost every single person said this “because I am a good person.” That’s our natural inclination, isn’t it? To think that we’re good enough for God to accept us. That we can reach out to God and then he’ll reach out to us.
The problem is, that’s not what the Scriptures teach. Like it says in Ephesians 2, we’re dead in our sin. We’re children of wrath. There’s nothing we can do to come to God or be acceptable in his sight. Rather, it’s all his grace. The end of verse 8 into verse 9 captures it well. “…it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” When we see that salvation is all by God’s grace, it humbles us and directs our gaze to him, seeking to glorify him.
Romans 11 also captures it well. Verse 6 “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
In salvation, God take our cold dead hearts that deserve nothing but hell, and he gives us a new heart. It's all by his grace. Nothing else. The Holy Spirit awakens us and brings us to Christ. God frees us from the penalty of sin, raising us from spiritual death, and bringing us to spiritual life. None of it is our own doing.
Salvation is by grace alone. There’s no merit in salvation. We were dead, and he made us alive.
2. Through Faith Alone
And second, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone.
Martin Luther lived on the eastern side of Wittenburg. The building was known as the Black Cloister. It was a three-story building, built earlier in the 16th century for the clergy – for monks. In 1517, it was where Luther and about a dozen other monks lived, who served the town. Eventually, that same building, the Black Cloister, would become the home where he and Katie would raise their children, and host their famous Tabletalk gatherings. In the front of the building was a spiral tower that rose above the structure. Up high in the tower was a study room. Luther spent a lot of time there studying, and thinking, and praying.
In fact, at one point Luther locked himself in his tower study for a couple of days. He was so engrossed in his research and prayer that he tuned the world out. Well, Katie, it’s said, got so fed up with it, so she took the hinges off the door, in order to break him out.
But let’s go back to 1517. I think it’s true to say that Luther’s 95 grievances sparked the reformation. But what brought Luther to that point? When did his heart change?
Later in his life, Luther wrote about his “tower” experience. You see, earlier in 1517, he was in the Black Cloister tower… and he was thinking about God’s righteousness. One of the things that haunted Luther up to that point was the idea of God’s righteousness. It brought terror to his heart. Fear gripped him at the mere thought of the almighty God’s divine justice. It angered him. Luther wrote that he “raged with a fierce and troubled conscience over it.” He wrote that he hated the righteousness of God, which punishes sinners.
And as he grappled with God’s righteousness in the Black Cloister tower, he was reading Romans 1:17. That was part of our assurance of pardon this morning. You can read it in the order of service. Verse 16 speaks about the Gospel, which it defines as “the power of God for salvation for those who believe.” And then in verse 17, it says, “For in it [in the Gospel], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
And there in the tower in early 1517, God revealed to Luther justification by faith. The eyes of his heart were opened. All the lies from the church about merit-based salvation came crashing down. Luther came to understand that our righteousness is not a righteousness of our own based on works. Rather, he came to understand that it is a righteousness that comes from God through faith. It is a righteousness given to us, when we believe by faith. That faith itself also being a gift from God.
Luther wrote of that day in the tower that he felt that he was altogether born again and “had entered paradise itself through the open gates.” He wrote later in life that, “there I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.” And so it began. The gospel flame of justification by faith in Luther’s heart, which God would use to spark the Reformation.
It could be said that the Reformation started, not when Luther posted his 95 critiques of the church, but a few months earlier. In that Black Cloister tower, God brought him from a place of crisis to a place of believing in the righteousness of God through faith.
But what is faith? As Hebrews 11 says, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That conviction and hope involves knowing, believing, and trusting in God. Faith is the means or the instrument, through which we participate in the righteousness of God. Let’s go back to Ephesians 2 verse 8 again. “for by grace you have been saved through faith.” The prepositions are important here. We’re saved “by” grace, “through” faith. The power of salvation come by God’s grace. It’s received, “through faith.” Through meaning faith is the avenue or channel. Faith is not the thing that does the justifying, rather it’s the thing through which we receive righteousness from God in Christ.
To be sure, it’s fine to say “by faith.” The Scriptures use that description as well. We “walk by faith,” we “live by faith.” But here in Ephesians 2, it is defining the relationship between grace and faith. It helpfully says by grace, through faith. Our faith does not justify us. God does. We receive his righteousness through faith. In just a couple of minutes we’ll consider the grounds of our justification, but faith is the channel through which God saves us. We are saved by the gift of grace alone, which we receive through faith alone.
It’s really important to understand that these three concepts cannot be separated. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The unmerited saving grace of God is the gift of Christ. And the faith that God gives is a faith in Christ for what he has done. It’s not works, it’s not merit or any special status that someone has, rather it’s a gift from God. In other words, the grace of God and the faith that God gives us is inseparable from the ministry of Christ.
3. In Christ Alone
“In Christ alone” mean that the grace and faith are in Christ alone. In other words, God’s grace comes to us only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith. We believe by faith in Christ. You see, it’s a package deal, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Ephesians 2 makes that clear.
• Verse 5, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.” Our spiritual deadness was remedied by Christ. We’ve been made alive with him. That is God’s grace in Christ for us now.
• And Verse 6 – God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This speaks of God’s future grace for us in Christ. Verse 7 verifies that. It says, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The immeasurable riches of God’s grace is found in Christ.
Our faith is in the grace given to us in Christ.
When we say that salvation is in Christ alone, we are saying three things.
• First, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the only sacrifice that could atone for sin. His ransom payment is the only payment sufficient to pay our debt. Nothing else.
• But also, and second, Christ is our only savior. No one else and nothing else can save us from death and damnation and give us eternal hope. He alone can save.
• And third, he is the only mediator between God and man. Jesus is the only one we need to go to for forgiveness and to be in communion with God. There’s no one else.
In the 16th century, the church was not teaching that salvation was found in Christ alone. In fact, much of the teaching was quite the opposite. The “mass” which was their worship service, included the idea of re-sacrificing Christ. That was part of their understanding of communion. In other words, Jesus’ sacrifice was not a once-and-for-all sacrifice.
Related to that, the church also believed that taking the Lord’s Supper was necessary for salvation. It gave you saving grace, not just God’s sustaining grace. Furthermore, they believed the priests played a mediatorial role. You had to go to a priest to confess and receive forgiveness. But Christ alone is our mediator. Even worse, the church taught that you had to pay for your sin and work for your salvation. That included paying money, called indulgences. You had to recite certain prayers and live a good life in order for God to accept you. You see, salvation wasn’t a free gift. Christ’s payment wasn’t sufficient. In other words, Salvation wasn’t by faith alone in Christ alone, it included faith plus a priest, faith plus taking communion, faith plus indulgences, and other types of faith plus works.
But the fire of the Reformation had been started. As the Scriptures were being taught, all these false views of salvation were being exposed. God was on move in the hearts and minds of many.
One of those was a young French law student, who at some point in the early 1530s came to an understanding of grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. His name was John Calvin. In 1533 he wrote a speech for one of the bishops of the church in Paris. In it were these words: “[the priests] teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all…. I beg you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses.” As you can imagine, that speech, although true, caused an uproar. Persecution began to spread throughout France. Both the Bishop who delivered the address, and Calvin who wrote it, fled for their lives. Calvin, allegedly, had to dress up as a gardener and be lowered down by a sheet from a window to escape. He would flee to Switzerland and eventually ended up in Geneva. He became yet another pillar used by God, to bring about a true revival of what the Scriptures teach.
The heart of the Gospel as Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches, would not and will not be repressed. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone.
May we each know and believe in the love of God in Christ… that while we were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ, by his grace. We receive it not by works, not by merit, but through faith. It’s the only hope we have. Amen.