Because 2017 was the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, my letters in 2017 have been about the five great ‘solas’ of the Reformation. Sola is the Latin word for ‘alone’ and theologians speak of sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone) and soli Deo gloria (God’s glory alone).
I’ve already written about sola scriptura: the Bible alone is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for the church. I’ve also written about sola fide: we’re justified (pardoned and accepted by God) through faith alone. In my last letter I wrote about sola gratia: we’re justified by grace alone (God’s kindness towards sinners) and not because of any merit of our own. I also mentioned at the end of the last letter soli Deo gloria: since our salvation depends on God’s kindness to sinners, there’s no reason for us to boast in ourselves; all the praise, honour and glory belongs to him alone.
The remaining sola is solus Christus (Christ alone): Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and sinners. A mediator is one who makes peace between two parties in a dispute. Since we have all sinned against God, we are therefore all under the wrath and curse of God and are justly liable to all punishments in this world and the next. However, the reason the Son of God became a man was in order to be our mediator and to create a lasting peace between God and all who are united with Christ by faith.
Mediation is sometimes accomplished by intercession or negotiation. So, a mediator is able to talk the parties into an agreement. However, in our case, since we’ve all broken God’s law, it was necessary for the mediator to pay for our sins and shortcomings and to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf. This is what the Lord Jesus has accomplished by his life of perfect obedience, by his death on the cross, and by his resurrection from the grave.
As the Scriptures teach, he is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). If righteousness with God could have been attained through keeping the law or through any other means, then it would have been unnecessary for him to die (Galatians 2:21). But since there was no other way, then it was necessary for him to give his life as a ransom to pay for our sins (Mark 10:45). So, by his death he has reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God (Ephesians 2:16).
The reason the Reformers needed to teach solus Christus was because the Catholic Church regarded priests on earth and Mary and the saints in heaven as mediators whose intervention was necessary for salvation. Priests were regarded as mediators because they were the only ones qualified to offer up to God the sacraments which were necessary for salvation. Mary and the saints in heaven were regarded as mediators because sinners on earth could rely on them to ask God to pardon their sins on the basis of their own merit.
However, the Reformers taught that Jesus Christ alone is our Great High Priest who lives to intercede for us. Furthermore no mere human, not even Mary, has any merit in the sight of God because all have sinned and fall short of his glory. Instead of relying on priests and saints, we’re to rely entirely on Jesus Christ, the only mediator.
The Reformers confessed that Jesus Christ is the only mediator because this is what the Scriptures teach us to believe. However, they also believed that Jesus Christ is the only one qualified to be our mediator with God. The mediator had to be a man so that he could pay the penalty for our sin as one of us. However, he also needed to be sinless, because how can someone with sin pay for the sins of others?
Furthermore, the mediator had to be divine in order to destroy the power of Satan, to bear the wrath and curse of God on our behalf, and to make perfect, and to give everlasting life to, those who believe in his name.
Since the mediator between God and sinners must be a sinless man and also divine, then there is only one person who is suitably qualified and it’s Jesus Christ the Lord.
When he came into the world as one of us, he was anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our Great Prophet, Priest and King. As our Great Prophet, he teaches us everything we need to believe for salvation. As our Great High Priest, he offered himself as the perfect, unblemished sacrifice to pay for our sins and he lives forever to intercede for us at his Father’s side in heaven. As our Great King he calls us into his kingdom and he promises to keep us in it forever. Therefore not only was he perfectly qualified to be our mediator, he did all things necessary to make peace with God.
This doctrine is not ancient history, because in our modern pluralist world, Jesus Christ is regarded not as the only mediator, but as one of many. We’re told that trusting in Christ is one way to reach heaven, but it’s not the only way. We’re told that there are many ways to reach God and that every religion bears witness in its own way to the truth about God.
In the face of modern pluralist unbelief, the church today must continue to confess solus Christus: Christ alone is the only mediator and whoever wishes to have eternal life must trust in him and in no other. As the Apostle Peter said: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).