Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Solus Christus

Josh Buice

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

Today’s focus is on the fourth sola—solus Christus (Christ Alone).  As we’ve already discussed in regard to the “formal” cause of the Reformation (sola Scriptura), sometimes people have a different idea of what the Reformers intended by the popular slogan.  As noted, it was never intended to undercut any solid creed or confession of faith that’s rooted in the Scriptures.  It does, however, point to the fact that the Scriptures are the supreme authority for life and faith.

The same thing is true with the other solas.  People often misunderstand what they were intended to communicate.  The same thing can be stated of solus Christus.  When a person reads over the slogan quickly and forms certain opinions, they may be left to think that the slogan teaches that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone when that isn’t the meaning of the slogan.

Defining Solus Christus

During the days of the sixteenth century, the offer of indulgences at a price was a popular practice.  This was at the heart of the controversy that moved Luther to pen his Ninety-Five Theses.  A man named Johann Tetzel was commissioned by Pope Leo X to go and collect money from town and village to town and village. Apparently, he was a very good communicator and a slick salesman.

He would enter towns and with the papal coat of arms and the papal bull or proclamation of indulgences on a gold-embroidered velvet cushion. He would stand adjacent to an erected cross and as people would gather, in the open-air he would proclaim fearful stories about dead loved ones of these townspeople being in purgatory—in intense punishment.  He would say things such as:

Do not you hear the voice of your wailing dead parents and others who say, “Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.” Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter…”We created you, fed you, cared for you and left you our temporal goods. Why are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes so little? You let us lie in flames so that only slowly do we come to the promised glory.”

As the Reformation sparked at Wittenberg and was set ablaze at Worms, soon these Latin slogans were being used to identify where people stood on very important doctrinal distinctions.  For Luther, he made his stand publicly at the Diet of Worms.  He wanted the whole holy Roman empire to know that he was standing on Christ alone.  It was Christ who performed the work necessary to save him—and nothing else was necessary from the work of human effort.  Certainly no money could be donated in order to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Misunderstanding Solus Christus

When we use the slogan “Christ alone” in our sermons or our songs today, we are not communicating that Christ is the only member of the Trinity who is involved in our salvation.  We are saved by the work of Christ alone—His atoning death on the cross (1 John 2:1-2).  It is Christ who became our substitute and as the Lamb of God—He took our sins away (John 1:29; Ps. 103:12).  However, our salvation is a work of the Trinity.

You may have crossed paths with a “Jesus Only” Pentecostal at some point in your life.  They emphasize the need to be baptized in the name of Jesus only.  They have many other troubling doctrines, but they refuse to baptize in the name of the Trinity because they reject the doctrine of the Trinity.  Not only is this a heretical teaching, but it diminishes the work of God the Father and God the Spirit in the work of salvation.

Before the foundation of the world, God chose a people unto Himself (Eph. 1:3-14).  The Father did not look into the future to see who would choose Christ and then at that point—elect them for salvation.  The Scripture is clear—if left all alone sinful man would never choose God.  So, God doesn’t need to look into the future to see what anyone will do, He knows that dead sinners will remain dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-10).  God looks at a sea of guilty and depraved humanity and He chooses to save a people for his glory from all tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations on planet earth (Rev. 5).

The Spirit of God is likewise involved in the salvation of each sinner who responds to God by faith in Christ alone.  Consider the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us the Bible (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16).  How else would we know God and know our sinful state without the Word of God?  We must also recognize that the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of conviction of sin—causing us to be aware of our sinful state—and literally bringing us to life spiritually (John 16:8-11; John 3:1-21 with an emphasis on John 3:7-8).  In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul writes these words, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

This is why we baptize in the Triune formula—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We stand firmly on the doctrine of solus Christus—and as Paul reminded the church at Ephesus, we will never be able to boast about our salvation because it’s not built on a foundation of works (Eph. 2:8-9).


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Author Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Solus Christus

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.