This is a deadly temptation indeed. From the beginning of the New Testament Church, it has troubled the Body of Christ and it continues to do so. Of course, it comes in various forms but the essence is the same namely Christ is not enough.
In Scripture, we first encounter it in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch in Syria where they were preaching that salvation is through Christ alone. However some Jews who had been converted to Christianity and still felt that Christ alone is not enough for salvation came down and started teaching that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be saved” (v. 1, 5). Paul and Barnabas debated and argued with them that salvation is through Christ alone but these people did not back down.
Therefore, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem where the first recorded church council of apostles and elders gathered to discuss the matter. The council resolved that it is not necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved because salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Fast forward to the Epistle to Galatians. Paul is addressing the same problem of Acts 15. Judaizers (Jews who had been converted to Christianity) continued to preach that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. Instead, they were adding circumcision to it. So, salvation, according to them, was through faith in Christ plus circumcision. Unfortunately, some Galatians started buying into this error and Paul was angered by this deception and wrote Galatians:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are returning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:5-8, ESV).
Now, what type of gospel did Paul preach to the Galatians? Back to Book of Acts, Paul preached that salvation is through Christ alone. And what did those who troubled the Galatians preach? Salvation is through Christ plus circumcision. So, Paul, boldly, declares that if anyone, even if he is an angel, should preach that salvation is through Christ plus… should be accursed. This how serious and deadly this temptation of adding on Jesus is.
We are not yet done, so let’s skip some pages of the New Testament and come to the Letter to Colossians. This epistle was written to oppose what has commonly become to be known as “The Colossian Heresy.” The heresy involved a lot of things but to sum it up, it also taught that Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. It taught that apart from Christ one was supposed to among other things deny themselves (2:21; 2:23); worship angels (2:18); and have special knowledge (Gnosticism) (2:18; 2:2-3). Apostle Paul then wrote the Church at Colossae to remind them that Christ alone is sufficient (1:15-20; 2:2-3, 9) for our salvation. There is nothing we can add to Christ for God to save us.
Again, let’s fast forward to almost 1, 500 years later. This deadly temptation continued to rear its ugly head in the Church. During this time, there was only one church and there were serious errors being taught in this church. Then, God, through his Holy Spirit, raised a man by the name of Martin Luther who by God’s grace boldly stood up to oppose the errors, especially, the one that said salvation is through Christ plus good works. Of course, it should be noted that before this man, others also opposed the errors in this church including John Hus and John Wycliffe.
Martin Luther opposed various errors in the church basing on Scripture and his opposition reached the climax on October 31, 1517. The climaxing of his opposition led to what is now known as Reformation which also led to the birth of what are now called Protestant Churches.
Reformation emphasized on five main issues which sometimes are called Five Banners of Reformation or Five Solas of Reformation namely Christ Alone (Solus Christus), Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), Faith Alone (Sola Fide), Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) and To God alone be the glory (Solus Deo Gloria). For the sake of this post we will just dwell on Solus Christus (Christ Alone).
Martin Luther opposed teachings like you need to believe in Christ and also punish your body through penance and fasting to be saved. He opposed the teaching that stated you need to give money to the church and believe in Christ to be saved. All in all, Luther and the other Reformers like John Calvin opposed any teaching that added on Christ as means of salvation. After, devotedly, studying Scripture, the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see that salvation is through Christ Alone for only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one can go to the Father unless he goes through Christ alone (John 14:6).
We now come to our time. Has this deadly temptation ceased to bother the Church? Not at all! It has just put on a new form. Today, some still preach that Christ is insufficient. It is very disheartening to note that the preaching that focuses on Christ alone is becoming less and less popular. Instead those preaching Christ plus miracles or Christ plus success and riches or Christ plus prediction of minute details of life are becoming more popular and crowd pullers. Whatever happened to the old but ever relevant and satisfying truth that Christ alone is all we need, I don’t know.
I pray that the Church today will sober up and realize that the Head of the Church, Jesus, is sufficient. We don’t need to add anything to him to make him sufficient or more appealing. Fellow preachers, please preach Christ Alone. He is our all in all.
“For by (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross…and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 1:16-20; 2:9, ESV).
“Dear Father, give us this day the understanding of the sufficiency of Christ and deliver us from this deadly temptation of adding on Christ.” May all God’s people say…”Amen and Amen!”