Only Jesus – By Pastor Bennett
Big transitions often involve a healthy mix of challenge and excitement, tension and joy. It’s been a wild ride so far. Moving our family from one town and church family to another has had its share of both ends of the spectrum. Saying goodbye to our family and friends was difficult after nearly seven years in Sheboygan. But saying “hello” to New Life has been tremendously encouraging. We’ve been overwhelmed with a sense of God’s goodness, guidance, and grace through our interactions with our new church family. Though we’ve just begun getting acquainted, we feel like we belong. We feel like we’ve been catching up with old friends more than introducing ourselves to strangers. And I believe that one of the major reasons for this is the unwavering commitment to two small words found on New Life’s sign on WI-35.
These two little words put together carry an enormous and profound weight: Only Jesus. These two words capture the heart of the Christian faith. They encapsulate the very essence of the gospel. A right understanding of and commitment to Only Jesus is what sets God’s redeemed people apart from the rest of the world and from all other systems of religion. All other religions are essentially rule-oriented and require the practice of moral or spiritual disciplines in order to attain salvation. So all other religions are about our salvation coming about through our own human effort.
As Christians, our heartbeat, our life, our song, must be a constant, persistent, and deliberate commitment to Only Jesus. As soon as we lose the “only-ness” of Jesus, we lose the gospel. This was Paul’s major concern in writing his letter to the Galatians. The root issue the Galatians were struggling with is the same root issue we can so easily struggle with today: trying to add something to the gospel. We can slip back into a form of legalism and drift from the simple yet profound truth of Only Jesus.
The Galatians were prone to add the Mosaic Law to the gospel. “Only Jesus” was being morphed into almost Only Jesus: namely Jesus plus circumcision equals salvation. Today we’re generally not gung-ho about saying that circumcision is required for salvation, but what are we gung-ho about? What are we prone to add to the gospel of Jesus?
This can get tricky. Legalism typically creeps in on us—it’s subtle. Wheaton College president Phil Ryken notes that more often than not the things we add to the gospel are good things in themselves. He writes, “Christians are always trying to add something to the gospel…They elevate some aspect of Christianity to a place of supreme importance, so that the good news becomes faith in Christ plus something else” (Galatians: Reformed Expository Commentary, p46). And that ‘something else’ is often not an evil thing.
What are we inclined to add to the gospel? A particular experience of the Holy Spirit, perhaps? Some method of having devotions, or raising a family? Some particular style of worship music? A political or social cause? What are we prone to struggle with here? Jesus plus reading certain books? Jesus plus homeschooling? Jesus plus public schooling? Jesus plus abstaining from certain foods or beverages? Whatever the case may be, I’d bet that each of us can fill in the blank with something.
And Ryken is right—these additions to the gospel are not bad things; they’re good! And oftentimes these values and behaviors flow out of our faith in Christ alone. But it’s also true that oftentimes there is some grey area with these things—there is room for some disagreement between Christians.
Of course, there are certainly things we can take part in that are downright sinful, but that’s not what is in view here. The danger here is when good things are elevated to a place they shouldn’t be with respect to the gospel. When that happens, we can become self-righteous as we rely on our behavior for salvation and feel superior to others who don’t share our list of rules. That’s the danger of legalism. Are these things causing division among us? Are the differences we may have causing disunity? They shouldn’t be—not if we truly embrace and live by the gospel of Only Jesus.
Ryken writes further down the page: “…For the gospel to be the gospel, it has to stand alone. The gospel is Christ plus nothing” (p46). That is the message of New Life, and may it ever be so! May we move forward together, shoulder-to-shoulder with our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus, and only Jesus.