A Christless Christianity

Occasionally someone will ask, “What is Christianity without Christ?” That question usually comes with a charge against Christians for not being loving enough, open enough, or inclusive enough. However, Thomas Watson reminds us that “He who rightly applies Christ, puts together these two together: Jesus and Lord” (The Godly Man’s Picture, by Thomas Watson, pg. 9). He is more than Christ who took away our sins out of love, but he is also Lord and God worthy of worship and service that is manifested through our obedience to His truth. However, we are right to consider the difference that Christ makes.
Salvation
No doubt salvation is the first area we are confronted with when considering a Christless Christianity. Without Christ salvation is unattainable because all that we could offer up to the Lord would be ineffectual. Recognizing this point we are quick to embrace the need for Christ’s work on the cross culminating with His resurrection. One life, given for the redemption of those who would trust in Him. Anything less and salvation is not merely impossible, but incomprehensible if it were not for the fact that the sinless one would pay the penalty for sin through the shedding of His blood. Such an act would fulfill the necessary sanctions for sin (cf. Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:11). Thus, Christ was a part of God’s plan from the beginning to offer salvation to the world, for without it, salvation would not be viable.
Sanctification
Related to Christ’s work in salvation is his work in sanctification. Sanctification encompasses two concepts: the first is that initial judgment in which we are declared holy in the sight of the Lord by the imputed righteousness of Christ, but also progressive sanctification, that process in which we are being transformed, molded, and forged into the image of Christ, becoming more and more like Him. While neither would be feasible, the first comes at the point of salvation, which we talked about above. The second though is an ongoing process made possible by Christ’s work for us in the following three ways:
  • Explanation: Christ’s time of ministry was a time of teaching; his teaching expounded upon God’s plan and revealed will for believers so that they may be encouraged in right living for Him.
  • Exemplification: Christ did not merely teach, he modeled. Christ set forth the standard and then modeled it. His exemplification provides hope for the believer because it demonstrates that God’s life transformation is not unrealistic, but achievable.
  • Exertion: Finally, Christ is an enabler because His work allows us to put into practice that transformation. How so? Because he brought forth salvation and for those who believe in that work comes the commencement of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s life (see Romans 8:1-11). If Christ’s work was not fully completed, neither would the Holy Spirit’s work (cf. John 16:7).
Thus, sanctification, first at the point of salvation and second the progressive work until the point of glorification, occur because of Christ’s work.
Ministration
Sin taints. Sin taints all that we are. Therefore, sin taints all that we do. Were it not for the work of Christ, our inability to minister for the glory of the Lord would be hindered by our enslavement to sin. Instead, Christ’s work yields freedom (Romans 6:15-19). Freedom in Christ enables obedience to Christ. No longer entrapped by sin, we are granted the ability to become a servant to righteousness and the one who embodies righteousness. While few would consider enslavement to be true freedom, and the concept of being set free only to be a servant elsewhere seems a bit in conflict, consideration between the two recognizes just how powerful this truth is. Sin is binding, while salvation is liberating. One creates disappointment while the other creates contentment.
Adoration
Finally, being liberated from sin allows us to submit to God in worship. Were it not for the sanctifying work, we would find little ability to praise and adore God the Father. Sin blinds the eyes while simultaneously binding the heart. Yet, salvation unveils the eyes to see and know God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1) and loosens the heart that it may freely be encased by a love for God and God alone. The result is our adoration of God that was enabled by the work of Christ.
Christ fulfilled the will of God and in doing so also enabled us to fulfill the will of God. This is why all that we teach and preach must come back to the gospel. Anything that lacks the completeness of God’s plan through the gospel is nothing more than a moralism that lacks both hope and motivation. All that we do is impacted by our acceptance of its sufficiency and thus we proclaim Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection.
Photo “Old Church in New Castle” courtesy of user Rachel Elaine and Flickr.