The Sole Sufficiency of Christ
“Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die, another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity” (Horatius Bonar).
by Stephen Yuille on March 22, 2022
How can sinners be righteous in God’s sight? Is there a more important question than this? The answer is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In a word, Christ does it all. He achieves righteousness in his obedience, and he satisfies God’s offended justice by his death upon the cross. The implication is that we’re completely passive. We simply receive Christ through faith and, as a result, “we become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Our faith pays nothing, merits nothing, and contributes nothing. That’s exceedingly good news!
But what happens if we add something to this good news? Intentionally or not, we end up denying the sole sufficiency of Christ. “What this means in practice is spelled out in what we can call theological mathematics. Whenever you add, you subtract. Adding more to the Lord Jesus makes him less than he should be. Whenever you put a plus sign after Jesus, you are taking something away from his supremacy and sufficiency” (Allan Chapple).
This is precisely what was happening among the Galatian churches. Some were adding to (and therefore subtracting from) Christ. “I am astonished,” writes Paul, “that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” Christ (Gal. 1:6).
The Nature of their Desertion
The term “desert” means “to bring to another place.” Metaphorically, it describes someone who has changed allegiance; that is, switched sides amid an armed conflict. It would be like Admiral Lord Nelson joining the French, or General George Patton joining the Germans. Why is the Galatians’ desertion of Christ so astonishing? Simply put, they’re deserting “him who called [them] in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6). The full import of Paul’s concern becomes evident when we work backwards through this verse and note a three-fold progression in their desertion.
First, they’re deserting the gospel. The false teachers in their midst are proclaiming “a different gospel.” It isn’t really a different gospel, as there’s only one gospel: in sum, grace and peace come through Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God (Gal. 1:3–5). This means that God is gracious to sinners for Christ’s sake. But the false teachers have added to the gospel whereby it’s no longer a divine gift but a human achievement.
Second, they’re deserting the grace of Christ. Any addition to the gospel is ultimately a repudiation of Christ’s sufficiency. If we add a drop of poison to a healthy beverage, what happens? It’s ruined. Similarly, if we add anything to Christ, we ruin the gospel. As Paul declares later in this epistle, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
Third, they’re deserting God—the One who called them (Gal. 1:15; 5:8). This means that their rejection of the gospel is ultimately a rejection of God.
The Cause of their Desertion
The reason for their desertion is abundantly clear: “There are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). They “distort” the gospel by twisting it into something it isn’t. By distorting the gospel, these men “trouble” the churches of Galatia. The term “trouble” is tarasso, which means to agitate. These two (troubling and distorting) always go together. “To tamper with the gospel is always to trouble the church. You cannot touch the gospel and leave the church untouched, because the church is created and lives by the gospel. Indeed, the church’s greatest troublemakers (now as then) are not those outside who oppose, ridicule, and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel” (John Stott). Today, the greatest “agitators” are still those who undermine the sole sufficiency of Christ.
Are we convinced like Paul of the sole sufficiency of Christ? Are we convinced that Christ offered himself upon the cross to make atonement for sin? He became one with us in our humanity. “He stripped himself of the robes of his glory and covered himself with the rags of our humanity” (Thomas Watson). Because he’s related to us, he can act as our Redeemer. He’s able to pay our debt and purchase our inheritance. “Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, and God testified to his acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice by raising him from the dead. Christ’s work, therefore, is enough to atone for our sin, to secure God’s forgiveness, and to reconcile us to God. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Are we convinced that God offers Christ to sinners for their salvation? We don’t need to fulfill any conditions. We don’t need to get our act together. We don’t need to meet a certain standard of behavior. We don’t need to be sorry enough, ashamed enough, good enough, or holy enough. We simply need to receive God’s offer. In the words of Horatius Bonar, “Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die, another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity” (Horatius Bonar). Deep down, we’re convinced that there’s something we must do that will make the difference between heaven and hell. Yet, Paul makes it clear that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Our only hope is to look away from ourselves to Christ who has done all. Simply put, the gospel isn’t a work to be performed, but a message to be received.
Are we convinced that we receive God’s gift (Christ) through faith? When we realize we’re physically sick, we look for a doctor. Similarly, when we realize we’re spiritually sick, we look for a Savior. This means that Christ is sweet when sin is bitter. When we see our sinfulness before a holy God, we extend the hand of our soul to receive Christ as ours. Having become one with him, we take possession of all the benefits and blessings that are found in him. To be united to Christ is justification, adoption, reconciliation, and sanctification. To be united to Christ is salvation. There is no other gospel!