First, the elephant in the room. All my articles are about Christ for you as gift. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an article on this blog that isn't about Christ for you as gift. Why is that? It sometimes appears as though there are as many confessions of Christianity on the Internet as there are Christians on the Internet. Millions of people talking about Jesus. Millions arguing from the Bible for the truth of their claims about God, church, belief, holiness, good works, judgment, and on and on it goes. But, it's a rarity, in the virtual and real world, to hear or read something that delivers Christ Jesus for you as gift for the forgiveness of all sin today and always. Five hundred years later and we're still, all of us, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans, arguing about the validity of the Reformation proclamation that sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone apart from all works.
So, which confession is true? There are so many from which to choose. Which preacher delivers a "Christ for you" sermon instead of a "Christian renewal" sermon? Where is there a congregation that is a Christian congregation? There are so many voices competing for our attention. So many choices in a marketplace of ideas already overflowing with people, and buildings, and confessions of faith that contradict or are formulated in opposition to the congregation across the street, or the preacher on Twitter, or the live-streamed worship service on Facebook. How is a Christian to know truth from falsehood when there are literally millions of people and books and journal articles and blogs that assert, "I have the truth over here, pay attention to me!"
The answer is simple. Unless a preacher, or a congregation, or someone on social media is delivering Christ Jesus for you, the tweet or the instapic or the vlog may be about Jesus, and it may be about faith, or holiness, or good works, or judgment, or any number of other doctrines, but if it's not Christ Jesus "for you" they're not delivering the Gospel to you. Christ alone without any conditions, without an "if" or a "but" or a "however" is the Gospel.
As St. Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, faith alone in Christ saves, everything else Christians are about should be said and done charitably for the sake of our neighbor. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. That's it. That's the Gospel in a nutshell. Yes, we should be concerned about holiness, and good works, and other Christian doctrines, but none of them save us. Only Christ's suffering, bloody death for the sin of the world saves us from sin, death, and hell.
Christianity, it turns out, is simple. It's not easy, but it's simple.
We complicate it because we refuse to accept that salvation can be so simple. Our Old Adam nature is bent toward justifying ourselves. "There's just got to be something I need to do to finish, to top off, to complete my personal salvation,"he imagines. And so he goes searching for validation. He goes looking for other Old Adams who want to add their doing to God's finished Calvary work of free salvation for all people. Old Adam just can't leave good enough alone. As a consequence, today it sometimes seems that there are as many confessions of Christianity as Christians on the Internet. But, a majority—an overwhelming majority—argue for one thing: "I want to add my doing to God's work, and I want to use others as a measure of my progress up my imagined ladder of salvation."
The way to distinguish between what is delivering Christ for you versus Christian-speak about how Christians earn or complete their salvation is simple. Who's running the verbs of salvation? Who's "doing the doing", as an old seminary professor liked to say to his students. Is Christ Jesus doing for you what's impossible for you? That is, is God saving you gratis, no strings attached, through Christ crucified, or are you being told that you still have to do something to complete Jesus' unfinished work? Does Baptism "now save you" or is there more you have to do to finish what baptism begins? Does the flesh and blood of Jesus give you the forgiveness of sin, or is it a spiritual pick-me-up that empowers and enables you to earn God's grace and favor?
There's only one confession that is truly "Christian." All the others are just Old Adam trying to justify his personal salvation project to God, usually at the expense of anyone he can get to listen to him. Christ alone saves apart from works. Jesus' Golgotha work for us, the Lamb crucified for the sin of the world, is the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega of the Christian faith. Everything else is a distraction that can and will lead us away from the Source of our forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation: Christ Jesus, the Savior who runs all the verbs of salvation.