30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father's place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.
— Leviticus 16:30-32, ESV
“Solus Christus,” or Christ Alone, is the fourth of the five pillars of the Great Reformation. To recount them all, “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone) teaches that salvation is by “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone) through “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) in “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone) for “Soli Deo Gloria” (the Glory of God Alone).
Oddly enough we will go to an Old Testament text to examine the exclusivity of the New Testament gospel. To know why Christ, and Christ alone, saves, we first have to understand the holiness of the triune God, the sinfulness of the human race, and God’s only remedy to reconcile one to the other.
When people ask me a Bible question I cannot answer, I usually make something up and say it’s in Leviticus. I know they probably won’t go there to look. Walking through Leviticus is meaningful but monotonous, until chapter sixteen stuns us, right between the chambers of the heart.
Leviticus 16 describes the inaugural Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, made necessary by the holiness of God and the sins of the people. The entire ritual is a perfect type, a beautiful picture, a gospel proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.
The Holiness of God
Of all of the attributes of God, the one that the late R.C. Sproul thought most important is the one most overlooked by modern Christians.
Today’s Christians gravitate towards the love of God, and our patron verse is John 3:16, or maybe 1 John 4:8. “God is love” indeed, and love is an amazing grace. But we have magnified it as if it is His only attribute, so much so that Christianity today is mostly an invertebrate religion preaching a unitarian gospel with salvation for all and punishment for none.
Would a parent who never disciplines her child be a good parent? Would a sitting judge who never punishes convicted criminals be a good jurist? Would God be good if He did nothing to penalize the sin and evil that exists in the world?
To understand salvation in Christ alone we have to begin with the holiness of God. Love is found in the Bible almost six hundred times but holiness is mentioned about seven hundred. Great theologians like Sproul, J.I. Packer, A.W. Pink and many others consider holiness to be God’s chief attribute. “The Lord our God is holy” (ref. Psalm 99:9). The Father is holy, the Son is holy, and the Holy Spirit, well, His name speaks for itself.
Holiness is perfection. There is no flaw, no defect, no mistake, no sin in God. He is spiritually, physically, morally, and absolutely perfect. God created a perfect universe and planet for us to inhabit, but when we entered in we sinned. God has made a plan to regenerate people into ultimate perfection and recreate the heavens and earth in a state of perfection. For this we need Christ, and Christ alone.
Holiness is righteousness. Having mentioned sin, which marred God’s perfect people and planet, we must define it. Sin is anything not right, or righteous, according to God. Sin entered into the human race when we disobeyed God’s clear prohibitive commandments (“thou shalt not”). More often we sin when we ignore God’s affirmative commandments (“thou shalt). God is perfect, and perfectly righteous, and the only way to be rightly related to Him is to be perfectly righteous, too. This requires Christ, and Christ alone.
Holiness is justice. There is a longing in every human heart for justice, for all humans are made in the image of God. Sin is injustice, and the failure to properly punish sin is further injustice. Therefore, for God to remain perfect and righteous, He must punish the guilty. For this the holy, perfect, and righteous judge had ordained two places: Hell or the cross of Christ, and Christ alone.
The Seriousness of Sin
Few would argue against the truth of Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So, we’re not as good and glorious as God. What’s the big deal? Perhaps it seems more ominous in this Old Testament text: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Because of God’s holiness, sin is serious. It disqualifies us from sharing in God’s glory, His present kingdom and His future new heaven and earth. Furthermore, it prevents us from having any relationship with God at all. Without deliverance from sin you can look for God but He has “hidden his face.” You can talk to God but “He does not hear.” Sin, be it one or one trillion, can banish you from the presence of God now and forever.
Because of God’s holiness, sin will be seriously punished. The punishment is progressive and permanent. The punishment is death. Spiritual death entered the human race at the moment of sin, and subsequent generations are born with it. Physical death ensues, from crime or disease or old age. Eternal death is the final death, it is Hell, figuratively and literally, from whence there is no return.
Is there no escape? Is there no forgiveness? Is there no grace? Is there no mercy? It there no way to reconcile the holiness of God with the sinfulness of man? There is one way, and He is Christ, and Christ alone.
The Atonement of Christ
To find Christ in the Bible, one does not have to wait until you turn the pages from the Old Testament to the New. God has only one plan of salvation, redemption, forgiveness, eternal life, and this is Christ, and Christ alone.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was a beautiful and meaningful ritual which prescribed and predicted the person and work of a single Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It was instituted in the Mosaic Law and repeated annually until the Old was fulfilled by the New, until Christ came. It has a lot of moving parts, all of which point to one person.
There were sacrificial animals. This is often explained in the Old Testament, succinctly in Leviticus 17:11 (which is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 9:22). Holiness and sin equals punishment, punishment is death, death is bloodshed. But bloodshed can also be sacrifice, and sacrifice can serve as a substitute.
There were two goats, sacrificial and substitutionary. One symbolically paid for sins with shed blood, one took the sins far away from the people to be seen and remembered no more (ref. Jeremiah 31:34). This is the dual nature of salvation, sins forgiven and sins forgotten.
There was one high priest. He was “a son in the father’s place.” He was holy. He did things right, according to God’s will and word. He made an atonement for the people who repented of sin (“afflicted” themselves) and believed in God. Faith and repentance have always been the only right way to receive the salvation of God.
Mind you, these moving parts, this dynamic ritual, merely served as pictures. Look at each picture now. Tell me whose face do you see?
It is the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.
Jesus Christ is the male without blemish, without sin. Jesus Christ willingly gave His lifeblood for the forgiveness and erasure of our sin. Jesus Christ is the great high priest who, though being God, stood between holy God and sinful man to bring the two together in reconciliation, relationship, salvation, atonement. This at-one-ment is by God’s grace, alone, through God-given faith, alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.
In Christ alone, my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm,
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease;
My Comforter, my All in All;
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh;
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save;
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.
There in the ground His body lay;
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ!
No guilt in life, no fear in death;
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!
— Stuart Townend and Keith Getty