The song was called In Christ Alone. Written by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty, the modern hymn is just as popular today among Christian musicians and congregations as it was at the turn of the millennium.
As its title suggests, the lyrics revolve around one central theme: Christ. Reflecting on the words, Townend said:
The only thing I could think was to base it on the eternal theme of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The verses came in a fairly linear way, but as the third verse developed, I was getting pretty excited as I thought about the amazing implications of Christ’s finished work on the cross.1
Townend & Getty’s hit song echoes one of the central confessions of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: Solus Christus or Solo Christo – Christ alone. The lyrics of the song are born out of the biblical understanding that salvation from sin and judgement is through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and Him alone. This tenet finds its source in many Scriptures: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 NASB); “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 NASB); “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NASB).
The salvation from sin and judgement that the Bible speaks of is a gift of God’s grace alone, to be received by faith alone. However, far from existing as abstract entities, the grace of God and the faith of the sinner share the same focal point: the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, God is freely gracious to the believing sinner, since divine justice is satisfied; and the sinner’s faith is placed in Jesus Christ for salvation, the object of such faith. C. H. Spurgeon, the well-known 19th century English pastor, stressed the importance of Christ alone by saying:
Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee – it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument – it is Christ’s blood and merits…2
To understand why the salvation of the sinner centres around Christ, and Christ alone, we must understand, firstly, the uniqueness of His identity, and secondly, the sufficiency of His work.
The Uniqueness of Christ’s Identity
After disobeying the explicit command given to them, and consequently plunging mankind into sin and alienation from the LORD God who created them, Adam and his wife, Eve, were cast out from the paradise of Eden that had once been in their care. No longer would they have fellowship with God in the same manner they had before; the relationship between the Creator and His creation had fundamentally changed. The ones who were once the jewel in the crown of creation were now rebels.
However, prior to their banishment from the garden they once called home, God made a promise to heal the relationship that was now broken, restore the paradise that was now lost, and deal with the sin that now infected every fabric of mankind’s being. That promise would be fulfilled through the work of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Speaking to the serpent that deceived Eve, the LORD God said:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV).
Descriptions of the Messiah, spoken by Old Testament prophets (for example, Isaiah 7:14; 52:13-53:13; 61:1; Psalm 22), coupled with later revelation recorded by the eye-witness testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament, lead us to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is none other than this promised One. The Gospel writers show clearly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 8:29; John 20:30-31; 1 John 4:15). Truly human and truly divine, He is unique.
Other articles on this website provide a more detailed consideration of Jesus’ identity, for example: What a Name.
The Sufficiency of Christ’s Work
To satisfy the wrath of a holy God who cannot tolerate sin; to rescue hell-deserving men and women; and to redeem a fallen creation, atonement had to be made. As early as the fall of mankind, effected by Adam and Eve, when God took an animal and used its skin to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), this principle was set in place, and it continued in the early offerings of their descendants (for example, Genesis 4:4). Subsequently, after God chose the Jewish nation for blessing, for many centuries the people of Israel lived by a sacrificial system that was established by Him through the Mosaic Law. It was a system that stressed the holiness and righteousness of God: in order to approach the Sovereign of all creation, perfection was required.
However, as the writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews makes clear, neither a single sacrifice of any kind nor all the animal sacrifices ever offered were enough to sufficiently deal, in the ultimate sense, with the problem of sin. Hebrews 10:4 tells us bluntly, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (NASB). In fact, the writer emphasises the impotency of the animal sacrifices: if the sacrifice made the one who offered it perfect, why did the people need to keep offering (v.2)? Instead of having the problem of sin completely removed, the sacrifices actually reminded the people of their sin and deficiency each time (v.3); and the sacrifices had to occur on a daily basis (v.11). The author even explains the weakness of the priests who administered the sacrifices: the service of the priests was finite because of their mortality (7:23); and the priests had to offer up sacrifices for their own sins as well as for those of others (7:27).
It is with this backdrop that the Scriptures say:
“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He [Jesus Christ], having offered one sacrifice [the sacrifice of Himself] for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…” (Hebrews 10:11-12 NASB).
As both the Offeror of the sacrifice, and the Sacrifice itself, on the cross Christ accomplished what thousands of priests, and countless more sacrifices, never could: the once-for-all, sufficient payment for sin.
But the work of Christ did not end at Calvary. Since His resurrection from the dead, and subsequent ascension to heaven, the Scriptures tells us that Christ, “…is able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:25-27 NASB).
With blood more precious than any sacrifice of any kind that went before, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully satisfied the just demands of a righteous, holy God. And with a priesthood far superior to all who had gone before, since Christ was sinless, and His priesthood is not bound by mortality, He is able to intercede for all those who trust in Him. He is the go-between, the link, the one mediator between God and man; truly human and truly divine, He is appropriately and uniquely qualified for such a task.
It's important to stress how radical the biblical teaching of Solus Christus was at the time the doctrine was re-discovered. The Reformers of the 16th century Protestant movement were coming out of a system where Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension and life and ministry in heaven now was deemed not to be enough. For example, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding praying to Mary to intercede on behalf of sinners is not found in the Bible and it takes from Jesus that which belongs to Him and attributes to Mary that which does not belong to her.
In fact, the tenet of Christ alone stands in opposition to every teaching of any kind that introduces someone or something in addition to, instead of, or as an assistant to, Christ.
Christ does not need assistance, nor does the sacrifice of Christ need to be added to. Salvation from sin and judgement is in Christ alone. Any thought contrary to this is foreign to Scripture, a contrivance of man, and thus powerless to save.
The 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, forcefully comments:
I care not who it is that teaches such religion, and on whose word you build. Whether he be Pope or Cardinal, Archbishop or Bishop, Dean or Archdeacon, Presbyter or Deacon, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, Baptist or Independent, Wesleyan or Plymouth Brother, whosoever adds anything to Christ, teaches you wrong.
From start to finish, a correct understanding of the biblical gospel lifts up Christ, and Him alone. The Christian gospel is not about what we can do for God, it is about what God has done for us. It was Christ who came to seek and to save the lost; it was Christ who was crucified; it was Christ who was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Christ alone.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Colossae, said, “He [Christ] is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18 NASB). In the final analysis, to reject Christ alone is to affirm that Christ will not, must not, and cannot have supremacy in all things. This thinking will, ultimately, lead to a denial of who Christ is essentially, and a rejection of the sufficiency of His finished work.
So, what are the amazing implications of Christ’s finished work that Townend and Getty wrote about in their hit song? Here is but one:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NASB).