Christ: Our Only Righteousness

Tom Pennington Isaiah 53:11


Well, I count it a great privilege to be able to address you tonight on this all-important issue. For some of you, you understand “in Christ alone” because you’re a Christian, and we as Christians understand that our faith centers in Jesus Christ. He and His cross are to be the galactic center of our lives, of our church, of our universe. But perhaps you have never really heard or had to reckon with the Latin expression and the original significance and import of the expression “Solus Christus.” Maybe to you it doesn’t seem quite as important as it should. You know that it is important. You know that it’s important enough to have a conference about and for you to spend your Friday night sitting and hearing someone speak about it, but perhaps you don’t yet grasp why it should be so precious to you. My desire and prayer is that before you leave tonight, it will.

Solus Christus is not an unimportant, tangential issue in the Christian life. It is the center pillar of the doctrine of justification. “In Christ alone” identifies the grounds on which you and I can gain a right standing before God. And there is no more important issue than that. How you and I as sinful human beings can someday stand before God and stand before Him in spite of our sin, in spite of our record, in spite of everything He knows about us, and be declared righteous and allowed to enter into His heaven. What could be more important than that?

It’s always been important. You go all the way back to the days of the Patriarch; from the mouth of Job, we hear this question in Job 9:2: “But how can a man be in the right before God?” That’s the question every thinking human being has. Find someone in a foxhole or in a crashing plane, and that’ll be the question that they’re asking in their own hearts. Job’s friend Bildad asked it slightly differently in Job 25:4. He says, “How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” To be human is to be unjust. To be human is to be unable to stand before God accepted, because we’re all sinful. This has always been mankind’s most important question. How can a man be right before God?

Of course, the clearest and most concise answer to that question comes in the writings of the apostle Paul, especially in the book of Romans. Paul builds his entire doctrine of justification, however, as he writes Romans, not from the New Testament but from the Old Testament. In Romans 3:21, as Paul first introduces the gospel, he writes, “What I’m going to tell you is witnessed by the law and the prophets.” And then when he comes to that wonderful chapter 4 in Romans and he sets forth justification by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, as he lays it out, he goes back to the Old Testament, back to two characters with whom you’re very familiar, back to Abraham and back to David, back to Genesis 15 and back to Psalm 32. And he builds his case for what you and I hold precious on the Old Testament. Paul tells the Romans, “This is not some novel idea that I cooked up, but rather justification as I’m teaching it to you here in Romans, its roots are buried deep in the rich soil of Old Testament revelation.

There are a number of Old Testament texts that refer to or teach justification, but tonight, I want us to focus on one absolutely foundational Old Testament passage. I want you to turn again to Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53. Isaiah has properly been called the Old Testament gospel because nowhere is the gospel clearer in the Old Testament, and it’s throughout the Old Testament, but nowhere is it clearer than in Isaiah’s prophecy.

Isaiah’s name means “Yahweh is salvation” and that is the major theme of his book. And as he unfolds that theme, he explains to us that the God of Israel, Yahweh, will spiritually rescue a remnant of earth’s people from the penalty of their sin. And He will accomplish that rescue through a most unique person, a person that Isaiah calls the “Servant of Yahweh”, the Servant of the Lord.

In the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy, there are four passages that focus on that special person and His mission. These four passages are sometimes called The Four Servant Songs, four songs about the Servant who would come. The fourth of these servant passages begins in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through the end of chapter 53, that I read for you just a few minutes ago. So, Isaiah 53 is part of the fourth song of Isaiah about this special servant who is on a spiritual rescue mission from God. This song, I wish we had time to look at it. I found myself this afternoon - my wife feels my pain. I ended up cutting three or four pages from my notes for your good and benefit. I hated to do it, but I had to do it. I wish we had time to see how he flows through this great chapter. But I want us to skip straight to the fifth stanza.

There are five stanzas in this song of three verses each. You can mark them out yourself knowing that. But I want us to go to the fifth stanza, verses 10 through 12 of chapter 53. Here, Isaiah unfolds the results of the suffering of the Servant, what the Servant’s suffering accomplished. With reference to the Father at the beginning of verse 10, he tells us that it pleased the Father. But then from the middle of verse 10 through the end of the chapter, Isaiah details the results of the Messiah’s suffering, the results that accrue to the Servant Himself, the benefit He gets from what He did - He will be exalted above everything else. But buried in this final stanza, buried in this last stanza is a reference to us - how we benefit from the life and death of Yahweh’s Servant. And the second half of verse 11 focuses on the application of the death of Jesus Christ to you and to me. I want us to briefly examine it together.

Look at Isaiah 53, beginning in the middle of the verse 11. “...By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” What an amazing sentence! The theme of this sentence is found in the main verb, justify. You see, one profound result of the suffering of the Servant of Yahweh is that you and I can now be justified, that is, you and I, as sinful human beings, can enjoy a right standing before God. Isaiah develops this theme just in this brief sentence with really four weighty declarations. Four weighty declarations, and I want you to see them as we work our way through this little sentence.

The first declaration about our justification that I want us to examine together is this: Christ achieved it. Christ achieved it. Justification will be accomplished by a person whom God simply calls “My Servant”. From the beginning of human history, God has made it clear that redemption would be ultimately accomplished in a person. Those lambs were never intended to take away sin. They were never intended to be the end all. They were merely pictures driving us toward the ultimate fulfillment. All the way back in Genesis 3:15, what did the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, tell Adam and Eve after they sinned, as He was with them there in the garden? They overheard His words to the serpent. You remember those words? “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” The problem of human sin would ultimately be dealt with by a male human person. They knew that all the way back at the very beginning. A person would come. But He would be a most unusual person because he would be born of the seed of a woman. They wouldn’t know all that that meant. We wouldn’t know all that that meant the New Testament, or at least until Isaiah’s prophecy. But as the Old Testament unfolds, we learn more and more about that human person, that male person prophesied back in Genesis 3.

But the high point of that Old Testament revelation about this person comes here in Isaiah. Turn back to Isaiah chapter 7. Those who are a part of our church are very familiar with this passage. We studied it for several weeks around Christmastime. Isaiah 7:14. God tells a wicked king, King Ahaz, what He is ultimately going to do. The ultimate salvation that He will accomplish, verse 14, will be “...a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel, that is, God among us. He will be human because He will be born of a woman. He will be unusual because He’ll be born of a virgin, but His character will be such that He can be called “God among us”. Over just a couple of chapters in Isaiah 9:6, we’re told, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

When you go back to Isaiah 53 and you see the Servant there, this is whom the prophecy points to. That’s who Isaiah means when he speaks of the Servant. He’s talking about the one described earlier in his own prophecy. It was none other than Jesus Christ, and Jesus Himself said so. During His ministry on earth, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 53 and the vicarious suffering of the servant. He does so in Luke 22:37, and there He applied it to Himself. Listen to what He said: “For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” Jesus said, “Isaiah 53 is about Me. I’m the fulfillment of that great passage.

The early church understood this as well. You remember the story as Philip runs into the Ethiopian eunuch there as a divine appointment. And the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53 and he asks Philip who it refers to. And in Acts 8:35, it says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture [that is, Isaiah 53] he preached Jesus to him.” So, understand that when we see Isaiah 53 as referring to Jesus Christ, we do so on good authority.

There are liberal commentators you can pick up, perhaps you’ve inadvertently bought one of their books who will tell you that Isaiah 53 is about Israel. Israel didn’t die for my sins. Israel was not chastened for my help. They didn’t vicariously suffer for my justification. So, here you have a reference to the Servant of Isaiah is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the one who will justify. Now, in the other passages in the New Testament we learn that it’s actually God the Father who justifies. So, here in Isaiah, he probably means that Christ, by His work, has achieved or accomplished our justification. You know what Paul says in Romans 4? He says that He was delivered over because of our transgressions, and He was raised, what? For our justification. Christ achieved it.

You know, all the world’s religions without exception are based on human achievement. There are no exceptions to that statement. They’re all based on human achievement - what you can do, what you can merit. The Christian faith, however, is based on divine accomplishment. There is nothing that you need to do. In fact, there is nothing that you can do to gain a right standing before God. Christ has already achieved it for us.

So, Jesus Christ has achieved our justification, but look at the second declaration that Isaiah makes here in this little verse. Not only has Christ achieved it but, secondly, God’s verdict seals it. God’s verdict seals it. Notice verse 11 says, “...My Servant, will justify...” It’s an interesting expression. It’s a legal expression. Old Testament writers often use legal images to describe man’s relationship to God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the entire book of Deuteronomy is fashioned after a legal document of the ancient world. And when God confronts the sins of His people, He often puts Himself in the seat of a judge and He bears out the language of a courtroom.

In fact, turn over to Micah, probably the most famous passage, but there are so many others. Turn to Micah 6 (keep your finger there in Isaiah). Micah 6, and you’ll see this language of the courtroom, this legal language. God has a problem. He’s speaking to His people through Micah, and He says (verse 1 of Micah 6), “Hear now what the Lord is saying, ‘Arise, plead your case before the mountains, And let the hills hear your voice. Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of the Lord, And you enduring foundations of the earth, Because the Lord has a case against His people; Even with Israel He will dispute.’“ And He goes on to state His indictment, to state His case. If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, this language is extremely familiar to you because, over and over again, the prophets of the Old Testament use legal language to describe the relationship between God and His people.

Now, that is an interesting thing in and of itself. We live in a day when many say to us that we have misunderstood Paul’s teaching on justification. This errant teaching is called “The New Perspective on Paul”. They tell us that justification has nothing to do with God’s law or God’s legal verdict and our standing before Him. But to that view, the Old Testament itself provides a devastating blow because, over and over again, the people of God are seen relating to God as judge. Leon Morris writes, “Justification belongs to a whole way of viewing God and the acts of God. If a God like the God depicted in the Old Testament is to save men, then He will do so in a way that is right, a way which takes due notice of the law that He Himself gave.” God is a judge and, as a judge, He impartially judges our conformity or lack there to the law.

You remember there on Mount Sinai what He said in Exodus 23? He said, “...I will not acquit the guilty.” “I’m righteous; I’m a righteous judge. I won’t do it.” And because that’s such an important part of who He is, He reinforces that again and again to human judges. In Proverbs 17:15 we read this, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” God says, “I absolutely abhor. There is nothing more disgusting to Me than the judge who lets the guilty go and who condemns the righteous.” So, listen carefully. By God’s standard, as a judge, the only way a righteous judge can declare a man righteous is to evaluate the evidence and come to the just conclusion that he has kept the law. The only legitimate grounds for being justified is being in true conformity with the law.

Now, that brings us back to Isaiah 53 and to the Hebrew word “justify”. It means to declare someone righteous. It is a court term, as we’ve seen in a couple of other contexts, and there are many others. It is a term of law. It is a judge to declare someone righteous. To justify is the opposite of to condemn. To condemn is to render a verdict of guilty. The person has broken the law. To justify is to render the verdict that the person has kept the law. So, to justify then does not mean here to produce a change in the nature of the person, but rather it means that the judge has weighed the evidence and he has rendered a just verdict that a person has kept the law.

So, we know God is a righteous judge. So, who could He be declaring righteous? Who could He be justifying in the context of Isaiah 53? Who does He say is in perfect conformity to His law? Notice in verse 11 they’re just called “the many”. We’re told a little more about these people though in the rest of this chapter. Look back at verse 3. They’re the ones who did not value or esteem the Servant of God. Verse 4, they are spiritually, terminally ill.

When you see that language of sickness, understand that it does not mean physical illness. You want the context for Isaiah 53:4? Turn back to Isaiah 1. Here’s the context. He’s talking about spiritual, terminal illness. Isaiah 1:4, “Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, As you continue in your rebellion? [Now watch verse 5] The whole head is sick And the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil.” That is a description of the spiritual state of the people of Israel. So, when you come to Isaiah 53 and you read that language of sickness, understand he’s talking about chapter 1, he’s talking about terminal spiritual illness.

Go back to chapter 53. Let’s see what else he says about these people. Verse 5: they have transgressions and iniquities. Verse 6: they’ve deliberately left God’s ways to pursue their own ways. Verse 11, he defines the many for us. He says the many that He justifies or declares righteous are marked by what? Iniquities. That’s a Hebrew word, another Hebrew word, a synonym for sin. It gives the sort of slant on sin of a moral perversion, a moral twistedness. There’s something twisted about our characters. We are not the way God made us. That’s who God declares righteous.

Now, if you’re a thinking person, you have a huge problem. Because here in Isaiah 53, God seems to be doing the very thing that He demanded not be done, that a judge declare the wicked to be righteous. So, on what basis can a righteous judge, God as a righteous judge, who never perverts justice, declare guilty sinners to be righteous? Well, Isaiah has the answer. And it is by means of the most important word, the most important concept in the Bible, “imputation”.

That brings us to the third great declaration Isaiah makes about justification. Not only has Christ achieved it, but notice, imputation secures it. Imputation secures it. The word “imputation” is a word you may not have even heard. It’s out of fashion in most churches. You go to the average church, and you’ll hear a lot about how to improve your relationships. You hear a lot about how to improve your married life and all aspects more than you want to hear at times. But you won’t hear the word imputation. But there is no more important word in all the Bible or in your life than the word imputation. The word is a financial term. It comes from an old Latin word that means to settle an account. To impute means, literally, to credit to someone’s account. Paul uses the word a great deal in Romans 4. In fact, if you go to Romans 4 where Paul’s talking about justification, he uses this word 11 times. What does that tell us? It tells us that imputation is at the heart and soul of justification. Although the words “impute” or “credit” do not appear in Isaiah 53, the concept permeates this entire passage. In fact, what we find here is double imputation, two great transactions.

The first transaction, the first imputation is this: God credits our sin to Jesus Christ. God credits our sin to Jesus Christ. Look at the end of verse 11: “[He] will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” The word “bear” here means to carry a heavy load. This is what Jesus did with our sins. He shouldered them. We sing a song, “Behold a man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders.” That’s exactly what Isaiah is saying. He bore our sin. He shouldered them. He was our substitute. If you go back up to verses 4 through 6, those incredibly familiar verses, you see that image portrayed in a number of different figures of speech. He was our substitute. In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf [for us]...” That means that God treated Jesus as if He were a sinner. Or let me make it more specific. For everyone who believes in Jesus Christ or will believe, God treated Christ on the cross that day as if He were you. Some false teachers in the church today connected with the Emergent Church call this “divine child abuse”. But for us who have no other hope, this is the most wonderful truth in all Scripture. God has credited my sin to Christ and treated Him as if He had lived my sinful life. As Paul puts it in Romans 5, “...[We are] justified by His blood...” He’s not talking about the physical liquid that ran through Christ’s veins. He’s talking about His violent death for sin as a sacrifice bearing the weight of our sins. We are justified by His death for us.

There’s a second transaction in this passage, a second imputation. Not only did God credit Christ with our sins, but secondly, God credits Christ’s righteousness to us. We learn two things about man very early in the Old Testament. We learn that man is not righteous; he does not have a right standing before God. The first pair managed to mess things up pretty good for the rest of us. But we also learned early in Genesis that a right standing before God can be imputed. It can be credited to those who don’t deserve it. Abraham didn’t deserve it. Don’t you for a moment think that God looked down at Ur and said, “There’s a wonderful guy. I’ll pick him.” Joshua tells us that before God chose Abraham, he was an idolater living as a pagan. And God credited righteousness to him, Genesis 15 tells us.

But the New Testament makes this even clearer. Romans 3:24 says, “being justified as a gift by His grace...” Romans 5:17 speaks of the “gift of righteousness”. So, we can receive a right standing before God as a gift credited to our account. Where does the gift come from? That’s the first question I want to ask. Where is this gift coming from? Whose right standing do I get? Well, often in Scripture it’s called the righteousness of God, but more precisely it’s the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Look back at Isaiah 53:11: “...the Righteous One, My Servant...” Now, the Righteous One is obviously a reference to the Messiah. But here in Isaiah 53, in the Hebrew text, the Righteous One is emphatic. It’s not just a phrase that Isaiah throws in for free. He puts it there because it’s an important point he wants to make. In fact, in the Hebrew text, if you could see it, there are two almost identical Hebrew words that stand next to each other deliberately. We could translate them like this: “The truly Righteous One will declare righteous the many.” Isaiah is making a crucial distinction here between the Righteous One and the many. The one possesses intrinsic righteousness; the many possess only iniquities. But there is in this verse an incredible exchange that takes place. The Servant bears their iniquities so that in the eyes of God they no longer bear them themselves. And in exchange, they receive the righteousness of the Servant. As Jeremiah the prophet would say, “The Lord is our righteousness.

Turn over to Romans 10. In Romans 10, Paul makes this very same point. As he speaks about the Jews of his day and how they had misunderstood the entire purpose of the law, he says in Romans 10:3 that they didn’t understand about God’s righteousness and instead of seeking the gift of God’s righteousness, that he’s talked about throughout the rest of the letter, they sought to establish their own righteousness so “they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 1:30. He says, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us [what?] ...righteousness...” 2 Corinthians 5:21 - I quoted the first part of that earlier. “He [God] made Him [that is, Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” - there’s the first transaction. But the second transaction is “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is absolutely essential. The righteousness that is the basis of our justification is not our righteousness. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Now, folks, here we get to the crux of what happened in the 16th century. We get to the crux of what the Reformers meant by Solus Christus, and it was the polar opposite of what the Roman Catholic Church of that day taught and still teaches. What Rome teaches about justification was codified at the Council of Trent, a mid-16th century refutation to the Reformation. Trent, whose doctrines, by the way, were reaffirmed by Vatican II - don’t you for a moment believe the lie that these things were undone. They changed some of the window dressing, but the dead bodies in the grave are still there. Here’s what Trent teaches about justification. It teaches that justification occurs in three stages. Stage number one is preparation. In adults, this involves repentance, faith, and the intention of being baptized - “I want to be baptized”. That’s preparation for justification. The second stage, according to Catholic theology, is called the beginning. This occurs at baptism itself. At baptism, God infuses grace into the person being baptized so that, “Whereby an unjust man actually becomes just.” It’s not that he’s declared to be something, it’s that he actually becomes just. And the third stage is called the increase of justification. By obedience and good works this occurs. Listen to Trent: “Through the observance of the commandments of God and the church (that’s convenient), faith cooperating with good works, enable that believers may increase in that righteousness, receive through the grace of Christ, and are further justified by good works.” And in case that wasn’t clear, listen to how Trent said it negatively in the anathemas, in the curses: “If anyone says that the righteousness received in justification is not preserved and increased before God through good works, but those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase (which is what we believe), let them be anathema!” Let them be eternally damned. So, Roman Catholicism taught and still teaches that my God-enabled good works contribute to my right standing before God, contribute to my justification.

Now, you may be sitting there thinking that sounds like a pretty small difference, a hair’s breadth of difference from what we’re saying. Absolutely not! There is a gulf that cannot be crossed. What does the Bible say about thinking that our good works contribute to our standing before God? In Galatians 1, Paul calls it another gospel, a false gospel. That’s exactly what the Judaizers taught. What did the Judaizers, that Paul addressed in the Galatian churches, believe? Think about it for a moment. Stay with me. They believed that Jesus was who He claimed to be. These are the Judaizers. They believed that Christ died for them. They believed that they were saved by grace through faith. They were orthodox in every single way except this one little detail. They believed that their obedience to God’s commands was part of what gave them a right standing before God. Not all of it, part of it. And because of that deviation, Paul says that they were not true Christians at all. He said that they had embraced a false gospel.

This is a grave warning for us, isn’t it? Because if a single thread of your hope of heaven is based on something you have done, even if it’s something God commanded, if it’s based on absolutely anything but Christ and His perfect life and His sacrificial death, then you are not in Christ.

How did the Reformers respond to the Roman Catholic position on justification? They said, “No, our right standing before God has nothing to do with our own righteousness. Our only hope is in a righteousness completely outside of us, external to us.” They love to call it, as Luther did, “an alien righteousness” - foreign to me. Listen to Luther: “Christian righteousness is not a righteousness that is within us and clings to us as a quality of virtue does, but it is an alien righteousness entirely outside us, namely, Christ Himself is our essential righteousness and complete satisfaction.” Our only hope, folks, is solus Christus, in Christ alone.

God credits our sin to Christ. Every single sin I have ever committed or ever will commit has been credited to Jesus Christ, and on the cross He paid the penalty for those sins. And in a second amazing transaction that is part of imputation, God credits Christ’s righteousness to us.

My favorite illustration of this double imputation happened to me a number of years ago and I share it often. If you’ve heard it before, please forgive me. But for me, my mind always comes back to this when I think of this double imputation. I received my normal monthly bank statement one month in the mail. Most of us don’t really look forward to that, but it’s one of those things you need to do; you need to look through and make sure you know what all the charges are. You’re always looking just afraid that either unscrupulously or accidentally somebody has added something to your bill, that you’ve been charged more than you deserve to be charged. And so, I was doing that one month and I noticed something unusual. There was, in my little ledger there, a deposit of $200 that I knew I had not made. Now, I was in a moral dilemma. It didn’t take me long to resolve what I ought to do, so I thought, okay, I need to make this correction. I need to let the bank know that they put $200 in my account that isn’t mine. Now, on the surface that would seem like a pretty easy thing to do, but have you ever tried to correct a bank? Usually, it’s the other way around. You’re trying to tell them that you’ve been billed for something that you didn’t rightfully deserve to be billed. But in this case, I thought surely, since it’s in their favor for them to make this correction, it’ll be an easy thing. So, I made a couple of phone calls, and it turns out it wasn’t an easy thing. The computer was still right, and I was wrong. I wrote a couple of letters and no response, no willingness to make the changes. So, I gave up and spent the money.

But at that time, I remember thinking that if I can get someone else’s deposits, then maybe somebody else can get my bills. Here’s the amazing reality, folks. That is exactly in God’s economy what has happened. Christ got all my bills, and I got all His deposits. That is what this passage is teaching. Christ gets the blame for my sin; I get the credit for His obedience. He gets my guilty verdict; I get His acquittal. He suffers the punishment for my sin, and I receive the reward for His perfection. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived my sinful life so that forever He could treat me as if I had lived Jesus’ perfect life. Praise God for imputation! I hope it’s a word you’ll never forget and always love.

But not all sinners will be justified. So how or by what means do sinners come to enjoy it? Well, we learned that in the fourth declaration that Isaiah makes: faith receives it. Faith receives it. Notice how that little sentence begins there in verse 11: “By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many...” Now, in Hebrew, as in English, this phrase can be understood two different ways. It could mean that by what the Servant Himself knows, He will justify. That is possible. But the second one is this: by our knowledge of the Servant, we will experience justification. And this is how most commentators through the history of the church have understood it. By our knowledge of Christ, we receive justification.

Now, in the Old Testament, to know someone involved a personal knowledge and a personal relationship. You’re all familiar with how the word is used even in marriage relationships. Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived to bear a son. To know someone was to have a personal relationship. It was to have a personal knowledge, more than just a factual one. So, this knowledge of the Servant, here in this passage, is the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament word “faith”. What Isaiah is saying is that we can only be declared righteous through our knowledge of and our faith in the Servant and His work. We can receive this gift of Christ’s righteousness credited to our account by faith alone.

This is hammered throughout the New Testament. My favorite is Galatians 2:16. I don’t know how many different ways Paul can say it but listen to how he says it. “...nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” I think Paul made it fairly clear. It is by faith alone.

But listen carefully. Most of us understand and agree with that. But there is a deviation that occurs in some of our understanding. Faith almost becomes in and of itself a work. Faith is not a work. Faith is not the grounds of our acceptance with God. God didn’t decide because righteousness was such a hard thing for us that He would settle for faith - “You give Me faith and I’ll give you righteousness.” Scripture always speaks of salvation as being by or through faith. Never does Scripture say that we are justified because of or on account of our faith. Faith is merely the vessel with which we receive the gift of a right standing before God.

Imagine for a moment that you were traveling cross country, out through the desert. When I moved to California, we traveled from South Carolina down to I-10 and traveled I-10 across all the way to California. If you’ve ever taken that route, it is an incredibly barren route. Imagine for a moment that you’re on that route, before freeways, on a barren country road, and your car fails, and you find yourself stranded in the desert. After a couple of days, I happened by. I happened to drive past. I find you there and, in my car, I have a container with all the water that you need, but you have no container with which to drink. So, I fish around in my car and find a cup and I give you the water that you so desperately need. That cup that you used to get the water and to drink it, that cup didn’t merit the water I gave you. It was merely the means by which you received it. I’m the one who gave you the cup. That’s how it is with faith. It doesn’t merit anything. It’s just the means by which you receive the gift of a right standing before God. And listen to this, Ephesians 2 says, God even gives you the cup.

Perhaps this evening, I don’t want to assume anything, perhaps this evening, you’re here in this conference and your heart is crushed by a load of personal guilt for sin. You know, as you sit here tonight, what has gone on in your heart and life, and you know that you stand guilty before God, and you would do absolutely anything to gain that right standing before God. The good news is you don’t have to do anything. You can do nothing. It’s been done. Put your trust in the one who, because of His grace alone, declares ungodly sinners to be righteous solely on the basis of the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ.

It was this great truth that gripped the heart of a young monk named Martin Luther. In the summer of 1505, he was riding, and he was nearly struck by lightning. And in the terror of that moment, he made a promise to St. Anne that if she would protect him and that if he lived, he would become a monk. Shortly thereafter, in August of 1505, he kept his promise and entered an Augustinian monastery, where he lived for a number of years.

But through all of his spiritual exercises as a monk, Luther found no peace for his soul. But in God’s providence, his spiritual father, there at the monastery, was a wise man, whom I think we may very well see in heaven. His name was John Staupitz. What Staupitz told Luther, I think, was really the spark that ended up flaming into the Reformation. Listen to what Staupitz told this young monk. He said, “More than a thousand times, I have sworn to our holy God to live piously, and I have never kept my vows. Now, I swear no longer, for I know that I cannot keep my solemn promises. If God will not be merciful toward me for the love of Christ and grant me a happy departure when I must leave this world, I shall never with the aid of all my vows and all my good works stand before Him. I must perish.” Staupitz went on to tell Luther, “Look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that He has shed for you. It is there that the grace of God will appear to you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself in the Redeemer’s arms. Trust in Him, in the righteousness of His life, and in the atonement of His death.” Luther eventually got it. He eventually understood what Staupitz was telling him, that his only hope was in the righteousness of Christ alone. And once Luther understood it, from that moment forward, his heart found in it his greatest delight. He spoke of it constantly. He wrote of it. He taught anyone who would listen. And he even defended this wonderful doctrine of justification, in the righteousness of Christ alone, against all its enemies, even at the risk of his own life.

My prayer is for each of us here tonight that God would give us the grace to do the same. May we delight in it more than we delight in anything else. May we talk of it to others. May we praise God for it. May we teach our children and everyone who will listen. And may we, if God should so require, give our lives for Solus Christus.

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we are completely overwhelmed by Your grace to us in Christ. How could we ever repay You? How could we ever adequately even express our thanks for the wonderful exchange, for the reality that in the mystery of your divine plan, You treated Christ for those six awful hours on the cross, You treated Him as if He had lived our sinful lives, so that forever You could treat us as if we had lived His perfect life. Father, we praise You and we thank You that our hope is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Lord, we give up every shred of hope in anything else. There is nothing in us that we bring to You, nothing in our hands we bring, simply to His cross we cling. Father, as we stand before You tonight, we acknowledge that our only hope of heaven is not what we have done, not anything we have done, but solely what He has done for us. Lord, may we who have been so purchased live our lives for the One who gave His life for us. Lord, help us to delight in this truth. Help us to think about it, meditate on it, to praise You for it. Help it to become the most precious thing to us. And Father, I pray that You would help us to teach our children in the next generation. May those of us who are pastors pass along the torch to the next generation. And Father, I pray that if You should require, You would give us the courage and the grace to go to our grave proclaiming Solus Christus. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen!


Christ: Our Only Mediator

Al Mohler Hebrews 9:13-22

Christ: Our Only Righteousness

Tom Pennington Isaiah 53:11

Christ: Our Only Advocate

Phil Johnson 1 John 2:1-2

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