Ephesians 2:8-9 — Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria
In the 1500s, God brought about a Reformation of the Christian world: the true gospel was set free from the corrupt Catholic religion and the Word of God was unleashed to save and sanctify once again. As the movement developed, the Reformers came to agree on five central tenets, which we now call the Solas of the Reformation:
· Solus Christus: Christ alone. Jesus Christ is the only mediator of salvation between God and man — not the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, or kings. Christ alone is the head of His Church, and what He says and does trumps the authority of men.
· Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone. God's Word alone is the final and highest authority, trumping church tradition and ecclesiological decree.
· Sola Gratia: By grace alone. Grace alone is the means of salvation. God is not inclined to save because of anything inherent to man; He saves for His purposes, by His mercy, alone.
· Sola Fide: By faith alone. Salvation is through faith alone — not through the works or merit of man. Good deeds contribute nothing to a sinner's justification, and no amount of indulgences (buying certificates to get less time in purgatory) will change that fact.
· Soli Deo Gloria: To the glory to God alone. God alone deserves glory in all things. He alone deserves reverence and worship — not the pope, not the venerable saints, not icons, not relics.
Although the Reformers are long gone, their legacy lives on. The doctrines they believed, fought for, and died for, come straight from the Scriptures. In just two verses, we'll cover three of the Solas.
I. By Grace Alone
For by grace you have been saved
1. What Grace Is
Just a quick warning, I'm going to use some theological terms in this article. Don't be intimidated. They are all derived from the Bible, and they are helpful for being precise and clear.
Firstly, grace is the unmerited (not earned) favor granted by God in justification, which means to be declared righteous by God in Jesus Christ. Justification is a legal term describing one's inherited position before God. Christians are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). As Paul argued, "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:11).
Secondly, grace is the divine enablement for believers to do that which is impossible for the flesh, namely obey God and grow in sanctification, which is the process of practically being more like Jesus Christ. As Paul said, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). [Note that while justification is by grace alone, sanctification is not, but that's for another blog post.] This means that God sanctifies by giving His grace to His people to do that which would be impossible otherwise, namely live out the new life they have in Jesus Christ (c.f. 2 Corinthians 9:8).
Thus, grace is both the engine of the entire process of salvation (which includes both justification and sanctification) and the means by which God both justifies and sanctifies. After all, the gospel of God is, from beginning to end, a gospel of grace. It is "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24 ).
2. What Grace Is Not
As is to be expected, this core tenet of the gospel has not gone unchallenged. Satan hates the truth, and will do everything he can to pervert. May the Lord rebuke Him
Grace is not, as Catholics teach, enablement to do works so that you would be saved. Why not? Because salvation by grace is wholly incompatible with salvation by works. In justification, grace and works are mutually exclusive, contradictory, at odds. As Romans 11:6 says, "But if it [election and salvation, see context] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul says, God "…has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,
There is no such thing as working for grace. As Romans 4:4 says, "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor [literally 'grace'], but as what is due." There is no such thing as receiving a wage by grace. Justification must either be by works and not grace, or by grace and not works. You cannot mix them; it will destroy the gospel.
3. Grace Alone
The Scriptures are clear. Salvation is sola gratia — by grace alone.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
May the doctrine of justification by works be damned back to from whence it came: the pit of hell. God saves by grace and grace alone!
II. Through Faith Alone
1. Faith is Believing God
To have faith is to believe God. It doesn't not merely mean to assent that God is, but who God is. It means to take God at His word from His Word. And faith is absolutely essential, for in order to come to God we must believe that "He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). Otherwise, we will not come
How does this relate to salvation? Sinners are "not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 2:16). If you have faith, you believe what God has said concerning salvation — that you are a wretched sinner, that you cannot save yourself, that salvation is by God's gracious gift, that Jesus Christ died in your place for your sin, and that those who trust Him to save will be saved. If you have faith in Christ Jesus, you have been justified by grace.
2. Through Faith
We must understand that salvation is through faith and not by faith. The act of someone believing is not the power that saves; God's grace is the power that saves. Faith is the means by which this power, this grace, is received. It is the extended hand that receives the blessed gift.
As Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of London, once said, "Faith occupies the position of a channel or conduit pipe. Grace is the fountain and the stream; faith is the aqueduct along which the flood of mercy flows down to refresh the thirsty sons of men " (Spurgeon, Charles H. Grace Alone, Ch. 7 "By Grace Through Faith").
This is critical to understand in the doctrine of assurance, which answers the question, "How do you know you're actually saved?" It's not an easy question to settle. But, let's use Spurgeon's analogy for just a bit. How do you know if you've drunk the water? Is it the fact you see an aqueduct, or the fact that you're not thirsty? Is it not because your thirst has been satiated? Yes, I know that I drank the water because I no longer thirst.
So then, how do you know if you're actually saved? It is because you know you've drunk from the Living Water. Why am I quenched? It's because I drank the water, not because I have a strong aqueduct. The aqueduct is just the means by which I receive the water, but the water, the grace, is what truly quenches my thirst.
So then, for those that struggle to know if they are in Christ or not, the question to ask yourself is not, "Is my faith strong enough?" but, "Do I know the grace of God? Have I tasted the water of life?" Do not stare at the aqueduct of your faith, and try to build a stronger conduit while ignoring the stream. Drink the water. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
III. The Scandal of the Gospel
and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works,
1. Salvation is a Gift of God
Now, I must state the obvious here. The phrase "not of yourselves" contrasts against the phrase "gift of God." In other words, if it is a gift to you, it could not have come from you. The truth is simple but I must drive it home: if God gives salvation, you didn't contribute to it. At all. It's entirely a gift of God, and apart from ourselves.
And gifts are, by definition, free. As Romans 3:21-24 says, "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe… being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."
2. Salvation is Not of Men nor the Works of Men
If then, salvation is a gift, given freely, then salvation cannot be because of works or merit. God offers freely to all, regardless of who or what they are. And all that accept are equally undeserving of such a gift. The religious, pious man is saved the same way as a pervert. The moral business owner is saved the same way as the convict. By the grace of God alone through faith alone.
This is the stumbling block, the scandal, the offense, of the gospel. The world wants something attractive, something impressive, something that will give them self-esteem. "[B]ut we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23).
It is an insult to say to man, "All that you have done, will do, and could do, contributes nothing to your salvation. It is only Jesus Christ crucified." It is ridiculous to say that we can be saved by a crucified man — but it's true. We Christians point to the bloody, rugged cross, a torture device and the shame of the Roman world and say, "There! There my Savior died and paid for my sins! There my salvation was finished! There is where I bow and worship the Savior."
The dams of His grace are opened by the blood of Christ, and the torrents of His grace come rushing down the mountain of God. To every sinner, God says, "My Son died to purchase this grace for sinners." Won't you drink? Won't you be satisfied by His goodness, be forgiven of all your sins and come into His arms?
A proud sinner rejects it. But a broken sinner says, "Thank You, Lord," and drinks deep of God and His grace. We know we can give nothing to earn this grace, and we dare not; it is too costly.
IV. For the Glory of God Alone
so that no one may boast.
In light of this great salvation, think with me: "Why does God save by grace alone through faith alone? Why did He choose this way? We have the answer at the end of our text: so that no man may boast. There is no better passage to explain this than 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
By crafting salvation to be by grace alone through faith alone, God makes Himself the recipient of all praise. He makes Himself our glory, our joy, our boast. We boast in Him because He is great. We boast in Him because He has saved us. And we boast in Him because there is no one else to boast in.
Whom shall we thank for our salvation but Him? We cannot thank any man, certainly not ourselves. The sole Fount, the sole Source of grace and life is God. To whom else shall we go? God alone is our great Hope and Savior. Always, always, it should be our anthem and theme:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.
Praise God for His glorious gospel!