The five Alones of Christianity that give us the foundation of the gospel and authentic Christianity are continued in this post. In the previous post, we discussed the Bible alone, Christ alone and faith alone. We will now continue with the last two: grace alone and God’s glory alone.
Grace Alone vs Grace plus Works
Martin Luther, as introduced in the previous post, is the one who triggered the Reformation, as we know it today. After an in-depth study of the scriptures, he drew out the five essentials of the Christian faith. During his time, he felt that the church had wandered away from the Word of God. Another way he differed from the Catholic church was his belief in grace alone for salvation as opposed to grace plus works.
Martin Luther and modern-day evangelicals believe that grace is an entirely free gift. Whatever you get because of your work can never be called a gift; that is a wage. You got paid for it because you worked for it, but grace once again is not earned as a result of your good deeds. To further explain grace, you, for example, show grace to an offender when you choose to forgive, not because they asked or are remorseful, but simply because you showed them mercy. We are all sinners deserving of hell (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:8, Galatians 5:18-21). Sin is generally rebellion against God. Therefore, an action is rendered sin only if done against God (Psalms 51:4). Grace in the Bible is what God the just judge dispenses on us when he declares us—sinful men, enemies of God (Romans 8:7-8)—righteous by faith, and as such, we obtain peace with him (Romans 5:1).
The Roman Catholics believe that God has made salvation available to everyone, and hence human beings are to respond by believing and doing good works. Once this is done, salvation will be guaranteed. Thinking about this deeply, such kind of salvation would entirely be based on human effort, not God’s gracious power to save. This, therefore, implies that man has an inherent disposition to choose the path of salvation without God’s intervention. This would eventually promote a works-based kind of salvation which is contrary to what the scripture teaches. God’s word describes man as a slave to sin (John 8:34). In other words, man cannot be righteous by his own effort (Psalms 14:1-3).
Therefore, man does all that God hates inherently. He, therefore, qualifies to be an enemy of God (Romans 8:7, Galatians 6:5). The heart of man is one of stone that only God can turn to flesh for it to respond to His love by faith (Ezekiel 36:26).
The salvation that God offers us is not bound by our response to it. Looking at the parable of the sower gives us a good look at God’s work in our hearts (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). The late Dr R.C Sproul clarifies the meaning of the parable with the following statement: “A critical error in interpreting this parable would be to assume that the good ground is the good disposition of fallen sinners, those sinners who make the right choice, responding positively to God’s prevenient grace. The classical Reformed understanding of the good ground is that if the ground is receptive to the seed that is sown by God, it is God alone who prepares the ground for the germination of the seed.” A wrong interpretation of this parable makes God’s saving grace only possible but not productive. Thus, we end up having a reduced appreciation of God’s power to save since salvation is placed solely in the hands of weak and sinful man. What does your church believe about grace?
God’s glory Alone vs Man’s Praise
The ultimate question that the reformers had to answer was, To what end does salvation exist? In other words, who are we to credit for salvation? The Roman Catholics had no problem acknowledging that salvation was a gift from God. However, they also thought that man deserved some credit. They would claim that since man is not inherently destroyed by sin, he can choose God at his own discretion. Then with this, God only has to make grace available to that man who will choose him. He will be waiting patiently, hoping that man chooses and follows him. However, is this true? Does God open the door for salvation and hopes that we will save ourselves by walking through that door with faith plus good works? Or does salvation entirely belong to God, where he opens the door of salvation, grab us, and push us through the door?
Salvation certainly belongs to God, not to man (1 Peter 1:3, Ephesians 2:5). God is the one who not only initiated it but also made it come to pass. In the parable of the sower, God is the farmer who voluntarily sows the seeds. The parable illustrates that man is as helpless—dead in sin—in the sowing (salvation) process as the grounds on which the seeds fell (Ephesians 2:1-3).
When we acknowledge that it is by God’s power that we are ultimately saved and not by our will, we truly cannot boast (Ephesians 2:9). Without the gift of faith that God gives us through grace, we would not trust him. Paul exclaims in Romans 11:34-36 that no one can instruct God, no one can provide counsel to him, no one has ever given God a gift for him to be repaid, “For from him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” When all is said and done, every human being will sing: “Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” (Revelation 15:3).
Understanding the five Alones (Solas) of the Reformation is important to Christians because it gives us a skeleton of the Christian faith. These teachings should not only saturate our minds; they should prompt us to depend on God’s help and power to live righteously. Appreciating these doctrines and walking in the light of them keeps us from falling prey to false gospels. Like Martin Luther and the many saints of old committed to learning and living out scriptural truths, may we also trust God for grace to do these things for the glory of God alone.