(The Five Solas of the Reformation)
by Bob Burridge ©2014
In the late years of the Middle Ages there were those who brought the world out of darkness and superstition. Reformers in the church challenged the beliefs and practices that had deceived the people at that time. They refused to go along with all the man-invented doctrines and rules that marginalized the Bible, and elevated the church as the primary source of what God has done and said. There were many things challenged by those who returned to the Bible as the one test of truth about God.
The Great Reformation that took hold in the early 1500s spread all over the Western world. Five foundational principles have been followed by the Reformed churches since that time. We know them as “The Five Solas of the Reformation” — five things that must stand alone. The historic headings are in Latin which was the universal theological language in the early days of the church.
Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone
The Bible as God’s word is the only test of what is true and good. There is no other source from which we can know about God, his plan, and his works. Scripture is the mold into which all we know and do should be poured to re-form our marriages, our parenting, our economy, worship, beliefs, ministries, recreations, customs – everything.
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
Redemption from the guilt of sin comes to an individual by God’s grace alone. No one is qualified by works or rituals, or by anything a human or church can do.
Soli Christi – By Christ Alone
It’s only through him that we are forgiven and restored to fellowship with God. He paid our debt in full, and clothes us with his perfect righteousness. We find our ability to honor God in the power of the risen and living Savior – and in him alone.
Sola Fide – Faith Alone
We embrace God’s promises by faith alone. God gives us confidence in his revealed promises and provisions so that we put our full trust him alone. We have no other object in which we put our trust regarding spiritual and eternal matters. Through that trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior the guilt of our sins is removed.
Sola Deo Gloria – For God’s Glory Alone
Everything should be done for God’s glory alone. All our thoughts, words, and work should be intended for the Glory of God.
The essence of false Christianity is
the denial that each of these stands alone.
People freely talk about the Bible, Grace, Faith, Christ, and God’s glory. The problem many have is with the “sola” part. Only when these things stand alone, is the gospel seen as what the Bible says it is, rather that what many wish it to be.
Though these are each things that must stand alone without mixing them with un-biblical ideas, they all stand together. They overlap and depend upon one another. Scripture is the source of truth. Grace brings some to understand and to embrace those truths. Christ’s work alone provides the forgiveness that comes from that grace as revealed in Scripture. Faith is that trust in the work of Christ which comes to us when we are restored by grace. This work of Grace through Christ stirs us to live for God’s glory as our only focus in all we think, say and do. We can only know what honors God by understanding what has been revealed to us in Scripture.
Some will not accept the Bible alone.
To avoid some things the Bible says, they look to other authorities that modify its message. They believe that God still speaks to them through visions and prophesies. They accept as true things people dream, or words they believe come directly from God or Angels. Some churches include new revelations from God in their worship services.
Some believe that God speaks through the pronouncements of Popes, councils, and theologians. For Roman Catholics the infallibility of the Pope as he speaks officially in his office (ex cathedra) became official dogma at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). However, it was assumed long before that. The Roman Church also believes that the councils of Bishops can speak for God. Others accept the declarations of scholars or popular personalities as if they must be authoritatively true.
Some put their trust in wise sounding philosophic speculations. They are taken in by things that challenge their minds or seem to be profound.
Some are taken in by catchy sayings. If it rhymes, includes a clever play on words, or sounds poetic – it’s accepted without question.
These human inventions modify what the Bible says when it’s allowed to speak for itself. All the other “solas” come from what the Bible says when it stands alone as the test of truth. So we say “Sola Scriptura” – the Bible as God’s word stands alone as the only test of what’s true and good.
Some diminish the need for grace alone.
They add other causes for God’s favor to be extended to his people. It’s hard for the fallen soul to admit it can do nothing to please God or to change his own future. When anything we say, believe or do is made a precondition for God’s grace, then it’s no longer grace.
Romans 11:5-6, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”
When our good works are done to supplement grace, grace becomes something other than what it is. We are eternally chosen in Christ based upon God’s decree alone, not upon anything we have done or would do. That includes the act of believing in the work of Christ. Those are the next two “solas”. The only thing that redeems us is the unmerited good pleasure of God alone – nothing else considered or added. This is that second of the solas, “Sola Gratia” – we become God’s children by his grace alone.
Some look to more than Christ alone.
They add their own efforts or those of the church to the work of Christ to atone for their sins. The death of the Savior on the cross in place of those chosen by grace is the only way the justice of God can be fully satisfied. But some will not accept that they need to be clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness for them to stand in his innocence before their Creator.
Romans 5:8-9, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
It’s only through Jesus that we are forgiven and restored to fellowship with God.
Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
We find our ability to honor God in the power of the risen and living Savior – and in him alone. This is why we say “Soli Christi” – we are restored to fellowship with God by the work of Christ alone.
Some see more than faith is needed.
The Bible teaches us that faith alone is how we are forgiven and justified before God. We lay hold of that justification earned by the Savior when God by grace works faith in our hearts.
Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith”
This verse is quoted 3 times in the New Testament. Literally we could translate it as, “The righteous will live through his faithfulness.” Those justified by God’s grace will live by faithfully trusting in God’s provisions and promises, not by trusting in their own understanding and perception of things.
While most people talk positively about faith, many are not placing that faith in the right thing. Having the right object of our faith is crucial. That’s what defines the kind of faith we are exercising.
It isn’t just a blind faith that hopes without facts or evidence in anything that seems noble. This faith which restores us to fellowship with God is what we call a “Saving Faith”. It means trusting without reservation in all that God has made known, specifically it trusts in God’s provision for sin. That alone is what makes us into his children.
The self-important, the proud, put their trust in themselves, in the trends of science, in humanistic philosophy, or in the power of some church. But as fallen sinners we have nothing purely righteous to offer to God.
Those made right with God, those justified, show their trust in God’s promises by living “faithfully.” They are made spiritually alive, are clothed in Christ’s own perfect righteousness, and are accepted by their Creator through the atonement of the Savior. This is “Sola Fide” – we lay hold of our redemption in Christ by faith alone, nothing else added.
Some see other purposes in their lives than God’s glory.
There are many things that motivate people. If you asked them what they aim for in life they often answer with some very good goals and values. They usually put appreciating family and friends near the top of the list. Some want to feel successful, respected, and liked by others. Some openly say they want to be rich, famous, and powerful. Many will even put religion or God on the top ten list, maybe in first place.
However, God’s word shows us what we were created and redeemed to put first.
1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Living for God’s glory isn’t just the first among all the other goals and things that motivate us. It should be the energizing motive that drives everything else. Even our coming to Christ should not be to avoid the fires of hell, or to get mansion in heaven when we die. It should be a strong desire to honor God for all he is, has done, and promises to bring to pass.
At the center of all that’s in our hearts should be the hunger to honor and proclaim God’s glory. All our thoughts, words and work should be intended for the Glory of God.
So the focus of all the solas is “Sola Deo Gloria” – all should be done for God’s glory alone.
These Five Solas all stand together as the principles
that define the Gospel of Christ.
Taking God’s word in Scripture alone we come to understand that our faith and obedience originate in God’s eternal grace. Christ alone paid for our guilt. When the work of our Savior is applied to our souls it stirs us to saving faith which is the means by which God justifies us and makes us his true children. As those redeemed in Christ by grace through faith we are moved to live for God’s glory in and above all else.
Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.