God’s Glory Alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

Michael Shortsleeves / September 27, 2017

The Five Solas are our firmly held convictions about the essential theology of Christianity. These Latin words Soli Deo Gloria, the fifth and last item of our conference, mean Glory to God Alone.
How is it that we can even make claim to this phrase when the whole world demands we attend worldly functions on The Lord’s Day ? How can we say “Glory to God Alone” when the world insists that we give it our allegiance by participating in worldly activity, and that we venerate those institutions and systems that keep us in bondage? The scripture is very clear ( 1 Jn 5:19 ) that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, yet God always overcomes that evil and is found true. He alone is our Great Hope.
During a time when most people never even think of God, the bible tells us that He is utterly in control of His creation. He is not willing that any of His Beloved should perish. If God is able to single out a people for Himself as the bible claims, who gets credit for that? Do people just one day “get it” and begin their Love of Him, or does God even enter and change hearts and minds of those He has decided to bless?
In Psalm 19:1 we read
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
We who love God understand this. It’s not as though God speaks verbally from the skies, but it is the vastness and power undeniably evident in our universe that declares there must be a God who created all this.
In Isaiah 42:8 we read
“I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.
So it is true according to Holy Scripture, that God has made the claim of Soli Deo Gloria Himself. This is not some idea dreamed up by men.
Over the centuries God has been made evident in the hearts of men from the early prophets in the Old Testament and the disciples and apostles in the New Testament. They have heard from God first, some before the scriptures were given to believe on Him, and they believed. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. There was no bible in Abraham’s day. Later God gave a source of truth called “scripture” which revealed to many that God was a God of Glory and He alone would bring that about to be revealed in such a way that some, even Paul would cry out:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”  SDG.

Justification by Faith (Sola Fide)

Stephen Burch / September 20, 2017

J.I. Packer once wrote, “The doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas.  It bears a whole world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of God the Saviour.”  Indeed, the metanarrative and doctrines of Scripture must be interpreted through the correct understanding of Sola Fide, justification by faith alone.

For centuries, this crucial doctrine had been skewed, tainted, and for the most part hidden.  However, lying dormant in the pages of the biblical manuscripts was this explosive truth, “the just shall live by faith.”           While studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Martin Luther was struck with the words of Romans 1:16-17, especially verse 17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (ESV)

Luther, like many living during the Middle Ages, had struggled and despaired for years, never knowing his standing before a holy God. The Scripture made it plain that salvation is not acquired by good works or any other human means; it is granted by God to those who simply believe the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Armed with this truth, Luther, and others, shook the established religion of Europe, and ultimately the world.

The celebration of the Reformation is the celebration of Sola Fide!

Introducing the Five Solas of the Reformation

Phillip Westra / October 9, 2017

We use the Five Solas—Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone—to capture important and enduring themes of the Protestant Reformation. These slogans are positive correctives to teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Leading up to the 16th Century Reformation, the Roman Church placed the decrees of the pope and church councils above Scripture, sold salvific merit for money in the form of indulgences, and forbade Bible translations into common languages. Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses posting on October 31, 1517 was his first step toward reform. The Protestant Reformation developed over time and resulted in several sub-traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.). The “Five Solas” render some of the important convictions Protestants held in common.

The Reformers like Luther and Calvin did not use the phrases of the “Five Solas” with any kind of regularity. These five phrases did not become the slogans they are today until the 20th Century. Luther and his followers were known for advancing three “solas”—Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. Mark Thompson documents one of the earliest uses of “Scripture alone” in Luther’s An Assertion of All the Articles from 1520.1 The first article of the Formula of Concord, completed 31 years after Luther’s death, begins with the following statement. “The only rule and norm…are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone.”

Echoing Ephesians 2:8–9, Luther taught that justification is by the grace of God, not by human merit. He articulated such grace alone in Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession, which reads, “God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.” In the first article of Luther’s Smalcald Articles he states, “It is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us.” These are some foundations subsequent reformers build upon. All the Reformers embraced the Biblical teachings that Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5) and that salvation is ultimately for God’s glory (Philippians 1:11).

Locating the Solas in their historical context helps guard them against rhetorical inaccuracies. Scripture alone did not entail a rejection of supplemental belief statements like the Apostle’s Creed or the church’s need to teach Christians how to interpret the Bible responsibly. While good works are not a condition for justification, they are a consequence of being justified. James Payton summed it up accurately in his book Getting the Reformation Wrong when he wrote, “For Calvin and all the Protestant Reformers, we are justified by faith alone—but faith is never alone.”2 We could make a similar qualification that Christ alone was never meant to exclude our participation in the earthly body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 1:22–23). We should revisit the writings of the Reformers to clarify and nuance what they meant by “alone.”

Tragically, the Pro-testant label is sometimes equated with ideas that leaders of the Reformation such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli would have never advocated. For example, liberals point to the Protestant Reformation as supportive precedence to value theological innovation and cultural adaption over the established and unchanging “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). The “Five Solas” recover Christian essentials of salvation found in the New Testament and church fathers. These beliefs should unite Protestants today as they did during the days of the Reformation.

1Mark D. Thompson, “Sola Scriptura,” Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, ed. Matthew Barrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 154.

2James Payton, Getting the Reformation Wrong (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 127.

Sola Gratia

Andrew Knott / October 20, 2017

Why is understanding “Grace Alone” so important? In short, because nothing is more vital to Christianity than rightly understanding grace. Requiring the addition of our own works topples grace entirely because grace begins with people who are “dead in the trespasses and sins,” not capable of any good. These sinners are not only spiritually dead but follow Satan and spend their life pursuing the “passions of [their] flesh.” Grace is needed because sinful men and women created in God’s image willfully reject Him and are by nature “children of wrath.”

Grace, then, rises up in the wondrous words: “But God being rich in mercy.” Mankind rejected God and yet God unexplainably loved His people “when we were yet dead in our trespasses.” God comes to seek and save the lost by sending His only Son to take the place of sinners in their own judgement. Jesus bears the wrath of sin and pays the penalty that God’s people deserved. And not only that, He also makes us alive once again. Grace can only be described as a gift, freely given to the sinner, with no merit of his own to add “so that no one may boast.”

Once given, this gift called “grace” keeps giving by transforming the life of the redeemed, filling him with gratitude and thankfulness to God. Grace is evident day by day in the life of the believer “for we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And so even the good works a believer does can only be attributed to the grace of God’s ongoing transforming work.

The Reformation was nothing short of a rediscovery of grace! The Reformation breathed life into people who for years were bound to the false notion that they must add their own works to their accounts in order to be saved. But to require man’s cooperation to achieve salvation destroys the Gospel! When people shed this burden, understanding that they were entirely dead in sin, but that God had provided the complete and full way of salvation, then they embraced grace – no longer something to be bought or earned, only received as a gift.