There are some days on the calendar that everyone knows are important. January 1st is New Year’s Day. December 25th everyone knows is Christmas. (December 8-10 everyone here better know is our “ELF” production, right?!) And of course this Tuesday, October 31st is also another well-known day on the calendar. Many know it as Halloween, or “All Saints Eve.” But for modern-day Christians, it should perhaps be known for something even more important: October 31st is “Reformation Day.”
This Tuesday, October 31st is the 500th Anniversary of the day on October 31st, 1517, that Martin Luther went to the Wittenberg church and nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the church door (which is what they did with public notices for debates in those days) protesting the wrongs of the Catholic church, and setting forth Biblical truth. This began the movement we know as “The Reformation”, which gave birth to our Protestant churches, and really shaped the direction of the whole world as we know it.
It’s hard to grasp everything that came out of the Reformation, but there is any easy way to remember 5 of the most important theological truths it taught us. We call them the “5 Solas.” “Sola” is a Latin word for “only” or “alone.” These “5 Solas” have become the backbone of Protestant Christian teaching for the last 500 years. We need to make sure we understand these, and hold to them, as they are not only “Protestant”, but also Biblical truths. So as we think about this Tuesday, as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let’s look together at these “5 Solas” and what they mean:
— Sola Scriptura — Scripture alone.
— Sola Gratia — By grace alone.
— Sola Fide — Through faith alone.
— Solus Christus — In Christ alone.
— Soli Deo Gloria — To the glory of God alone.
I. “Sola Scriptura”: Scripture Alone
This first “sola” deals with the vital question of “how do we know what we know” in religion. This one is usually set first, because it is the foundation for everything else. How do we know what we know about God, heaven, Jesus, and salvation? We know it from the Word of God, the Bible. Scripture, and scripture alone, is our authority.
The Bible tells us in Psalm 119:11, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path.” II Timothy 3:16 says: “All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished for all good works.” God’s word is our light, and it is everything we need as our authority for faith and practice.
This was in contrast to Martin Luther’s day, and quite honestly, still today in many religions and denominations, which contend that the Bible is AN authority, PLUS the Church, or plus tradition. Martin Luther, on trial for heresy for his Biblical faith, was commanded to recant his scriptural beliefs, by the authority of the Church and councils and tradition, but he famously said: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God …. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Luther said the pope is not my ultimate authority; the religious councils are not my ultimate authority; the WORD OF GOD is my ultimate authority; “Sola Scriptura” — and so it is for us. The Bible is our ultimate authority as Christians today.
500 years after Martin Luther, we need to make sure we remember that commitment, as many are tempted to compromise it. Last year, our Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, had a public discussion on churches and culture, and Andy Stanley, a popular pastor in Atlanta, was on the program. In that conversation, Dr. Moore asked Stanley: “If you were, for real, the evangelical pope and you really had the authority to say ‘this is how it’s gonna be within American evangelical Christianity,’ what would you do?” Stanley said: “I would ask preachers and pastors and student pastors in their communications to get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the resurrection.”
The problem with that is, what do we know about the resurrection of Jesus, but through the Bible? I understand that not everyone in our society believes the Bible, and sometimes there are things in it that are difficult to understand and defend, but as Charles Spurgeon said, the Bible is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it; just turn it loose! It’ll do God’s work in the hearts of those who hear it.
The Bible is the heart of our religion. It is how we know, what we know about God. We all have our feelings and impressions and maybe even visions or experiences or whatever — but as Jeremiah said “The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?’ Declares the Lord. ‘Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’” (23:28-29) God says people will have their dreams and visions and experiences; some may be valid and some may not — but our faith is not to be based on them. Our faith is to be in His word. “Sola Scriptura.”
My faith that there is a heaven is not based on the fact that some man said he died and went there; or that some 7-year-old child said he went there; my faith that there is a heaven is based on the fact that Jesus said in His word, “I go there to prepare a place for you”!
And our confidence in sharing with others is to be based on the word of God, not these experiences. In Luke 16, the rich man in hell asked for someone to go back to his family on earth, to warn them about hell. But he was told: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” The rich man said, “No … but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” God tells us there that our confidence for evangelism and ministry is to be in His word alone — not in experiences, not in miracles, not even in someone returning from the dead.
As Protestant, New Testament Christians, our TRADITION is not our ultimate authority; our REASON is not our ultimate authority; even our personal EXPERIENCE is not our ultimate authority. THE WORD OF GOD is our ultimate authority. “Sola Scriptura” — scripture alone!
II. “Sola Gratia”: By Grace Alone
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace that you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
The Bible, which is our authority, makes it very clear that we are not saved by what we have earned by our good works, but by God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ.
This may be THE biggest misunderstanding that most people have with religion. They think that religious deeds are a way of earning favor with God, so that He will grant us a place in heaven. And that is basically what all the religions of the world instruct you to do: do these certain religious deeds, and you can hope you earn a place in heaven.
In Islam, for example, they teach what they call the “5 Pillars” of Islam: confess that there is one god and that Muhammad is his prophet; pray 5 times a day; fast during Ramadan; give alms to the poor, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca during your lifetime. And if you do these 5 things, then perhaps your good deeds will outweigh your bad, and you will get to go to Paradise when you die. I remember hearing the testimony of a man who grew up in a Muslim home. He said he grew up fearing “the scales” that would weigh your good deeds vs. your bad, which would determine whether you got into Paradise or not.
And that’s typical of virtually every world religion: DO these certain deeds; pray these certain prayers; and perhaps you can earn your way to heaven. Even many people who are in Christian churches misunderstand, and think that by attending church, and by “trying to be a good Christian person” they will get to go to heaven.
But the Bible tells us that NONE of us will ever get to heaven that way. It says if salvation were based on what we earned, we would all be lost:
— Romans 3:10 says “There is none righteous; not even one.”
— Romans 3:12 says “There is none who does good; there is not even one.”
— Romans 3:20 say “by the works of the Law, NO FLESH will be justified in His sight”
It is just like we said last week: if God had just let all of us go to hell, He would have been a good God, and none of us could have complained about it; we would have only gotten what we deserve. NONE of us deserve heaven by our good works.
But in Ephesians 2, after it describes in those first verses how we were all lost, and undeserving of heaven, opens :6 with perhaps the two most important words in all the Bible: “BUT GOD.” “BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ — by GRACE you have been saved.” Salvation is not what we deserve; if we are saved, it is all of His undeserved mercy and grace.
It’s just like the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray, in Luke 18. Jesus said the Pharisee very proudly prayed: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people … I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.” He was proud of what his religious deeds had earned him. But Jesus said the tax collector couldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but just beat his chest and cried: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Jesus said THAT was the man who went to his house saved — because he humbled himself, and depended on the mercy and grace of God ALONE for his salvation.
Someone asked one of my favorite preachers the old question, “If you were to die and God were to ask you why should I let you into heaven, what would you tell Him?” He said, “I’d tell Him, ‘You shouldn’t!’ I don’t deserve to go to heaven. The only way I will be there is by Your mercy and grace!”
Some of us need to say that today for the very first time. STOP trying to “be good enough” to go to heaven. Realize that you can never earn it. Call out to God today and just ask Him to save you by His mercy and grace — “Sola Gratia” — by GRACE alone.
III. “Sola Fide”: Through Faith Alone
But HOW do get ahold of that grace of God? How do we connect with it? This leads us to our next “sola.” Now there are some who say: “You get God’s grace when you are baptized:” or you get God’s grace when you partake of Communion — or any other number of ways. But the Bible says we receive God’s grace THROUGH FAITH ALONE. By just trusting what Jesus did for us on the cross. Repeatedly, the New Testament tells us that we are saved by faith:
— After Romans 3 made it clear that none of us are righteous, :21 says “But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested … through FAITH in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” It’s not by our works, but by faith!
— Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
— “For by grace you have been saved, through FAITH …” Ephesians 2:8
— Galatians 3:26 “For you are all sons of God through FAITH in Jesus Christ.”
— “Without FAITH it is impossible to please God” Hebrews 11:6
— I Peter 1:9 says we obtain “as the outcome of your FAITH the salvation of your souls.”
Over and over the scripture tells us, it is by FAITH that we can be saved, and by faith ALONE, not by our works.
Last week we mentioned the story of Cornelius the centurion in Acts 10. God told Peter to go and tell Cornelius about Jesus, and so Peter arrived at his house, and began to preach and share the gospel. And the Bible says when Peter got to the words, “Everyone who believes in Him receives the forgiveness of sins” (:43), instantly the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius, and he was saved (:44).
This is a great example of salvation by faith alone. Cornelius did not do any “good works” to be saved. He didn’t go get baptized; He didn’t go to church; He didn’t go give any offerings for the poor; He didn’t do ANYTHING to earn it. ALL HE DID WAS BELIEVE IN HIS HEART — AND THE SECOND HE BELIEVED IN HIS HEART, THAT MOMENT, HE WAS SAVED. He was saved “by faith ALONE:! Nothing else.
And it is the same way with us today. We receive God’s grace “sola fide;” by faith alone. Now AFTER you are saved you will do some things; as we will see next week, Jesus said “You will know them by their fruit.” If you really have faith, good deeds will grow out of your faith. But you don’t do anything to GET salvation initially, other than just believe in your heart. Salvation comes to you the moment you believe, “sola fide,” by faith alone.
IV. “Solus Christus”: In Christ Alone
We also need to see that it is not merely “faith” per se that saves us, but faith in CHRIST ALONE. That’s important, because we can say “have faith”, or “believe”, but believe WHAT? The OBJECT of our faith is vital. What do we believe IN?
It’s like when I was with Cheryl in Hobby Lobby the other day I saw they had their Christmas decorations out for sale. I enjoyed walking through there; it got me in the mood for Christmas, and our “Elf” production. But as I walking down one aisle I saw a wall hanging that said: “Believe.” Just: “Believe.”
Well, I thought that’s good, as far as it goes, but the million dollar question is “believe” IN WHAT?
— Believe in Jesus?
— Believe in Santa Claus?
— Believe in “the spirit of the season” — whatever that is?
— Believe in the essential goodness of mankind?
— Believe that aliens deposited us here and programmed our DNA for higher intelligence?
See, it matters WHAT you believe. Faith is a quality that everyone has; that we can exercise towards various things, but our faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed.
For example: a little over 30 years ago, I began putting a little bit of money every month into a retirement account with our Southern Baptist Annuity Board. For over 30 years we have trusted our money with them, and so far they haven’t lost it, and they have given us a decent return. My faith in them has been well-placed.
But I also know people who have put their trust in some advisors and investment schemes which did NOT work out. See, we both had faith, but faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed.
That’s why I hate to hear the expression that is often used these days, often by someone who is trying to be “politically correct;” that somebody is “a person of faith.” A “person of faith” IN WHAT? See, that expression almost implies that it doesn’t matter WHAT your faith is in, as long as you have some kind of faith. But what your faith is IN, is the single most important thing about your faith!
And the Bible makes it clear that THE ONLY VALID OBJECT OF SAVING FAITH IS JESUS CHRIST ALONE. “Solus Christus.” Only faith in Jesus saves. We talked about this in detail last week. The Bible makes it so clear:
— Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
— The disciples said in Acts 4:12 “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”
— I John 5:12 says “He who has the Son has the life; he who does NOT have the Son of God, does NOT have the life.”
The Bible says we are saved by faith in Christ, and Christ ONLY.
But we also need to understand that this doesn’t just mean that other religious faiths won’t save you. It also means that even as Baptists, we need to make sure that it is JESUS in whom our faith is placed; not Jesus AND something else. Especially those of us who have been raised in the church, or who have attended for a long time. We need to make sure that our faith is not in our baptism; or that we “went down to the front;” or that we go to church a lot — though all those things are important elements of a good Christian life. But our faith that we are going to heaven must not be in any of these things. Our faith must be in Jesus, and Jesus alone. “Solus Christus”!
If someone said to you like they did to Mark Dever, “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven’, what would you say?” You need to make sure your answer is: “He shouldn’t; I don’t deserve it! But JESUS died on the cross for me and I am saved by Christ, and Christ alone.”
Make sure your faith is in Jesus ALONE. Not Jesus & your church attendance; not Jesus & your baptism; not Jesus & your good manners; Jesus, and Jesus ALONE! Say with the old hymn:
— “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
— Say with that great new song: “In Christ Alone my hope is found.”
— Sing joyfully with our choir: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing! Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
Make sure today that your hope for heaven is “by grace alone, through faith alone, IN CHRIST ALONE”!
V. “Soli Deo Gloria”: To the Glory of God Alone
And then finally, our salvation we find in the Bible alone, which is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, is to the glory of GOD ALONE.
College football programs all over the country were talking this week about University of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield; how a week ago, he didn’t even practice because he had been so banged up the week before, and he came out last Saturday and threw for over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns, and how he ran over one would-be tackler, and then outran a defensive back to the end zone, and ran for 2 more touchdowns. After that game last week, one commentator said, “Just go ahead and give him the Heisman trophy” (for the best player in football).
But this last “sola” tells us there’s not going to be any of that kind of thing going on in heaven. Because salvation is “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone;” there is NONE of us we are going to bragging about in heaven. Because not one of us “deserves” to be there. “Soli Deo Gloria” means only to GOD be the praise for our salvation.
We’re not going to be up there in heaven, and exclaim, “Oh, look, there’s the Apostle Paul; he traveled the whole Mediterranean world planting churches. He spent a whole night at sea during a shipwreck, and made sure everyone on board was saved. He really deserves to be here.” NO! Paul would be the first to tell you: “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor … but the grace of the Lord Jesus was more than abundant”! (I Timothy 1:13-14)
We’re not going to say: “Look, there’s Peter! Think of how he walked on water; he really earned his spot here.” No, Peter would be the first to tell you: “Three times I denied I even knew Him; and even after He forgave me I was a hypocrite in my ministry in Antioch. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused me to be born again to a living hope”! (I Peter 1:3)
We won’t be saying: “Look, there’s the Apostle John himself, who saw the Revelation; we owe him a lot for giving us that book that helped bring us here!” But John can’t even speak to you; he is on face like a dead man before the Lamb who was slain, who was “faithful and just to forgive (him) his sins, and to cleanse (him) from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9) and who opened the door to the New Jerusalem by His grace.
No; in heaven, no one is praising anyone else. Paul, Peter, John, and every other citizen of heaven has their eyes on ONE THRONE, shouting the song of Revelation 5:
“‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
“Soli Deo Gloria.” To GOD ALONE be the praise for our salvation, both now and forever more!
The word of God alone tells us that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God ALONE! May we today say of these 5 great truths as Martin Luther did on All Saints’ Eve those 500 years ago: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”