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To The Praise Of His Glory: The Meaning And Relevance Of The Five Solas



This essay won 3rd place in Reformed Pinoy's Essay Writing Contest, written and submitted by Ptr Leonard Castañeda


What shall we believe? What shall our final authority be? How can we, sinful beings that we are, be reconciled with a holy God who hates sin?


I. A WORLD OF CONFUSION AND CONTRADICTION


Time and again, those who profess Christianity have given different, often conflicting answers to those questions. In the medieval times, which were the backdrop of what would be known as the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church claimed absolute hegemony over Christianity and the answers to these questions. On the question of authority, it was the Church that laid claim to having all the final answers, particularly with the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Bishops, and most notably the Bishop of Rome, who claimed to inherit the primacy of Peter. It was the church, as expressed in the papal decrees and the church councils, that would define what Christian truth was. The Bible was still upheld as an authoritative witness, but in practice, it was often ignored or misused by the church leadership.


The Catholic Church taught that it was the recipient of God’s superlative grace, to dispense as she saw fit. Baptism was administered to remove the taint of original sin, but subsequently, a “Christian” was to observe the sacraments of the church, avail of her indulgences, work hard to avoid mortal sin, and look forward to a period of further removal of any vestiges of sin in a “purgatory” before entering into the presence of God. It was important to believe in Jesus and all the teachings of the church, which included veneration of Mary and the saints to help us while we are living and to pray for our deliverance when we are in purgatory. In the end, it boiled down to doing our best, and hoping that somehow our good deeds plus the graces gained through the church and the prayers of the saints would be enough to save us from the fires of hell. The church supposedly held the keys to the kingdom of heaven, allowing or denying entry to multitudes of believers.


The papacy was rife with corruption, permeating the whole institution. Church offices were up for sale (a practice called simony), and the church competed with the crown for temporal authority. From 1378 to 1417, the conflict for power even led to the establishment of two, and then three rival claimants to the papacy, all of whom promptly excommunicated each other. Immorality was rife among the clergy, who eschewed their vows of celibacy and poverty and engaged in blatant immorality, having mistresses and children, and enriching themselves at the expense of the laity.


One such blatant excess was the selling of indulgences. What were they? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven….”¹


This could be obtained by doing certain things, such as veneration of holy relics, upon which a person may receive “a certificate guaranteeing the buyer that time in purgatory would be reduced and remitted by up to 1,902,202 years and 270 days.”² However, in 1515, the Pope, Leo X, authorized the sale of indulgences as a means to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. In such a crass display of supposedly selling the grace of God to the ignorant and gullible, Dominican preacher and indulgence peddler Johannes Tetzel supposedly taught that:


“As soon as the gold in the casket rings The rescued soul to heaven springs”³


Into this fray came a German monk named Martin Luther, who challenged the practice of selling indulgences in an invitation to a public disputation, which he summarized in 95 theses and nailed them to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This would lead to what we now know as the Protestant Reformation, which is not an attempt to establish a new church, but rather, to call the church to repentance and reformation by discarding dogmas that did not align with Scripture. When challenged, Luther stated that: “Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth.”


This is where we begin to look at each of the Five Solas (or solae) of the Reformation.


II. SOLA SCRIPTURA: A CALL TO PRIMARY AUTHORITY


Sola scriptura emphasizes the preeminent authority of the Bible over and above church councils, church traditions, creeds and the authority of church leaders. As Luther also wrote:


“The saints could err in their writings and the sin in their lives, but the Scriptures cannot err.”


The Roman Catholic (and even the Orthodox) Church both affirm in principle the authority of the Scriptures, and both hold identical New Testaments, which testify to the high regard that the pre-1054 Great Schism church gave to it. Early church fathers preached from Scripture, quoted it as inspired and authoritative, recognizing it to be what it claimed to be, for the Bible itself asserts that:


16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)


Strictly speaking, the apostle Paul was talking about what we now call the Old Testament (since the New Testament has not been codified and was in the process of being written), but even then, the writings of the apostles were seen by the church as being at par with the Old Testament, such as when Peter referred to them as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Jesus preached from Scripture and held it with the highest regard as God’s revelation (cf. Matthew 21:42; 22:29; Mark 14:49 etc.), even as they point to and are fulfilled in Jesus. Thus, He says:


39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39)


The Bible is God's record and revelation from the first creation (Genesis 1:1) until the creation of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21). It shows His divine plan and purpose. It is both: 1.) a single book, with one story, and one main character: God, and 2.) a collection of sixty-six individual books or letters. It was written by men who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), conveying the image of a ship being carried by the wind. We do not know exactly the manner in which this is done, but we can see that God used the human authors in a way to convey the very words He intended by making use of their words, vocabulary and even manner of writing. The Bible’s contents transcends mere human wisdom but is taught by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13) for it alone speaks with the authority of the Lord. Which is why Augustine would declare: "Let us therefore yield ourselves and bow to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which can neither err nor deceive."


Does this mean that tradition and church councils are worthless? Not necessarily. They may have authority, but only in subordination to Scripture. As Barrett explains:


“Tradition was a tool meant to assist the believer in understanding Scripture’s meaning. While Scripture possesses magisterial authority, tradition’s authority was always ministerial, a handmaiden to the biblical witness, rather than an authoritative voice governing Scripture.”


As a derived authority, tradition cannot affirm as dogma what Scripture remains silent about, and it cannot deny what Scripture clearly affirms.


THE RELEVANCE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA


If God, being God, revealed Himself through Scripture, then it follows that He intended it to be read, understood and ultimately obeyed. As there is no authority at par with God Himself, nothing written or spoken can claim to be at par with it, for God and God alone “has the right, both by virtue of who He is and what He does, to establish the standard for belief and practice.” As Wayne Grudem explains:


“The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”


A Christian therefore must be someone who treasures Scripture, not as a relic to gather dust in an altar, but as a source of instruction and guidance for what he believes and how he lives. It is the foundation of everything the church teaches and preaches, and the standard by which all doctrines and practices are measured against.


III. SOLA GRATIA: UNDESERVED FAVOR


Having established the authority of Scripture in the Christian’s doctrine and praxis, it is therefore necessary to see what Scripture says about man and God, and why sola gratia, or salvation by grace alone is necessary.


The Bible teaches us that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:16) and share some of His attributes. We can think, feel, communicate, and make decisions. We can reason and choose. We can invent things. We can have meaningful relationships. We are also creatures that are accountable to God for our actions. No other created being, aside from angels are described in this way.


As such, we were created to reflect God’s image and glory, and by doing so, give glory to our Creator. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created “good” (Genesis 1:31), not in the sense that they incapable of evil but rather, that they were untainted by a sinful tendency. Unfortunately, three chapters into the Bible, we read of the first human sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-7). Our first parents, created in the image of God, have then become defiled, and the image they were supposed to reflect was marred and distorted. From that time onwards, all of their descendants (except Jesus) have become sinners by nature (Romans 5:12,14).


Paul teaches us that Adam represented the whole human race in the garden of Eden. He ate the same fruit that Eve ate (Genesis 3:6) and did nothing to stop his wife. And so, when he, our representative, disobeyed God, the consequences fell on him and his descendants:


12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:12; 14)

Every sin is a choice - we freely sin because we desire to sin, and our desires are corrupted by a sinful nature that loves sin. This sinfulness is seen in our thoughts, words and actions.


Because of this, we have become sinful beings who by nature deserving only death and destruction. This sinful nature became one of the legacies of our first parents, and because of this, we love sin and choose sin.


We do make choices, and these are real choices, but because our will has been perverted, our choices follow our sinful desires only, causing and leading us to reject God. Because of this, not only are we unable to desire God and obey Him as much as we ought to, but we are also unwilling to do so:


6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8)


Thus, given our situation, we can see that apart from God's intervention, apart from God’s grace and mercy, we are all hell bound - truly deserving only God's eternal punishment. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians:


And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-4)


Theologians call our fallen condition as "total depravity." It doesn't mean, however, that we are as bad as we can be - normal people are rarely as destructive as Hitler - but that every part of our being is wired to desire sin. Romans 3:11-18 draws words from different passages in the Scriptures as Paul proves the rightness of our indictment as sinners. Sin, it says:

  • corrupts our character (Romans 3:10-12),

  • defiles our relationships (Romans 3:13-14), and

  • perverts our conduct (Romans 3:15-18).¹⁰

Even our "good works" are tainted by this sinfulness: we may help others in need, but in our hearts, we are not really doing it because of selflessness but rather, because it helps us feel good and get the applause of other men. As Isaiah the prophet declares:


We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away

(Isaiah 64:6)


And while we do make choices, and these are real choices, but because our will has been perverted, our choices follow our sinful desires only, and it does not cause us to choose God. Because of this, not only are we unable to desire God and obey Him as much as we ought to, but we are also unwilling to do so:


6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8)


Thus, given our situation, we can see that apart from God's intervention, apart from God’s grace and mercy, we are all hell bound - truly deserving only God's eternal punishment.


From this we see that for us to be reconciled to God, to be forgiven, and to obtain eternal life, the initiative must come from God – for by ourselves we are impaired by inability and shackled by a singular lack of desire for God. This is where grace – which simply means unmerited (unearned) and undeserved favor comes in.


The Bible is a living story of God’s sovereign grace: from the time when He spared Adam and Eve from immediate death, but rather, clothing them in skins of animals that He Himself put to death, God set into motion the plan that would redeem His imago Dei in the fullness of time. This story of God’s grace continues through the sparing of Noah and his tiny family, to the call of Abram to a land God promised Him, together with a promise of an offspring, to the rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the giving of His covenant with Israel and their establishment in the promised land. Indeed, the story of the Old Testament is a singular display of God’s steadfast grace to a rebellious, often wicked, people. The story of course, goes on to the New Testament, where the ultimate revelation of God’s grace, is seen in Jesus, who when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5). Carl Trueman affirms this, saying:


“From the fall of Adam and Eve to God’s decision to spare them from immediate destruction, the story of God’s relationship to human beings is the story of grace. It relates the historical outworking of his unmerited favor towards humanity as he restrains evil and actively works to save his people from the consequences of their sinful rebellion.”¹¹


The whole redemptive plan of God is an act of grace, culminating with the giving of His Son to die in our place. That we have not faced instant judgment is grace itself, and finally, that we have heard and responded in repentant faith is grace applied irresistibly in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It can never be earned, for as Paul wrote: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6) Scripture then asserts that we are saved by grace:


8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)


We say grace alone because salvation is a gift from God: not earned, not deserved, but “lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:8). Indeed, Ephesians 1:3-14 describes grace at work: from God choosing us for salvation in eternity past, to the provision of a Savior, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, who causes us to have new life, to repent of our sins and believe in the gospel, and who seals us as a “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14).


THE RELEVANCE OF SOLA GRATIA


Realization of our total inability and God’s superlative grace should drive us to our knees in humble gratitude and spur us to obedience, just as a criminal on the death row is forever grateful for the last minute reprieve. It demolishes our sense of entitlement and overly high esteem of our abilities. It slays self-reliance as it forces us to see how utterly dependent we are on God, not only in our salvation but in our very existence as well. We are robbed of any boasting in ourselves, leaving us only to boast about the goodness and graciousness of the Lord.


And now, having received (and still receiving) God’s abounding grace, we are indebted and compelled to be gracious to others as well: in extending patience to the difficult, in loving the unlovable, in showing mercy and in proclaiming “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).


IV. SOLUS CHRISTUS: THE INCLUSIVE-EXCLUSIVE SAVIOR


Jesus stands uniquely among all people who ever walked the Earth, for He alone existed before He was born in the flesh. No greater man has ever walked the earth like Jesus Christ. Jesus alone lived a sinless and perfect life in complete obedience to God.

The Bible, also upholds that He was no mere human being: He was God in the flesh. As the apostle John testifies:


1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3;14)

Being uniquely God and man, Jesus alone has the ability to pay for the penalty of our sins. His coming was promised in the Old Testament in several prophecies (such as Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6, Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15 among others) as was His sacrificial death and resurrection (Isaiah 52-54 for example are almost eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death). Indeed, all Scriptures point to Jesus Christ one way or the other (Luke 24:27), as He is the final and ultimate means through which God has revealed Himself to man. As the writer of Hebrews says:


1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)


His death was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22:1-2) and was according to the divine plan of God to save sinners (Romans 5:6-8, 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:3-14). Jesus died on the cross to pay for the penalty for the sins of His people (Romans 3:23-26, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10, 1 Peter 3:18). Jesus was our sinless substitute: we deserved death, but Jesus took the punishment we deserved and He died in the place of sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6-8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, Hebrews 10:12):


“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)


As Romans 3 declares:


For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:22-25)


This propitiating sacrifice was done on the cross – once, and for all time, and has accomplished atonement and propitiation for those for whom it was made (Hebrews 2:17, 7:27, 9:12, 9:27, 10:1-14). Jesus fully shared humanity with us and therefore was a perfect and true subsitutionary sacrifice for us:


Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)


It was not simply a potential atonement or an incomplete one. This is why the author of Hebrews also wrote:


12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)


However, He did not remain dead. His resurrection was prophesied in the Old Testament (Job 19:23-27, Psalm 16:9-11, 118:17-18, Isaiah 25:7-8, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Acts 2:22-32). When He rose from the dead, more than five hundred people witnessed His post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-12, Luke 24:1-49, John 20:1-29, Acts 3:15).


Without the resurrection, we would have no savior. Our faith would be useless. We would be without hope, still in our sins, and, as Paul explained to the Corinthians: 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)


His resurrection proves that one day, we too shall be resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15, Romans 1:4, 6:5, Philippians 3:10-11, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 20:4-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Finally, His resurrection proves that He has power over death, and shows that one day, we too shall be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15).


Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6), and the apostles confidently declared that “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He alone is the one who is able to fully represent God (being God) and man (being fully human), and is the only mediator who stands between and reconciles God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). No other person is offered as an alternative, and among all the founders of world religions, Jesus stands alone as the one who lives forever. His grave alone is empty, not because the skeleton crumbled to dust aeons ago, but because the occupant has risen, never to die again.


THE RELEVANCE OF SOLUS CHRISTUS


The world condemns and ridicules Christianity for declaring that there is only one way to heaven. We are reminded of the recent social media controversy when blogger Joyce Pring simply stated what all Christians know to be true: that apart from Jesus, everyone is going to hell. They protest at the exclusivity of this statement, and the apparently bigotry of Joyce Pring. But it wasn’t her who laid down the line but Jesus Himself, saying:


I am the way, and the truth, and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father EXCEPT through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also." (John 14:6-7)


They may think it is narrow and exclusive (yes, it is, but it is also inclusive because the command to repent and believe is given to all) or harsh, but that's what the Bible says: you can take it as the truth and embrace it, or you can reject it and therefore reject Jesus. There is no sense of entitlement here: all of us, Joyce Pring, you and me included, are sinners who have offended God in every way, and deserve hell. God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise on the third day to save undeserving sinners like you and me, and calls us to repent of our sins and trust in His Son for salvation. The only one entitled to name the conditions is God, who created and owns all things.


If there is only one Savior, then there is only one message of salvation, and all other supposed alternatives are false and damnable (cf. Galatians 1:8-9). Therefore, we are not simply to believe it, but to proclaim it, for there is no other name given, and no other way provided, for sinful humanity to be forgiven and saved.


V. SOLA FIDE: THE EMPTY HAND OF TRUST


Against the system of indulgences, penance, and merit-demerit system of the medieval Catholic church, Martin Luther declared that we are saved by faith alone. This follows the doctrine of sola gratia, for if it was through God’s grace that we are saved, then we have nothing to contribute. And what is left is that we believe:


8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But what is Faith in Jesus Christ?

“Faith in Jesus Christ is acknowledging the truth of everything that God has revealed in his Word, trusting in him, and also receiving and resting on him alone for salvation as he is offered to us in the gospel.”¹²


The Reformers often made distinctions to clarify what true saving faith is by using three examples:


  1. Knowledge of the gospel. This is simply knowing the facts about the gospel, like someone would know the time. Yes, we should know the gospel, and know who Jesus is, but this is not enough to save us.

  2. Agreement with the gospel message. This is agreeing with the content of our faith to be true. It is necessary, but it is also not enough to save us.

  3. Personal trust and reliance. Knowing and believing the Christian faith is not enough, because even the demons do that (James 2:19). We are to more than know and agree, but to personally trust in Jesus Christ to save us.


Imagine a man and a chair. The man hears the claim that the chair is strong enough to carry him. He hears the facts about the chair. Then, the man may examine at the claims (and the chair) and agree with them, but until he actually sits on the chair, he does not truly express his trust that the chair is indeed able to hold him. Saving faith is sitting on the chair, that is, resting and depending on the promise that Jesus Christ can indeed save you from your sin.


Faith is an empty hand receiving God’s promises that are born of God’s work (and in fact, the response of faith is also God-enabled). As the hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote:


Nothing in my hands I bring

Simply to Thy cross I cling


Hebrews calls faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), indicating that faith involves trust, not because you have received the promises already, but rather, because the one who promises is trustworthy. To have faith in God is to believe that what He promises are true, and that He is both able and willing to give what He has promised. This is the ground on which one can find complete assurance. God has promised that those who believe in Jesus will be saved (John 3:16, Acts 16:31 etc.), that through faith in Him we receive the promise (Romans 3:25).


Justification: It is on the ground of faith in Christ that God declares us righteous. What is justification? JI Packer gives us a concise definition, saying that:


“Justification is a judicial act of God pardoning sinners (wicked and ungodly persons, Romans 4:5, 3:9-24), accepting them as just, and so putting permanently right their previously estranged relationship with himself. This justifying sentence is God’s gift of righteousness (Romans 5:15-17), his bestowal of a status of acceptance for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 5:21).¹³


What happened on the cross was a great exchange: our sins were imputed to Christ, and His righteousness imputed on His elect: because Christ died on our behalf, He took on Himself our sin and the full penalty that we deserved (Romans 3:21-26), and in turn, and His perfect righteousness was credited to repentant sinners (Romans 4:22-25). Jesus’ death provides perfect satisfaction and full payment for our sins. On that basis, God pardons the sinner and counts on their record the perfect righteousness of the Son of God when the person believes (cf. Acts 16:31, Romans 3:24-25).


Think of this as a man who has been burdened with a debt beyond his ability to pay. He stands condemned for his debt before the judge. When another man comes along and pays the debt in full, then the person has been released from the obligation to pay this debt. No debt remains and the person is free. The one who paid the debt is the son of the judge, who not only settles the debt due but now welcomes this former debtor as a brother in the family.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOLA FIDE


There is no ground for mixing reliance of God’s work and man’s effort: it must be wholly of God, or it cannot save. We have nothing to contribute by ourselves to salvation, as one writer quipped, except the sin that made it necessary. We must therefore wholly rely on God, wholly trust in Him and the finished work of Christ on the cross, and proclaim the same message to those who would here. A “gospel” that denies this is no gospel.


Yet James also reminds us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). This does not mean that one is saved by faith plus works, but rather, that true saving faith results in works (Ephesians 2:10). If one truly believes in something, his or her faith will result into action. There can be no true believing if nothing changes, for the nature of the gospel is so compelling, one cannot help but proclaim it. As Martin Luther also reminds us:

“the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, "If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing," is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.”¹⁴


John Calvin echoed this in his response to the Council of Trent, saying:


It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.”¹⁵


Finally, Thomas Schreiner concludes:


The faith that saves, then, is dynamic and powerful. It is a faith that expresses itself in love, for a living faith produces love, and such love functions as evidence that faith is genuine and vital.”¹⁶


VI. SOLI DEO GLORIA: TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY


Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the original Greek of the New Testament and gives us an outline of God’s redemptive plan, begun in eternity past and pointing forward to eternity future. In every aspect: from election to redemption, from regeneration to promised and assured glorification, a refrain repeats itself: to the praise of his glorious grace… according to the riches of his grace… to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:6; 7; 12; 14) Even in the Old Testament, God testifies again and again that His redemptive actions towards Israel are for His glory: and so much more in the salvation He has so freely given to both Jews and Gentiles.

God is the primary actor in salvation: in the revelation of His word through Scripture, in the sending of His Son, the only Savior, in His grace shown to sinners, and even in granting repentance (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25) and faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 1:29) to His people. God’s glory shines in both His mercy to the undeserving (Romans 15:9) and in the display of His justice in judgment of the wicked.¹⁷ His glory shines in His creation (Psalm 19:1) and in His mighty deeds. Reflecting on who God is and what He has done, King David exuded praise with these words:

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

(Psalm 29:1-2)

When Christ our Savior was born, the angels praised God with the words:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

(Luke 2:14)

Worship in heaven is depicted in Revelation as declaring the glory of the Lord:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

(Revelation 4:11)

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOLI DEO GLORIA


In Hebrew, the root word of “glory” carries the idea of weight and heaviness. The New Bible Dictionary says: “It is used of men to describe their wealth, splendor or reputation…The most important concept is that of the glory of Yahweh. This denotes the revelation of God’s being, nature and presence to mankind…”¹⁸ In the New Testament, it refers to reputation and honor, and “its chief use is to describe the revelation of the character and the presence of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the outshining of the divine glory.”¹⁹

In other words, the glory of God is the “God-ness of God,” or of being Who He Is. As creator and sustainer of all that exists, as redeemer and savior of His people, God alone deserves all the glory. Christ, in His person and work, is “the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3) and alone deserves glory and honor for what He has done, particularly in His gracious salvation.

Reflecting on the glory of God, especially in saving us, by grace alone, through faith alone, through and in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, should cause us to respond in worship, declaring the glory of God alone.

To the praise of Your glory To the praise of Your mercy and grace To the praise of Your glory You are the God who saves ²⁰

VII. THE FIVE SOLAS TOGETHER: AN ANTIDOTE TO WORKS-BASED RIGHTNEOUSNESS AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY

The “five solas,” while permeating much of Reformed and Protestant literature, were never stated together. Apparently, they were brought together in The Church and the World, written by Johann Baptiste Metz, a German Catholic scholar, in 1965. However, subsequent Protestant literature, expounded on all five, and in recent times, this notably included the definitive Five Solas Series edited by Matthew Barrett for Zondervan (which I often quote here). Locally, Derick Parfan also wrote Five Solas, One Gospel, in Tagalog-English, which demonstrated the continuing relevance of these doctrines specifically to the Filipino churches.

The Solas stand together, and each one is both an answer to Roman Catholic errors and our all to sinfully human tendency to believe that we somehow deserve or can somehow contribute to our own redemption:

Sola Scriptura is an appeal to the primary authority of Scriptures, rather than the Pope, creeds, and church councils, in the life and doctrine of all Christians. Sola Gratia denies that man has somehow merited on his own salvation.²¹ Sola Fide denies that righteousness is infused to us, or that human works and effort are corequisites to salvation. Solus Christus denies any other savior or any other faith, and denies that Mary serves as a “mediatix” or “co-redemptrix,”²² but rather, affirms that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation, and thus, should be the sole object of our faith and worship.

Finally, Soli Deo Gloria denies that we somehow contribute to God’s redemptive work (and therefore merit some glory, however small). Rather, our “glory” is in the Lord and his saving work. It is a call to give glory to God, who alone deserves it. Indeed, as Van Drunen closes his book on the glory of God, he rightly states that:

“Yet what a high privilege we enjoy in that God is pleased to glorify himself through the salvation of poor sinners and to make us instruments of the manifestation of the glory that belongs to him alone.”²³


 

¹ https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4G.HTM

² Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, Zondervan, 2016 p.34

³ https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14539a.htm

⁴ Quoted from Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, p.40

⁵ Martin Luther, The Misuse of the Mass, as quoted from Barrett

⁶ Augustine of Hippo

⁷ Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, Zondervan, 2016 p.45

⁸ Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Edition, Baker, 1998, p.271

⁹ Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1st Edition, Zondervan, 1994, p.73

¹⁰ This outline is from John MacArthur’s chapter titled Counseling and the Sinfulness of Humanity, in Introduction to Biblical Counseling, John MacArthur & Wayne Mack (eds.), Word Publishing, 1994

¹¹ Carl Trueman, Grace alone: Salvation As A Gift of God, Zondervan, 2017, p.48

¹² The New City Catechism, Question 30, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/new-city-catechism/what-is-faith-in-jesus-christ/

¹³ JI Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale, 1993, p.723

¹⁴ Martin Luther, in his 1535 commentary on Galatians

¹⁵ John Calvin, Antidote to the Council of Trent (1547)

¹⁶ Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification, Zondervan, 2015, p.122

¹⁷ C.f. James Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, Crossway, 2010

¹⁸ New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition JD Douglas, et. al, IVP, 1982, p..423

¹⁹ -ibid.-, p..424

²⁰ Come Praise and Glorify Our God, Sovereign Grace Music (2012)

²¹ Technically, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the primary importance of God’s grace in salvation, but functionally, it interjects human effort to make someone a “worthy recipient” of such grace.

²² Cf. https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/mary-coredemptrix-mediatrix-and-advocate-5409

²³ David Vandrunen, God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, Zondervan, 2015, p.171



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