The Reformation: Wednesday - Sola Gratia
Yesterday, Jeremy posted on Sola Fide - by faith alone. Today we introduce a similar doctrine, Sola Gratia - by grace alone. The subject of the doctrine of faith alone is the believer, he or she is the one who has faith from which comes justification, whereas the subject of the doctrine of grace alone is God. God is the one who extends his grace to our dead souls. These two doctrines work with one another, but it's good to separate them in understanding that the mighty of grace of God propels us, as a gift from God, into a life of responding faith. Romans 3:23-25a is one place where this key doctrine of grace is discussed:
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."
Grace saturates every page of Scripture, but one particular place to turn is the book of Ephesians. Some of my favorites verses of the Bible are Ephesians 2:8-10, though that entire chapter and largely the whole letter confirms that human beings are dead in their sins. It doesn't say that we are kind of "losers," or we are "dropping the ball" when it comes to the moral life, but rather, that we are dead men. This indictment is heavy, but accurate, and elevates God's grace because it is such a radical, unmerited gift. Romans 3 tells us:
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Our connection to Adam (Romans 5) secures this truth: that all people are mired in sin. Have you ever met a perfect person? I have not, and even our worldly suspicion that all people are "basically good" is just a weak comparison to ourselves, and we are correct - compared to our sinful hearts that we know quite intimately, others are doing okay. But the measuring stick according to God is quite literally Jesus himself. And now we are poor beggars of goodness only - we are dead in our sins. And there is nothing we can do about meriting salvation for ourselves outside of the amazing grace of God. And we are to understand his grace, so that no man should boast (Eph. 2:9); we can no longer think ourselves as superior to other people based on our moral performance - we have not earned that at all. With them we live on the same plane - it is only because of God's grace that we can ever receive any other outcome, and that should spurn us into rejoicing, but also into humility. Augustine reminds us wisely:
"If you are to receive your due, you must be punished. What then is done? God has not rendered you due punishment, but bestows upon you unmerited grace. If you wish to be an alien from grace, boast your merits."
It is good for us to note, as we're writing in light of the anniversary of the Reformation, that the Roman Catholic Church also believes that we are saved by God's grace. It is the "sola" however, that has been their objection. We claim that Scripture teaches that we are saved by grace alone, while the Roman church would claim that we are saved by God's grace and our works. The complicated doctrine of penance, limbo, or any intermediary by which you have to "work out your salvation" discredits the finished work of Christ on the cross. He is not still up there suffering for me, and neither will I, the believer, have to suffer for my sins. Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, he has washed it white as snow.
As the final verse of Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds us, now we are to go on to good works, works that God has provided for us. We live in response to this salvation that is a free gift of God: a life of works, changed hearts, and faith.