Last blog post I had briefly explored the wonderful truth of how Christians are saved by the works of Christ for the rebel sinner. This instruction, found in God’s Sacred word, is come to be known as sola fide.
Now we turn our attention to another one of the five solas that was highlighted in the Reformation, and that is sola gratis, which translated in English means “grace alone.”
What exactly does sola gratia teach? Theopedia gives a definition below:
“Sola gratia, one of the five Solas of the Reformation emphasizing that our justification before God and our resulting salvation are both solely by the sovereign distinguishing grace of God and not dependant on any action or condition provided by man.”
This glorious doctrine is written by Paul to the saints in Ephesus, which says:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph. 2:1-4 NASB).
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit in the passage above, gives us several reasons why it had to be by God’s grace:
- Mankind is dead in trespasses and sins: Simply put, mankind cannot choose God because they are dead. Not physically dead, but spiritually dead. The ideas, thoughts, and concepts mankind has about God are all wrong. Mankind’s actions, thoughts, and words towards our actions are not altruistic. In fact, the reason mankind is “dead” is because all men are “trespassers” and “sinners.” This is mankind’s being, and very nature. Dogs bark, cows moo, and sinners sin.
- Mankind follows the world, flesh, and the devil: Mankind’s nature is sinful, and mankind is trapped, unable to choose God because mankind practices the deeds of the spirit of this age and its rebellion. Giving approval, by nature, to the things God despises and hates. In addition the devil, who is called the “prince of the power of the air” in this passage, is the father of lies (cf. Jn. 8:44), mankind does exactly what its father does. The devil lies, deceives, slanders, and murders…and so does mankind.
- Mankind deserves the wrath of God: There is no one who is a “good person” before the eyes of God. All of mankind, because of its flat out rebellion against God, and because mankind refuses, by nature,to love their neighbor, are referred to as being “children of wrath.” In effect, this is what all of mankind has earned by works: The anger and wrath of God. Paul highlights this truth in his letter to the Roman saints:
“There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18 NASB).
There is no amount of “good” one can do to earn favor, or righteousness, before God. All men have been born dead in trespasses and sins in thought, word, and deed. Even mankind’s altruistic and philanthropic attempts are done through a sinful nature. From doing good things so one may be noticed by men, to false religions and religious movements, to “little white lies” one tells, to gossip, slander, and murder. All of it is sin before the Almighty, which God, due to His just and holy nature, must punish.
However there is good news, found in verses 4 and 5:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (NASB).
All mankind deserves death and eternal separation from God by the lake of fire. Yet God, due to His great mercy, choose out of His own will to act on behalf of the sinner who could not redeem, or rescue, themselves from the wrath of God. Paul explains that God made those who believe alive together with Christ, emphasizing that salvation is by grace (and grace alone) that a sinner is saved. Grace is given as a gift undeserved for the sinner, because the sinner has earned the wrath of God.
There are many other verses that speak of the wonderful grace of God, and how it has saved the sinner from the wrath of God:
10 “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:10-11 NASB emphasis mine).
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many (Rom. 5:14-15 NASB emphasis mine).
8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:8-9 NASB emphasis mine).
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:20-21 NASB emphasis mine).
There are also many First century Fathers that wrote of this wonderful truth of Scripture. Some of these include Jerome (347-420 A.D.), who in his book Epistle to the Ephesians wrote this about the work of God:
“We are saved by grace rather than works, for we can give God nothing in return for what he has bestowed on us.”
John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.) in his work Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians says this about the grace of God when he writes,
“God allowed his Son to suffer as if a condemned sinner, so that we might be delivered from the penalty of our sins. This is God’s righteousness, that we are not justified by works (for then they would have to be perfect, which is impossible), but by grace, in which case all our sin is removed.”
Marius Victorinus, who lived in the forth century, had this to say about being saved by God’s grace alone when he comments,
“The fact that you Ephesians are saved is not something that comes from yourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not from your works, but it is God’s grace and God’s gift, not from anything you have deserved. … We did not receive things by our own merit but by the grace and goodness of God.”
Salvation is given to men, by faith, as a free gift. The sinner does not, and cannot, earn salvation, nor does the sinner deserve salvation from God. Grace is given as a free gift, to rebel men and women, to come and be reconciled to God, in Christ Jesus. If mankind is born dead in trespasses and sins (and mankind is!), and salvation in Christ Jesus had to be earned, then there would be absolutely no hope for mankind at all, and the lake of fire would be an imminent, and eternal, destination for all mankind.
Thank our sovereign and merciful God because of sola gratia, this scenario is only a hypothetical, and not reality.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!