Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Solas of the Reformation - Sola Gratia

Grace Alone!
When the Reformers pondered the question “How does someone become a Christian?” Their answer was that we are saved by grace alone.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2: 8-10).

Human works do not come into it at all. The Roman Church of the 16th Century gave far too place for human effort in salvation. Sola gratia was an attempt to bring Western Christendom back to its roots in Augustine's theology of grace.
In his book The Lost Message of Jesus, Steve Chalke strongly disagreed with the biblical teaching on original sin and the radical sinfulness of the human heart. He prefers to speak of the “original goodness of man” as if the fall never happened. No wonder he has such a weak and inadequate view of the atonement. Salvation is not of works – but grace from beginning to end.

It is God’s loving grace that moved him to save sinners. Our salvation can be traced back to God’s sovereign and gracious choice in election. God did not choose us because he knew we would believe. He chose us as sinners and determined in Christ to give us faith unto salvation. Paul wrote of God,

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel
(2 Timothy 1:9 & 10)

Arminianism teaches that God chose to save people because he foresaw that they would repent and believe. This undermines sola gratia. Biblical Calvinism emphasise the invincibility of God’s electing love. Donald Macleod reflects,

The popular view of the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is that Arminians teach that God loves all men whereas Calvinists teach that God only loves the elect. This is a gross oversimplification. We are talking of two entirely different kinds of love. To the Calvinist, redeeming love is God’s determination to actually save. Far from believing that God loves all men in this sense the Arminian does not believe that God loves one single human soul in this sense. For him, God’s love does not go beyond offering salvation. The last word lies with the human will. The Almighty stands helpless outside the door of the heart, the handle on the inside. He is defeated by man’s No! Electing love, by contrast, means that God doesn’t take No! for an answer. He opens the door, not roughly, from the outside, but gently, from the inside, so that we come to Christ ‘most freely, being made willing by his grace’. (p. 215 Behold Your God!, 1995, Christian Focus Publications)

By grace we were chosen. By the grace of God, Christ tasted death for every man, that he might bring many sons to glory. (Hebrews 2: 9 & 10). By grace we are drawn to Christ and by grace we are kept to the end.

We sing with John Newton,

Amazing grace how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!

Salvation by grace alone is the basis of true godly living. Holiness is a matter of glad obedience to a gracious God, not trying to earn our salvation by works.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)

This healthy emphasis on grace alone humbles man to the dust and exalts the saving love of God.

Sovereign grace o’er sin abounding,
Who like we Thy praise should sing?
Augustine and the Reformation here
Union with Christ and the life of holiness here , here & here
The triumph of grace in Christ's victory over the devil here
This is part 4 of a series on the "sloas" that arose from a couple of posts on Biblical Protestantism (see below)

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