Having looked yesterday at the great passage by James about the role of faith and works, today we take off from that to jump to the third of five “solas” of the Reformation – Faith Alone.
The “five solas” – commonly referred to as the five cries of the Reformation – summarize the teachings of this era of church and world history. It was exactly 500 years ago yesterday that Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Did this really happen that way? Maybe. It was a place to post notes for discussions and debates, etc. Certainly this writing was published and spread widely, thus setting ablaze a theological discussion that continues to our time.
Understand that these five statements were not precisely written by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin or any of the other great lights of the Reformation. Rather, these five summaries have been penned centuries later to summarize the handful of major teachings that changed everything. The Reformers would surely agree with these statements, written in Latin terminology…
- Sola Fida – by faith alone
- Sola Scripture – by Scripture alone
- Solus Christus – through Christ alone
- Sola Gratia – by grace alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone
Faith – defined in Scripture as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
It is that “not being able to see something” part of faith that makes it difficult.
It is one thing to step out onto a bridge over a deep gorge when one is able to see that it is well-built and has been around for quite some time, but it is another thing altogether to jump out of an airplane with a parachute (so far as you know) that is behind you – having been packed properly by some person you in faith presume knew what he was doing.
The natural proclivity of mankind is to believe that one must work to earn something, to make it happen versus trusting that someone else has done something for us. And over the years, teachings have come along that erode the faith alone component with a listing of duties and rules to keep. In Luther’s time, it particularly centered around the church using the sale of indulgences to fund construction and other operations. This devalued the true gospel of faith alone.
Here is a great quote from the eminent theologian J.I. Packer …
So, where Rome had taught a piecemeal salvation, to be gained by stages through working a sacramental treadmill, the Reformers now proclaimed a unitary salvation, to be received in its entirety here and now by self-abandoning faith in God’s promise, and in the God and the Christ of that promise, as set forth in the pages of the Bible. Thus the rediscovery of the gospel brought a rediscovery of evangelism, the task of summoning non-believers to faith. Rome had said, God’s grace is great, for through Christ’s cross and his Church salvation is possible for all who will work and suffer for it; so come to church, and toil! But the Reformers said, God’s grace is greater, for through Christ’s cross and his Spirit salvation, full and free, with its unlimited guarantee of eternal joy, is given once and forever to all who believe; so come to Christ, and trust and take! (The full article can be found HERE.)
We can surely be thankful for the blessing of faith alone, being able to trust in a work already completed by a perfect human substitute. This sets us free from worry and guilt that we may not be doing enough, setting us free also to do much out of gratitude for the blessing we have received, even if we cannot see the full reward of it at this time.