On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (written in Latin) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This historical event was not the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, but was a means that started discussions and debates about the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church’s indulgences. After a series of events, Luther’s discussion intensified to a declaration of a defence of the gospel.
Though none of the Protestant Reformers used the specific formula “the five solas” (or “solae”), these mottos convey the message of the Protestant Reformation. The “five solas” are five Latin phrases that summarise the battle cry of the reformers against the corrupt teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The “five solas” are: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). The affirmation of each of these provide the heart of protestant theology.
The two powerful Latin words (Sola Scriptura) reveal that the Scriptures are sufficient in all spiritual matters. Authority for teaching and the message of salvation are found in the Scriptures alone. This was important for the Reformers as they faced the error of the Roman Catholic Church. These two words continue to be a significant truth for the church today. The fact that so many appeal to experience, extra-biblical revelations, mysticism, pragmatism, tradition or philosophy in-order to claim and know spiritual truth is an evident attack against the truth of Sola Scriptura. Many seem to embrace many of the above categories before consulting the Scriptures or even embrace them above and in place of the Scriptures. Such trends sweep through the church and distort the biblical doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. If we are going to know the truth about salvation and know the necessary spiritual truth for godliness we must know and protect this affirmation. Why? Because it is the teaching of Scripture that the Scripture is sufficient for all spiritual matters (cf. 2 Pet. 1:2). The Scriptures alone are sufficient for salvation, sanctification and proclamation (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5).
Despite the effort of many people who try to obtain or maintain salvation by means of works, the words Sola Gratia destroy such a belief. They affirm that the only basis of salvation is the grace of God. The Scriptures are clear on this matter, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). If one is to have a right standing with God, it cannot be achieved or inherited. Instead, it must be given by grace (cf. Rom. 3:24). Justification or the righteousness of God is a gracious gift given by God and there is no basis, ground or merits in ourselves that makes us deserving of justification. What is grace? The term “grace” refers to God’s favour towards those who do not deserve it.
Saving faith does not trust in or rely on one’s own achievements; instead, the object of trust and reliance is the Lord Jesus Christ. Genuine saving faith is the recognition that we have nothing to offer God in-order to be forgiven of our sin and be saved. Faith is God’s appointed means in-order for us to receive salvation. Therefore, faith is coming to God on the grounds of grace – having nothing to offer – and trusting and adhering to Christ as Lord. Saving faith is a gift from God (cf. Phil. 1:29 and 2 Pet. 1:1), and with this gift we cling to His Son.
Alone must be placed in Christ alone for salvation. Without faith “toward the Lord Jesus” (Philemon 5) there is no hope of salvation because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). There is only one saving and sure object of salvation, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ – “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). Thomas Watson accurately said, “As there was but one ark to save the world from drowning, so there is but one Jesus to save sinners from damning” (A Body of Divinity, Banner of Truth Trust, 161). The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour that can truly save people from their sin and the just judgement of God.
To God Alone Be Glory
At the end of Romans chapter 11, Paul proclaimed, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). In this verse God is seen as the source (“from Him“), sustainer (“through Him“) and goal (“to Him“) of “all things“. This is why He deserves all the glory. This is the recognition of those in Heaven, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Our response to this ought to be as follows, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). All social activities, work activities, play, Bible study, relationships, eating, talking – every activity we participate in is to be done to the glory of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism opens with the question, “What is the chief end of man?” and it answers by saying, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”