Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Soli Deo Gloria

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Soli Deo Gloria

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  This post would normally be posted on Tuesday, but since tomorrow happens to be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I will be writing a completely different article on that subject tomorrow.

The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

Today’s focus is on the fifth sola—Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone). If the five solas are built upon the firm foundation of sola Scriptura—it’s appropriate that we come to understand that the work of God in saving sinners is all for the glory of God alone.  When Johann Tetzel and others would say, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  This was to ascribe glory to man’s alms or the Roman Catholic Church’s authority to make the transaction.  This is nothing but a blasphemous doctrine.

Why Soli Deo Gloria?

The work of salvation is a work of God alone.  Sure, man responds to God in the process, but not until the work of God has already been accomplished and put into motion.  Man is dead in trespasses and sin and cannot work his way to God, will his way to God, worship his way to God, or pay his way to God (Eph. 2:1-5).  Salvation in many evangelical circles has been reduced down to a three step process whereby people make a decision to follow Jesus by asking Jesus to come into their heart.

All throughout the Bible, we see that salvation is something far different than a human decision.  Salvation, as Jonah said, “belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).  John the apostle, in his Gospel put emphasis on the fact that sinners are born of God (John 1:12-13).  He makes it clear that we are not born again by the will of man, the will of the flesh, by blood relationships, or any other common belief.  We are saved when we are born of God.  John returns to that same thought as he writes to a group of churches in his epistle known as 1 John.  He writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

Robert Robinson penned these famous words in 1758:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

As the Bible places great emphasis upon the fact that God saves sinners and that the work of salvation is a work of God in divine mercy saving a people who not only don’t deserve to be saved, but are completely unable to save themselves—it only makes sense that salvation is for the glory of God alone.  That’s why the Reformers pointed back to God—not the pope, priests, saints, or any other religious hierarchy.  Salvation of fallen sinful man is to the praise of God alone.

The next time you hear people giving a congratulations to sinners who have just been rescued by the sovereign grace and mercy of God—remember that the sinner didn’t do anything to deserve or earn salvation.  Instead of praising the new Christian—we should praise God.

Last of all, let it be known that for us to praise God and for God to desire the praise and glory is not in the slightest degree sinful.  We should never equate the football player who struts into the end zone with arrogant chest pounding displays of human effort with God who desires the praise of His people.  When people desire to be praised it’s an ugly thing, but when God desires to be praised it’s a wonderful thing.  God’s jealousy is not birthed out of arrogance and sin.  Instead, it flows out of the purity of God’s holiness (Ex. 20:3-5).

Revelation 4:11 — 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.

 

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Solus Christus

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Solus Christus

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

Today’s focus is on the fourth sola—solus Christus (Christ Alone).  As we’ve already discussed in regard to the “formal” cause of the Reformation (sola Scriptura), sometimes people have a different idea of what the Reformers intended by the popular slogan.  As noted, it was never intended to undercut any solid creed or confession of faith that’s rooted in the Scriptures.  It does, however, point to the fact that the Scriptures are the supreme authority for life and faith.

The same thing is true with the other solas.  People often misunderstand what they were intended to communicate.  The same thing can be stated of solus Christus.  When a person reads over the slogan quickly and forms certain opinions, they may be left to think that the slogan teaches that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone when that isn’t the meaning of the slogan.

Defining Solus Christus

During the days of the sixteenth century, the offer of indulgences at a price was a popular practice.  This was at the heart of the controversy that moved Luther to pen his Ninety-Five Theses.  A man named Johann Tetzel was commissioned by Pope Leo X to go and collect money from town and village to town and village. Apparently, he was a very good communicator and a slick salesman.

He would enter towns and with the papal coat of arms and the papal bull or proclamation of indulgences on a gold-embroidered velvet cushion. He would stand adjacent to an erected cross and as people would gather, in the open-air he would proclaim fearful stories about dead loved ones of these townspeople being in purgatory—in intense punishment.  He would say things such as:

Do not you hear the voice of your wailing dead parents and others who say, “Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, because we are in severe punishment and pain. From this you could redeem us with a small alms and yet you do not want to do so.” Open your ears as the father says to the son and the mother to the daughter…”We created you, fed you, cared for you and left you our temporal goods. Why are you so cruel and harsh that you do not want to save us, though it only takes so little? You let us lie in flames so that only slowly do we come to the promised glory.”

As the Reformation sparked at Wittenberg and was set ablaze at Worms, soon these Latin slogans were being used to identify where people stood on very important doctrinal distinctions.  For Luther, he made his stand publicly at the Diet of Worms.  He wanted the whole holy Roman empire to know that he was standing on Christ alone.  It was Christ who performed the work necessary to save him—and nothing else was necessary from the work of human effort.  Certainly no money could be donated in order to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Misunderstanding Solus Christus

When we use the slogan “Christ alone” in our sermons or our songs today, we are not communicating that Christ is the only member of the Trinity who is involved in our salvation.  We are saved by the work of Christ alone—His atoning death on the cross (1 John 2:1-2).  It is Christ who became our substitute and as the Lamb of God—He took our sins away (John 1:29; Ps. 103:12).  However, our salvation is a work of the Trinity.

You may have crossed paths with a “Jesus Only” Pentecostal at some point in your life.  They emphasize the need to be baptized in the name of Jesus only.  They have many other troubling doctrines, but they refuse to baptize in the name of the Trinity because they reject the doctrine of the Trinity.  Not only is this a heretical teaching, but it diminishes the work of God the Father and God the Spirit in the work of salvation.

Before the foundation of the world, God chose a people unto Himself (Eph. 1:3-14).  The Father did not look into the future to see who would choose Christ and then at that point—elect them for salvation.  The Scripture is clear—if left all alone sinful man would never choose God.  So, God doesn’t need to look into the future to see what anyone will do, He knows that dead sinners will remain dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-10).  God looks at a sea of guilty and depraved humanity and He chooses to save a people for his glory from all tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations on planet earth (Rev. 5).

The Spirit of God is likewise involved in the salvation of each sinner who responds to God by faith in Christ alone.  Consider the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us the Bible (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16).  How else would we know God and know our sinful state without the Word of God?  We must also recognize that the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of conviction of sin—causing us to be aware of our sinful state—and literally bringing us to life spiritually (John 16:8-11; John 3:1-21 with an emphasis on John 3:7-8).  In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul writes these words, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

This is why we baptize in the Triune formula—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We stand firmly on the doctrine of solus Christus—and as Paul reminded the church at Ephesus, we will never be able to boast about our salvation because it’s not built on a foundation of works (Eph. 2:8-9).

 

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Fide

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Fide

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

Today’s focus is on the third of the solas—sola fide (faith alone).  Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) that was considered to be the “formal cause” of the Reformation while sola fide—justification by faith alone was considered to be the “material cause” and reason for protest.

As Luther was progressing as a monk, his soul was unsettled.  He continued to battle with an unsettled spirit and his father confessor, Johannes von Staupitz,  felt that Luther should embark on a pilgrimage to Rome—the holy city for the Roman Catholic Church.  It would be there that he would visit different monasteries and see the different relics which would allow him to receive certain indulgences and spiritual blessings.  In Rome at this time in 1510 the city of Rome boasted of having the following relics:

  • Rope with which Judas supposedly hanged himself
  • Branch from the bush that once blazed with the visible presence of God
  • Chains of Paul
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral and fountain is in Rome – where the Roman Catholic Church claims that at the spot where Paul was beheaded—when it hit the ground it bounced three times causing three springs to spring up from the ground.

Most committed Roman Catholics would travel to Rome and be overjoyed with the “spiritual” experience of a lifetime.  That was not the case for Martin Luther.  He would see Rome as a “city of harlotry.”  Luther witnessed the false and empty worship of the priests, sexual perversion by priests who were engaging in adultery and homosexual sins with prostitutes.  On top of this was the increasing intensity of indulgences and all of this troubled Luther.

This would serve as a starting point to the eventual Ninety-Five Theses that would be nailed to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in 1517.  Even then, Luther was unsettled and concerned, but he merely wanted to engage in a public debate—one that would be local in Wittenberg, Germany.  God had other plans as we know—and that document was published and spread all around the surrounding regions and it turned into a national (and eventually and international) debate.

In 1520, Luther would receive an official papal bull calling for him to recant of his positions.  At this point, Luther has already become a Christian and what was starting out as a localized conversation was now about to erupt into an all out war.  What was the driving issue?  It was the “material cause” of the Reformation—justification by faith alone in Christ alone without any mixture of works.  This stand would come to a boiling point at the Diet of Worms where we see the Reformation as we know it begin to take shape as a definitive protest.  At the heart of this protest was the issue of sola fide.

Defining Sola Fide

When Paul writes to the church at Galatia, he addresses the false teaching of the Judaizers that had crept its way into the church.  He called out the false teachers and fenced up the truth of the gospel by delivering a powerful statement of damnation to anyone who would dare to add anything to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Gal. 1:6-10).

In Galatians 3:10-14, Paul made a very important statement that solidifies the position of the apostles and the teaching of Jesus.  He writes:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:10-14).

Years later, the Roman Catholic Church would come along and add a lengthy list of works to the work of Jesus on the cross making them required teaching and practices in order to receive salvation.  This is precisely what the Judaizers were doing in the days of Paul in Galatia.  Paul said, “Let them be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).

Misunderstanding Sola Fide

While Paul was correct to stand firm and to defend the pure gospel, what about works?  Are good works a bad thing?  Should we not emphasize any need for good works in the life of a believer?  Certainly Luther was correct in his passionate protest against the offer of indulgences in exchange for money in his day (along with a long list of other perversions), but what about works?

Often times, we allow the pendulum to swing too far in our protest.  We must be reminded of what James said in the New Testament.  James writes, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).  We must also remember the language of the New Testament regarding perseverance of the faith.  All who persevere in the faith to the end will receive salvation, but those who don’t persevere will be lost in their sin and judged eternally.  What does perseverance involve?  It involves hard work, diligence, pursuit of holiness, and a lifelong attempt to become more conformed to the image of Christ than God.

The diligent effort of a Christian to work and serve God will not take away his sins.  The pursuit of holiness will not save a sinner.  In fact, we must remember to balance these truths.  Unless God causes a person to be born again, that individual will never have a desire to serve, worship, kill sin (mortify the flesh), or become conformed to the image of Christ.  That is a work of God in the new birth that causes a sinner to desire God and to hate sin.

Good works cannot save anyone, but all of God’s children should strive to live a life that honors God in faithful perseverance of the faith.

Sola Fide

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Gratia

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Gratia

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

How can the phrase, sola gratia (grace alone) be misunderstood and misapplied by Protestant believers?  In the attempt to stand in a continual protest of the works based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church, we must continue to point out that God saves sinners by grace alone—not based on the value of any works.  However, we must never diminish the need for good works to be present in the life of a child of God.

Defining Sola Gratia

When the Reformers used the phrase, sola gratia, they were insisting that God saves sinners based on God’s divine grace alone.  The idea was nothing new, in fact it was taken from the clear teachings of Scripture.  In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle Paul makes his point clear—salvation is by grace alone, apart from works, so that no one will be capable of boasting.  As the Reformers were protesting the selling of indulgences and various other practices of the Roman Catholic Church—their motivation in sola gratia was to point upward to God and make a clear point that God saves sinners by his grace and anything added to God’s grace is no longer grace.

Misunderstanding the Catholic Church

When people make the claim that the Roman Catholic Church does not believe in the saving grace of God, that actually is a misrepresentation of the Catholic’s position.  According to official Roman Catholic doctrine, they do embrace the teachings of salvation by the grace of God.  However, where the problem arises is when Protestants attach the word “alone” to the statement.  The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sinners are saved by the grace of God, but not all alone.  For instance, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257:

“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . “

While it should be clear that baptism is a work of man in obedience to God’s command, sometimes it is overlooked because it’s one of the ordinances of the church.  However, if you continue to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2010, you will see these troubling statements regarding works:

”The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation,”

At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church made this frightening statement to anyone who embraced salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone:

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

Misunderstanding Sola Gratia

Not only do people often misunderstand sola Scriptura, but they likewise misunderstand and misrepresent the intent behind sola gratia.  While we as helpless sinners are saved by God’s grace alone, the grace of God should never be alone in the life of a believer.  In other words, works do not save a sinner, but good works are present in the life of a believer as a direct result of the changed life by the grace of God.  Hear Paul in his letter to the church at Galatia:

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:16).

The Judaizers had crept into the church in Galatia and were teaching a salvation by faith in Jesus, but they added circumcision to the equation.  Suddenly, it was no longer salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins.  They added works to the formula.  In doing so, they changed the gospel from God’s gospel to something else—and Paul gave a stern warning to such practices in the opening words to the church at Galatia (see Gal. 1:6-9).

As we turn over to James, we see language that perhaps seems to be contradictory.  James argues for works to be present and active in the life of a believer.  James writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).  James’ point is clear—the works of a person’s life reveals their true spiritual condition.  Faith without works is dead and lifeless which points to the reality of a person who has never experienced the grace of God.

Do you have good works that flow out of God’s grace in your life?  Charles Spurgeon once wrote the following statement, “Although we are sure that men are not saved for the sake of their works, yet we are equally sure that no man will be saved without them.” [1]

Don’t misrepresent sola gratia by denying the need for good works and a pursuit of holiness in the life of a child of God.  At the same time, never lean upon good works as a means of your salvation.


  1. Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, 4:265.
Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Scriptura

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Scriptura

As we near the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I will be writing a 5-part series on the five solas.  However, it will not be a series that merely seeks to define the historic principles in an academic manner.  Instead, the series will focus on how easily it is to misunderstand and misrepresent the intention of the five solas that were birthed out of the Reformation era.

The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

The doctrines of grace, faith, Christ, and God’s glory all stand or fall based on their connection to Scripture.  This is why the five solas begin with sola Scriptura.  When we read creeds and confessions of church history, we notice that they often begin with an article on the Scriptures.  All doctrines and positions will emerge from a specific connection to the Scriptures.  Either they are coming out of the pure teachings of the Word of God or they are loosely connected and tied to both culture and the Scriptures at the same time.  The Reformers were champions of God’s Word and stood courageously upon the firm foundation of the Scriptures.

Defining Sola Scriptura

The idea of sola Scriptura was known as the formal cause of the Reformation.  The intended purpose of the statement points to the fact that the only infallible rule of faith and doctrine is God’s infallible Word.  For the Roman Catholic Church, faith and doctrine are governed by a three-fold system including the Scriptures, tradition, and the Magisterium.  The Roman Catholic Church’s tradition involved a body of beliefs and practices that were established as a direct fruit of the ruling office of the pope—the Magisterium.  Since the pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra as the one who is the successor of the Apostle Peter’s seat—all such decisions are right and good.

Man of history were raised up by God to stand in direct contrast to that type of teaching.  Since such ideas are found nowhere in the Bible—the Reformers believed them to be abusive in authority and to pervert the pure gospel of Christ.  Sola Scriptura points to the Word of God as the only infallible rule of faith and practice and the singular source whereby all other doctrines and practices must be judged.

Misunderstanding Sola Scriptura

If you haven’t ran into someone who claims that they can have a personal relationship with Jesus without the local church—give it time, you will run across such a personality in your lifetime.  Perhaps you’ve ran into the one who refuses to submit to God given authority in the local church suggesting that he doesn’t need to submit to pastors because he submits to God through the Scriptures.  Have you ran across someone who dismisses any need for creeds, confessions, and statements of faith?  Often you will hear that type of belief represented under the umbrella of a certain slogan that says, “No creed by the Bible.”

When we come to the idea of sola Scriptura, we must be clear—it in no way dismisses the value of creeds or diminishes the need for confessions.  When it comes to a creed or confession, the church or organization is drawing a line in the sand and stating with absolute clarity where they stand on important doctrines taught in the Bible.  It’s a way of being transparent and open rather than ambigous about the doctrinal convictions of a church or organization.

The Reformers never intended anyone to use sola Scriptura against the use of rich confessions of faith that act as a spotlight to inform people about specific doctrinal convictions that are based on the clear teachings of the Word of God.  The Reformers did intend for all such statements, creeds, confessions, and church practices to be judged by the clear teachings of God’s Word.  While theologians may be quoted in sermons and books may be collected in a church’s library for use by the members—no scholarly voice or body of writing should transcend higher than God’s Word.  They may be useful and profitable in many ways, but never higher in authority than God’s infallible Word.

James White, in his excellent book titled, Sola Scriptura, writes the following:

Sola scriptura literally means “Scripture alone.”  Unfortunately, this phrase tends to be taken in the vein of “Scripture in isolation, Scripture outside of the rest of God’s work in the church.”  That is not its intended meaning; again, it means “Scripture alone as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.” [1]


  1. James White, Scripture Alone, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2004), 27-28.