One of the phrases most associated with the sixteen-century Reformation is the Latin phrase “post tenebras, lux” (“after darkness, light”). The Reformers used these words to contrast the biblical view of the gospel over and against the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. “Post tenebras, lux” has been used traditionally as a summary under the heading of the Five Solas of the Reformation. Starting with this issue of Theology for Life, we will be considering one of these Solas per year, beginning with Sola Gratia, “by grace alone”.

For the Reformers speaking of Sola Gratia, this doctrine was critical for a right and fully rounded biblical understanding of salvation in Christ. Martin Luther (1483-1546 A.D.) said, “But no man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone…then he has come close to grace, and can be saved.”

A right and biblical understanding is vital because of the propensity of the human heart to focus on performance and human effort to get right with the Lord. For this reason, we must be clear about what Sola Gratia is, because the purity of the gospel hangs in the balance.

Salvation is a gracious redemption accomplished for sinners. From all eternity, the Triune God agreed in covenant to save a people for Himself. The Father chose to elect a people for the Son (Luke 22:29; Ephesians 1:3-14), the Son agreed to merit salvation for that people (Psalm 2; John 3:35; 14:31; 15:9), and the Holy Spirit applies salvation to His people (Isaiah 63:10-14 Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:14; John 3:5; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15; 20:21-23). Salvation was decreed concerning every Christian, earned for every Christian by Christ Himself, and applied to the account of every Christian because of the Lord Jesus.

To be clear here, Sola Gratia means that salvation for the Christian is based on the gracious love of God in Christ. Paul explains that the salvation of the elect is not based on either our decisions or works, but instead salvation is credited to the gracious mercy of God, gifted to whomever He wills (Romans 9:15-16; 22-23; Exodus 33:19). From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord (Psalm 3:8; 62:1; Jonah 2:9; Romans 8:29-30). The sovereign grace of God does not merely show up before conversion to transform sinners, nor does the grace of God merely show up after conversion to preserve the elect. From the foundation of the world till the never-ending age to come, the Lord holds His Beloved in His hand. Christ will raise all His people on the last day (John 6:41-46). From start to finish, whether we consider election to conversion to heaven, or any other angle of our salvation, salvation is by God’s grace alone.

The people of God are saved by the grace of God alone (Sola Gratia). Yet, we must also emphasize, as the Apostle Paul did (Romans 6:1), that the free gift of God’s grace alone is not a cheap grace, but a costly grace (as Dietrich Bonhoffer discussed in his book, The Cost of Discipleship). This is vital because some may think, “I can live however I want in light of what Christ has done.” Yet, Paul’s response to that in Romans 6:1 and 6:11 is tell us, “May it never be” and to “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.” The reason Paul points this out is to counter the idea that we can live our Christian life however we want, with moral recklessness, thinking we are “all good”, when in fact, we are saved for a purpose—to pursue lives of holiness, honor, and service unto our Lord as bondservants of Christ.

The great hymnwriter, Isaac Watts, captured Paul’s point well when he wrote in his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, saying:

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Think about that the next time you sing of the grace of God.

In this issue of Theology for Life, you will learn about this great doctrine from the Scriptures and the history of the Church. It is our hope that you will more fully understand just how vital this doctrine is in the day-to-day life of the Christian. In this day and age, we desperately need to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Word of God. My sincere prayer is that you’ll come away from this issue of Theology for Life as you perhaps did the first-time you heard John Newton’s famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”, casting yourself afresh on the grace of God in Christ alone. Or perhaps for the first time, you’ll come to Christ by repenting and believing on the grace of God, revealed in Christ alone.

In Christ Alone,

Dave Jenkins

Executive Editor, Theology for Life Magazine

Download December 2023 on Sola Gratia: The Essence of God's Unmerited Favor

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