An Overview of “Grace Alone”
What is Sola Gratia?
Sola Gratia is the Protestant doctrine that Christians are saved by God’s grace alone. The Bible teaches we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but believers are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:24-25).So what is grace? Grace is the unmerited favor of God given as a gift to those who don’t deserve it. We can’t deserve grace because our righteousness is like filthy rags compared to God’s absolute perfection. God shows grace to those whom he wills to show grace. Paul sums up grace nicely for us in Ephesians 2:1:10:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
So grace is the gift given by God, not earned by man, that brings believer from death to life in him through faith. The saving agent in God’s salvation of his people is grace, and applied through faith alone in Christ alone. The grace of God takes people who were dead in their sin and makes them alive in Christ. This can only happen through the grace of God, his unmerited favor. We cannot earn this grace; if we could, grace would not be grace. Grace is given as a gift to all who believe. There is nothing in us naturally that can produce this grace and favor; it must only come from God.
Why was Sola Gratia important during the Protestant Reformation?
It was important for the Protestant Reformers to recover the doctrine of Sola Gratia because the Roman Catholic Church had an heretical view of the grace of God. The Roman Catholic Church believes there is a “Treasury of Merit” in heaven, which contains the righteousness of Jesus Christ and Mary, in addition to all who have been sainted throughout time. All these earned more than enough merit to pass purgatory and gain entrance into heaven. Their excess righteousness is placed into the “Treasury of Merit”, which can be used to supplement the meritorious deeds of Catholics on earth now. The entire theological system of the Roman Catholic Church is based on a works-based salvation that contradicts Christian Scripture.
Because of the widespread influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Reformation and recovery was needed. The Reformers sought to recover the biblical doctrines of the Solas, including Sola Gratia, or grace alone. The works-based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church was not only unbiblical, but offered no hope to Catholic people. The Reformers reintroduced salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.
Why is Sola Gratia relevant today?
I believe the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and not of any works of man, is still crucial to the church today. I’ve given some reasons below:
- We Desire Legalism. I think we naturally desire to earn rather than receive. We would rather be rewarded for some hard work than receive something freely given, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. We feel like we have something to contribute, and that we should follow a set of guidelines or laws to be able to receive grace. But salvation comes by grace alone, and not of our works. We must guard our hearts against a works-desire, and remember Sola Fide.
- God Receives all the Glory. If we hold fast to the fact that we are saved by grace and grace alone, we cannot boast in anything. God gets all the glory in our salvation, and we get none. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You can give all the glory to God in your salvation, because it’s evident that he is the one saving you. We don’t give glory and honor to the one that receives a gift, but to the one that gives a gift. It is by God’s gift of grace that sinners are brought from death to life and it is by God’s immeasurable mercies that we are sustained. He alone gets the glory in our grace-based salvation. There is no room for self-glorification in salvation by grace alone. All we’ve done is sin and make salvation by grace alone necessary. Our society is quick to glorify self, but as blood-bought, grace-given people, we should be quick to cry, “Glory to God!”
- We are Free to Walk in Good Works. When we realize the great grace by which God has saved us, we become free to glorify him further by doing the good works he prepared for us beforehand. We know these works don’t justify us, so the pressure is off. Our works can never produce saving faith, but they can glorify God. Once we realize we aren’t justified by these works, we become free – free to work on earth for the glory of God. God’s grace breaks the chains of legalism and works-righteousness and gives his people freedom to do the good works for his glory.
I hope you will take some time to reflect on Sola Gratia today, remembering that you are not saved by your works, but by the grace of God.
To help you reflect on this great doctrine, here’s a great song called “Grace Alone” written by Dustin Kensrue:
You can buy the song here.