Sola Gratia

In recognition of this month marking the 500th year since the Protestant Reformation, we are working our way through the five "Solas" that formed its beginning. Today we are looking at Sola Gratia, Latin for “by grace alone." The Reformers maintained that the sinner is saved by the grace of God, His unmerited favor, alone.


This was to answer one of the main questions during the Reformation, which was, “do we contribute anything to our salvation?” Does salvation require God’s grace, plus some natural ability within us, or is salvation a free gift apart from anything we do?” Do we naturally choose to love Christ, or is our love for Jesus a gift of God? 


The Reformers saw in Holy Scripture that in our natural sinful condition we would always reject God, unless God by His grace first changed our hearts. They saw this by looking to God’s word and submitting to it. 


 For example in Ephesians 2:8-9, one of the classic texts on this idea is:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Jesus says in John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”


Ephesians 2, again, says:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him

 While we we’re dead in our sins, God graciously moved toward us, gifting us with new life. While we had a heart of stone he gave us a heart of flesh. While we had no spiritual life he gave us new birth from above. Spiritually speaking, we are cold corpses in the ground without Jesus. We can no more draw near to God than a frozen corpse can summon the strength to get out of its grave.


When Lazarus was dead, rotting in the tomb, Jesus called to him “Lazarus come out!” and he walked out. He did not raise himself from the dead, it was complete grace toward him. Lazarus contributed nothing in his resurrection.


Does our flesh help at all? No. Grace is a gift, not earned, not merited, not deserved, one-sided. We don’t make any addition to grace. This is grace alone. This is Sola Gratia.


But, Why does it all have to depend on grace? Why couldn’t it be 99% God and 1% me? Does it really matter? Couldn’t I just be almost dead? Dying, but not a corpse? Paul answers this, again, in Ephesians 2:8-9:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

One of the reasons it’s all grace is “so that no one may boast.” Apparently I am so arrogant, we are so arrogant, full of pride, eager to boast, that if we contributed anything to our salvation, we would boast and brag about it. If we stood before the massive ocean of God's grace to us in Christ Jesus, but contributed just one drop to that ocean, we would fixate on that one little drop of our own work, our own merit. “Look at my drop. Look what I did. Hey everybody, look at me, God did you see this?! Pretty awesome huh? Its a nice drop.”


God says, "NO! By grace you have been saved. And this is not your own doing!” This is the kind grace that allows no boasting.


Maybe a good way to understand how deep grace alone needs to penetrate our prideful hearts is to ask yourself: Why do you follow Christ, and your neighbor, who has heard the gospel not follow him? I have a good friend who I’ve shared the good news of Jesus several times, but he’s indifferent to Jesus, Jesus is not his Lord or treasure.


Why did I repent and believe and not my friend? Why do I have faith? Was I wiser, more righteous? We know its sinful to reject Christ, so am I saved because I am less sinful? Did I have a natural heart that wasn’t as stony? A natural spirit that wasn’t as dead? If there was something naturally in you, apart from Gods grace, that made you trust Jesus, than that’s something you could boast about.  This is why it has to be all grace. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, "What do you have that you did not receive?” If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 


Lazarus didn't come out of the grave boasting that he helped Jesus raise him from the dead. He was raised from the dead and he came out praising God. As Charles Spurgeon puts it, "Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth, and shuts it once for all."


Grace alone is like a megaphone from God reminding us to be humble, Sola Gratia reminds us to beware of the boastful pride in our own hearts. And thank God there is no boasting. Because of grace alone we can get rid of our ego, abandon our pride, ditch all posturing and boasting, and we can rest, rest in God and his sovereign grace alone.


But if we're not humble, we do not understand grace alone. If we boast in anything except Christ, we don’t understand grace. Grace alone, Sola Gratia, is not a motto or slogan, it’s all we’ve got. And this reminds us of our need to repent. Please pray with me.

Prayer of Confession

Father, in your eternal wisdom you knew the depravity our sin would bring, and that when we sinned against you we would truly die. You say in your word that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God."


And in this same wisdom you made salvation to be by grace alone, to protect us from trying to boast in front of you, the Almighty God. This was a great mercy. We confess, Lord, that we scorned this mercy and despised your grace, We have given theoretical approval to grace alone, but this has not made us humble. With our mouths we admit that we do not deserve your love or mercy, yet in our hearts we consider ourselves better than on our brothers and sisters. We view some people as so wicked that they are beyond your reach of grace and others, as so good that they deserve it. And this is a great evil.


Lord, you know how we idolize ourselves, how we puff ourselves up in front of you, you know how self-centered we are that we would stand in front of your ocean of grace and look for drops we can boast over. But there are none. Forgive us, Oh God, have mercy upon us for we are arrogant boasters. And we know, Father that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.