“The principle of sola fide [by faith alone] is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia [by grace alone]; . . for to rely on one’s self for faith is not different in principle from relying on one’s self for works.”
– Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, p.59
Salvation by Grace Alone, in Luther’s estimation, was the heart of the Reformation. What is it Rome had done that required this radical departure from the Catholic church during these times? They had stood in the way of the door, that is, Christ Himself, and made salvation dependant upon something man had to contribute to the price of his salvation. This is salvation by merit, doing good deeds to get a good outcome. And in fact, Rome went even further into antinomianism and had made it to where people could purchase indulgences, or purchase the ability to sin! What was called Christianity during that day had become utterly grotesque and a radical departure itself from authentic, Biblical, God-wrought Christianity. It had become a man-made religion and departed from the God-wrought covenant of grace, appropriated through faith in Christ. Rome had constructed all forms of idolatry, made it to where people had no access (or ability to read) the inspired Scriptures, and had taken away the very thing people needed to save them: salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. It had become salvation by works. And thus comes the Reformation.
Luther came along, and saw the beauty of Romans 5:1; “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He saw the beauty of the argument in Romans 4 preceding the great statement above, and the book of Galatians, that no man shall be justified by works of the law. No one! These passages amongst several others showed that the heart of salvation rested in the doctrine of Justification through faith alone in Christ alone. But Luther even went on to say that the heart of the Reformation itself had to do not merely with the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, but the doctrine of Grace Alone, or that man in no way contributes anything to His regeneration (the new birth). This is where the argument actually starts. Justification by faith alone is a pillar doctrine that was very pivotal in the Reformation, but the argument begins even before this. Being that all of us are dead in our sin, resistant, rebellious toward God, that no one wants or desires anything of God apart from this new spiritual birth, no one willingly places their faith in Christ for salvation. Luther and many other reformers argued from Scripture that in order to see Christ (let alone trust Him for salvation) your vision must be restored, your deaf ears made able to hear, and your heart surgically transplanted with a new living heart that is responsive to the calls of God unto salvation through Christ. Rome had argued that regeneration came after your faith (along with the works you contributed). But the reformers went back to the Scriptures themselves and showed that in fact regeneration precedes faith. We are first born of the Holy Spirit and then given the life and ability we need to willingly trust Christ for salvation. Apart from this new birth, no one comes to the Father.
If anyone has a problem with this doctrine and believes that we do contribute or cooperate in the regeneration of our souls, I have to ask you a simple question: why did you believe while someone else you know that heard the same Gospel message, didn’t believe? Were you smarter, wiser, more in tune with spiritual things naturally than the other person? (John Hendryx) If you say yes, I was more in tune with God, then you are taking credit for something you added to the price of your salvation. In fact you are saying that you had something within you naturally during your unregenerate state! If you answer no, there was nothing in you that made you a more worthy recipient of God’s grace, then you must affirm with me that a desire for Christ had been wrought in your heart by the Holy Spirit alone prior to your belief, and that apart from this work, you never would have come in the first place. You see, if you do not agree that salvation is all of grace, Grace Alone, then you have something to boast about: “I chose Jesus while this other sinner over here didn’t, and he’ll get what he deserves. But I’m saved because I chose Jesus.” Really? Do you think people will be talking like that in heaven? I think not … But don’t you understand that the only reason you chose has nothing to do with anything you initially did, but it rests on the work of God alone in your heart to make you willing, obedient, and responsive to the Gospel that you then believed?
You see, this is the heart of what the Reformation was about: Grace Alone, Sola Gratia. This is a huge doctrine of Christianity those of us in the church must return to. It strips us of all pride, all trust in ourselves for anything we could ever bring to God’s presence. And something I’ve been thinking about more recently is that people who adhere to synergism, that man cooperates in the work of regeneration, really have more in common with Catholicism than Protestantism. The Reformers admitted that salvation = Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone. Catholicism says that salvation = faith + works + grace, administered through the Lord’s table by the priests. Most evangelicals today state that salvation = grace + faith alone in Christ alone. I would say obviously I agree more with the last statement than the Catholic statement, but there is a gigantic key element missing from the statement uttered by most evangelicals: Grace Alone. Most people will affirm four out the Five Solas of the Reformation: Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, God’s Glory Alone. But many have forgotten the one doctrine that Luther himself said was the heart of the Reformation itself: Grace Alone. Is this not worthy of our thorough examination? Why did any of us place faith in Christ to begin with? If someone believes through faith alone in Christ alone, it is owed purely to God’s grace regenerating their heart of stone to believe in the first place. Otherwise, they would never have turned to Him, but would have continued in their unbelief. Why did you believe while someone else didn’t? God’s grace is all we can answer; anything other than this is boasting in something we did. This is huge and totally changes our worship and love for Christ and His work to give us life and restore our relationship to God Himself! It is indeed humbling to deal with, but it’s in the Scriptures. I challenge any of you who disagree to study it … http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/a … _grid.html We have nothing to bring Him but our brokenness and He will indeed heal us by His wounds. Just as God spoke into existance all of creation from nothing, so also God creates in the souls of sinners that which was not there: a desire, love, willingness, the vision, the hearing, indeed the ability, to believe in the risen Christ unto salvation. Let us return to this foundational doctrine that we may praise God for His grace bestowed upon awful, rotten sinners like us!