Sola Two: Sola Gratia

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:38 AM

This is part two in a series considering “the five solas,” the key cries of the Reformation. You can find part one here. Please feel free to discuss, disagree and posit your own thoughts in the comments.

The solas are a series of stepping-stones. Imagine I want to get to point B from point A and a rushing stream runs between those points. Now, I could try to swim across, but the current would likely move me down the river so I'd land at point C rather than B. Let's say point A is the new Christian who wants to come to understand the key doctrines of the Church so as to be able to reach B, a point where one is giving everything that is God's to God (Matt. 22.21). The first stepping-stone to get across the stream is to understand where we ought to get our idea of God from, and we answer that Sola Scriptura, from Scripture alone.

So, we read the Bible and we are told that one must be “born anew” (John 3.3), that is, we must be “saved.” So then, how are we saved? Certainly, this is a key stepping-stone to recognizing what God is really doing, a stepping stone upon which everything afterward hinges. The answer is Sola Gratia, by grace alone.

“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. “
—Romans 11.6 (WEB)

This is a difficult idea. We do not tend to like it. Salvation by grace alone. Here's the bad news: I cannot save myself! Instead, I must receive the grace provided only by Christ in order to be saved.

We don't like to be told that we cannot do something ourselves, and the idea of being told that one is only going to succeed because an authority is going to extend an exception to us would generally make us feel upset. “I'll just do it myself, thankyouverymuch.” Sure, I do not mind if a few violations are overlooked for me, but the idea that I'm dependent on someone doing me a favor to proceed at all is uncomfortable.

But here we are requiring just that kind of exception, that kind of, well, grace:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Romans 6.23 (WEB)

Now that is exactly what I did not want to hear! But since we are told that no one is sinless (Romans 3.10) and the cost for my sin — even just one teeny tiny one — is death, suddenly maybe an exception sounds pretty good. I may be proud, but when I am being led to the electric chair, am I really going to refuse a pardon just so that I can say I did not need to depend on anyone's help? Clearly, I will accept it, unless I just have some kind of perverted death wish.

And so it is with Grace. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”

Next time in my sola series, I shall consider the third motto, which is essential to understanding Sola Gratia: Sola Fide.

Tags: Religion

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5 comments posted so far.

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Posted by Timothy - Apr 11, 2005 | 6:38 PM- Location: Saint Charles, MO

Re: Sola Two: Sola Gratia

Again, this was an interesting post. For a while now, I’ve been interested in the ways we think of/regard interdependence. At least here in Sweden, it is not only when it comes to religion people don’t want to see themselves as dependent. Much of the social achievments during the 1900s are now at risk because people will not see themselves as interdependent within society. This shows itself in the “I mind my business, you mind yours” attitude to things like social and medical security, and ultimately taxes. The religious and social strife for “independence” (I doubt there can be true independence in either) follow each other closely, it seems, at least here in Europe. Can you see the same trends in the states?

Posted by Flip - Apr 12, 2005 | 3:58 PM- Location: Sweden

Re: Sola Two: Sola Gratia

Timothy: Thanks… as you can see, I’ve now answered ‘em. They were good!

Flip: Thanks! Hmm… I’m not sure I see a direct connection between religious interdependence and social interdependence here in the states, perhaps partially because of our two-party system. For instance, as you’ve probably noticed from being around the American Christian blogs, most Evangelicals are Republican, which usually means pushing for less social programs. On the other hands, those who reject Biblical Christianity (and adhere to something more independent — “I’ll save myself”) typically are the ones who support the social programs, etc., by being in the Democratic party.

It’s hard to make too much useful of this, though, because of the fact that there are only two real choices here. Many Christians, myself included, have a very hard time ever voting Democratic due to pro-life issues, even if I did want to support the social programs. And much of the Republican philosophy probably appeals to secular humanists, but they don’t like the GOP’s association with Evangelicals.

I think there is also just a general distrust of the government here in the States as compared to elsewhere. As you probably know, we have a relatively low tax rate and are far less socialized than much of Europe. For my own part, I support social programs in principle, but not in practice, because the U.S. government usually seems to do such a bad job of implementing them. Of course, if that could ever be solved…

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Apr 13, 2005 | 4:07 AM- Location: MO

Re: Sola Two: Sola Gratia

Ah, yes… I see the problem. But would you say it’s the prolife issues that makes most Evangelicals vote Republican? It’s probably the European perspective again (and I’m in no ways learned when it comes to American politics), but isn’t it strange to vote for a party that advocates less social interdependecy and solidarity as a Christian? And would it be impossible to start a third, Christian democratic party, for example? :?:

Posted by Flip - Apr 13, 2005 | 7:26 AM- Location: Sweden

Re: Sola Two: Sola Gratia

Well, Flip, I think it encourages a lot of people to vote Republican. I won’t say it is the only thing that makes me do so. As I said, I have doubts, based on pre-existing social programs, on how well the U.S. government can implement further social programs (and, for that matter, I can guarantee that Americans would revolt if they were told to pay the level of taxes you do in Europe). That said, I have been known to vote for pro-life Democrats when they are available.

Personally, I like the current idea of “Faith Based Initiatives” that is trying to help leverage private charities in providing social services. But, there are many, many flaws here too. Do you suppose that maybe once a country gets to a certain size that it is hard to offer full social services (i.e. we’re approaching 300 million people here)? I really wonder if it should be the government’s job to do these things at all… I’d submit that it might be better if the Church was convicted to provide those services. For the most part, Christians have failed to pick up the ball in this respect.

At any rate, I’m fairly certain the chances of a third party that was successful look dim. The problem is that the two existing parties are so powerful all of the present “third parties” are marginalized. Save for a few exceptions, you’ll find it hard to locate a Libertarian, Reform, Green, etc., in a position of power. A Christian party, would have to face several hurdles: (1) convincing present Republicans that they could actually win, and (2) garnering enough support that it didn’t simply push victory into the hands of the Democrats.

I think what you really need to fix the U.S. problem is to have four or five healthy parties, so that it is pretty certain no one can win a simple majority and thus coalitions are necessary. Until then, the most a third party can hope to do is take away votes from the one major party and thus give the other major party victory. That usually accomplishes the reverse of the intentions. :sad:

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Apr 14, 2005 | 1:34 AM- Location: MO

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