Christians around the world are celebrating a momentous occasion this October—500 years of Reformation truth. And one of the most clear messages that came out of the Protestant Reformation can be distilled into five simple statements known as “The Five Solas.”
Five key reformation truths called Solas (or “alones” in English) make up a complete picture of our salvation: for we are saved by Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, and God’s Glory Alone.
Though these truths come straight from Scripture, they were long forgotten in the early 1500’s before Martin Luther began his quest toward assurance that his sins were forgiven by grace through faith. When this idea finally dawned on him, Luther said, “The gates of paradise swung open to me, and I was altogether born again.”
Once and for all, these five reformation truths spell out how we are truly saved. When we look to Scripture alone, it tells us that salvation is by grace alone. The way to receive that grace is by faith alone. And the one we put our faith in is Christ alone. Finally, as the last sola says, that’s worth praising God for … so let’s give all the glory to Him alone!
You can listen to the full audio series Here, or continue reading for a brief introduction to these five important truths of the Christian faith.
1. Sola Scriptura (or “Scripture Alone”)
Scripture alone doesn’t mean there’s no use for anything other than Scripture. We should always look to Scripture as part of the Church, and as part of a community looking to God’s Word together.
When we say Scripture Alone, we mean that when it comes to what Scripture speaks about, it’s true and authoritative. It’s not the ultimate Science textbook or a manual about human anatomy—it’s God’s revelation of redemption in Jesus! Everything we need for a godly life, a life that loves and follows the Lord, can be found in Scripture.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:16-17
2. Sola Gratia (or “Grace Alone”)
In the Bible, grace is disruptive. It destroys and overturns the way we normally think things should be. It says that our perception of our own lives and and how we fit in this world is upside-down. I think we often want God to be big in love and small in righteous judgment. But the measure of His grace is exactly the measure of his righteousness. Grace is not God helping those who help themselves; grace is God helping those who hate him and are hostile to him.
The basic meaning of the grace God gives to us is happiness, pleasure, joy, and merriment. To experience this grace is to experience a spontaneous good pleasure in God’s spontaneous favor toward us. It’s His undeserving, unearned love and kindness.
This kind of grace is always given from a great person to a smaller person—and it’s free. It’s free because the lesser person doesn’t deserve it; in fact, he deserves the opposite. God is not moved to love us because of our value or because of our loveable-ness, or because of our trying hard. And He doesn’t withhold his love for us because of our hostility or disobedience or lack of care from him.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9
3. Sola Fide (or “Faith Alone”)
When the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it’s not just talking about the naughty things we’ve done. It’s saying that deep in our hearts, our dreams, and our desires, we are hostile to God, and therefore we aren’t able to do anything to contribute toward our salvation. As one pastor recently put it, “The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sins from which we need to be forgiven.”
That’s why faith cannot be a personal ability. It’s all receiving. We receive the gift of God. Real faith has no interest in itself. It points away from itself to something else. Because the power of faith is only as strong as the object that we believe in—and for our salvation, that faith must be in Jesus Christ.
“We are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” — Romans 3:24
4. Solus Christus (or “Christ Alone”)
The Church in Luther’s day had started thinking about merit as if it were stored up in a giant bank account. You could borrow from it or make a transfer from a more worthy person to a less “meritorious” person. But that’s not the picture the Bible paints for us. I’m thinking here of 2 Timoty 1:9, where it’s very clear that the only merit that counts for anything is Christ’s merit.
Paul says that God the Father …
“… saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” — 2 timothy 1:9
We see here that Christ alone is our merit. If my salvation rests on my own merit, then I would be a goner. My only hope is found in Jesus’ righteousness given to me by grace when I am united to Christ alone. But there’s another beautiful side to this—Christ’s sacrifice is final. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, there is no continual, ongoing propitiation of sins.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” — 1 Peter 3:18
5. Soli Deo Gloria (or “To the Glory of God Alone”)
You might recognize this sola from some of the music by Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s present in some of his lyrics, and it’s also what he would sign when he was finally satisfied with a piece of music. Bach is quoted as saying, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Isn’t that powerful?
As Paul told the curious outsiders at Athens, we live and move and have our being in the Lord. It’s not just the big things that are from God, Paul says ALL things are from the Lord. From the joy you feel when you read a story to your grandkids to that hearty Thanksgiving dinner we consume each November, everything is from the Lord. And, for that, we give thanks and glory to God alone.
Even more, the greatest gift of all is from the Father:
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” — Romans 8:32
About the Author
As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God At Work.
Most of the thoughts above are taken from broadcasts of Haven Today. Corum Hughes serves as the editor of this blog and coordinator for Haven’s social media content. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Corum lives in Boise, ID with his wife Molly.
Discover the story of the former monk who sparked the Reformation. Told through a seamless combination of live-action storytelling and artistic animation, Martin Luther’s daring life is presented in extensive detail while still making the film relevant, provocative, and accessible.
Produced and just released by Haven Ministry’s Stephen McCaskell, this highly acclaimed 90-minute documentary will transport you back to the definitive moments that impacted the Church today. It will challenge you to a bolder faith and a greater passion to see the saving truth of Christ go into the world. This documentary needs to be watched and shared with small groups and in churches.