Four-hundred and ninety years ago yesterday, All Hallows’ Eve, Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, ninety-five propositions for debate about the nature of the church and the way of salvation. He could not have imagined what would follow, as what became known as the Protestant Reformation began shortly thereafter and eventually revolutionized western Christianity.
Out of this astonishing move of God there developed a set of five biblical doctrines that the Reformers believed were a needed clarification about the central truths of how God intends humanity to be in relationship with Him. These five doctrines were stated in Latin (as was most church doctrine in the sixteenth century), and have come to be known as “The Five Solas,” using the Latin term for “only” or “exclusively” in each doctrine. Stated briefly, these five truths are as follows:
“Sola Scriptura” – the truth is found “only in scripture;”
“Solus Christus” – salvation is mediated “only by Christ;”
“Sola Gratia” – God grants salvation “only by grace;”
“Sola Fide” – we receive salvation “only by faith;” and
“Soli Deo Gloria” – in all things, “to God alone be glory.”
Over the course of the next several weeks I want to share with readers of this column how we can live by these five defining teachings of biblical salvation. For today, let’s look at why these five doctrines are important as the defining “boundaries” of salvation as taught in Scripture. By placing these truths into one sentence, we can integrate them as follows:
Salvation is revealed only in Scripture, available only in Christ, extended to humanity only by God’s grace, received only by faith, and accomplished exclusively for God’s glory.
When we combine these truths this way, we can see that they summarize not only the way of salvation, but also the very purpose of creation: that everything centers on God. It’s not about us. Humanity is not the center of all things. God is. He is both the founder and the focus of all that exists. Therefore, we can not rightly understand the nature of our existence unless we take ourselves out of the center of our thinking, and direct our attention to God. Thus, “The Five Solas” are an unshakable foundation for God-centered living, which is the only way for us to be delivered from the undeniably horrifying fruit of our own sin-stained natures.
Another way of putting it is that “The Five Solas” show us Who God really is; and because they show us who God is, they also show us who we are. He is the Benefactor; we are the beneficiaries. He is the Fountain; we are the vessels. He is the Giver; we are the recipients. He is the Holy One; we are sinners. He is the Savior; we are the saved. Or, as Romans 11:36 puts it, “For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”