(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
(If you would like to download the PowerPoint presentation for this sermon, Click Here – Sola gratia
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 22, 2017
Reformation Heritage: Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
We are quickly approaching the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517. In recognition of this event which is generally recognized as the match that lit the fires of the Reformation of the 16th Century, we are doing a short sermon series in the morning on the five fundamental doctrines that were recovered in the Reformation, the five solas, and highlighting key men leading up to and during the Reformation. Last week I spoke on Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone and then we examined the life of John Wycliffe in the evening. If you were not here, then get a copy of those materials.
The work of John Wycliffe, sometimes referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation, was taken to Bohemia by some of Wycliffe’s students. Those directly influenced John Hus, whose life we will examine tonight, who influenced Luther, who influenced multiple people. Wycliffe’s work and his sending out itinerant preachers, the Lollards, throughout England kept his ideas alive which sprang forth again with great vigor in the early 1500’s coinciding with Luther.
I cannot stress enough the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, for as I pointed out last week, that is the cornerstone upon which the rest of the doctrines were recovered. Without a return to the authority of God’s word properly interpreted according to its context, the other doctrines would have remained squashed by the traditions and allegorical interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church. (See: Sola Scriptura)
Whenever the supremacy of Scripture is replaced with something else either claiming a superior authority or claiming the exclusive right to interpret the Scriptures, the truth is lost and man is put back into bondage. A key characteristic of every false religion and cult is a claim of something else being superior to the Bible whether that be other writings, a religious leader or leaders, or being the only ones that know what the Bible means. Some groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and a new one in our area, World Mission Society Church of God, are easy to identify due to these characteristics, but others are more subtle. There are Charismatics that claim extra Biblical revelation from God that becomes teaching in their churches or specific instruction to an individual by claiming a “word of knowledge” or “word of wisdom.” Authoritarian preachers in evangelical churches can cross the line when they demand fealty to their teaching alone.
I pointed out last week some of the passages in which Jesus points out the authority of Scripture and its importance. In Matthew 5:17-18 He declares that He came to fulfill the Law and that not even the smallest letter or stroke of it would pass away until all was accomplished. He then warns about annulling a commandment and pronounces blessings on those that keep and teach them. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, He declares that God’s word is truth. Back in John 8:31-32 Jesus explained how to know the truth and its blessing – “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” He went on to explain specifically that this freedom from the bondage to sin including the false doctrines of the religious leaders that ended up promoting sins such as lying and murder.
This morning we will examine the Biblical doctrine of sola gratia, Grace Alone. It is a doctrine that could only come from God because 1) it is against man’s natural pride, and 2) even if man thought of it and desired it, he could not procure it himself. Grace must come from God alone, or it cannot be grace.
Each of the five solas were crucial fundamental statements about beliefs that separated the Biblically based doctrine of the reformers from Roman Catholicism. The historical background is always important in order to understand statements set in history. To say Grace Alone without a clear understanding of the historical meaning of the statement can easily result in interpreting it through the eyes of the present in contexts that result in a misunderstanding of it and a meaning far from what was meant by those who first said it.
Some of you are aware that my son, Jonathan, became involved in a bit of a battle with certain professors at his seminary over this very issue in which historical events are interpreted by the feelings of people in the present instead of what those in the past actually recorded about their reasons and motives for their actions. The issue is very serious and especially so at an institution dedicated to training Bible teachers and preachers because it is a mark of the drift toward liberalism wherever it occurs in any subject. If students are taught to interpret history and literature according to present ideas instead of within their historical context, then that same framework will be applied to the Scriptures. The intent of the author is ignored as literature is then reinterpreted to match the desires of the reader. History is maligned as the actions of those in the past are reinterpreted to fit the latest politically correct ideas. That framework is then used to reinterpret the Bible to support the musings of man and justify sin.
These are real dangers that require us to be ever vigilant to be always reforming. We must always be going back to the fundamental issues and standing firmly against the winds of doctrine that would seek to blow us away from them. We must always be going back to study God’s word and properly interpreting it in its historical and literary context to keep from being shifted off course.
Jesus warned us to expect tares among the wheat. There will be those that falsely claim to be followers of Christ, and the often are not fully recognized until after they have born their evil fruit and caused much damage. The epistles demonstrate that even the elect can often be ignorant or led astray to aberrant and even false doctrine. That is why so many of them are corrective giving both warning of straying into error and giving encouragement toward righteousness.
We begin our study of sola gratia, of grace alone, by setting the development of this Biblical reformation doctrine in its historical context. The Bible is clear that salvation from sin comes by God’s grace alone, but that truth was lost over the centuries as traditions of men replaced the doctrines of God. By the beginning of the 16th Century, the Roman Catholic Church was entrenched within a system that had redefined grace and the means by which it would be received into something quite contrary to what the Bible proclaims.
In the last couple of issues of Voice magazine, which is produced by our church association, IFCA International, several writers addressed both doctrinal and historic issues related to the Reformation. I will be citing several of those this morning and in the coming weeks. I begin with an article by Larry E. Miller, Terms in Roman Catholic Evangelism, in which he points out Biblical terms which are redefined within Catholic theology and practice.
In the same issue, Les Lofquist in his article, Why the Reformation, points out that after he became a Christian he was confused by the reaction of his Catholic friends to his newfound faith in Christ as savior. They would use the same terms he used, but it was obvious that they did not understand those things the same way. He wrote, “Especially baffling to me was the part about grace. I sensed this was the main difference, but my Catholic friends seemed to be saying the same thing about grace as I was. This puzzled me because we ultimately ended up at a different understanding of how to get to heaven. I said it was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They said it involved the church in some way.”
I was a Baptist kid growing up in a predominately Roman Catholic area, and the same things were confusing to me until I was able to learn the Catholic understanding of salvation. The reverse confusion about Protestants exists in those who grow up Catholic. It is still an area of great confusion that has been made worse by Protestant and Roman Catholic Church leaders who try to minimize the differences or make them out to be non-essential. An example of this is the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. A terrible document that tried to increase cooperation between evangelicals and Roman Catholics by recognizing each other as fellow Christians and stop evangelizing each other. I remember thinking when I read it when it came out that those signing it where either ignorant of the Reformation or trampling on all the blood shed by those defending it.
What are these differences between Protestant and Catholic? Frank Eberhardt, who had been a Roman Catholic seminary student preparing to become a priest, summarizes on pages 11-13 in the same issue of Voice what he had been taught and believed in his article, We Believe The Same Way, Right? He wrote;
“As a Catholic I believed that Jesus is our Savior because he died for our sins. I also believed that the Catholic Church commemorates this act of salvation daily through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we offer and receive Jesus (and the grace of the Sacrament needed for salvation) in the form of bread and wine for the forgiveness of sin. I also believed that our parents help us be born again through the Sacrament of Baptism. It was at baptism where we began our life in Christ. As Catholics we make a public profession of faith in Jesus by the age of 18 in the Sacrament of Confirmation. After Confirmation, if we sin we ask Jesus for forgiveness through the mediation of the priest in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.”
He continues, “Every Catholic knows you cannot be saved through grace alone because Scriptures says that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Catholics thus seek to obey the Ten Commandments as a guideline of good works. Knowingly disobeying the Ten Commandments, breaking them deliberately, would constitute a serious sin and the loss of all grace to the soul. Dying in this condition would result in a separation from the grace of Christ for eternity. Jesus our Savior has given to us His Church, the seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments and more as a help to salvation. Leaving or refusing to enter His Church is the only sin that He cannot forgive.”
The doctrinal position of the Roman Catholic Church is that it is the repository of God’s grace which it dispenses through the Sacraments administered by a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. That was its dogma in the 1500’s and remains so today with its various official books of catechism still teaching that God’s grace is received by partaking in the sacraments of Baptism, Penance and Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. Even as late as 1995, Pope John Paul II affirmed the 1545-63 Council of Trent declaring its “conclusions maintain all their value.” Included in those conclusions are the doctrines concerning the Sacraments as the means of receiving the grace of God and the anathemas upon those that reject those doctrines.
As the Reformers returned to the Scriptures as the source of authority instead of the interpretations, traditions and proclamations of the Catholic Church, they kept running into Biblical truths that contradicted the Catholic system of receiving grace through keeping the sacraments. They rejected Catholicism in favor of the clear meanings of the texts of scripture. That is what prompted the counter reformation and the Council of Trent’s proclamations in the effort to reassert the authority of the Church. Sola gratia, Grace Alone, is set against this theology of human merit that permeates Catholicism.
The absolute need for God’s grace begins with man’s utter depravity. Roman Catholic teaching that grace is gained through merit received by participating in the Sacraments contradicts the clear declarations of the Scriptures that even the most sincere human action is still inadequate. In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet declared, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are as a filthy garment.” This truth applies to all people and not just the people of Isaiah’s time. The problem is that man inherits a sin nature tracing back to Adam. Paul states this plainly in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . .” Man is depraved with no righteousness in himself.
David understood these truths. In Psalm 51:5 he states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. David exposes the truth that man’s sinful nature begins at conception. Children are not born innocent. They arrive as sinners with foolishness bound up in their hearts (Proverbs 22:15). David understood his need for God’s mercy praying in Psalm 143:2, “And do not enter into judgment of Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous.” In Psalm 14:2-3 David declares God’s view of man, 2 “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” Paul quotes these verses in Romans 3:10-12 in demonstrating that all men are unrighteous for “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” Man is in desperate need of both God’s mercy and grace.
Paul states it plainly in Titus 3:5 that salvation is “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” The idea that a human can gain merit, God’s grace, by some action he takes is without Biblical merit. The link between faith and works in James 2 is that works are the demonstration of a living faith as opposed to a dead faith that is worthless. That is true even in verse 24 – “you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” – for the context continues with another example of living faith showing itself by taking action. Inserting the idea of works as a means of gaining God’s grace for salvation is foreign to the text and contrary to the clear teaching of the rest of the Scriptures. I will talk more about this passage next week in talking about sola fide, faith alone.
Luther tied grace, faith and the cross together because no human has merit except Jesus Christ Himself. Salvation comes by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Calvin agreed and added a stress in his theological writings that God is a debtor to no one and salvation must be by grace alone lest God be robbed of His glory (Themelios, Vol 35, No.1).
The Scriptures are clear that the definition of grace is that it is God’s unmerited favor extended to sinful man. The most often cited passage on this is Ephesians 2:8-10. But the full impact of those verses can only be understood in its context which begins in verse 1.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The flow of the passage is simple enough, and it absolutely destroys the idea that grace could be merited by anything man does. That begins in verse 1 with being dead in trespasses and sin. Anything that is dead can do nothing for itself. A corpse cannot even rot by itself. It rots because it cannot even protect itself from bacteria or bugs attacking and feeding off it. Verses 2 & 3 describe the total depravity of man encompassing what he does, what he desires and what he thinks compounded by Satan’s influence.
Verses 4 and 5 state the origin of salvation is God’s rich mercy arising out of His great love that is extended to man while he is still dead in his transgressions. The text is specific that it is God’s actions upon man that makes him alive together with Christ. Again, a corpse can do nothing. It is completely passive. It is God that takes the most radical action possible and makes alive what was dead. This is where Paul first makes the statement, grace you have been saved” which he repeats in verses 8. Again, God is the one taking action and you are the passive recipient of His action with the perfect passive participle here indicating it was done to you in the past and continues to the present.
Verses 6 & 7 states God’s further actions in raising up those He saves and seating them with Christ in heavenly places for the purpose of demonstrating His glory. Specifically, that for all time the exceeding riches of His grace would be seen in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Again, there is no human action taken here. We are the recipients of what God does, and its purpose is His glory.
Verses 8 and 9 are the capstone of this passage in defining salvation by God’s grace. The only human element here is faith which is in the noun form instead of a verb. The action again is that of God to man who receives. Furthermore, all of it is the gift of God. Those who try to interpret faith here as an action upon to which God responds with His grace are shut down by the unequivocal statement in verse 9 that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The definition of grace is made firm. It is God’s unmerited favor extended to man. There is nothing man can do to merit God’s favor. God extends it to man because of His own attributes of mercy and love despite man’s sinful state and active rebellion against Him.
Verse 10 explains the relationship of works to salvation, 10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The order of salvation, faith and works is crucial. Works are a result of salvation by God’s grace and the evidence of true faith. Whenever works are placed before salvation and faith, they are efforts to merit salvation and are the evidence of self-righteousness which rejects God’s grace. Human merit cannot be added to God’s grace for salvation comes by God’s grace alone or it comes not at all. Romans 11:6 states this point directly, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” The Roman Catholic definition of grace and its means of receiving it are heretical for they are in direct opposition to the clear meaning of God’s word.
There are many other passages that also establish this doctrine of sola gratia, Grace Alone. Romans 3:21–26 is especially helpful stating, 21“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Justification comes as a gift from God by His grace based in the atonement of Christ without any merited favor of keeping the law.
Conclusions and Warnings
While this historic doctrine of sola gratia arose in opposition to Roman Catholic dogma as the truths of the Scriptures were rediscovered, it remains a crucial doctrine today. God’s dispenses His grace to sinners on the basis of His own character of love and mercy and never due to human merit. Good works are the result of and an evidence of salvation and never a basis for it. We must boldly continue to proclaim, Grace Alone! We dare not comprise with any theological system that adds to grace.
Grace Alone means we must continue to stand firm against Rome’s system of merited grace through the Sacraments recognizing it directs people on the broad way leading to destruction and away from the narrow path leading to eternal life. We must lovingly, yet boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel of grace to those entrapped in its system that they may be truly saved and know God’s peace and the assurance of having the Son and therefore also having eternal life as stated in 1 John 5:10-13.
It also means we must stand firm against any teaching that seeks to add human merit to God’s grace in receiving salvation. That is common among the cults and groups with aberrant theology as they add their own requirements for what is necessary to receive salvation. These vary tremendously from group to group. Some error comes from an over emphasis on one particular Biblical doctrine to the point that they contradict the gospel. An example of this are groups that stress baptism to the point they cross the line from the Biblical command for believers to be baptized because they are saved as a symbol of their faith to a requirement of being baptized in order to be saved. Others have gone much, much farther and have returned the works of the Law Paul warns about in Galatians. Then there are those among supposed evangelicals that come up with their own standards you must meet in order to merit God’s grace to save you.
Jesus said that He came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), and that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Salvation is by God’s grace because man cannot merit it for himself, and if he could, Jesus would not seek him, call him or die for him.
We hold to the authority of the Scriptures Alone for they teach that salvation comes only by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Never yield on those essential truths.
Sermon Notes – 10/22/2017
Our Reformation Heritage: Sola Gratia – Grace Alone: Selected Scriptures
The works of ________, the Morning Star of the Reformation, influence Hus and Reformers of 16th Century
______________________is the cornerstone which allowed the other doctrines to develop
Whenever the _________of Scripture is replaced by something else, truth is lost and man returns to bondage
Jesus upheld the _______________of God’s word – Matt. 5:17-18; John 8:31-32; 17:17
The historical background is ____________to understanding the meaning of an historical event or writing
Interpreting literature and history ____________their historical context results in the same with Scripture
Be vigilant to be “always _______________” for tares are among the wheat and the elect can be lead astray
The truth of grace alone was __________as centuries of traditions replaced the doctrines of God
Grace, ______________favor, was redefined to be a means of meriting favor to attain eternal life
Using the same terms but with different definitions causes ______________- and acceptance of heresy
RCC teaches it is the repository of God’s grace which it dispenses through the __________by an RCC priest
The RCC still affirms the Council of Trent including its _________upon those who reject them – Protestants
As the Reformers returned to the _________as their authority, they began rejecting unbiblical RCC doctrine
Paul quotes David and concludes that ____have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God – Romans 3
Salvation does not come by any human _________, but only by God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit – Titus 3:5
James 2 links works as __________of a living faith contrasted with a dead (false) faith, not as merited favor
Luther and Calvin both tied grace, faith and the cross together as the __________means of salvation
1 – What is dead can do _____________ for itself
2 & 3 – Man’s __________encompasses what he does, desires and thinks compounded by Satan’s influence
4 – the origin of salvation is ____________ rich mercy and great love
5 – it is God that takes _____________ to take what is dead and make it alive by His grace
6 & 7 – God’s further actions taken to _____________ the surpassing riches of His grace and kindness
8 – Salvation comes by God’s actions of grace and ________of it is His _________
9 – There are no works, including _____________, that bring about salvation
10 – Works are a ____________of salvation, not a means of its attainment
Romans 11:6 – Grace alone is God’s unmerited favor. The RCC definition is ________________
Romans 3:21–26 Justification is a gift of God’s grace through Jesus’ atonement apart from ___human merit
Conclusions and Warnings
Grace alone remains a __________doctrine today to be lovingly and boldly proclaimed without compromise
We stand firm against the RCC system while proclaiming the gospel of __________to those entrapped in it
We stand against any system adding human ________as a means of receiving salvation – cults or aberrations
The gospel is perverted when a work that follows salvation is ___________for salvation. Example: Baptism
The gospel is _________whenever the Mosaic Law or any human standard is added to salvation (Galatians)
Man cannot merit salvation, and if he could, ___________would not seek him, call him or die for him.
Scripture teaches ________is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “grace” is used. 2) Discuss with your parents the meaning and importance of God’s grace alone for salvation.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the importance of the work of John Wycliffe to the Reformation that came more than 130 years after his death? Why is sola scriptura, Scripture Alone, so critical to reformation doctrine? What results whenever the authority of Scripture is replaced by something else? What did Jesus believe about the authority of the Scriptures? Why is historical background so important to understanding an historical event or historical literature? What is the result of interpreting history or literature apart from historical background? From authorial intent? What is the normal meaning of “grace”? What is the Roman Catholic definition of “grace”? By what means does a Roman Catholic receive grace? In what ways has using different definitions of grace caused confusion between Roman Catholics and Protestants? What have been some of the results? What is your reaction to knowing that the RCC still confirms the anathemas pronounced by the Council of Trent against those who believe Protestant doctrine? What is the relationship between the necessity of God’s grace and man’s sinful nature? What is the extend of man’s depravity according to the Scriptures? What did David understand about man’s sinfulness? What was Paul’s understanding? Can man merit God’s favor by anything that he does? Explain the flow of Ephesians 2:1-10. Can something dead take any action? What is man’s nature and ability according to this passage? How is grace defined in this passage? What is the purpose of salvation according to this passage? What is the origin of faith according to the context of this passage? What is the relationship of works and salvation according to this passage? If man could merit salvation (be righteous) by his own works, would Jesus seek, call or die for him? Explain. What should our reaction be to Roman Catholic teaching? What should our reaction be to people who are in the Roman Catholic church? Can you give examples of other religious groups that pervert the gospel by adding some element of human merit to receive salvation?
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office