Today I want to speak to speak to you about one of the Solas of the New Testament, Sola Gratia, which simply means “by grace alone.” One of the thoughts that crossed my mind as I began to think and study this topic was,
“Do I really need to preach on this?”
“It’s such a basic theological concept, certainly everyone understands it.”
Certainly it is a foundational theological concept that is vital to our salvation and the health of our churches. It can also be simply stated and understood. However, we should not let the simplicity of this truth allow us to drop our guard and become lackadaisical about it.
As it is with all the basic truths of the gospel we must guard them, study them, deepen in them, and learn to love them and live them. Apathy to Biblical truth and theology is one of the greatest passion killers and spiritual drains in the church. Our churches don’t need a different music style, more professional musicians, or more cleverly designed stages. What they need is to go deeper and longer and farther in the study of God’s Word. This is what brings life change, this is what creates passion, this is what helps us grow in our faith!
So as we look at this basic yet vital truth let us not think that we already know it but rather let us look deeply into God’s Word to view the rich colors of God’s grace and the intricate patterns of his kindness towards us.
Let me give you 4 reasons why we need to seriously study and guard the doctrine of grace today:
- People are confused about grace
Grace is a common word and it’s rare in our society that someone actually understands its theological significance. The first definition in the dictionary of grace is:
“Elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action”
This kind of grace is nice but please don’t confuse God’s grace with polite manners and niceties!
- God’s grace is mightier than a roaring lion
- It breaks down walls of traditions
- It’s sews up wounded hearts
- It reaches to the depths of hell
- Where it finds you and me.
- God’s grace is marvelous and scandalous all at once!
- Many people falsely believe that God freely gives his grace to all
Thus millions believe they are recipients of God’s grace when in fact they are very far from his grace and they will receive God’s judgement and wrath instead of his grace.
This ought to be reason enough for us all to feverishly study our Bibles first to make sure we in God’s grace and secondly to understand how we can effectively communicate the true message of grace to those who do not know it or do not understand it.
- Millions labor under the deception that God’s grace must somehow be earned.
Thus, they toil and sweat under the load of their own sin hoping that someday, somehow they will do enough to earn God’s favor. The canons from the Council of Trent show us how far removed the Catholic Churches teaching is from Biblical truth.
“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.”
If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that in order to obtain the remission of sins it is necessary for every man to believe with certainty and without any hesitation arising from his own weakness and indisposition that his sins are forgiven him, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema.
- Man’s very nature and history teaches us that grace is unnatural to us
Thus true grace is abhorred by those who don’t have Christ, and the moment we stop studying it, teaching it, preaching it, living it, writing, singing it we find a way to slip works in the back door.
I. The Character of God’s Grace (Grace upon Grace)
Before we look at the “Sola” aspect of Sola Gratia, let’s take a deep look at the character of God’s grace.
- His grace an integral part of his glory
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John opens his gospel with a masterful literary and theological picture of the incarnation! He shows us how Jesus, the Word came down to dwell among us, “literally” pitched his tent!
If you remember there was really only one other time that God came down and in a way dwelt with men. That was in the Book of Exodus. What we find is this entire first part of John 1 is an allusion to Exodus 20 and Exodus 34 where Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. And so here we have these to events both compared and contrasted.
What we first notice is that God’s grace is not something that only shows up in the NT.
5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Remember this is still in the giving in of the Law and what we see is that God describes himself with adjectives like, merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and forgiving!
Now we come to the Gospel of John and we see something very similar. We see God coming down. He’s called the “Word” which is a reference to his revelation and to the 10 commandments which were literally called “The WORDS”
Let’s also remember how God revealed himself to the Israelites, he came down with fire, and clouds and earthquakes, they caught a glimpse of his glory. Now also John tells us that when Jesus came in flesh that they also caught a glimpse of this glory and what did they see? They saw grace!
Grace is an integral part of God’s glory and essence. God isn’t graceful just because he decided to show grace to some people, it is part of his essence. He is a graceful, merciful God! Often people say that the God of the OT is vengeful and angry. While certainly we see his anger we what we also see is his grace. And wherever we see his grace we find that his grace is greater than his wrath! His grace overcomes and removes his wrath! So we see the comparison that his love is to thousands and his judgement to the 3 and 4th generations!
- His grace is inline with his truths
When we think of grace we can easily make the mistake of thinking that grace is simply not giving punishment, overlooking crimes, or choosing not to judge the wicked. However, God’s grace doesn’t exactly work that way.
You see if were to come up to you and punch you in the gut and then walks in a mutual friend and he asks you what happened and you just say, “Oh, it’s nothing, just some bad gas!” Well that would be a lie. Yes, I would get off the hook but it wouldn’t take care of the problem, you’re still hurt and I’m not more likely to punch you again when your friend leaves the room because I know I can get away with it!
Grace without truth is a sad and ugly thing and it results in all kinds of gross perversions. Grace without truth is a lie that covers up sin with more sin and results in even more sin! God’s grace is not like that, God’s grace is in sync with his truth! In order for grace and truth to not contradict each other something must be done about sin.
- Jesus is the catalyst that allows the elements of grace and truth to mingle in perfect harmony.
- No other person or method, or religion could do this
- Only Jesus provided both a just solution for our sins and grace to those who believe in him.
When we think about grace and especially when we talk about grace is it vital that we do it inline with truth. This includes two main truths.
- The truth that we are sinners.
Without a Biblical understanding of sin there can be no understanding of grace.
- One of the reasons we have such a weak view of grace is because our church culture rarely talks about how deadly and terrible our sin really is.
- If we do talk about sin we talk about it in a general or non personal sense,
- “Our culture is really going down the tubes”
- “There’s so much pain and suffering in the world”
- We are more likely to talk about our
- Lack of knowledge
- Than to actually admit that we sinned, we were evil, and we had evil intentions.
- When we fail to see sin as personal evil, when we fail to see sin as all encompassing, when we fail to see sin as deadly, when we fail to see sin in contrast to God’s holiness then it will be impossible for us to
- When we divorce the idea of sin from the idea of grace we end up with a weak grace that may be kind and nice but it has not awe behind it, no marvel to it, no amazingness about it!
- Grace is amazing because our sin is so hideous! If you want to have a better handle on God’s grace then you need to spend a little time allowing God to open your eyes to the putredness of your own sin.
- This is exactly
- The truth that grace is found only in Jesus
- John is clear about this, he says specifically:
- Joh 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
- We must not be afraid of this truth.
- His grace is unending
John describes Jesus grace as “grace upon grace”
15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)
16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
“Xapis anti xapis”
In Eph 2:7 Paul calls it “the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness towards us.”
The grace of Jesus as and unending, ever multiplying, never running out kind of quality! Why?
Because Jesus himself is unending, undying, and almighty. It only makes sense that he would produce a grace that is inline with his essence.
But that had to be the quality of his grace. If his grace could run out on you can you imagine the kind of life that would be? Unfortunately many millions of people live with that fear. They view God’s grace as limited and you never know when it might run out. As a result it keeps them coming back to the church, repeating their religious ceremonies, saying their special prayers, all in hopes that they can do enough so that God’s grace won’t run out on them.
Let me tell if you God’s grace could run out on you it would run out on you! There would be no hope for any of us! Without this promise of grace upon grace we are damned to hell, there is not a one of us could hold his breath long enough and manage to hang on to a limited grace!
- His grace is more powerful than the Law.
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Law is good, without it we would live in a very dangerous world. Yet, law doesn’t have the power to save, Law doesn’t give grace, it gives you a standard and shows you your faults.
As I mentioned earlier grace can not be understood apart from our sin, so God gave us law so that we could see our sin more clearly! From the Law we see that we do not make the cut!
Here’s something to think about. Knowing the Law is never enough. Do you remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees?
Joh 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
Why is it not enough to know the Scriptures? Because even when you know them and even if you want to obey them and you try to obey them you’ll find that you can’t and at times you don’t want to obey them. So the Law can give knowledge of right and wrong but it can’t give the power to choose the right and do the right.
It’s like all these diets, weight loss plans, and health regimens. You can read every book and watch every YouTube video on how to cut sugars, eat more greens, and get plenty of exercise.
- His grace is undeserved and cannot be earned
“Buy 1 get 1 free” is not how grace works
God doesn’t just “make up the difference”
There is no difference to make up.
II. Why “Sola” Gratia is so important?
- Only “SOLA Gratia” properly takes into account our deadness without the grace of Christ.
Eph 2:1, 4-7
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Not only here in Ephesians but also in Romans 6, Colossians 2, as well as in Eph 4 Paul describes our state without Christ as “dead.” This is the strongest possible language he could use to indicate our inability to provide some saving means on our own, even partially.
He doesn’t limit the deadness to :
- Your legs
- Your hands
- Your head
- He says you’re Dead in your sins in which you once walked
This is an all encompassing deadness. “Walk” in Ephesian especially is used to indicate the entire life/life style of someone.
- SOLA Gratia gives proper glory to God.
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
- Sola Gratia puts our salvation our works in the right place
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not 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, that we should walk in them.
Without Sola Gratia we do grave damage to the faith.
- It can lead to a life of fear never knowing if we’ve done quite enough to be saved.
- It can also lead to a life of pride thinking we have done enough to be saved.
- It robs us of the joy of true thanksgiving
- It promotes all kinds of overbearing and legalist doctrines and practices
- Self induced poverty
- Living in caves, without running water and electricity
Sola Gratia frees us from these burdens and tells us that we no longer have to try to earn our salvation but rather we can simply work out of a deeply grateful heart.
This is why when certain Jews in the early church began preaching that you must be circumcised or follow other aspects of the law in order to be saved Peter and the church leaders quickly put this false teaching to rest.
10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
III. How can we practice Sola Gratia?
- We rejoice
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
- We become slaves to righteousness
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
- We treat others graciously
Eph 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- We make no other requirements for salvation
- Not church memberships,
- Not baptism,
- Not the sinners prayer,
- Not first cleaning up the obvious sins in our life
- Not going to church
- Not taking communion
- Not donating money
- Not helping the needed
- Not giving your life to ministry
- Not reading the Bible
There isn’t a thing we can do to add one single more drop of grace to our lives then that which Jesus has already done. We must carefully and patiently explain this as we share the gospel.