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Sola Fide and Sola Gratia

We commemorate the reformation in its 500th anniversary by affirming sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, sola Deo gloria. The Word of God reveals that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

Last week we saw the authority for the reformation in sola Scriptura, that Martin Luther and other reformers stood on the Word of God alone as their only authority and in fact the only binding authority on all Christians.

It was in His study of the book of Romans in the original language, Greek, that Martin Luther received the understanding from Romans 1:17 that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)

Martin Luther was a very righteous man. He worked hard at his righteousness. He practiced the strictest of asceticism prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. He flailed, he fasted, he read, and he prayed. But he lived with not a sense of peace and fulfillment in this righteousness, but depression, fear, and constant internal struggle to be more righteous! 

In Romans one, in the Bible, he found truth that the practices of the Roman Catholic Church had never made know to him. 

Luther could have expressed this truth:

“Here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own. The righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine.” A righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

What Luther discovered, what led to the new birth, was sola fide. The faith by which the righteous live is a “gift of God” not a worked up faith in one’s own worked up righteousness but God given faith in God’s righteousness!

Luther was to later write in further understanding of God’s gift of faith,  “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.” 

in Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin was following events in Germany, He began to set forth in preaching and in writing the need for reformation of the church, emphasizing the Scriptural doctrine that salvation is by faith alone through grace alone.

Calvin wrote:

“Since we shall never be clothed with this righteousness of Christ unless we first forswear any claim to a righteousness of our own, faith alone, as it looks only to God’s redemption in Christ and claims nothing for itself, is the exclusive means by which we may appropriate that gracious judgment of God which is our justification.”

In denying the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church Calvin accounted no saving effect in any of the moral goodness of man or in any good works. He, in fact, asserted that when appeal is made to works or character for salvation it is an insult to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the glory due Him for His grace. The full measure of forgiveness of sins and justification in the righteousness of Christ is known only by sola fide and sola gratia.

The underlying doctrine to Calvin’s writings is the sovereignty of God. His call to reform the church was to exalt the work of God and diminish the work of man on every hand.

These truths have been affirmed by baptists in the 1644 Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and now in  Articles 3-11 of Sovereign Grace Church Statement of Faith.