Sola gratia goes hand in hand with Sola fide. These two doctrines are often combined with Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria in one sentence to articulate the formula for the protestant view of salvation. The phrase goes like this, “We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.” Blake has already discussed sola gratia, so I will do my best not to rehash what he has already written. There is however an inseparable bond between sola gratia and sola fide. Let’s consider it in the form of a question: Is it grace that gives birth to faith or faith that gives birth to grace? The reformed protestant view is that grace gives birth to faith, or to be a bit more precise, that faith is a gift of grace and should it not be bestowed on us by God, we would never possess it. Ephesians makes the argument,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9
Notice the major thrust of the argument, Paul is disarming the Christian, he is reminding him of what he was so as to make certain that all boasting is eliminated. The passage begins by pointing out that each person who bears the name Christian started out “dead in his trespasses and sins”. He goes on to make clear that those who are now aligned with Christ were once aligned with “the prince of the power of the air.” He reminds those who delight in following Christ that their previous allegiance was to satisfy the passions of their flesh by “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” After Paul reminds them of their fallen state he points their eyes to the glorious work of God. God takes wretched creatures, gives them life, seats them with Christ so that he might show the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”. He concludes this section by pointing us to the source of all these blessings, the grace of God in Christ. He has removed every opportunity for boasting; He has fixed our eyes on the love of God and the glory of Christ, and we stand in awe, asking, “Why me, Lord?” Then we hear one boasting saying, “Aha it is my work of faith!” Let us confirm with the verses cited, “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Many would argue that grace is the gift, but it cannot be received until faith is expressed. Consider the passage as a whole. Paul begins his argument highlighting the inability, enmity, and wicked allegiance of man. Would he then backtrack in verses 8-9 to discuss fallen man’s contribution to salvation? The faith that the Christian expresses toward God is most certainly the Christian’s faith, but it is the Christian’s faith by grace, not of ourselves. It is born in us, it is not born of us. Richard Sibbes says it this way,
“God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives“Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed
All that is required God gives. Grace gives birth to faith, and it is by faith that we lay hold of all the promises of God. Faith is not only believing that God exists but it is believing that he exists and rewards those who seek him. It is not only believing in God but believing God. I’d like to present to you one of the glorious promises that we lay hold of by faith, namely Righteousness by Faith alone.
Righteousness by Faith Alone
When I was sixteen I began to have questions concerning the state of my soul. I was converted at this time, but my soul was in conflict. Much like the character Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, I still felt the burden of sin on my back, weighing me down. Every fault, every failure felt as if Mount Sinai was going to tumble down on my head and crush me. I heard the good news of Jesus’ substitutionary death. I knew my sins were forgiven, but I still felt the weight of the law. I still felt its demand for perfect righteousness. About this time I was starting my freshman year of college. I decided that I would journal through the New Testament, writing one page for every verse. In a moment that I will never forget, I sat down, pen in hand, and began to write concerning Romans 1:16-17,
“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
This verse was the start of my understanding of Justification by Faith alone. I remember reading the words “believes” and “faith to faith” with the greatest of intrigue. It hadn’t hit home just yet, but this was the first blow. As I progressed in Romans, I saw how Paul beat the nail of guilt until it had pierced me through. I felt the weight of the Law. I knew I was forgiven of my trespasses, but oh the burden I felt to maintain and keep myself righteous before God. Then, when I felt the task too great, when I felt as though my chest was too burdened by the law to even inhale, I read
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”Romans 3:20
I knew at this point that the Law of God was doing exactly what it was meant to do in my soul. It was crushing me, pointing out my every fault and failure, but in its pointing out of fault and failure and in its crushing weight it was doing something else. It was teaching me, it was training me, it was reminding me, it was actually preparing me to have all its weight carried away. Paul continues his argument with a sentence that must be outlined with the brightest of golden beams,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”Romans 3:21-22
Do you see it? The glory, the golden beams. Paul reminds you of fault and failure, he reminds you of inability so that you may all the more savor this blessed truth, “There is a righteousness that is apart from the law, that is not dependant on your law-keeping.” This righteousness is through faith and through faith alone. Paul says, “You can’t.” Then in the most lovely of qualifiers, he reminds us, “Christ has!” What has he done? Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, he has revealed the righteousness of God in perfection, and all those who look to Jesus with eyes of faith will have his righteousness as their garment. Notice that clarity Paul gives in verse 23-25,
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”Romans 3:23-25
Again, he makes certain that we grasp the means to possessing this righteousness, “to be received by faith.” The justification that we receive we receive by grace through faith. Thus we affirm that anyone who would enter the kingdom of God must possess a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. Furthermore, we affirm that what is actually required to enter the kingdom of God is perfect law keeping. Yet we call this to mind and therefore have hope: My righteousness doesn’t exceed that of the Pharisees, I am a law-breaker, but Jesus’ righteousness is perfect and his righteousness is mine by faith. Oh my reader, how I hope this truth births praise in your soul. Should it not, perhaps it is due to your desire to offer something to God other than faith. I urge you, make no attempt to offer God anything other than your trust in, dependence on, and faith in His beloved son. To do so is to spurn his gracious gift and oh how quickly this kindles his wrath. Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you perish in the way. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Add nothing to that glorious, God-ordained, Christ-exalting formula.