Summary: Martin Luther and the Three Solas 1) Sola Scriptura; 2) Sola Gratia; 3) Sola Fide Not just the foundation of the Reformation but the foundation of our salvation.

Everyone has heard the story about Goldilocks and the three bears but have you heard of Martin Luther and the three solas: sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide? These three Latin phrases are not just the foundation of the Reformation; they are the foundation of your salvation.

Martin Luther was a German monk who lived in the mid 1500s. He had been taught that in order to get God to smile upon him he needed to do good things. No matter how hard he tried to do good, however, even quitting his law studies to dedicate himself to serving God and others as a monk, Luther remained afraid of God and afraid for his eternal salvation because he couldn’t stop sinning. He sought help from the church but instead of giving Luther answers from the Bible, church leaders in those days were in the habit of parroting theological opinions of famous churchmen and councils. Their advice either downplayed Luther’s sin or encouraged Luther to try harder to be good. This only left Luther more depressed.

Turning to theological opinions rather than to the Bible itself for answers on spiritual matters is like turning to a literary critic to find out the meaning of a popular novel instead of going directly to the author and asking her what she meant when she wrote what she did. Therefore the first important sola that Luther rediscovered with God’s help was sola scriptura or “Scripture alone.” It is the Bible alone, and not man’s opinion, that tells us what we need to know about God, ourselves, and the way to salvation. Why can the Bible be trusted? The Apostle Paul tells us: “And how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15, 16). The Bible was written by men but it was inspired by God, that is, every word of it comes from God’s heart. To build our hope for salvation on anything other than Scripture is like building a house directly on a sandy beach. The thought might seem like a good one, until the tide comes rolling in and pulls the house out to sea because it never had a firm foundation.

Friends, if you have never really studied the Bible before, or if it’s been a while, why not get back into it? Base what you believe about the creation of the world, about angels, about life and death, about heaven and hell on the solid foundation of God’s Word, not man’s opinion or your fallible feelings.

So what is it that God’s Word teaches us in regard to salvation? For the answer we can turn to the other two solas Luther rediscovered. Let’s first look at sola gratia or “grace alone.” Regarding our salvation being an act of God’s grace the Apostle Paul said: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify…There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20, 21, 23, 24).

For a long time many thought, and still think today, that there is something we must do to earn, or at least contribute towards our salvation. After all isn’t that the purpose of the Ten Commandments? Didn’t Jesus even say that if we love God with all our heart, soul, and might, and love our neighbor as ourselves that we would receive eternal life? Just because God tells us to do something doesn’t mean that we are able to do it. You could tell me to swim across the Pacific Ocean, you could demand this of me but it doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to do it. In the same way God’s laws demand, but they say nothing about our ability to keep them.

So what is the purpose of God’s law if it isn’t to tell us how to get to heaven? Did you catch how Paul described the law’s purpose in the verses I just read? Paul said that God gave us his law so that we would become conscious of our sin. In other words God’s law is meant to be a mirror. Without it, we wouldn’t see how badly we are in need of a savior. We’re like the boy who scrubbed his hands really well before sitting down for dinner. He’s offended then when Mom tells him to go to the bathroom and get cleaned up. What’s she talking about? He is clean! His hands are clean but his face is not. Dirt streaks his cheeks. It’s not until the boy returns to the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror that he sees why Mom sent him back to wash (David Kuske). In the same way we may think that we have cleaned up or kept our life clean from obvious sins like adultery, stealing, and murder. Yet if we think that we can sit down at God’s banquet table in heaven, we’re wrong. God sends us back to the mirror of his law to learn that sin doesn’t start when we misuse our hands; it starts when we misuse what we’ve got between the ears (John C. Jeske). Thinking of committing adultery, for example, or harboring thoughts of jealously is as dirty to God as strangling a baby! Until I can rid my life of every sin and pay for the sins I’ve committed, I won’t be welcome at God’s banquet table in heaven.

Don’t think you have sins that have left streak marks on your life? Then listen again to what Paul said in verse 23: “There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Notice that passage does not say “all of them” have sinned. It says all have sinned. ALL, not just the child molesters in Thailand, or the terrorists of the Middle East, or the drug dealers of North America. I have sinned. You have sinned. We ALL fall short of God’s approval because we harbor bitterness, shave the truth to our advantage, fail to put the best construction on our brother and sister’s words, and roll our eyes when our parents ask us to do something.

If all have sinned who then can be saved? Again Paul gives us the answer. He said: “There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24). Who has been forgiven? Everyone! The child molester, the terrorist, the drug dealer…you and I, we all have been justified, that is declared not guilty in God’s hall of justice because in his grace God the Father sent Jesus to hell’s prison to do the time for our sins. Sola gratia Luther summarized. It’s by God’s grace alone that the door to heaven stands open to all.

Since all have been declared not guilty of their sins because of God’s grace in Jesus, does this mean that all will go to heaven? Sadly it doesn’t. For while we all have been declared not guilty it’s only through faith that we receive the benefit of this favorable verdict. Paul wrote: “21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22).

Sola fide. It’s through faith alone that we enjoy the benefit of God’s grace. We shouldn’t think that faith is the one thing we now have to do to get into heaven. Faith is not the hand that reaches to take the gift of salvation. Faith is the hand that receives the blessing of grace because the Holy Spirit has lifted our hands into position to receive the benefit of salvation. Without the working of the Holy Spirit we would be like the 3-year-old trick or treating for the first time. He is so overwhelmed by the other costumed kids and afraid of the stranger on whose doorstep he stands to get candy that he doesn’t even hold out his bag when offered a delicious chocolate bar. Dad has to gently take the hands of the child and extend them to receive the gift. When that child gets home to count all the candy he received, he can’t claim any credit for the stash. He didn’t buy any of the candy with money he had earned. He couldn’t even hold out his bag to receive the candy. Dad had to be there standing behind him at every house.

And nor can we claim any credit for our salvation. Salvation, heaven, eternal life comes to us through the three solas: sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide. No, these aren’t just Latin catch phrases Martin Luther coined during the Reformation five hundred years ago; they are the foundation of our salvation. For it is only through Scripture that we learn about the extent of our sinfulness and the breadth of God’s love. It’s only because of God’s grace that we have forgiveness. And only through faith in Jesus do we receive the benefit of forgiveness. Scripture, grace, faith: three solas worth knowing because they mean free and full salvation. Amen.