The Reformation Solas: Sola Gratia
This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is doing much to commemorate this historic event. At St. John, we will also be giving more attention to Reformation history and our great heritage as Lutherans. Part of our Reformation emphasis will come through a series of Epistle articles. The next four front page articles will focus on the “Solas” of the Reformation. “Sola” is a Latin word that means “Alone”. The four “solas” that Martin Luther held to that became the foundation of the Reformation and the Lutheran Church are: Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), and Sola Christus (Christ Alone). We pray this series will be a blessing as you contemplate what it means to be a Lutheran and praise God for our great heritage as heirs of the Reformation.
“Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone) is an essential part of our heritage. Martin Luther spent many years of his life trying to earn his salvation by works. He promised to become a monk to try to please God. He starved and beat himself to try to please God. He prayed incessantly to try to please God. But the more he did, the more his conscience was burdened by his sin. He viewed God only as a righteous judge that needed to be appeased by human works. As a result, he grew to hate God and his demands.
But one day, he came to understand a passage from Romans in a completely different way. It read: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). Martin Luther’s eyes were opened as he realized that he could not give righteousness to God. Rather, righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ. This brought a whole new light to the passage that says, “There is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it (salvation) cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5-6). God chose his children, not by their works, but by his grace, his undeserved love. This understanding freed Martin Luther’s heart and soul. It gave him comfort that God had completely accomplished his salvation for him. “Grace alone” apart from works became Luther’s rallying cry in the church.
May “grace alone” continue to be our rallying cry as well! We couldn’t confess it any better than Paul did in Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves – it is a gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). No amount of money, good deeds, or prayer could earn God’s favor and salvation. Neither can they balance out or wash away any sins. It is God’s grace alone that chose to send Jesus to earn God’s favor for us and wash away our sins by his death on the cross. This grace of God comforts us with the knowledge that salvation’s work is done.
We are saved by grace alone. “Sola gratia” is our blessed Reformation heritage. God grant that we always hold to this truth of Scripture and preach his saving grace to every soul. This grace of God saved us. This grace will save all God’s elect. Praise and thank God as you celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s discovery of true grace!
In Christ’s Service,
Rev. Peter Sulzle