Sola Gratia ("Grace Alone")
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Julia Harriette Johnston (1849-1919) was the daughter of a pastor, and faithful to the Lord, serving in her church in various capacities for more than 40 years. She authored several books, and made some important contributions within her denomination in the area of missions. But perhaps her greatest accomplishment was penning hundreds of hymns. One of these hymns is one quite familiar to you and me, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin.” Eventually, the words of this hymn were put to music by a composer by the name of Daniel B. Towner (1850-1919), who became the head of the music department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, ministering alongside the famous D.L. Moody.
There are words in this hymn that have had a profound impact upon my heart. “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.” Who of us can’t resonate with those words, having understood the greatness of our sin?! For this reason, when our hearts contemplate God’s grace, we cry out with the song, “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe.” Amen and Amen for God’s grace, indeed.
During the month of October, we’ve been focusing on the Protestant Reformation, celebrating God’s faithfulness in the lives of His people. With the passing of time, five overarching theological principles emerged and came to be known as the “Five Solas.” Sola is the Latin term which means “only” or “alone.”
Our focus in this article is on Grace Alone. You see, at that time, it wasn’t that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t talk or even emphasize grace in salvation. The problem was that they didn’t emphasize grace alone. Even today, the RCC, and virtually every other religion or belief system in the world, either explicitly or implicitly teaches that salvation (if salvation is even attainable!), requires to some degree or another, our human effort--that we must cooperate with the “god” of our own creation or conception to obtain acceptance before this deity, whoever he is. Human good works, human effort, kind deeds, must be done in order to find favor with my god, and thus achieve salvation.
In stark contrast, the principle of “Sola Gratia” emphasizes that our salvation from sin’s penalty and power is based solely on grace alone, apart from any human work or merit! What is grace? Grace is God’s unmerited favor and blessing toward sinners who deserve only His just punishment for their sins. Or, as someone has beautifully put it, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” (G-R-A-C-E). Salvation is completely an act of God’s grace in the heart of man, both at the initial stage of conversion and for the rest of our Christian life, until we stand before Christ someday in glory. We stand in Grace, from beginning to end (Titus 2:11-14).
We are indebted to our brethren of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries for their fearless and firm stand in the truth, at a time when few were willing to put their necks on the line for what Scripture clearly taught. Yes, they were sinners like us, but many of them gave their lives to pass on the baton of an unadulterated Gospel to us.
But it’s not just that we relish in the principle of Grace Alone as a church because of these Christians who lived in the 16th century, as if to imply in any way, shape or form that this wonderful truth originated with them. By no means! We affirm that salvation is by grace alone because these brethren were only affirming and pointing out what was already supported by Holy Scripture.
Romans 3:23-24: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Justification is a gift of God “by His grace!”
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that [i.e., faith] is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Salvation is unmerited. It is all of God!
Titus 2:14: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness . . . Christ Jesus was the very personification of “grace,” which brings salvation to all men when we trust in Christ!
Titus 3:4-7: But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace, we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
These and many other passages underscore the great Reformation principle of Sola Gratia (Grace Alone!). Praise God that our brethren fought the heretical teachings of the RCC in the 16th century, and were willing to die for these truths, precisely because these truths were supported definitively by Holy Scripture. And beloved, now more than 500 years later, we must continue to fight for the truth that salvation is by God’s grace alone! My salvation is not dependent upon me in any way, shape or form. If salvation depended upon any of us, we would lose it every day! But thanks be to God that “by grace alone” we are protected by the power of God for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days!