Share This Episode
Growing in Grace Doug Agnew Logo


Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
November 1, 2021 2:00 am


Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 453 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

November 1, 2021 2:00 am

Join us for worship- For more information about Grace Church, please visit

The Truth Pulpit
Don Green
The Truth Pulpit
Don Green
The Truth Pulpit
Don Green
The Truth Pulpit
Don Green
The Truth Pulpit
Don Green

We're going to do something a little bit different than our normal sermon. Rather than preaching expositionally through a particular passage of Scripture, I'm going to preach topically on a subject that is very central to who Grace Church is, to what we're all about. In fact, this topic gives us the defining principles not only of Grace Church, but in fact of Protestantism as a whole. And I would go so far as to say the subject matter before us contains even the defining essence of the Gospel itself. The topic, of course, is the five solas of the Reformation. Now, you may not be familiar with the five solas, but if you've been around Grace Church for any length of time, they have certainly come up in the teaching and preaching and in the worship and perhaps in informal conversations in the hallways.

These five principles are so central to the life of our body here at Grace that they really can't be avoided. But sometimes a subject can be so central, it can be such a given, that we don't consciously notice it. I suspect not many of us have ever inspected the foundations of our homes. We just sort of take it for granted that there's something down there holding everything up. We seem to only take notice of foundations when there's an obvious problem. And I think core doctrines, like the five solas that we're going to look at tonight, might kind of fit in that category. We just sometimes assume them, but perhaps don't give adequate conscious thought to what they mean and what their implications are.

Well, I want us to do that tonight for a few moments. While the world is out celebrating Halloween, we're going to think about the Protestant Reformation on this 504th anniversary of that significant historical time. The five solas are Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and all to the glory of God alone. These five principles were at the core of the Protestant Reformation. These truths are what the church fought for and recovered those many years ago.

And all five of them are found in the text that I'm going to use kind of as a launch pad tonight. Ephesians 2, verses 8 through 10. And you're familiar with this passage.

You can turn there if you want to. But let's read this wonderful passage of Scripture together tonight and see if you can find these five solas as we read. Ephesians 2, 8 through 9. It says, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Let's pray. Lord, you have faithfully preserved your church and the gospel by which your church is redeemed. Thank you for the spiritual fathers that have gone before us. Thank you for giving Martin Luther the courage to stand up for truth when it was being obscured and denied. Thank you for the intellectual powers that you gave to the likes of John Calvin, enabling him to articulate and systematize your words to make its meaning so clear to us.

Thank you for the boldness that you put into John Knox, boldness that defied tyrants who would have quelled the gospel had they had the power to do so. Lord, you have given wonderful gifts to your church for its preservation and knowledge and joy. Now, may we be faithful in defending and upholding the message of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation. May these truths come alive in us and may our children's children still hold to these principles without wavering. We pray these things through Christ, who alone gives us access to your grace by faith. We pray it all for your glory.

Amen. Well, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, the language used by theologians was Latin. This enabled scholars from different countries, different backgrounds, languages, to communicate universally with each other. The word sola is the Latin word for alone, and it is that word, more than any other, that distinguished Protestant principles from Roman Catholic dogma. Roman Catholic dogma held to the same categories. They believed that Scripture was authoritative. They believed that salvation was of grace through faith in Christ. But where they differed from the Reformers was in regard to the sola. For Rome, these theological categories didn't need a sola.

They didn't need an alone. They needed an et, which is the Latin word for and. It wasn't Scripture alone. It was for Rome, Scripture, and the authority of the Pope. It wasn't grace alone. It was grace and merit. It wasn't faith alone. It was faith and works.

It wasn't Christ alone. It was Christ and indulgences and sacraments and prayer to the saints and Mary and confession to a priest, and on and on it went as they added to the core truths of the Gospel a boatload of baggage that simply wasn't taught in Scripture. Stephen Lawson made the point that the Protestant Reformation was really a battle over et and sola, over the word and and the word alone.

Those two small little words make all the difference in the world. And really at the core of the entire dispute was the first sola, which has been referred to as the formal principle of the Reformation. It's the principle of sola scriptura, Scripture alone. This principle is the foundation for all the others because it addresses the source of truth itself. Where does truth come from?

How do we know what we know? Our answer to this question determines our answer to every other doctrine that we claim to hold as Christians. Now the Protestant Reformation was a protest, hence the name Protestant. So these core principles are best understood in light of what they were reacting against. With regard to sola scriptura, the dispute, the protest had to do primarily with the relationship between Scripture and other sources of religious and ecclesiastical authority. Rome had begun teaching that the authoritative source for all things pertaining to Christian faith and practice was a combination of Scripture and tradition and the teachings of the bishops and the pope. This had not always been the view of the Roman Catholic Church, but as the Middle Ages came to an end, the notion that divine, inerrant revelation could be found not only in Scripture, but also in church tradition and in ecclesiastical precedent and in the high office bearers of the church had become the common view.

The Reformers challenged that consensus by returning to the view of the early church, a view that limited divine revelation to the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. Scripture and Scripture alone was recognized by the Protestants as the ultimate authority on all matters of Christian faith and practice. Now notice that I said ultimate authority. I didn't say only authority and neither did our Protestant forebears.

This is important. The Reformers recognized that if Scripture is infallibly important and authoritative, then there must be other legitimate sources of authority in the Christian life because Scripture itself acknowledges such authorities. For example, the Bible commands us to honor our father and mother.

We read that this morning. Scripture commands us to obey our masters, to submit to the elders of the church. So I cannot claim fidelity to Scripture while simultaneously dismissing the various authorities that Scripture itself subjects me to. Furthermore, Scripture commands us to preach Scripture, to proclaim its meaning and its demands to all people.

Now this brings up an important implication. The command to preach the Word of God implies that the Bible doesn't preach itself. It doesn't read itself. It doesn't interpret itself. There is a subjective human interaction that must take place when it comes to rightly dividing the Word of Truth, rightly interpreting the teachings of Scripture. And since this is the case, then it means there is an inescapable relationship between the authority of Scripture and the interpretive work of the church. I don't mean that the church determines the meaning of Scripture. What I mean is that spirit-indwelt believers are called upon by the Word of God to study and understand and proclaim the right meaning of Scripture. And so, church, there is an unavoidable link between Scripture as the ultimate authority and the church as a subservient authority.

You can't get around that connection. The doctrine of soul of Scripture doesn't deny this reality. It readily acknowledges that Scripture must be interpreted and preached by the church.

What the Reformers insisted upon and where the Reformers parted ways with Rome was in their conviction that divine revelation resides in Scripture alone. And if it resides in Scripture alone, then only Scripture is infallible. Only Scripture is inerrant. Only Scripture is perfectly sufficient, and only Scripture is authoritative in any ultimate sense of the word. Now, in response to this Protestant assertion of the superiority and exclusivity of Scripture, Rome really doubled down on its insistence that tradition and ecclesiastical precedent are in some way infallible and thus authoritative.

In fact, that trend has only gotten stronger with the passing of time. Within the last 150 years or so, the Roman Catholic Church has begun to ascribe more and more authority to its bishops and popes, going so far as to declare at Vatican II in the 1960s the infallibility of the pope. Now, what's interesting and somewhat amusing is that Rome limits the pope's infallibility to certain criteria, which means the pope is only sort of infallible. I mean, they have to make this qualification because subsequent popes have contradicted prior popes.

Previous decrees have been reversed by later decrees, and so at best the Church can only claim limited infallibility. The problem is, infallibility by definition is absolute, right? You can't be sort of infallible any more than you can be somewhat present or slightly female or mostly dead.

Some things are simply black and white, right? Some things are absolute, and infallibility, the inability to be wrong, is one of those things. If you claim infallibility, you must be 100% right 100% of the time.

Anything less than that is called fallibility. Now, why would Rome make such a claim? Why would the Catholic Church want to claim infallibility for its pope or for its traditions?

I think the answer is probably obvious. Like all of us sons and daughters of Adam, they want autonomy, self-rule. They want to reserve for themselves, rather than God, the right to have the final say.

And here's what I want us to recognize tonight. The desire to make ourselves our own standard of truth and goodness and beauty is an ever-present danger that resides in the hearts of all sinful men, not just the Catholic ones. Even during the Reformation, there were Protestants who took the principle of Sola Scriptura further than they should have, and in so doing, made themselves the autonomous determiners of truth.

Now, interestingly, Rome predicted this would happen, and sadly, modern evangelicals have often validated Rome's prediction. This extreme occurs whenever an individual Christian disregards the orthodox creeds of past centuries, whenever a Christian exalts his or her private interpretation of Scripture above the godly teaching of men who have been gifted and trained and called to teach and preach the Word of God to the Church, or whenever a person claims to have received a direct revelation from God that originates outside of the Bible. All of these are denials of the principle of Sola Scriptura, in that they, like Rome, are attempts to replace the authority of Scripture with some sort of autonomous standard of truth. Folks, John 17, 17 asserts that Scripture is truth. And 1 Timothy 3, 15 asserts that the Church is the pillar and buttress of that truth.

This means that there is, as Keith Matheson put it, a necessary relationship between the Spirit-inspired Word of God and the Spirit-indwelt people of God. To assert that Scripture is the only inspired and inherently infallible authority, and that it is the final and supreme norm, does not in any way rule out the necessity or reality of secondary authorities. The Church is one such authority.

The Church is the human agency with the God-given authority and ability to speak God's truth. Now, that doesn't mean that individual Christians should not read and study Scripture for themselves. We should read and study and know the Bible on our own, but we should never do so in an individualistic way, in a way that ignores the tremendous record of Orthodox teaching that has been preserved for the Church in its creeds and confessions, or the men, past and present, that God has raised up to instruct His people.

Yes, these men are fallible. Yes, creeds and confessions can err. But these imperfect means are God's means of conveying His infallible truth to His Church.

So we want to avoid both the Romish sort of autonomy, which elevates tradition and clergy above Scripture, but also avoid the evangelical sort of autonomy, which elevates the individual above Scripture. Sola Scripture, then, is the foundation upon which everything else rests. So let's move on to the next three solas, and I promise I won't say as much about them as I've just said about sola Scripture, so don't panic. Upon this foundation of Scripture alone rests the edifice of the Gospel. The next three solas that flow from this foundation are sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus.

Let's look at each of these one by one. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. First, the principle of sola gratia, grace alone, has to do with the grounds of salvation, the basis by which salvation saves. In 1524, a Dutch theologian by the name of Erasmus wrote a book entitled The Freedom of the Will, in which Erasmus asserted a doctrine that certainly was not new, the doctrine that fallen man has within himself the ability to choose or reject the free offer of the Gospel. Erasmus wrote that the deciding factor in whether a person gets saved or not is his volition, his will.

That's the ultimate deciding factor. Well, Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers were having none of that, so after a year's delay, Luther responded with a book of his own called, instead of The Freedom of the Will, The Bondage of the Will. In the introduction to the book, Luther explained why he was so long in responding to Erasmus's argument. He said that he was simply giving Erasmus opportunity to come up with some better arguments because the ones he had initially presented were so poor. Luther was a unique character to say the least. He went on to describe Erasmus's arguments in favor of free will as, human excrement served on platters of silver and gold. You see, Luther was a very delicate, sensitive sort of fella.

You never were really sure what he really believed. At any rate, Luther went on to address the matter of human will, and he demonstrated the person's will, along with every other aspect of a person's being, is in bondage to the person's sin nature. Every person since the fall of the human race into sin has a nature that renders him incapable of choosing Christ or exercising saving faith or loving God or accepting the Gospel until something from the outside of that person produces a radical, miraculous change of nature within the person. In other words, Luther said, if God doesn't give saving grace, salvation will not and cannot occur. John says in John 1, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God are we born again unto eternal life.

Paul says in Ephesians 2, you were dead in trespasses and sins, but God, being rich in mercy, made us alive by grace. The doctrine of sola gratia is a rejection of any notion of man's inherent goodness, and it centers salvation from start to finish, squarely in the sovereign grace of a sovereign God. For Rome, God's grace cooperating with man's will produces salvation. For Protestantism, God's grace alone produces salvation by radically changing the very nature of man's will.

Now, don't misunderstand me. There is a volitional aspect of salvation. We must choose Christ. Presbyterians, it's okay to say that. Choose you this day whom you will serve. It's in the Bible. We must choose Christ, but the distinction which the Reformers reclaimed is that it is grace that enables us to make that choice, not choice that enables grace to save.

This brings us to sola fide, and since we don't have screens, it's F-I-D-E. Faith alone. Faith is referred to as the instrumental cause of salvation. Grace is the grounds, but faith is the means. It's the tool.

It's the instrument God uses to unite the sinner to salvation. The Roman Catholic Church didn't deny that faith was essential. Again, the dispute was whether faith was the sole instrument, and for Rome, it wasn't. There was an and. There was an et.

In fact, there were several ands. Faith and baptism. Faith and the Eucharist. Faith and penance.

Faith and absolution from a priest. The Reformers said, no, salvation is by grace through faith, period, because as soon as you add something to faith, you've introduced a reason for man to boast in his salvation. Sinclair Ferguson asks the question, why should faith be the instrumental cause of our justification? And his answer is this, because in its very nature, faith is active in receiving Christ, but non-contributory in relation to the justification we receive.

It has no constructive energy. It is complete reliance on another. It is Christ-directed, not self-directed, and Christ-reliant, not self-reliant. Faith involves the abandoning, not the congratulating of self. So faith is not a work. Faith is not the coin that we put in the vending machine to get salvation. Faith is the desisting of work. It's the recognition that I have nothing worthy in myself that I can contribute to alleviate my guilt and merit righteousness before God. Faith means I cease from working and instead rest entirely in someone else, in the work of another. Now, to be sure, faith without works is dead. Neither Catholics nor Protestants deny the necessity of good works in the Christian life.

The difference, though, as I understand it, is this. Rome makes the claim that faith and good works lead to justification. Protestants affirm that faith alone leads to justification, and then justification inevitably leads to good works. For Rome, good works are part of the cause of justification. For the Protestant, justification is the cause of good works. So if salvation is by grace alone, then it must of necessity also be through faith alone, through that one instrumental cause that involves action on the part of a sinner, but without an ounce of self-reliant merit. This brings us to the fourth sola, which is solus Christus. I don't know Latin. I don't know why this sola changes case endings here, but it does.

Maybe some of you smart, classically trained youth can let me know. Solus Christus. Salvation is by grace through faith, but faith must have an object. I get so annoyed at signs and memes that are trending these days that just say the word believe, as if that word all by itself means something significant. I want to say, believe in what? Belief doesn't happen without a context. It must have an object. It must be directed toward an object. Belief in self, belief in power, belief in wealth, but not belief in beliefness.

It needs an object. For Rome, coming out of the Middle Ages, the object of faith was Christ and the absolution of a priest, or faith and Mary, the co-redemptress, or faith and the surplus of righteousness that had been merited by saints and martyrs of the past. For many modern day professors of faith, it's not faith in Christ and something else as it was for Rome.

It's faith in Christ or something else. Many believe that salvation will be granted to those who perhaps have never heard the gospel and never heard of Jesus Christ. They claim that a primitive native of some remote place who's never been evangelized will go to heaven when he dies simply because God can't hold a person accountable for something he doesn't know.

Nobody, they say, will be condemned to hell because of their ignorance. Scripture, however, indicates very clearly that nobody is so ignorant of God and the gospel as to be without excuse on Judgment Day. And so this Christ or view, just like Rome's Christ and view, is just another version of a Christless and therefore worthless faith. The reformers said Christ is the essential object of saving faith and it is the only object of a truly saving faith. Is there any object in which we can put our faith other than Jesus Christ that will actually save? The Bible answers that unequivocally. John 3 36, whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. And so salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. All right, this brings us to the final sola.

Soli Deo Gloria. The glory be to God alone. Scripture is the foundation upon which the structure of the gospel is built. Grace and faith and Christ are the substance of that gospel. But this final sola is the crowning purpose of it all. Salvation is granted to sinners like you and me for the purpose of bringing glory to God and God alone. For by grace you have been saved through faith not as a result of works.

Why? So that no one may boast. So that God alone gets the glory. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ so that God gets glory. And this really is the the sola of all solas, isn't it?

If you had to pick one of the five that encompasses all the others it would have to be this one. This really is the crowning mark of the Reformed Protestantism. It's a commitment to view all of history, all of creation, all of life through the lens of God's glory.

There are any number of theological systems and ecclesiastical communions that would affirm that God's glory is the chief end, the primary aim of creation. But what makes Reformed Protestantism unique is that it actually does what it claims to affirm. It approaches every theological conundrum with the presupposition that whatever maximizes the glory of God is the right answer. When faced with the question of Scripture's authority versus human authority it answers with a resounding affirmation of Scripture's inspiration and infallibility and sufficiency and authority. When asked about sovereign grace versus free will it affirms unqualified sovereign grace as the grounds of our salvation.

When sorting out the dispute over faith versus works it abandons any notion or suggestion of merit and does so joyfully in favor of self-effacing, self-deprecating, self-mortifying faith. And when identifying the object of that saving faith it unhesitatingly looks to Christ alone, the author and finisher of faith. So Reformed Protestantism at its best was in fact a recovery of the biblical gospel, the good news that salvation is all of grace and all for God's glory. Folks, God in His mercy has put Grace Church in that stream, in that heritage of those who are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.

He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him and in love He has predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will and all, Scripture says, to the praise of His glory. As we wrap this up tonight let me use one final Latin motto from the Reformation and it's this, Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, the church reformed, always reforming. This slogan was intended to convey the reality that although the church had seen wonderful times of reform and revival in its long and storied history we must never think that we have arrived, that our progress in the faith is sufficient so long as Christ has not returned. As long as history marches on heresies will spring up so we must be vigilant in always fighting the good fight, checking our assumptions and beliefs and behaviors against the Word of God and gladly receiving the correction and the chastening of our Heavenly Father whenever it comes. So much progress has been made but brothers and sisters we are not home yet and so we need to walk circumspectly always keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, always reforming ourselves according to the Word of God. Many debates were settled during the Protestant Reformation but new debates arise all the time and we need to be ready to reform and be reformed by God's Word whenever and wherever it's needed.

What might this look like? What might be some ways we are perhaps subtly tempted to compromise in our own historical context these sweet solas that we hold so dear? Well let's think about it for a moment. Sola Scriptura. Are you assteeming Scripture as you ought to? By reading it, meditating on it, studying it, believing it, obeying it? Or do you demean the Word of God by running perhaps to good things but things that subvert Scripture's place of preeminence, things that compete for your allegiance? Maybe you neglect the words of Scripture by giving more weight to the study notes or commentaries. Maybe you rely on podcasts and Christian music to fill your mind with truth instead of going to the primary source, the very words of God.

Maybe your temptation is in the other direction. You've turned yourself into a theological island, dismissing and ignoring the blessing and advantage of 2,000 years of church history, of godly men gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach and articulate the deep things of God and instead you've made yourself the arbiter of truth. Sola Scriptura. Sola gratia, have you allowed man-centered philosophies to infiltrate the way you think about your own human nature? Are you trusting that somewhere deep down inside of you is a little nugget of virtue, a pre-fall holdout of moral energy that makes you not entirely bankrupt before a holy God?

Or do you daily remind yourself that you are a worm who deserves a hellish place of darkness for all eternity but for the grace of God? Sola fide, in your zeal for the doctrine of justification through faith alone, have you perhaps neglected a pursuit of holiness? Have you done what the Roman Catholics of Luther's day said us Protestants would do by neglecting obedience to God's perfect law? Have you downplayed the biblical truth that faith without works is dead or plugged your ears to Scripture's call to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, all in the name of faith alone?

If so, you need a new reformation of the heart. Solus Christus, do you love Christ? Are you resting in Christ or are you resting in your own virtue? Maybe you're refusing to rest in Christ not because you're resting in your own virtue, but simply because in pride you would rather wallow in your own guilt than accept the free gift of His forgiveness. Faith in your own moral goodness will not save, but neither will faith in your willingness to walk around feeling guilty all the time. Only faith in Christ will save. Finally, soli Deo Gloria, is God just your Sunday hobby, or do you view every facet of life as a theater for God's glory? How you wash your clothes, how you spend your money, how you drive your car, how you love your spouse, and yes, how you read your Bible and what you believe about salvation, all of it is a stage on which God's glory ought to be the shining star. May we bear the name Protestant well, may we protest with our confessions and with our lives every attempt by sinful man to rob God of His glory, and instead demonstrate an unswerving confidence in the biblical gospel of salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, to the glory of God alone. Let's pray. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from You and through You and to You are all things, that You be glory forever. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-29 10:24:53 / 2023-07-29 10:36:15 / 11

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime