The Five Solas: Sola Gratia

What are the Five Solas, and why would I spend time reading about them on your blog instead of playing Doodle Jump? Or Words with Friends? Or watching sneezing Pandas on YouTube?

The Five Solas (sola from the latin “alone”) are the bedrock of much of what you believe if you are an evangelical christian. (Great, a history lesson.. with latin no less.) OK, before you run off and start looking for “fail compilation” on YouTube, stick with me for a minute. You need to know these things for a few key reasons:

1. Only by knowing what you believe can you identify and defend against what you don’t.

2. Really smart people have defined these truths over the centuries. I get it, they dressed funny and they’re all dead now, but in spite of the fact that they didn’t have iPhones or access to google, they did the heavy biblical, linguistic, and theological lifting that most of us have no ability (or work ethic) to accomplish.

3. It gives us an early warning capability. There is truly nothing new under the sun; every “new wave” that hits the modern evangelical church is a simple twist on a centuries old heresy. If you don’t understand them, you’re easy prey to them. (Molinism anyone?)

4. We’re called to do so in scripture:

[15] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

With that… Sola Gratia!

What is Sola Gratia?  The doctrine of Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)  asserts that our justification before God and our salvation are both ONLY by God’s grace and not dependent on ANY action or condition provided by man.  So, as we understand form Sola Fide that salvation is by faith and not works, we also understand that faith itself is a gift of  grace.

Why is this important?  First of all, it’s important because this is rarely, RARELY taught anymore.  In fact, in casual conversation with fellow christians, I find that MOST believers state a position which actually contradicts not only the historic christian faith, but their own denominations.  If that surprises you, please keep reading and honestly evaluate your understanding at the conclusion. Which of the three common views did you hold when you started reading?

The question here, the answer to which has been played out over the centuries of church history, is: How is man able, in his fallen/sinful state, to make a “good” choice (faith)?  There are three primary views: Two of which are orthodox views;  That due to man’s fallen nature, God must enable his faith (Augustinianism and Arminianism), while the third is the view that man’s will was not compromised by “the fall” and he is therefore capable of exercising faith without divine enablement (Pelagianism).

Note: While each of these men held various beliefs on this complex issue, it is important to note that these names/beliefs attributed to them are to point out specific differences. It is not unusual in church history for extensions of these beliefs (used to provide greater clarity in the differences of thought) to be assigned to a person who never held them. (For example, many things now labeled under the umbrella of Arminianism were never held by Jacob Arminius himself, but are seen as an extension of that school of thought).

Augustinianism:

As is typical in church history, much of what we believe is clarified in response to false teaching (heresy).  In other words, someone started teaching something unusual, and church leaders would meet to clear up what it is we actually believe.  These councils were important in clarifying the christian faith as well as documenting the discussions.

In the early 400’s (412-415), a teaching by Pelagius, stating that man’s fallen nature did NOT prohibit him from exercising faith, began to gain popularity. In response, Augustine responded, and Augustine’s views were affirmed during the Council of Carthage, and the Council of Orange (during which Pelagius was declared a heretic).

Augustine defended the view that regeneration precedes faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic (God working alone, without our assistance) work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

In other words, our nature is dead in sin and God must change our “heart of stone to a heart of flesh” by an act of his grace BEFORE we exercise faith.

Click here to read some of Augustines’ writings against Pelagianism:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.html

Arminianism:

This belief is attributed to Jacob Arminius. He held that God’s work in us consisted of “Prevenient Grace” which undoes the effects of sin sufficiently that we may then freely choose to believe. An individual’s act of faith then results in becoming part of the body of Christ, which allows one to appropriate Christ’s atonement for oneself, erasing the guilt of sin.

If this sounds similar to Augustinianism, it is in many respects. The main differences (which will not be discussed in detail on this post) are: The extent/efficacy of the atonement, The “resistibility” of God’s grace, and the security of the believer.  For the purposes of man’s depravity, however, they are quite similar and orthodox.

Pelagianism:

Pelagianism is a theological theory named after Pelagius and taught during the early 400’s (circa 412-415). It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature, and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Thus, Adam’s sin was “to set a bad example” for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as “setting a good example” for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam’s bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humanity does not require God’s grace for salvation (beyond the creation of will), Jesus’ execution is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christian theology.

In other words, man has (in his natural state) the ability to “make a decision” for Christ.  This is not a historical or orthodox christian view. While this is likely what you believed when you started reading this blog post, it is almost certainly not the position of your denomination.  See what happens when people stop teaching that “stuffy theology”? We fall into what has been considered heresy for hundreds of years!

Here are the creeds of the Council of Orange who condemned Pelagius’ teachings:
http://www.creeds.net/ancient/orange.htm

So, ask yourself. Before you read this did you believe that all men naturally had the ability to “make a decision for Christ” on their own?

If so, it’s a heresy. It would be outside of the beliefs of all major denominations, including; Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, etc.   All of these denominations hold that apart from a divine enablement by God, no man can come to faith in Christ.

It is my sincere hope that this post has given you a new level of appreciation for the incredible grace which God has shown us by changing our hearts to hear the gospel and to come to Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

As always, i’m available at marc5solas@gmail.com for questions and discussion!

Marc

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