Reformed theology grew out of the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
The theses spoke out against the selling of indulgences to save people from purgatory, and this began a debate about the nature of the gospel and the importance of Scripture being our guide.
The central tenets that came out of the Reformation are called the Five Solas, which call the Church back to the roots of Scripture and the gospel.
What Are the Five Solas?
Sola Gratia. Translated from Latin, means “grace alone,” which refers to salvation. Salvation is by grace alone. No works can be added to it. No indulgences are necessary, for the entire work of salvation is done by God—by his grace. Grace is unmerited favor. This favor is given freely to sinners on the merit of Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace alone.
“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.” – Ephesians 2:8-10
Sola Fide. Translated, means “faith alone.” Faith alone refers to the mechanism through which we receive the grace of God in salvation. Faith is the only thing we do regarding salvation, and even faith is a gift. But it is not entirely accurate to say that faith is something we do because faith, in essence, is putting your trust in someone else.
We are saved by faith in Jesus because we put our trust/faith in his work on our behalf.
Martin Luther called the righteousness that we receive from God an alien righteousness. It comes from without us, not within us.
Faith is the anti-work. It is trusting in the work of Jesus, not our own. Salvation is received through faith alone.
“If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” – Romans 4:2-5
Sola Christus. Translated, means “Christ alone.” This tenet refers to the object of our faith. We must put our faith in Christ alone and no one else.
The natural temptation of all is to work for our salvation, to look to ourselves and our goodness. When a person is asked whether they will go to heaven or not, the typical response is, “I’ve been a pretty good person, so I think so.”
This answer reveals a person trusting in their own goodness and righteousness. The problem here is that no one is righteous (Romans 3:10-20). No one can be good enough because the standard is perfection.
Jesus told a story that captures this concept perfectly. It’s the story of the Pharisee and tax collector, and it begins like this: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).
Our trust must be in Christ alone and no one else. If we trust in our own works, we will be lost. Only through faith in the work of Jesus can we be saved because salvation is in “Christ alone.”
Sola Scriptura. Translated, means “Scripture alone.” This tenet stands as the foundation and rule for the entire faith. Scripture, God’s Word, is the sole and final authority in all things.
If tradition contradicts, Scripture comes first. If historical interpretations contradict, Scripture comes first. If the prevailing thought of the day contradicts, Scripture comes first.
The Reformation brought the church back to the Scriptures alone as our final authority, which is just as important today as it was then. No creed, faith statement, tradition, or favorite teacher can undo God’s Word. At the end of the day, it’s Sola Scriptura. The Bible is our final authority in all things.
Soli Deo Gloria. Translated, means “the glory of God alone.” The four previous tenets remove all glory and ability of man to boast in his own salvation. Salvation is entirely “of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), and this brings all the glory to God alone.
When the saved reach heaven, they won’t be able to say they added anything to their salvation. They won’t be able to take an ounce of credit. They will say, as the famous hymn says,
“Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”
Scripture is clear. God will not share his glory with another, and when it comes to our salvation, the glory goes to God alone in every way.
The Five Solas Today
The Five Solas are just as important today as when they were rediscovered during the Reformation. They are not new ideas thought up 500 years ago. They have always been and always will be foundational truths of the faith.
Christians must always guard against adding to their salvation with works. They must guard against elevating secondary issues to the level of the main issue. The main issue is this: Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is what the Scriptures alone teach, and all of this is to the glory of God alone.
Along with these core tenets, is another aspect of the Reformation that helps us understand how salvation was accomplished and how God’s sovereignty relates to our salvation. It is called the TULIP, and we will discuss it in the next post.