Can you summarize your faith in a few brief words? In this episode, Barry Cooper discusses the five solas of the Protestant Reformation and explains their relevance today.
“The five solas” are a way of summarizing what the church Reformers taught in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
When we talk about the five solas—s-o-l-a-s—we’re using the Latin word sola, meaning “only” or “alone.”
Now, I should point out that these five solas were never written down together in exactly that form at the time of the Reformation. The complete collection of five solas were assembled in the twentieth century, thanks to several different writers, after the fact.
But they do give a very accurate summary of what the Reformers were teaching and preaching, and show how radically different it was (and still is) from Roman Catholicism.
First, sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is the highest authority, not some mixture of Scripture, tradition, and church teaching. That doesn’t mean there aren’t important things to be learned from tradition or other sources; it just means that if you put them together in the boxing ring, only one holds the knockout blow; only one remains standing at the end. Nothing can ever be allowed to override or overcome or overthrow what God has said in His Word.
Second, solus Christus, meaning “Christ alone.” Salvation is, and can only be, by Jesus Christ alone. We don’t get saved by anything we do, or a mixture of things we do plus Jesus. That’s because we are, as it says in Scripture “dead in our transgressions.” In other words, we are entirely up the creek, and we don’t have a paddle, not even a small one. We are truly powerless to save ourselves, which is why Christ—and only Christ—can save us.
Third, sola gratia, meaning “grace alone.” Salvation is by grace alone, meaning the whole thing is a gift from God, not just part of it. We can’t earn our salvation. Salvation is grace—an undeserved gift, freely given by God.
Fourth, sola fide, meaning “faith alone.” We receive this gift of salvation by faith alone. Simply by trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Simply by taking God at His word. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “faith” is a nice little gift that we give to God in exchange for salvation. It isn’t. As it says in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8, even faith itself is a gift given to us by God.
Finally, soli Deo gloria, meaning “to the glory of God alone.” It’s only when all of the above is true that we can truly cry out, as the redeemed do in Revelation chapter 7, that salvation belongs to God. It’s all Him, from beginning to end. Everything necessary for our salvation has been done already by God—we simply receive it as a gift, and even the receiving is made possible by Him. And that means that He gets all the glory. We don’t get to keep any of the glory back for ourselves by telling God that we bought a Toyota Prius, offset our carbon emissions, and volunteered at the donkey sanctuary so that He therefore owes us in some way. No. Quite rightly, the Author of the universe gets all the glory. Anything less ought to be a source of shame to us.
Now why are these five solas relevant today?
Because by nature, we are glory-seeking creatures. If you and I were left to invent a religion from scratch, we would always—always—smuggle into it some way of making it ultimately about us. We would invent a list of things necessary for us to do in order to be accepted by God.
But when we do that, we put God in our debt. And what kind of God would that be who is obliged to do whatever His creatures oblige Him to do?
The five solas remind us of what Scripture teaches: that God is truly God, and that all the glory—for everything—goes to Him.