In this 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation we have so many things for which to be thankful, so many truths to celebrate. If you’ve known me for a while you will know that one thing that is bothersome to me is slogan theology or a Christianity affirmed by a string of memes. This is doesn’t mean all mottos are useless.
Mottos are good…if they’re good. From early on the Church has seen the value of using creeds and mottos. “Jesus is Lord” was one the first.
One of the criticisms we hear about the 5 Solas is that we can’t find them listed in one place during the 16th century. True, but we do find the 5 Solas scattered throughout the writings, sermons, confessions and catechisms of the magisterial reformers. The 5 Solas are in the DNA of the resurgent truths of the Reformation. In another post I’d like to list specific places where we find men like Luther, Calvin and others clearly affirming the 5 Solas.
Here’s something worth our attention on this Reformation Day. The 5 Solas are not solely (pun alert) a way to say what the Reformation was about. The 5 Solas are rooted in Scripture. No, they aren’t listed in a wooden literalistic way. However, we do see the 5 Solas woven into the fabric of the New Testament. Over the years I have found several places in the New Testament where the 5 Solas are combined in compact contexts.
I especially like this simple and bold package of the 5 Solas which we find in Romans chapter 3.
Rooted in Romans 3:21 – But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…
- In the first century, the Law and Prophets as a way of referring to Holy Scripture. Though they had many other writings available to them it is worth noting how they elevated the Holy Scriptures to a stand alone position of authority and divine voice. We use reason within reason. We seek wisdom from many others sources, but there is no other final authority than Scripture, even within the Church.
Rooted in Romans 3:22 – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction
- Notice that by simple faith (trust) with nothing added we turn (the meaning of repentance) to Christ and are made whole and one with him. When we say Sola Fide (faith alone) we do not mean that “good works” are not necessary. With James we affirm that “good works” are indeed a necessary consequence of faith, but “good works” are not a condition added to faith such that we would end up with a system of faith + works. No, the early reformers were clear about this and they did not accept faith + works as essential for Justification. Thus, they and we are glad to say that Justification is Sola Fide, by faith alone.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rooted in Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
- At the center of this list of 5 Solas we see the glory of God. Later in Romans we hear what has become a general motto for Reformed Theology: For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36). Sunday afternoon my wife who is a musician reminded me of J. S. Bach who habitually wrote SDG at the bottom of his manuscripts. This Sola is so important to the Gospel and to all reality because without a sight of God’s holiness and glory we fall short of seeing ourselves for who we are in light of who God is. He is holy and we are not. His glory is beautiful and he is the end of all beauty and goodness. Our very identity is defined by how we reflect or rebel according to Soli Deo Gloria.
Rooted in Romans 3:24 – and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…
- The grace of God, without dilution, without limits, without monetary requirements or merit is what the reformers wanted all men to hear and enjoy. So it was with Paul. A new day was dawning in the coming of Jesus in which men everywhere were told of God’s salvation as a pure gift. This reminds me of the old prophet who announced,
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
(see Isaiah 55:1-2)
Rooted in Romans 3:25-26 – …whom [Christ] God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
- And finally, but of infinite value we have the solid truth of Christ Alone. As you look back through the other Solas in Romans 3:21-26 you can see Christ like a vine winding himself through all of them. Christ is sufficient in and of himself. We should not and cannot add anything, any saint, any work, any ecclesiastical demands next to him or before him or after him. For our eternal salvation Christ Alone is enough.
Don’t let anything take away your joy in the glorious and real truths God has given us in the Gospel. They are affirmed in the Reformation for sure. They are, however, older than 500 years. They are ancient. These 5 ancient truths are rooted in Scripture and as we’ve just seen the 5 Solas are rooted in Romans.