The five sola’s is a remarkable and timeless set of teachings that came out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Its purpose is to summarize and clarify what the Bible teaches concerning salvation. What I appreciate about the Five Sola’s is how the Fathers of the Reformation point our eyes to the Scriptures. Throughout this article, you do not find me quoting the Reformer’s, but rather quoting from Scripture.
This affirms to me that the truth found in the Five Sola’s is not truth that comes from man. Instead, it is truth anchored in God’s Word. This means it is relevant for every generation of the Church. So as we celebrate 500 years of the Reformation, it not necessarily the Reformers we are celebrating, but it is the commitment to truth that marked their lives we celebrate.
The Five Sola’s of Salvation reads as, “According to the authority of Scripture alone, we are saved by Grace alone, through Faith alone in Christ alone for the Glory of God alone. Because it was the custom of the day to write sermons, teachings, and Scripture in Latin, the Fathers of the Reformation used Latin to develop the five Solas. The word Sola is Latin for “only.”
Scripture Alone / Sola Scriptura
One of the greatest distinctions between a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church is their view of Scripture and history. While a Protestant Church views Scripture as all authoritative, a Catholic Church will view Scripture plus history as authoritative. So for a Catholic, this means that God has given both Scripture and Popes to create the doctrine and teachings of Christ followers. As Protestants, we reject this idea and believe that all teachings of the Christian life begin and end with the Canon of God’s Word.
Even Peter (whom Catholics claim was the first Pope) wrote in his Epistle, “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:20-21). Even the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Grace Alone / Sola Gratia
In my article, “The Story of the Reformation,” I explain how the Roman Catholic Church began to sell “Indulgences” in order to fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome under Pope Leo X. These salvation certificates promised that the Pope would pray a loved one out of Purgatory if a family “purchased” a certificate. This set the righteous soul of Martin Luther on fire and triggered the nailing of the 95 Thesis to the Church doors of Wittenburg Germany on October 31, 1517.
While the Catholic Church taught Penitence and endorsed the sale of indulgences, it was the Fathers of the Reformation who preached salvation by grace alone! What a remarkable doctrine to celebrate in the Bible. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a 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.
Faith Alone / Sola Fide
Echoing Ephesians 2:8-9 again, Scripture is clear that our salvation comes by grace “through faith.” Salvation is not found in human works, baptism or any other religious act. Salvation is based upon faith and this is solely given by the Lord. Romans 12:3 teaches that God has given to each person a measure of faith. So even the faith that we have is in itself a gift from the Lord.
When we become born again, we cannot boast in ourselves. We cannot say that we were “spiritual” enough to sense our need for the Lord, nor can we say that we were “lucky” to be born into a Christian family. No! Salvation comes by faith and faith alone and it is a gift from the Lord. So even people who were not born into a Christian family can experience salvation because it is not dependent on how we were raised or where we were raised, but rather is based on the free gift of God in our faith.
Christ Alone / Solo Christo
This is a beautiful teaching when compared to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church placed priests as intercessors between God and His people. So if you had sin to confess, you had to visit a priest in order to confess your sins; however, that is not Biblically supported. The Bible does encourage us to confess our sins one to another for the purpose of accountability and healing (James 5:16).
We are a “royal priesthood,” meaning that we have direct access to the Lord (I Peter 2:9). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). There is no need to have a priest to represent us before God, because we have direct access to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ who, “ever lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Glory to God Alone / Soli Deo Gloria
At the time of the Reformation, the Catholic Church and its leaders were greatly feared. Few dared to challenge the Pope and his authority. To do so meant that you risked your life, and many, like John Huss, sacrificed their lives for the preservation of Scripture for future generations.
The teaching that we are saved for God’s glory alone meant that we are to glorify God with our lives. We are not to glory in the institution of the Church nor its leaders. It is God alone that we glorify with our lives. This teaching is affirmed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Peter says it in a similar way in 1 Peter 4:11, “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”