This post was edited August 4, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.
We look at two of the solae today, for I think it is important to consider them together. They truly go hand-in-hand. Also, the relationship between grace and faith, so beautifully intertwined, creates a product: works, or what we do. Works do play a role, though up front I say that role is the giving witness to the internal realities of grace and faith. We are to live out what we believe. Stopping short of discussing works, of emphasizing holy living, creates a cheap grace that inspires no response, no life-change.
That cheap grace? It is not the grace of God.
Sola gratia: grace alone
Sola fide: faith alone
Grace comes from God. Faith is our response to that God and His grace.
The clearest verse in Scripture that discusses these linked concepts is found in one of Paul’s letters: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8) As we talked about before, a woman on her own is incapable of choosing God. Her will is bent inward, toward herself, in a selfish position. The prevenient grace of God, the grace that goes before, draws the woman to Himself, calling on that piece of her, however slight and marred, that still reflects His image.
Christ came to earth because of God’s grace (favor). “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We have done nothing to earn or deserve this grace, this favor of God. He extends it to us because He is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and He is also just (2 Thess. 1:6). Though He has every right to, God chooses not to turn His back on humanity. He knows that we cannot and will not save ourselves, and so lovingly paid the price of redemption. His just nature is shown in this act for anyone may come to Him; race, gender, class or past erect no barrier. He is completely fair in His offer. All may walk the road paved with Christ’s blood.
Since we cannot choose God on our own, it is the Lord Himself who stirs up the desire for salvation within us, and it is He who amazingly grants the faith to take the first step on the Way. He presents us with opportunities, singular moments when the chaos is pushed away and we hear His voice clearly. In that crystalline fragility, we are enabled to respond positively and come to salvation, but we can still choose to reject Him. When we respond positively, we begin the life of faith. This faith is defined as complete confidence or trust. To have faith in God requires a recognition of the fundamentally flawed nature of humanity. Taking this beautiful gift from God leads the man to repentance and then to regeneration. He is made a new creature.
Many would stop here, insisting that the mere declaration of Christ’s Lordship is enough. But to do so is to ignore huge portions of Scripture, most notably the idea that those who love Christ will obey Him (Jn. 14:21). I can find nothing in the Bible that allows for an empty faith. This appears to be a fairly modern notion. Just sign the commitment card or pray a little prayer, and you’re good. No mention of holiness, no stressing the importance of knowing and doing God’s will.
Yet consider this:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.- James. 2:14-26 (NKJV)
It is quite clear that James is not saying that doing good things will put you in right standing with God. When Christ said, “It is finished,” (Jn. 19:30), He meant that. The sacrificial system was done. There has never been and will never be no striving to obtain favor with God. The only way righteousness comes is to repent of sin and believe that Jesus, the God-Man, died and rose again three days later, thus conquering death and sin in one glorious blow. We can neither add nor subtract from this; we contribute nothing to the work salvation. What James is doing is pointing out the ridiculousness of the mouth claiming faith in God while the life declares something altogether different.
We might think of it this way: If you are going to say that you are a Christian, you had darn well better act like one.
Now, thankfully, God is merciful! We do not become perfect all at once. We struggle with sin. We stumble, fall and create terrible messes. He gives us the strength and space to stand up and walk again. And that, I think, is the crux: Do we even want to get up? The pattern of our lives reveals what we really believe to be true. A faith that is mere words, a life that is marked by a lack of consistent growth and desire to know and love God… Well, James says it best. That kind of faith, and by extension that kind of life, is dead.
With all of this in mind, we may conclude that these two solae need to be combined and extended to best explain the concept:
“Gratia per fidem expressa opera.”
By grace, through faith, expressed in works.
Faith does not exist apart from grace, nor apart from works. Works are meaningless without grace and without faith. Grace that is not accessed through faith and lived out is grace left on the shelf. Ultimately, it is grace, and therefore God Himself, upon which our salvation rests entirely, but God does call us to responsibility. We must think, feel, speak and act out of faith.
Only those who have a very shallow understanding of the Cross will feel confident in being “covered” no matter how they live. What happened on the Cross was costly. My Savior endured significant agony on my behalf. His precious blood was spilled. Thorns were shoved into His head and nails pierced His skin. He hung, suspended by three nails, on a rough wooden cross. He could barely breathe. His skin hung in tatters from the ferocious flogging. To speak of this as being truth and then to live as if it doesn’t really matter is to mock God. He did everything to save me and to show me just how terrible my sin is.
I say this with great love: If you do not understand how horrific and significant the Cross was, and how glorious the Resurrection. if these facts of history do not move you, then I encourage you to consider whether or not you have came to salvation at all. If you think that it’s “enough” to say a few words when you’re a kid and then live however you want to, then…well, that speaks for itself. People who are in true relationship with God want to please Him, want to obey Him. He has loved us so we love Him.
God does care what we do. Why else would Jesus have spent so much time teaching His followers how to live? Why else did the Spirit inspire the authors of the New Testament? What we do doesn’t gain us salvation, nor does it maintain our standing of rightness before God, which is entirely based on the gracious action of Christ, but it does show where we are in our understanding and appreciation of that salvation. Do we love those who set our teeth on edge? Do we seek to provide for the needs of the destitute? Do we stand up for the orphan, the widow, the downtrodden? Do we watch what we say and are we quick to apologize when we aren’t watching?
We need to understand that our talk and walk must line up. We must be submitted to Him and willing to obey His leading, wherever it goes. Sometimes that’s a big thing, like going into the mission field. Other times it’s a seemingly small thing, like keeping silent when we’d like to scream obscenities.
Jesus did so much for us. What we will do for Him?
For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.