“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sola Gratia Part 1 - A Definition

As we have just recently examined sola fide, I thought we would now move to sola gratia, and discuss it briefly.

Before I finish this series, I hope to have examined all 5 of the sola’s:

1. sola fide
2. sola gratia
3. solus Christus
4. soli Deo Gloria
5. sola Scriptura

Unfortunately, in the evangelical community today there is much confusion, not to mention downright ignorance as regards the sola's. Due to this confusion we find that, (by and large), the church has lost her moorings, and is now adrift in a morass of semi-Pelagian, ( or fully Pelagian), man-centered teaching, which places the responsibility for salvation onto the believer.

We may be unaware of just how far we have sunk into this man-centered pseudo-gospel, but it only takes a quick look at the television, or a brief listen to the radio to hear the dissonance of man-centered preaching that masquerades as the gospel.

One well-known TV “preacher” presented such a muddled, confused explanation of salvation on 'Larry King Live' that viewers were left with, at best, an unclear understanding as to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as '...the way, the truth and the life'! This man's explanation of salvation denied the foundational truths of the faith: it can’t be through Christ alone (solus Christus) if all paths lead to heaven, and it can’t be by grace (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), because, as this preacher has said on numerous occasions; we are to do what “God told us; and if we do our part, He will do His part”. So we partner with God in our salvation as well. And it cannot be to God’s glory alone (soli Deo Gloria), because we have played a part in our own salvation, and therefore we deserve some of the glory; and finally – almost everything that this preacher states clearly illustrates that he does not believe the Bible is the final authority for the believing community. Oh, and by the way, he is called “America’s Preacher”! How apropos that title is!

So, in this post I hope to look at God’s Amazing Grace with fresh eyes, and I pray that you will clearly see how amazing our salvation truly is. Without any further ado, let us look at the amazing reality of sola gratia!

What do we mean when we say that we are saved sola gratia; that it is by grace alone that we are saved? This means that we are saved by the unprovoked and undeserved acceptance of God. The words, unprovoked and undeserved are important here; many preach that we are saved by grace, but it is rarely alone. Our natural bent is to believe that there is a way for us to participate in our salvation.

Oh, we may require a bit of ‘divine assistance’, but we are able to get ourselves MOST of the way! As Michael Horton says, in his article on the sola’s, we mistakenly believe that “…perhaps God will have to show us the way, or even send a messenger to lead us back, but we can actually follow the plan and pull it off..." "We were born with a conscience that tells us that we are condemned by the Law, but our human reason concludes that the answer to that is to do better next time..."

We are looking for someone tell us how to save ourselves, this is why so many of the modern semi-pelagian preachers are so popular – they are telling man what he instinctively wants to hear; that we get by with a little help from God, to paraphrase Joe Cocker. But, in truth, God's Word tells us that even our best works are filthy rags; the Gospel tells us that it is something in God and his character (kindness, goodness, mercy, compassion) and not something in us (a good will, a decision, an act, an open heart, etc.) that saves us.

Interestingly, the phrase , "God helps those who help themselves" is the mantra of the modern church. Again quoting Michael Horton – “Over half the evangelicals surveyed thought this was a direct biblical quotation and 84% thought that it was a biblical idea, that percentage rising with church attendance at evangelical churches.” This is at best, a semi-Pelagian thought, at worst, a full-fledged Pelagian attitude. And Pelgianism, just so you know, was declared a heresy by the church!

In Pelagianism, Adam's sin is not imputed to us, nor is Christ's righteousness. Adam is a bad example, not the representative in whom we stand guilty. Similarly, Christ is a good example, not the representative in whom we stand righteous. To understand how far we have come from sola gratia, let me ask you -- how much of modern preaching is focused on following Christ (WWJD) rather than focusing on His person and work, or to put it another way -- not 'What WOULD Jesus do??', but What HAS Jesus DONE?' While it is important to follow Christ; I am not denying that, there is a greater focus; the person and work of Jesus Christ – His perfect obedience and righteousness, imputed to the sinner, and His work on the cross of propitiating the wrath of the Holy Judge of the Universe, and expiating our sins.

Pelagianism is so ubiquitious in the United States because of the work of Charles Finney, the revivalist of the 19th century. Most people think he was a wonderful Christian, but when we examine his writing and teachings, we find that he denied original sin, substitutionary atonement, justification through Christ, and the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In short, he was Pelagian in thought and work. And sadly, this man was so influential within the US church that he virtually wrecked the mainline denominations and his work is still poisoning the well of evangelical thought today!

What I am hoping to accomplish in this series of posts, is to show how sola gratia completely destroys man’s reliance upon his own work in salvation, and forces one to fall fully on the grace of God alone! These posts will go against the grain of prevailing thought within the evangelical church, but in truth, is part of the faith once delivered to the saints for all time.

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