One of the most important things people need to understand when contemplating the “5 Solas” is that they harmonically and eternally fit together, as parts of one divine plan for the redemption of God’s people. To illustrate this, let’s use the analogy of sin being a debt we cannot repay. Soli Deo Gloria is the thank you card for the debt-clearing check we’ve received and cashed. Solus Christus is the One who alone can WRITE the check that will pay all our debts. Sola Scriptura is the actual paper on which the check is written (because there are many phony checks out there). Sola Fide is how we CASH this amazingly generous check we’ve been given.
Sola Gratia, however, is the only means by which we RECEIVE this check. The problem is… in this nothing-comes-for-free world, people are naturally mistrusting of a totally FREE gift. The more generous the gift, the more we mistrust its “free-ness”. If you walk up to random people on the street and tell them you want to give them a free check worth $1 Trillion, how many of them would take you up on it? How many of them would even believe your check would clear? How many of them would believe it is given with no strings attached? My guess is not very many. But that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here.
History around the time of the Reformation saw a church teaching that Christ writes the check for the first half-trillion and your works in this life (or purgatory, wherever) should cover the rest. The problem is… that check just won’t cash. Here we need only to turn to the classic text of Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by GRACE you have been saved [Christus] through faith [fide]. And this is not your own doing; it is the [free] gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast [Deo Gloria].
The truth is… our works are a bad check that no amount of lip-service from our mouths can handle. We like to be people who forge our own destiny; who earn everything we possess. But the problem is that we simply don’t have enough spiritual collateral (and WAY too much spiritual debt) in our sin to cash the check that will make us righteous and sinless again.
Imagine this was a restaurant debt. YOU ate the food. There’s no denying THAT. But the waiter brings the bill and there’s NO WAY you can pay. You could wash dishes forever in the back and still not scratch the surface of paying for all the food you ate. Then comes Jesus, the owner of the restaurant. For reasons of His own grace and glory alone, He pulls out His own limitless MASTERcard (get it?) and pays for your entire bill. Not only THAT, but He informs the manager of the restaurant to bill any future dining expenses to His account as well. The cost of all those meals added up would total over $1 Trillion dollars. Now you’re beginning to understand a little better what Christ did for us in our sin.
Now imagine that you, seeing this incredible gift of generosity, leave a $5 bill on the table to “do your part”. First, that would be an offense to the gift-giver/debt-clearer who has already paid it all. Second, it’s a ridiculous notion at the face of it, because $5.00 wouldn’t even come close to even putting a dent in that mountainous debt you owe. And so it is with our works. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6). Even the good things we do are an offense to God… a stench in His holy nostrils, because they are tainted be our sin.
Therein lies the reason what gratia simply isn’t enough. Only SOLA Gratia can be the reason why this miraculous gift of salvation has been provided to us. Understanding this confirms two truths for the Christian. The first is, to borrow from Matt Maher, “Your grace IS enough”. The pressure’s off and we can have no reservations about receiving this gift as free and lovingly given. The second truth is how bottomless the divine bank account of grace is, from which the “check” for our salvation was written. The amount of God’s infinite grace can never be exhausted, which is not only the comfort that makes our “blessed assurance” blessed in Christ… but also the motivation for not wanting to accumulate additional debts of sin in the future. In a world of making deals, this is the best one around… a deal so good, it is a gift.
When one experiences a great deal, especially one involving something good being limitless, many people will want to take advantage of it… because most such gifts are “only available for a limited time”. And such is the case with the gift of Christ’s salvation from your sins. You don’t have to do anything but take it. God’s grace took care of the rest. His Spirit will enter you and continually work out the process of your sanctification, making you more like Him… and its all FREE. If you accept that “check”, paid for you on the cross, today… you will one day have the privilege of standing face-to-face with your Savior, King, and Friend, Jesus Christ… and on THAT day, you will truly see what makes the “Amazing Grace” we sing about so … amazing.