A Close Look at “Sola Gratia” (Part1)
October 23, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
We are looking at the five doctrinal pillars of the Reformation Period of the 16th
century. We have looked at Sola Scriptura
and solus Christus
, now let us look at sola Gratia.
is a Latin phrase which in English means "Grace Alone." This declares that grace is the sole and sufficient cause for God's salvation of the ungodly. In salvation, we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. Here are just a few passages from the Bible that support this principle.
- Eph 2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
- Tit 3:5a he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy….
- Ro 3:23,24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
- 2Ti 1:9-10 who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
It is no wonder that John Newton, the slave trader turned preacher, was led to compose that classic Christian hymn in 1779, entitled “Amazing Grace.”
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Some have said that of all the songs ever written, this song has been recorded the greatest number of times by the greatest number of different vocal artists.
It is sad to note however that God’s grace is not so amazing for many people, including Christians. Listen to what James Montgomery Boice
, author of the book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?
Amazing grace really is amazing. It is the most amazing thing in the universe, more amazing even than neutrons and neutrinos, quarks and quasars, and black holes. But like all familiar things, grace has lost its ability to enthrall most people. Instead, as the theologian J. I. Packer has observed, amazing grace has for many people become “boring grace.”
How can that be? How can a theme that was a cardinal doctrine of the Protestant Reformation and has thrilled Christian people for centuries be thought boring? If you talk to church people about next year’s budget, you will find them interested. You can interest them in social programs or building a new addition to the education wing. You can talk to them about the latest baseball scores or Wall Street listings or national politics. But try to discuss the grace of God and you will discover that they are suddenly in a field of discourse quite beyond their capacities. They will not contradict you. They will listen. But they will have nothing to contribute. Often you will be met only with blank stares. What could have caused such indifference, even among churchgoers?
Packer suggests it is a failure to understand and “feel in one’s heart” four great truths that the doctrine of grace presupposes: 1) the sinfulness of sin; 2) God’s judgment; 3) man’s spiritual inability; and 4) God’s sovereign freedom.
I totally agree with J. I. Packer; amazing grace becomes boring grace when we fail to understand and feel in our heart those four great truths that the doctrine of grace presupposes:
1) the sinfulness of sin
2) God’s judgment
3) man’s spiritual inability
4) God’s sovereign freedom.
In our series of sola gratia,
I intend to look into these four truths. And I guarantee you that once we understand and feel in our hearts the power of those great truths, God’s sole and sufficient grace for our salvation will become amazing again. Today, let us look at the sinfulness of sin.
One of the reasons people lack appreciation for the doctrine of grace alone is because they do not realize the sinfulness of sin. I would like to share to you these thoughts that I have taken from Millard Erickson’s
book, Christian Theology
in his chapter, “The Magnitude of Sin.”
Let’s first look at the universality of sin.
There are people who will not admit that all men are sinners. They may say that majority of the human race are sinners but not all. But the Bible teaches that all humans, without exception, are sinners.
Consider these categorical statements in the OT.
- In Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple in 1Kings 8, he says, “When they sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin…” (1Ki 8:46)
- A Psalm of David, Ps 143:2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
- Ps 130:3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
- The writer of Ecclesiastes writes, There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Eccl 7:20)
Millard Erickson writes:
These statements of the universal sinfulness of the human race should be regarded as qualifying all the scriptural references to perfect or blameless persons (e.g. Ps 37:37; Pro 11:5). Even those who are specifically described as perfect have shortcomings.
- This is true in the case of Noah. In the time of Noah, the sin of the race was so great and so extensive that God resolved to destroy everything except Noah, his family and the animals that were taken on board the ark. Corruption was worldwide but Noah appears to be an exception. He is described as being a “righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Gen 6:9). Yet while he stands out in contrast to those surrounding him, he was guilty of the sin of drunkenness (9:21), which is condemned elsewhere in Scripture (Hab 2:15; Eph 5:18).
- The same is true of Job. In Job 1:8 he is called by God as blameless and upright but in 14:16-17, Job refers to his transgressions.
- Abraham was a man of great faith; the Lord even bade him be blameless (Gen 17:1). Yet his actions prove that he was not sinless. In siring a son, Ishmael, by Hagar, He showed a lack of belief in God’s ability to fulfill his promise of an heir. Abraham demonstrated a lack of integrity as well in twice representing his wife Sarah as his sister.
- Moses was certainly a man of God, yet his lack of belief resulted in his not being allowed to bring the people of Israel into the Promised Land (num 20:10-13).
- David was a man after God’s own heart (1Sa 13:14). Yet his sins were grievous and occasioned the great penitential psalm (Ps 51).
The NT is even clearer concerning the universality of human sin. The famous passage is Romans 3:9-18. He asserts that “all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin (v.9), and then heaps up a number of descriptive quotations to prove this.
Ro 3:9-18 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better ? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." 13 Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." 14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know." 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Here are additional proofs from Romans:
- Ro 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Ro 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--
Now let’s look at the Intensiveness of Sin.
Having seen that the extent of sin is universal let us now turn to the intensiveness
of sin. How sinful is the sinner? How deep is our sin? Are we basically pure, with a positive inclination toward the good, or are we totally and absolutely corrupt?
The OT for the most part speaks of sins rather than of sinfulness, of sin as an act rather than as a state or disposition. The condemnation pronounced by the Hebrew prophets was generally directed at acts of sin or sins. Yet this condemnation related not merely to external acts of sin, but to inward sins as well. An example is the sin of covetousness in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:17).
There is yet a further step in the OT understanding of sin. Particularly in the writing of Jeremiah and Ezekiel sin is depicted as a spiritual sickness which afflicts the heart. Our heart is wrong and must be changed, or even exchanged. WE do not merely do evil; our very inclination is evil.
- Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
- Eze 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
The NT is even clearer and more emphatic on these matters. Jesus spoke of the inward disposition as evil. Sin is very much a matter of the inward thoughts and intentions. It is not sufficient not to commit murder; he who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment (Mt 5:21,22). It is not enough to abstain from committing adultery. If a man lusts after a woman, he has in his heart already committed adultery with her (Mt 5:27,28). Jesus put it even more strongly in Mt 12:33-35, where actions are regarded as issuing from the heart: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
Luke makes it clear that the fruit produced reflects the very nature of the tree, or of the man: no good tree bears bad fruit, nor a bad tree good fruit. (Lk 6:43-45). Our actions are what they are because we are what we are. It cannot be otherwise. Evil actions and words stem from the evil thoughts of our heart: Mt 15:18-19 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Paul’s own testimony also shows the sinfulness of sin:
- Ro 7:14-24 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. | 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
- Gal 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
- Gal 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let us look at Paul’s account in Ephesians 2:1-3 and let’s see how this passage shows us the sinfulness of sin. These ideas come from Terry Johnson from his book, The Case for Traditional Protestantism.
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
First, we are SPIRITUALLY dead. Paul employs the ultimate metaphor to emphasize our helplessness. We are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins. The corpse is the right image to have in mind when considering our spiritual inability. We have no ability to respond to God. WE have no desire to respond to God. We have no capacity or inclination to come to God, obey God, or believe in God.
Look at Paul’s assessment of our disinclination to seek God in Romans 8:6-8
Ro 8:6-8 The mind of sinful man is death
, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God
. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so
. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
This describes the hopelessness of our situation. His account is full of the language of inability. Other times the Scripture likens our inability to slavery. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34). Sin is enslaving. Moreover, we are blind. 1Co 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The natural man—humanity left in its own fallen nature—cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, he says. This is inability.
SECOND, WE ARE DEFIANT
We are not merely passively unresponsive to God but rebellious against God and his law and all that he would require of us. We are disobedient (Eph 2:2). We indulge the desires of the flesh (Eph 2:3). Ours is not a situation about which one should feel pity. Jesus said, “You are unwilling to come to me that you might have life (Jn 5:40).
We are willing rebels. John says: Jn 3:19-20 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
Hatred of the gospel light is natural to us. We love the darkness. We hate the light. We recoil and turn our heads when the light of the truth shines in our faces. We are both unable and unwilling to please God.
THIRD, WE ARE DOOMED.
The apostle Paul says that we are “by nature,” that is, inherently and necessarily, “children of wrath,” born cursed, and under the wrath of God (Eph 2:3).
We are in bondage to the world and the devil (“the prince of the power of the air”). We indulge the lusts of the flesh and the desires of the flesh and of the mind, be they pride, anger, gluttony, or immorality (Eph 2:3). The civilizing effects of social convention have obscured the hostility against God and His law that seethes in our hearts. The first great commandment, according to Jesus, is that we should “love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.” We utterly fail to follow this command, preferring instead to love ourselves and our idols. The second great commandment is that we should “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This, too, we fail to do, preferring a thousand times to love and serve ourselves rather than our neighbor. We are constantly in violation of the two greatest commandment of a God who threatens our destruction for just one violation of even the least of his commandments. We are naturally displeasing to God, “by nature children of wrath.”
Many people don’t appreciate God’s grace because they think that there is something good in them that makes God predisposed to save them. Let us be clear about this. We are spiritually dead, we are defiant and doomed. If not for God’s grace, we have no hope. But thank God for His amazing grace. Paul continues in Ephesians 2:4-9 our only hope.
Eph 2:4-9 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Let me close with the story of John Newton. This is taken from James Montgomery Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace
(pp. 126, 127).
At the beginning of this [sermon] we took note of John Newton (1725-1807). Newton was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught verses of the Bible, but his mother died when he was only six years old and he was sent to live with a relative who hated the Bible and mocked Christianity. Newton ran away to sea. He was wild in those years and was known for being able to swear for two hours without repeating himself. He was forced to enlist in the British navy, but he deserted, was captured, and was beaten publicly as a punishment. Eventually Newton got into the merchant marine and went to Africa for one reason only, “that I might sin my fill.”
Newton fell in with a Portuguese slave trader, in whose home he was cruelly treated. This man often went away on slaving expeditions, and when he was gone his power passed to his African wife, the chief woman of his harem. She hated all white men and vented her hatred on Newton. He says that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt, eating his food from the ground like a dog. He was beaten mercilessly if he touched it. In time, thin and emaciated, Newton made his way to the sea, where he was picked up by a British ship making its way up the coast to England.
When the captain of the ship learned that the young man knew something about navigation as a result of being in the British Navy, he made him a ship’s mate. But even then Newton fell into trouble. One day, when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned and struck him on the head, Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors had not quickly hauled him back on board.
Near the end of one voyage, as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, and the ship began to sink. The young profligate was sent down into the hold to pump water. The storm lasted for days. Newton was terrified. He was sure the ship would sink and he would drown. But in the hold of the ship, as he desperately pumped water, the God of all grace, whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him, brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned in his home as a child. The way of salvation opened up to him. He was born again and deeply transformed. Much later, when he was again in England, Newton began to study theology and eventually became a preacher, first in a little town called Olney and later in London.
Of this storm William Cowper, the British poet who became a fast personal friend of Newton and lived with him for several years, wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
And so he does! Newton was a great preacher of grace, for he had learned that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20). He is proof that the grace of God is sufficient to save anybody, and that he saves them by grace alone.