The five solas are the pillars of the 16th century of the Reformation. During this pivotal period in church history, a great movement swept over Europe led by courageous men in strategic places propagated by technology (i.e. the printing press). These are “the doctrines that shook the world” as James Boice put it. These men stood against the powerful institution of the Roman Catholic Church. They sought to combat the excesses and errors of Catholic dogma. The five solas remain essential to evangelical truth. The reformers did not invent these pillars they recovered them. I’m thankful they did. I’ve listed the five solas along with an explanation taken from James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace: Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).
- Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone. This sola speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the sixty-six books of the Bible for the Christian (2 Timothy 3:16). “In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole and ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils, and the pope. Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem; we assert biblical authority. Rather, our problem is in deciding whether the bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work” (Boice, 66).
- Solus Christus or Christ alone. This sola affirms that Jesus has accomplished what is necessary for salvation apart from any work of our own (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 8:1-3; 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus will never stand next to a plus sign. “Justification because of Christ alone (solus Christus) means that Jesus has done the necessary work of salvation utterly and completely, so that no merit of the saints, no work of ours performed either here or later in purgatory, can add to his completed work. In fact, any attempt to add to Christ’s work is a perversion of the gospel and indeed is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-9)” (Boice, 88). Compare this to the damnable error of the Catholic church which claims, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1129, emphasis added). The footnote in this entry (#51), cites the Council of Trent (1547): DS 1604 which asserts “If anyone shall say that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but are superfluous, and that, although all are not necessary for every individual, without them or without the desire of them through faith alone men obtain from God the grace of justification: let him be anathema.”
- Sola gratia or faith alone (Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:5, 8). This sola establishes that whoever is saved is the undeserving recipient of a gift he/she did not merit. “When the Reformers spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God, none at all; that God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins; and that, if he saves them in spite of their sins, which he does in the case of those who are being saved, it is only because it pleases him to do it and for no other reasons” (Boice, 107).
- Sola fide or faith alone. This sola states that trust is the means whereby an individual receives the blessings offered in God’s saving promises (Romans 3:22, 26, 28; Galatians 2:16). Faith is the hand that receives God’s gift of salvation, as it were. “…faith is the channel by which justification comes to us or actually becomes ours. Faith is not a good work. It is necessary and essential. But it is not a good work. In fact, it is not a work at all. It is God’s gift, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ But although it is only the channel by which we are justified, it is also the only channel. This is what is meant by sola fide (‘faith alone’)” (Boice, 137).
- Soli Deo Gloria or Glory to God alone. This sola declares that the saving work of God redounds to His glory (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6). “…each of the other solas lead to the last and final sola, which is ‘to God alone be the glory,’ the final point of Romans 11:36, which concludes with the words: ‘to him be the glory forever! Amen.’ When we ask why that should be, the first part of the verse is the answer. It is because all things really are ‘from him and through him and to him’” (Boice, 158).
As we remember the reformation, I hope we cherish the five solas as they establish the centrality of the gospel. However, I also hope that we not only celebrate the five solas but more importantly the Christ Who is the centrifuge from which the solas gravitate. Reformation Day is more than an opportunity to affirm the five solas, it is also an occasion to renew our love for and commitment to Christ.