Kethoser Aniu Kevichusa
Slogans have great power. They capture truths and captivate lives. There are five slogans that encapsulate the great principles of the Reformation movement. Faithful adherents of the Reformation are bound by, and bind themselves to, these five pillars. In the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, it is appropriate to revisit and remember them, and to be rekindled by them: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.
For Protestants, “Scripture alone” is the highest authority when it comes to life and living. The Bible self-identifies itself thus: “All scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).1 The authority of the Bible is premised upon the authorship of the Bible – God Himself. Because God is the ultimate author of the Bible, the Bible is the final authority.
There are, no doubt, Christians who claim that the Church and its traditions are as authoritative, if not more authoritative, than the Bible. The story of the early church does not, however, bear this out. When we read the Epistles in the New Testament, we find that, again and again, the early Apostles corrected the misinterpretations and rebuked the malpractices of the church through their writings, which now are a part of the Bible. The Church, in other words, sat under and stood corrected by the Scriptures, not the other way around.
There are also Christians who say that the Scriptures themselves do not claim to be the final authority. Rather, the Bible only points to Christ to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given. For them, it is Christ, not the Bible, which is the ultimate and final authority. But such a view is mistaken. To choose between the authority of Christ and the authority of Scripture is a false dilemma. The choice is not an either/or. According to J.I. Packer, “Holy Scripture . . . is Christ’s instrument of government: it comes to us, so to speak, from His hand and with His seal upon it, for He Himself commended the Old Testament to us as having His Father’s authority, and He Himself authorized and empowered the apostles to speak in His name, by His Spirit and with His own authority. So the way to bow to the authority of Jesus Christ is precisely by bowing to the authority of the inspired Scriptures.”2
In claiming the final authority of the Bible, we are, however, not saying that any and every truth is deducible – i.e., logically concluded – from Scripture. There are many other truths – scientific, philosophical, mathematical, geographical, psychological, medical, and so on – which cannot be found or deduced directly from the Bible. But what we do insist upon is that any truth must ultimately be reconcilable with the Bible. This requires great effort and care in interpreting the various truths of the work and world of God, on the one hand, and the great truths of the word of God, on the other. The Bible, read and interpreted literately (which is not always literally), trumps every other truth claim that contradicts it. This is the principle of sola Scriptura.
There are many other books that can teach us many things. The Bible itself does not claim to teach anything and everything. But when it comes to the where, the how, the why, the what, the whence, and the who of salvation, the Bible is the only reliable source: “the sacred writings . . . are able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Tim.3:15). This salvation is appropriated or received on the part of the individual by faith. It is not earned by works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph.2:8-9). This Reformation principle of sola fide marks and separates our religion from all other religious worldviews that seek to earn the favour and salvation of God through good works. Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone.
But what is faith? What does it mean to believe? For many, faith is a kind of leap into the dark. It is believing in the absence of evidence; or, believing in spite of the (lack of) evidence. But this is a misunderstanding of the concept of faith, especially as understood by Christians. In the Bible, the Greek word for faith is pistis. This word is in turn derived from the word peithô, which means “persuade, be persuaded.” Faith has to do with being persuaded. As J.P. Moreland says, “[F]aith is relying on what you have reason to believe is true and trustworthy.”3 In secular Greek antiquity, pistis referred to a “guarantee” or “warranty.” To have faith in God is thus to be persuaded by God to accept God’s guarantee. It is a response to God’s persuasive revelation and promises. As is aptly said, faith is not a leap into the dark; it is a step into the light – the light that God has shone.
To be persuaded is, however, not just about intellectual or emotional persuasion. The Bible teaches that even demons believe that there is a God and tremble because of it (Jas. 2:19). Demons even believe that Jesus is the Son of God and cry out hysterically to Him as such (Mk. 3:11; 5:7). Demons are, so to speak, theistic (they believe that God exists), evangelical (they believe that Jesus is the Son of God), and charismatic (and they get rather emotional about it all)! But such faith is not biblical faith. Biblical faith – true faith – involves much more. According to Alvin Plantinga, “Belief in God means trusting God, accepting God, accepting his purposes, committing one’s life to him and living in his presence.”4 The same applies for belief in Christ. And it is this faith alone that saves. As Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone.”
But Luther does not stop there. He immediately adds, “[B]ut the faith that saves is never alone. “While faith precedes good works, good works proceeds from faith. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works; we are not saved because of doing good works, but we are saved in order to do good works. Faith in our hearts results in works in our hands. It is by faith that we are declared justified before God; but it is by works that we demonstrate our justification before people. Justification before God is by faith; but justification before people is by works.
The flip side of sola fide is sola gratia. If humans are saved through their faith, they are saved by God’s grace – and God’s grace alone. “Grace alone” simply means that the divine salvation of humans is purely unmerited or undeserved on the part of the human recipients. The riches of God’s blessings are, however, not bestowed upon us cheaply and arbitrarily. The grace of God is, as is popularly but correctly put, God’s ¬Riches At Christ’s Expense, which is received by faith – Forsaking All I Trust Him. It is only because of the person and work of Christ that God’s grace becomes available to us: “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
The principle of solus Christus means that “Christ alone” is the One – and only One – mediator between God and humans (1 Tim. 2:5), and that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Christ alone is the Saviour of humankind.5 Christ is, however, not just the Saviour of humankind. He is the Saviour of the world. As Haddon Willmer puts it, “God made the world and he made it good and he spent a lot of effort on it and therefore no matter how fallen, it cannot be allowed to founder in ultimate futility.”6 And it is only through the person and work of Christ that God saves,and will save, not just humankind, but the world and the entire cosmos. And because Christ is the only Saviour of the world, he is the ultimate and true Lord of the world.
It is the Lordship of Christ over all that undergirds the final slogan: soli Deo gloria. According to the Bible, everything exists and is to be doneto the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). It is this principle that blurs and removes the line between “the sacred” and “the secular,” and leads to the distinctly Protestant notion of “calling.”Whatever our talent, life skill, family background, educational qualification, station in life, profession, career, and vocation, we are called to serve the purpose of God and live to the glory of God. One may be called to serve the purpose of God and live to the glory of God as an evangelist or a pastor; another as a teacher, a carpenter, a businessman, a weaver, a mason, a government official, an engineer, a doctor, a musician, a politician, a homemaker, a farmer, a tourist guide, and so on.“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col. 3:23). All of life is to be lived and all of work is to be done Coram Deo – before the face of God, in the presence of God, under the authority of God, and to the honour and glory of God.