Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on October 22, 2017
“Sola Gratia: Grace Alone”
Last of five sermons on the Reformation’s Principles
Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-10 and Psalm 51:9-13
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”
“Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin; how shall my tongue
describe it, where shall its praises begin?”
Christians love to sing about the saving “grace of God” – and rightly so. The Gospel of John tells us that from Jesus, “… we have all received grace” (1:16). Many of the Apostle Paul’s letters begin and end with him expressing his desire that the “grace of Jesus” will fill God’s people (Rom. 1:5,7; 16:20,24; 1 Cor. 1:3-4; 16:23; 2 Cor. 1:2; 13:14; Gal. 1:3; 6:18; Eph. 1:2, 6-7; 4:23; Philp. 1:2; 4:23; Col. 1:2; 4:18). The very last words of the Bible read: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).
The Protestant Reformers emphasized the importance of the Bible’s message on “the grace of God” for salvation. In fact, one of the slogans that defined the Reformation was Sola Gratia, which is Latin for “Grace Alone.” “Grace” is the favor God shows to sinners, who neither deserve it, or can ever hope to earn it. We, who once were separated from God by our sins, are made alive through faith in Jesus Christ, because “by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2,4-5).
Through “grace,” God freely moves toward sinners to offer reconciling forgiveness, a new birth of freedom, sonship and daughterhood in the family of God (Eph. 1:4, 5, 7). “Grace” is quintessentially a gift from God, not something we can achieve. Both God’s gift of unmerited favor to us and the blessings which ensue from this gift are considered “grace.”
Among modern Protestants, there is a popular misunderstanding of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on “grace.” Sometimes it is claimed that Rome teaches that we are saved by our works, but Protestantism teaches we are saved by faith. That comparison is a misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine for Rome does not teach that one is saved by works apart from God’s grace. Rather, Rome teaches that a sinner is saved by God’s grace and the believer’s works.
To what, then, did the Reformer’s object? Their objection resided in a single word – sola (“alone”). The Reformers maintained that the sinner is saved by the grace of God alone. This doctrine means that nothing the sinner does commends her or him to God’s favor. Neither does the sinner cooperate with God in order to merit their salvation. Salvation, from beginning to end, is the sovereign gift of God to the underserving and unworthy. No one dare to stand before God and say, “Look at what I have done! Aren’t I special!” For God is no one’s debtor in matters of salvation (Rom. 11:35).
One passage of Scripture which shines brightly in proclaiming this doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone is Ephesians 2:1-10. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul sets forth God’s plan to save sinners through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7-14). He explains how God’s plan for salvation now bestows on believers “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). Then, in the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul applies God’s plan to our individual Christian lives (Eph. 2:1-10). He stresses the fact that it is “by grace you have been saved” (2:5,8).
Many people reject this teaching about grace because they insist people are basically good. They tend to believe that if we give people a quality education, provide good examples, and institute fair laws, people will pursue the right path. Admittedly, just laws, noble examples, and proper education are invaluable, but they are powerless to change a heart committed to its rebellion against God. What proof can I offer to show that sinful human nature is not altered by institutions, greater social consciousness, and religious and governmental regulations?
Has continual media coverage, increased number of laws, offering of counselors to help the aggrieved, and increased educational opportunities for the depraved and deprived lessened the discontent, disrespect, partisan conflicts, name-calling, and self-righteous attitudes which pervade our nation?
Has our sophisticated society, expanding institutions, burgeoning economy, and intelligent leadership reduced bigotry, hatred, injustice, and violence, exhibited in the poverty, addictions, sexism, terrorism, division, wars, and egregious behavior by people of every political, economic, racial and cultural class, and among nations?
Is there something in the human condition which resists extinction and heightens destruction? Absolutely! The Bible calls it sin (Eph. 2:1): our innate human desire to free ourselves from God authority and God’s moral order (Gen. 3). Without God’s “grace,” humanity remains a fallen heap of ruin. We are self-alienated creatures who constantly blunder towards corruption because we are incapable of repenting by our own power.
In protest, you declare that I have given a cold, harsh assessment of the human condition. You are partially correct. The Bible never minimizes the destructive influence and power of sin (Rom. 5:12; 1 John 1:9-10). To the contrary it offers this radical diagnosis: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world” (Eph. 2:1). The “death” Paul is describing is not just physical death. At a deeper level, he is asserting that “death” is nothing less than the alienation of our soul from God. And we remain dead until we become partakers of the life of Christ (Eph. 2:5).
How are we saved from this spiritual death? The miracle of salvation is accomplished for us by Jesus Christ on the Cross. We are saved because God in Christ pours out “grace” – God’s unmerited love upon us – Sola Gratia. And when that wonderful, amazing “grace” fills our being, a transformations starts to occur in our life. God’s “grace” illumines our mind; God’s “grace” strengthens our will; and God’s “grace” disciplines our senses:
- By the power of Grace, the Spirit challenges our prejudices, disarms our resistances, reveals our egocentricity for what it is, and enables us to hear God’s Word (2 Cor. 12:9).
- The power of Grace, enables our will to desire God’s truth. The greater good we once thought we ought to do, we now want to do. (Rom. 7:21-25).
- The power of Grace even touches our emotional life. Grace gently guides and shapes our passions. Grace encourages our soul to hunger for Heavenly food, to desire a joy that exceeds the joys of our senses, and yearn for eternal blessedness. The love of God becomes the key affection that shapes all our other affections.
As “grace” works through our intellect, will and emotions, God addresses our innermost thoughts and feelings. Our sin is gradually and continually being defeated. All because God’s grace alone has rescued us and now transforms us.
Have you discovered the wonderful, amazing grace of God in your life?