500 Years Post Reformation
On the 31st day of October 2017, it was exactly five hundred years since Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg (or mailed his theses to the Archbishop of Mainz) and started what eventually came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. In the pitch darkness of the middle ages, Luther like other reformers before and after him sought to protest the loss of Christianity's original identity and doctrinal probity and restore the theological foundations of the early church's belief and practice.
Perhaps the most important question they sought to answer is that of salvation— "What must one do to be saved?" Is Salvation a result of human effort entirely, a mixture of the grace of God and the efforts of man or a matter of the grace of God entirely from first to last, without any human component? While the Protestant Reformation provided a scriptural answer to this question of salvation, five hundred years after that restoration, many in the church remain as ignorant about God's provision for salvation as folks were back then in the middle ages. Sadly, it seems that we have failed to learn a lesson that was taught five centuries ago.
At the heart of the protestant reformation was an appeal to Scripture as the only authority for faith and practice — the reformers early on argued for the truth that salvation is by Grace through faith plus nothing. By Grace alone. Through Faith alone. In Christ alone. To the Glory of God alone. The reformers pointed to the person and work of Christ as the basis of reconciliation and justification. Salvation cannot be provided on the basis of human merit as we cannot earn, pay for or deserve something that is beyond our capacity; thus God knowing our frame and because of His infinite love for us makes salvation possible as an absolute gift— with no strings attached (except of course the ribbon tied on that precious gift from God).
Since every unsaved person is under the threefold sentence of sin— he is a sinner by nature (Eph2:1-5; Rom5:12), he proves his sinfulness by his habitual practice of sin (Rom3:10-23) and he is declared a sinner by God's divine decree (Rom3:9, Rom7:14, Gal3:22) as such, he can not earn salvation, God in His infinite Grace towards man, dealt with these threefold sentence of sin in Christ— there is imputed righteousness for man because he is a sinner by nature(Rom3:22, Rom5:17) , there is forgiveness of his sinful practices— past, present and future (Psalm85:2, 103:3, Jer31:34, John1:29, Col2:13, etc) and there is a divine decree of justification for man in view of the fact that he is declared a sinner by God (Rom5:1, Acts 13:39, Rom3:24, 28, 1Cor6:11, Gal2:16, Tit3:7, etc).
Grace, Biblical Grace then is the limitless, unrestricted, Love of God free to act unshackled on the behalf of the undeserving sinner through the death, burial and resurrection of His son, by which salvation is offered unto man as a free gift of God not on the basis of human merit or effort or obligation. Through the medium of faith, man appropriates this free gift of God; however, even faith is a gift of God! (See Eph2:8-10) If faith is something we can generate or muster up through our own efforts or doing, then we can take pride or boast in our ability to engender that which makes salvation possible.
Five hundred years ago, this concept was nearly lost and people felt that while the death of Christ played a significant part in our salvation, it wasn't quite enough. It didn't cover it all and it's like a dinner where the Host prepares the meal but you come in with your wine, otherwise you are not allowed into the banquet hall. These days,a good number of believers still hold on to this false doctrine— Grace plus some human efforts equal salvation. Grace plus repentance. Grace plus prayers. Grace plus good behavior. Grace plus baptism. Grace plus piety, etc. While some of these things hold some importance, none of them is a component of our salvation. Under Grace, according to the Scripture the salvation of the sinner is based entirely on believing— faith in Christ's person and redemptive work. Alone. Plus Nothing.
The doctrine of salvation through grace through faith plus nothing is not a novelty but a truth that goes into the time of the patriarchs and throughout the Old Testament. It is believed in some quarters that the idea of a salvation by grace through faith is a "New Testament idea" but nothing could be further from the truth; if the old testament saints could be saved by works, then what need is there for grace? (See Gen15:1-6, Exod19:3-4,Heb7:11-19, Heb8:7-13; Heb10:1-10). The emphasis in both Testaments is the great Grace of God(cf Exod34:6 and John 1:14) and the helplessness of man in procuring salvation for himself. (Rom5:6, Ps79:9, Heb1:3). In the words of Lewis Sperry Chafer, "all the old testament saints were saved on credit and the bills came due at Calvary."
Thus what Luther and the reformers taught is not that God demands faith from us in order to save us, salvation is not a reward of our faith,something we give in exchange for what God gives, instead both faith and justification are gifts from a gracious God to sinful men. It is given by God and received by us. God takes the initiative from first to last. "...the righteousness that is grounded on faith depends entirely on the mercy of God"(John Calvin on Rom1:17). Salvation is thus according to Scripture, solely by Grace, solely through faith, solely in Christ and solely to the glory of God. Plus Nothing.
Sola Scriptura. Sola Gratia. Sola Fide. Solus Christus. Soli Deo Gloria