Soli Deo Gloria: (to God alone be the glory)
This point is at the heart of the Reformation and the Bible. This is the essence and core of why God created anything at all and of all biblical theology. While this point is listed last in many lists, it will be listed first here. It will be listed first because the other four points of the Reformation flow from it. The focus of this point is that all must be done to the glory of God and all that God does is for His own glory. This point flows from the Great Commandment in which all are commanded to love God with all of their beings. This flows from the command given in I Corinthians 10:31 where we are told this: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This reflects the cry of the Psalmist when he prayed: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory” (115:1). When we look at the whole of Scripture, it tells us to know that we were created for the glory of God and that all we do is sin if it is not for the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in order that it may be to the glory of God alone. We are sanctified by grace in order that we may live in a way that manifests the glory of God. This principle is the heartbeat of Scripture and should be the heartbeat of all true believers. Several catechisms reflect this in different ways when we are told that the main purpose and goal of man is to glorify God.
Sola Scriptura: (Scripture alone)
What instructs man how to glorify God? Holy Scripture, as the very Word of God, is what instructs us how to glorify and enjoy God. Roman Catholicism had put the supreme authority into the hands of men by teaching that the Pope and the Councils did not err. The Reformation went back to Scripture and set out that the supreme authority was God as He spoke in His Word. No man and no collection of men have authority over the Word of God since it is the words of God given to men. The Scriptures are the very revelation of God and His will to man so that man may not have to rest on the verdict of fallen reason and so-called common sense. The supreme authority for the Church is God, but it is the spoken word of God as given by God. This means that for all matters of doctrine, life, and conduct in the church the Word of God is the final authority. It alone has the revelation of God that man is to submit himself to. The Scripture alone teaches how man is to live to the glory of God alone.
Solus Christus: (Christ alone)
Roman Catholicism had people look to the Church for salvation. It dispensed grace by the sacraments and its indulgences. Luther and the Reformers went back to Scripture and saw that Scripture led people to Christ. Christ is grace to His people and Christ Himself is the food of the souls of His people. While Luther is famous for justification by faith alone (faith apart from works), the reason he taught that was to emphasize that people are saved by Christ alone. For salvation men are to look to Christ alone for salvation, for their one and only mediator, and as the one and only sacrifice for sins. Men are also to look to Christ alone as their righteousness, sanctification, wisdom, and redemption (I Corinthians 1:30). Jesus Christ alone is also the outshining of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) and the human body of Christ was the very tabernacle of the glory of God (John 1:14). There is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved (Acts 4:12) and there is no other way to the Father (John 14:6). There is also no other way to eternal life but by knowing the Father through Christ (John 17:3). In the Gospel of Christ alone we see that it is God that truly deserves all the glory and it is the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ (II Corinthians 4:4, 6).
Sola Fide: (by Faith alone or faith without works)
This points to what some see as the defining doctrine of the Reformation and the very heart of the Gospel. This refers to the basis on which God justifies sinners. In light of what faith is, justification is God’s declaration of the sinner as just or righteous in His sight. As a holy and just God, He can and will only declare sinners just on a proper basis. The teaching of faith alone points to the issue that God declares sinners just on the basis of Christ apart from the works of man. God declares human beings just on the basis of Christ bearing the wrath of the Father for the sins of human beings and crediting or imputing to human beings the righteousness of Christ. To believe in Christ alone is to believe that Christ suffered for all of my sins and gives me a perfect righteousness apart from my own merit or my works. That is to say that to believe in Christ is to believe and trust in Him without and apart from my own works. Faith alone teaches us that we are to receive the promises of God in Christ without trusting in any or our own goodness or works at all. Thus, justification by faith alone is the declaration that God declares a man just on the basis of Christ apart from the works of man at all, but simply by the man receiving Christ apart from anything else. Faith alone preserves the biblical doctrine that salvation is by grace alone and to the glory of God alone. Men are saved through faith in order that salvation would be by grace apart from any works of man (Romans 4:16) and so would be to the glory of God alone. That leaves men with nothing to boast in.
Sola Gratia: (Grace alone)
This wonderful teaching is what Luther meant when he wrote his magnum opus of Bondage of the Will. Whatever else theologians and Christians must do, they must preserve the Gospel of grace alone. By grace alone the Reformers meant that human beings are saved by the grace of God and nothing within man and nothing that man can do. No works can assist or contribute to the Gospel in any way at all. Romans 3:24-25 and Ephesians 1:3-14 and 2:1-10 shine forth the glory of a Gospel of grace apart from works (or alone). The Gospel is by grace alone so that it will set forth the love of God as uncaused and merited by man. It is grace that teaches us that the love of God is caused within the triune God alone. Until man has been humbled to the point where he trusts in nothing of himself and nothing that he can do, he is not ready to trust in grace alone. The Gospel is to the praise of the glory of His grace and nothing of man. Grace points to the unworthiness of man and the worthiness of Christ, not to how man deserved to be saved. The fact that God saves on the basis of a sheer and utterly beautiful grace shows how the five solas are linked. It is grace that shows that the Gospel is all to the glory of God. Grace must be revealed in and taught by Scripture or else no one would believe it. It is grace alone that shows how it must Christ alone or there is no salvation and no Gospel. It is grace that teaches us that faith must receive the grace of God apart from any merit or works of man or it would no longer be grace. "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Galatians 2:21). For any person to attempt any work to add to or assist in grace is to imply that there was no need for Christ. As Romans 11:6 so forcefully puts it, “but if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Any addition of man’s works to grace makes grace to be something other than grace. That is why it must be grace alone or it is no longer grace. If it is no longer grace, it is no longer to the glory of God alone.
We thank Richard Smith for the preceding definitions.