Sola Gratia

The 31st of this month marks a very significant anniversary for the Christian Church. It was on October 31st that Martin Luther nailed 95 points for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s bold action as a young theologian sparked what has become known as the Protestant Reformation.

As the Reformation progressed, five great truths were hammered out and embraced. These are known as the five solas of the Reformation:

Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone

Sola Gratia – by grace alone

Sola Fide – by faith alone

Solus Christus – through Christ alone

Soli De Gloria – glory of God alone

Western Seminary stands in the great tradition of the Reformation, embracing these five solas. The solas of the Reformation are at the heart of the gospel-centered transformation taking place among our students at Western Seminary.

  • Gospel-centered transformation is based on Scripture (sola Scriptura), not secular psychology or philosophy.
  • Gospel-centered transformation takes place through God’s grace (sola gratia), not something students earn or deserve.
  • Gospel-centered transformation happens as Western faculty and students embrace God’s provision by faith (sola fide); it is not the result of human effort or works.
  • Gospel-centered transformation is taking place through the indwelling Christ (sola Christus) under the provisions of the New Covenant.
  • Gospel-centered transformation at Western Seminary is not in honor of our accomplished faculty or splendid administration, but all to the glory of God (soli de Gloria).

There’s not sufficient time to address each one of the five solas, but I’d like to touch briefly on Sola Gratia, by grace alone.

Years ago Charles Ryrie wrote a little book called “The Grace of God” where he said that among the world’s religions, the only one which featured the grace of God was biblical Christianity.

The first occurrence of this word in the Biblical text is found in Genesis 6:8, “Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of the Lord.” The last occurrence of this word in the Bible is in the last verse of the Bible, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.” From Genesis to Revelation we find the message of God’s grace being emphasized again and again!

There is probably no better place to highlight this theme than Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. I remember my professor Dr. Pentecost saying in class again and again, “Salvation is always by grace, through faith, based on the blood of Jesus Christ.” Nobody ever got saved in any other way!

My career at Western Seminary is a wonderful manifestation of God’s grace.

  • It was God’s grace that got me through my Greek and Hebrew classes as a student.
  • It was God’s grace that held my marriage together when I was giving more attention to my studies than to my wife.
  • It was God’s grace that enabled me to complete two degrees at Western Seminary—my Master of Divinity and my Master of Theology.
  • It was by God’s grace that I was accepted into a doctoral program at Dallas Theological Seminary.
  • It was by God’s grace that I was able to graduate from DTS with my Th.D.
  • It was by God’s grace that Western’s president, Dr. Radmacher, invited me back to Western Seminary as an instructor to begin teaching in the fall of 1977–forty years ago!
  • It was God’s grace that enabled me to endure and survive those first years of class preparation and teaching.
  • It was God’s grace that has provided 469 pay checks during my career at Western.
  • It was by God’s grace that I have been able to write twenty books. The first copy of each I signed with my name and the words, “by God’s grace.”
  • It was God’s grace that enabled me to serve a dozen different churches as their interim pastor.
  • It has been God’s grace that has sustained me through a broken hip, prostate cancer, occasional discouragement and spiritual challenges.
  • My life and forty-year career at Western Seminary is an example of the work of God’s AMAZING grace.

When you look at your calendar on October 31, I hope that “Halloween” won’t be the first thing that pops into your mind. I hope you will remember that 500 years ago Martin Luther declared before the Christian church that you don’t get to heaven buying indulgences. Everything we enjoy in Christ is all based on GRACE!

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).

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