Sola gratia, meaning by grace alone, is one of the five solae and consists of the belief that salvation comes by divine grace or “unmerited favor” only, not as something earned or deserved by the sinner. It is a Christian theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations, in particular, the Lutheran and Reformed traditions of Protestantism propounded to summarise the Protestant Reformers’ basic soteriology during the Reformation.
During the Protestant Reformation, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians generally believed the Catholic doctrine of the means of grace to be a mixture of reliance upon the grace of God and confidence in the merits of one’s own works performed in love, pejoratively called “legalism”. These Reformers posited that salvation is entirely comprehended in God’s gifts (that is, God’s act of free grace), dispensed by the Holy Spirit according to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ alone.
Consequently, they argued that a sinner is not accepted by God on account of the change wrought in the believer by God’s grace, and indeed, that the believer is accepted without any regard for the merit of his works—for no one deserves salvation; at the same time, they condemned the extreme of antinomianism, a doctrine that argues that if someone is saved, he/she has no need to live a holy life, given that salvation is already “in the bag”. It is also linked to the five points of Calvinism.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches affirm salvation by grace, teaching:
So we, as Orthodox Christians, affirm as clearly and unambiguously as any Lutheran, for example, that “salvation is by grace” and not by our works. Unlike medieval Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not hold that a person can build up a “treasury of merits” that will count in our favor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. What will matter then is our having surrendered our sin to God through confession, and our gestures of love (Mt. 25), together with the unshakable conviction that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and the unique Way to eternal life.
Being synergists, those of Wesleyan–Arminian soteriology, such as Methodists, take a different approach to sola gratia than Lutherans and Reformed Christians, holding that God, through prevenient grace, reaches out to all individuals though they have the free will to cooperate with that grace or reject it.
In November 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity issued the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” that said, “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.”
On July 18, 2006, delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the declaration. The Methodists’ resolution said the 1999 agreement “expresses a far-reaching consensus in regard to the theological controversy which was a major cause of the split in Western churches in the 16th century” about salvation.
Some conservative Protestants still believe the differences between their views and those of the Catholics remain substantial, however. They insist that this agreement does not fully reconcile the differences between the Reformist and Catholic viewpoints on this subject.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Why is sola gratia important?
Sola gratia is important because it is one of the distinguishing characteristics or key points that separate the true biblical Gospel from false gospels that cannot save. As one of the five solas that came to define the key issues of the Protestant Reformation, this doctrine is as important today as it was then. The Latin word sola means “alone” or “only,” and the essential Christian doctrines represented by these five Latin phrases accurately summarize the biblical teaching on these crucial subjects: sola scriptura—Scripture alone, sola fide—faith alone, sola gratia—grace alone, sola Christus—Christ alone, and sola Deo gloria—for the glory of God alone. Each one is vitally important, and they are all closely tied together. Deviation from one will lead to error in another essential doctrine, and the result will almost always be a false gospel which is powerless to save.
Sola gratia is simply acknowledging that the Bible teaches that the totality of our salvation is a gift of grace from God. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” It is the acknowledgement that salvation from the wrath of God is based on God’s grace and mercy and not on anything good in us. One reason so many want to reject this important doctrine is that they do not want to accept what the Bible clearly teaches about the basic condition of human nature since the fall of Adam. The Bible says that our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) and that “there is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God” (Romans 3:10-11). Rather than acknowledge our total helplessness and hopelessness apart from the grace of God, most people want to believe that they have a role to play in their salvation. But the Bible is clear that we cannot earn God’s favor through our own merit; it is solely by His grace.
The truth of sola gratia or salvation by grace alone is what inspired John Newton to write the wonderful song “Amazing Grace.” It is a grace so amazing that it can save a wretch like me. It is an amazing grace that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This doctrine is important because it correctly communicates the fact that God saves us because of His mercy and goodness and not because of anything that makes us desirable to God or worthy to be saved. We cannot grasp how amazing God’s grace in salvation is until we first grasp how sinful we truly are.
Sola gratia is important because if we reject it, we reject the only Gospel that can save. The alternative to sola gratia is a gospel that depends on the goodness of man instead of the grace of God, which is no gospel at all. Sola gratia is what makes the Gospel “good news.” It helps us to understand that while the Bible says there is “no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11), the good news is that God seeks after sinners. Jesus said He came to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:10), not to wait for the lost to seek Him. It is God who acts first, God who draws the wretched sinner to Himself, God who gives new life to a person who is “dead in their trespasses and sins,” God who causes a person to be “born again” so he or she can “see the kingdom of God.”
Finally, sola gratia is important because it is the basis of our assurance of salvation as sinners before a holy God. If we deny sola gratia, then we cannot have any true assurance of our salvation. Since everything we do is tainted by sin, how can we have confidence that we have enough faith to be saved? Fortunately, the Bible reveals a Gospel based not on what we do but on what Jesus Christ has done. The “Good News” is that Christ came, lived a perfect life, died on the cross and rose from the dead in order to give new life to dead sinners, to deliver them from their sins and give them eternal life with Him. It is the reason that we can know that Jesus will lose none of all that the Father has given to Him, but raise them up at the last day (John 6:39).
- “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me
- I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
- ‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, And Grace, my fears relieved.
- How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed!
- Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come.
- ‘Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us home.
- The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures.
- He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.
- Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,
- I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace.
- When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
- we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.
- Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me.
- I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.”
—“Amazing Grace” by John Newton.
This portion is borrowed from https://www.gotquestions.org/sola-gratia.html.