Unfortunately, Halloween comes to mind when many people think of October 31st. This date actually looks back on one of the most dramatic moments in church history. On this day in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. These Ninety-Five Theses became the catalyst for the Reformation, which produced the Five Solas.
Martin Luther spoke one of my favorite quotes when the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate him. He said:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
The Catholic Church was unable to defend their false teaching with Scripture or respond to Luther’s criticisms. On May 25, 1521 Luther was declared an outlaw and his literature was banned. The Catholic Church said, “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It was a crime for anyone in Germany to give him food or shelter.
Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It’s hard to argue there are more significant fulfillments of this promise than the victory God produced through Martin Luther. When October 31st rolls around each year we would do well to think not of Halloween, but of the Reformation and the Five Solas.
In honor of the Reformation I want to provide a brief summary of each of the Five Solas!
1. The Five Solas: Sola Fide—“Faith Alone”
This excludes any works from being necessary for salvation. Justification – or being declared righteous by God – is received by faith only, apart from anything man can do. At the time the Catholic Church emphasized the use of indulgences (donated money) to purchase status, and even forgiveness, with God. Works, such as baptism and other sacraments, were seen as required for salvation.
- Romans 4:5 To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
- 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 of works, lest anyone should boast.
2. The Five Solas: Sola Gratia—“Grace Alone”
This excludes the merit done by a person to achieve salvation. Salvation comes by divine grace, or unmerited favor only, not from anything a sinner could do to earn God’s favor.
- Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
- Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura—“Scripture Alone”
This recognizes the Bible as the source of authority for Christians. This declaration rejected the authority of the Pope and the traditions of the Catholic Church.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4. The Five Solas: Sola Christo—“Christ Alone”
This gives Jesus credit for His sacrifice in our salvation. The Catholic Church placed Mary, saints, and church leaders in the role of intercessors between man and God. The Reformers wanted to recognize Jesus as our High Priest, and through Him only is access to God available.
- 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus
- Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
5. The Five Solas: Soli Deo Gloria—“To the Glory of God Alone”
This teaches that God, and not man, should receive all glory and honor. Rather than elevating Mary, the Pope, or saints, all praise and adoration should be reserved for the Lord exclusively.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
- Colossians 3:23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.
The Five Solas are demonstrated throughout Scripture. My favorite example took place with the paralytic who was lowered through the roof. Luke 5: 20 says, “When [Jesus] saw their faith, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’”
We can’t do anything to obtain forgiveness. But it can be received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is why a paralyzed man, who could do nothing but put faith in Christ, received forgiveness.