The first two Solas, Scripture Alone and Christ Alone, leave us with an important question. The question is, how do these things apply to us as Christians? To be more specific, how do Christ and Scripture work in the life of the individual Christians? The simple answer is grace. Christ is the Lord of all creation. He is the Judge of all the Earth, as Abraham rightly calls him in Genesis 18:25. The reality is that what we deserve is justice. Not because we have been wronged but because we are the ones doing and having done wrong. We deserve to be in the defendant's position in court. And yet, when we read the text of Scripture and look at the work and nature of Christ, we realize that grace is everywhere. All of humanity deserves death, and yet the rain falls on all. More than that, those who trust in Christ and turn from their sin have Christ take their place in the court. We are justified by the grace of God. In the Reformation, this was a point of contention. Are we justified by the grace of God alone or by the grace of God plus our contribution? The Roman Church argued that the grace of God was not enough.
A Brief Look
One thing we have to understand is that nothing happens in a vacuum. There is no such thing as a stand-alone statement. Everything happens in a context. Every word that has ever been written or said occurs in a context. In some sense, everything we say is in response to something else. It could be a response to things we are learning or a reaction to someone else. So, if we want to understand something, we need to look at the context. Grace Alone is articulated in response to the Roman Church's position on the topic. The Council of Trent, which is the Catholic response and clarification on their position in light of the Reformation, expresses the idea that the Reformers are arguing against. To quote Council:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
The Reformers were arguing against this idea. In studying their Bibles, they found that how someone obtains grace is wholly dependent on the Lord. This should be something that is obvious since the very word grace means a gift. Something that, by definition, cannot be earned. Rome wanted to argue that in order for someone to receive the gift of grace, they must first change themselves.
Looking at Scripture
This is not an issue that has gone away. The question of how grace interacts with people continues to be contentious, even in churches that came out of the Reformation. The central question of grace comes down to whether God's grace can be stopped. Can a person resist the grace of God? The only way to answer this question is to go to scripture. An excellent place to start when talking about this is in the beginning. In Genesis 1, we are told that the Lord spoke, and all of creation came into existence. The Lord is all-powerful. He is able to talk and create time, space, and matter. Later in Psalm 115:3, we are told, "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." Seems pretty straightforward. The Lord does all that he pleases. He is the Lord, after all. The Apostle Paul builds on this idea of authority when he writes in Ephesians 2:4-5 that we are saved while we are still dead in our sins. In the following verses, he says that this is not your own doing but is from God. In other places, such as 2 Timothy 2:25 and Acts 11:18, we are told that repentance is something that is granted to people. That is the disposition and preparation necessary to come to the Lord, what we would call regeneration, is part of His grace toward us.
Grace Alone answers the question of salvation. Is salvation a cooperation between the will of man and the will of God, or is it something that comes by the grace of God alone? Do I have to do something in order to merit God's grace, or does God grant his grace to undeserving sinners? I believe, like the reformers, that God is gracious to me in spite of my sin. He extends grace to me in my sin and changes me. That does not mean that someone who receives this grace continues to sin. Grace changes us. Those who have been granted this grace are not the same. They are a new creation in Christ. This is why the Bible repeatedly tells us that we will know Christians, those who have received this grace, by their fruit. The evidence of grace is a changed heart. We are new creations. The old has passed away, and the new has come. It is the grace of God alone that saves us and not our own works or will. That grace is an effectual grace, for who can resist the will of the Lord?
Soli Deo Gloria