The Greek grammar of the passage reveals that “faith” is the instrument by which this grace is received.[vii] It might seem that “faith” is something the sinner expresses (or does). However, when Paul writes: “and this is not your own doing”, the word “this” refers to the exercise of that faith.[viii] Thus, when Paul states that “this” is not of your own doing, he is telling us that even the exercise of faith is not of the sinners “doing”, rather it is “God’s gift”! So salvation is indeed by “grace” alone. It is solely, to the exclusion of all else, the expression of His love for sinners.
The Reformers confronted the Catholic church with five scriptural principles by which they sought to reform the church. If the 21st century church is to once again transform the culture by the proclamation of the gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ, it must reclaim its heritage: the five solas of the Reformation. Then the gospel will be heralded with accuracy, clarity, and power. Foundational to the gospel is Sola Gratia – the understanding that we are saved by the grace of God alone.
To understand this beautiful “sola”, we need to define words. How the Latin comes into English is readily apparent: Sola becomes sole; Gratia becomes grace. How about the meaning of the English words? Sole seems straightforward: “pertaining to one individual or group to the exclusion of all others”[i] Grace is a bit more varied. One popular definition uses the letters of the word as an anachro-nym: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The Greek word, however, can refer to a number of things[ii]:
- That which affords joy, pleasure, delight.
- Gracefulness or loveliness.
- Good will, loving-kindness, or favor.
- Enablement for a task.
- Kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved.
Consider now Ephesians 2:1-10. In this text, Paul clearly teaches that “by grace you have been saved”.[iii] Where do we get the idea that salvation is by grace “alone” however? Reading carefully, you will see that this passage is organized around the contrast of life “before Christ” and life “in” or “after Christ”.