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Sola Gratia - Grace Alone

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Five Solas of the Reformation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:07
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Our hope of salvation is based on Grace Alone.

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This morning we are returning to our series on the Five Solas of the Reformation. The second Sola is—Sola Gratia—Grace Alone.
Like many other words we find in our bibles, the common way we use Grace in the English language today is much different than the Biblical meaning. To understand what Grace Alone means, we must understand what Grace means in the Bible.
If you did a search for the word “grace” in a Bible software program, you would discover that it is used far more times in the New Testament. However, it would be a mistake to think that grace is not found in the Old Testament. In fact, the adjectival form—graciousness—is frequently found. Of even more importance is where the word “gracious” is found. It is found in some of the most theologically rich passages of the Old Testament. Passages such as Exodus 34:6-7.
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Here God reveals Himself to Moses and Israel and the first thing He declares about Himself is that He is one who is “merciful and gracious.” God is telling us how He relates to us, especially how He relates to us as sinners! This brings us to our first point:

Grace is God’s Response to Our Sin

The Old Testament is so valuable for our understanding of grace because it reminds us that grace is not an impersonal force, but a personal response by God to fallen sinners. Grace is both an attitude and an action.
As an attitude we can define grace as, God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, what we merit is God’s judgement and wrath. Notice in this famous Old Testament declaration that God’s first response to humanity”s sin is not judgement and wrath, but grace! Most certainly, God does not set aside His justice, after declaring His mercy and graciousness, God says he “will by no means clear the guilty.” However, grace is God’s first response.
This is important to remember because grace is often not our first response to sin. Our first response is judgement and wrath! Consequently, we quickly fall into despair and hopelessness in the face of our sin—we incorrectly assume that God’s first response will be judgement and wrath. This tendency towards self-condemnation often gets worse AFTER our conversion. We know what the Fruit of the Spirit should be, but the stench of the rotting Fruit of the Flesh seems to overpower the sweet fragrance of the Fruit of the Spirit.
Satan does not help matters. His name means Accuser and he loves to remind us daily of our sin and failings. It doesn’t take much effort on his part to find those sins and failings because our sanctification is not instantaneous, nor is it a straight line. There are times in our Christian walk when it feels as though for every step we take forward, we take two backwards. At such times, we can all identify with Paul’s cry found in Romans 7:
Romans 7:24 ESV
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
It is times like this we need to remember that God’s first response towards our sin is grace, not judgement. Paul models this movement from despair to hope by pointing us to God’s grace found in Christ Jesus.
Romans 7:25–8:1 ESV
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
This brings us to the second point...

Grace is Established by the Shedding of Christ’s Blood

It is impossible to speak of Biblical grace apart from Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. Earlier we saw in Exodus 34 that God’s grace does not overturn His justice.
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and the day Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree they should have died.
Genesis 2:17 ESV
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Yet they did not die, however, something did—God killed an animal and from its blood hide made garments to cloth them. This was not the last animal we see killed in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament there is a scarlet thread of sacrificed animals, whose life blood was used to cover the sins of the people. Yet how can the blood of animals cover the sin of people? They can’t! The author of Hebrews states the problem like this:
Hebrews 10:1–4 ESV
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Notice that the author of Hebrews say the Old Testament sacrifices were “shadows” pointing to a greater “reality.” The scarlet thread I spoke of earlier ends with Christ Jesus. A few verses later the author of Hebrews turns our attention to Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 10:10–14 ESV
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
The tension between God’s grace and God’s justice has now been relieved, the demands of God’s righteousness are fully satisfied by the blood of Jesus. Hear how the apostle Paul explains how there is now no conflict between God’s grace and justice.
Romans 3:21–26 ESV
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
People often imagine grace as nothing more than a sentimental overlooking of sin by an indulgent parental figure in heaven, nothing could be farther from the truth! True grace is costly and it is costly because God will not compromise his standards of righteousness. It was not the “indulgence of God” that was manifested by Christ, but the “righteousness of God!”
This is why it is impossible to speak of biblical grace apart from Christ. The notion of grace apart from Christ is an illusion. Almost everyone you meet assumes they and their loved ones are going to escape judgement and go to heaven, not because they trust in Christ, but because they trust in God’s indulgence and their own good works.
This brings us to our final point.

Grace Alone is the Foundation of Our Hope of Salvation

For this last point, I would like to read from our second Scripture lesson this morning:
Ephesians 2:1–10 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
At the time of Martin Luther, Rome, like the false teachers at Ephesus, imagine grace as God’s help to those who were striving to help themselves. Neither Rome, nor the Jewish false teachers of Paul’s day, would deny the absolute necessity of God’s grace. They insisted, and Rome still insists, that God’s gracious help is necessary to obey God’s Law, but it is here that they departed from Scripture—they insist that it is the merit of obedience to God’s Law that is the bases of their hope of salvation.
Against this idea of “works righteousness” done by the help of God’s grace, Paul writes:
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It is Grace Alone, received by Faith Alone, on account of Christ’s Death Alone that is the only ground for a hope of salvation! Most certainly, God’s grace includes all his working and acting in our behalves. For example, the Greek grammar of verse 8 strongly suggests that even our faith by which we receive God’s gift of salvation is itself a gift of grace! Moreover, God does help us by His grace to obey Him according to verse 10.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But when it comes to our salvation, God Alone receives all the glory. Our efforts contribute nothing to it. This could not be more clear that what we just read in Ephesians 2. First thing we notice in that is this—we received our salvation when we are “dead in our sins.”
Ephesians 2:5 ESV
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Dead people can’t do anything to contribute to there spiritual health. Sin does not merely make us sick—it makes us dead! In addition, Paul clearly states we have no grounds for boasting:
Ephesians 2:9 ESV
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
If our salvation depended on us making good use of the help God offers us by grace, then we would have grounds to boast, for we could boast that at least we made better use of the grace God offered us than the person who was not saved! The Biblical, Reformation doctrine of salvation by Grace Alone is the pin that deflates our pride!
More importantly, grace is our only hope of salvation. If we are honest with ourselves our “good works” don’t even measure up to God’s standards of righteousness. This was the soul crushing place Martin Luther found himself in. Before becoming a monk, Martin Luther attended law school. He was a brilliant student of the law and he brought this finely honed legal mind into the monastery with him. Moreover, he was honest—he didn’t play games with himself or with God. Consequently, he grew to hate both himself and God, because he understood how fall short of God’s standards he fell. No amount of religious good works could compensate for his sin—he was without hope of salvation.
Perhaps you are one of those rare human individuals who is honest with themselves. You are not making excuses for your sins. You know that you are not living up to God’s standards of righteousness. If this describes you, stop looking to your good works of hope—you will not find any hope there, only despair. Look to God’s grace as found in Jesus Christ.
Salvation is a gift to by received, not a prize to be won! Salvation is by grace alone. Let us all pray that God will give us the grace to receive that gift today by faith. Let us pray...
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