2017 marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. As a community we will gather in Hoagland for a day-long celebration on September 9 Mark your calendar today to be a part of this important festival.
At the heart of the Church’s beliefs is the doctrine of justification. It is the teaching of how we are declared righteous in God’s sight. For years the Lutheran Church has used four important watchwords to articulate this doctrine:
A sinner is justified by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) for the sake of Christ alone (solus Christus), a truth revealed to us in Scripture alone (sola Scriptura).
Each of these “solas” will be considered in the next few articles, beginning with the first of these watchwords: grace alone (sola gratia).
When we speak of grace we must first ask the question: What is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved favor (favor Dei) toward sinners. Grace is God’s unmerited good intention. Grace is His loving disposition toward those who have gone astray and are “dead” in sin and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). Grace, then, is something in God, not in man. So we hear that “Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).
However, God does not declare us righteous and free from guilt in a vacuum, as if He just ignores our sin. We have a great debt we owe God due to our sin, a debt that must be paid. God’s justice demands it. Yet this is a debt none of us can pay.
So, God in His grace planned for our salvation. For God’s grace is more than a disposition in God. God’s grace is active—active in Christ. In His grace God sent forth His Son to become flesh and pay the debt we owe Him. God sent Christ Jesus to offer His righteous life in exchange for our sinful lives upon the cross and to take upon Himself the guilt of our sin, our debt. Jesus Christ paid for the sin of the world “with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Through God’s grace alone we sinners are forgiven and justified because of Christ.
This means that there is nothing in us and nothing we do that moves God to forgive us. God is gracious to us because of Jesus Christ and because of Him alone. St. Paul writes: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). This gives such comfort to sin-stricken consciences, for God’s grace is not earned by what you do but is given freely by a generous God. For this reason Scripture constantly speaks of God’s grace as the reason for our salvation in opposition to our works: “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Again, St. Paul writes, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). To be saved by grace alone means you do not save yourselves. Christ does. Christ has. It is finished! (John 19:30)
This grace of God extends to everyone. Grace is universal). Scripture teaches that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And on Jordan’s banks John the Baptist cried of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Jesus Himself would simply say, “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16a) No one is excluded from God’s grace in Christ.