Many religions list behaviors that one must do to earn salvation. Christianity is different. Christianity teaches that the work of salvation has already been accomplished for us--Christ paid it all. Five hundred years ago, these same questions around salvation--what it means to be saved, how one gets saved--were at the core of the Protestant Reformation movement. One product of that movement was the “five solas,” or five "alones," which describe five affirmations about salvation. As we reflect upon the anniversary of the Reformation with our families, we can see how God's plan of salvation still guides our families today.
How do we know about God, his actions, and his will for our lives? Scripture alone is our ultimate guide. Scripture is itself the God-breathed church-written story of God and his people, by which God reveals himself clearly. The church was involved in its formation, and the church teaches what scripture teaches today, but no one, not even the church, can overrule God's historic revelation in his Word. And Scripture resounds with the truth that Christ Jesus died and rose to give us new life in him. In scripture, by the Spirit, we come to see clearly God and his message of salvation. What a privilege to have God speak to us--each of us can have God’s words within our hands to guide us in a life of faith, and we can hold each other accountable to God's Word.
Can I buy or earn my salvation? Radically, no, not even part way. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, or less. Salvation is by his grace alone, a total gift to you because he loves you no matter what. We are not saved, even in part, by our good works. Grace is not something we earn, but it is a free gift from God’s hand. People who work hard every day sometimes don't know how to reconcile that they bring nothing to God's table that wasn't already God's. People who feel ashamed sometimes feel too unworthy to receive such a gift. We are people who expect to have to achieve and earn favor, but God calls us to contentment in what he has already accomplished for us. We cannot do anything, and nothing we do gets us closer--salvation is already ours!
How can I participate in the salvation Christ has accomplished? In faith alone, which is itself a gift. Faith means "to put trust in" something. Those who trust God in Christ by his Spirit can be assured of their salvation. We can be assured that God honors the smallest amount of faith. The father who told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” received healing for his son (Mark 9:24). Even faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains because the trust is in the one who created the mountains. Faith can also mean "to be true to" an original source. A high-fidelity recording reproduces music well because it closely follows the original sound. Those who put trust in God will also come to be true to God in Godliness. But that's a product and not the cause of salvation! We are blessed to know that we don’t need to earn our salvation, and couldn't if we tried. We need only to step out in faith.
In whom can our salvation be found? In Christ alone. Not in any variety of gods, not in a vague sense of the divine, not the church, and certainly not in ourselves, but only in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ God promised. This truth of the Reformation reminds us that Christ, as both God and man, was the perfect mediator to bring us salvation. As the perfect person without any sin, Jesus the messiah bore the weight of our sin. As God, he could step in to bear the punishment for our sins in our place. We can be grateful for the gift of Christ Jesus to become human with us and to die for us so that we would be able to experience new life in him.
Who gets the credit for our salvation? Since it's all a gift, we get zero credit. Rather, just as creation itself declares the glory of God, so our salvation points only to God's goodness and greatness. This is the kind of God we love--the one who made us, pursued, suffered in our place, and gave himself just so that we could be restored to him once again. We contribute nothing that we haven't been given; God is in control and he gets all the glory. May God receive all thanks and admiration for what he has accomplished in our lives!
Our sister ministry, Today, has a thoughtful devotional book celebrating the Five Solas with a special series of daily devotions throughout the month of October. When you subscribe to Today’s daily emails now, you’ll receive "The Reformation for Today" series in a commemorative e-book as well.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema