Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 2 in our sermon series through the “Five Solas” or the five large themes of the reformation. We’re seeking to find out why they mattered then and why they still matter today. On this anniversary we have a need to answer some questions: do the ministry and writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still matter? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions, as we have said, is a resounding yes. And though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So let’s once again turn to the past, to once again gain insight for today.
The Five Solas are:
-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone
-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone
-Sola Fide, Faith Alone
-Solus Christus, Christ Alone
-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone
We now turn our attention to the second of these, Sola Gratia (Grace Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Ephesians 2:1-8, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it. There are two things for us to see today.
Hopelessness Without Christ (v1-3)
As Paul begins chapter 2 of Ephesians he mentions the source of our hopelessness is our natural condition. What is our natural condition? “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” This is not a metaphor. This is not meant to be figurative or symbolic. It is meant to be absolute. Every man and woman born into this world isn’t born in danger of death, but in a state of spiritual death. He goes onto describe what kind of life this death produces. In our spiritual death we live life following the course of the world. What world? The world ruled by Satan, or the prince of the power of the air. By following the course of his world we’re really following him and by following him this makes us sons of disobedience. What do sons of disobedience do? They live in the passions of the flesh, they carry out the desires of the body, and they give room for the immoral desires of the mind to grow. What is the Paul’s conclusion of our sinful lives? v3, by nature we are children of wrath. This is not just some drugged out segment of society in view or the populations that fill prisons in view, all mankind is in view here. And rather than improvement, man is prone to deprovement. This is you, this is me, this is every person you’ve ever met, everyday throughout your entire life. Accordingly there are only two kinds of people in this world, and it’s not bad guys and good guys, it’s bad guys and Jesus.
People often come to us (elders) wanting to talk to about their struggles saying something like “I’ve fallen into sin and I need help.” That’s a great place to begin, but it’s not exactly accurate and this text points that out. No one falls into sin. We jump. We sin because we want to. We do not sin because someone hurt us or sinned against us, no. We sin because we love sin. Because of this the sooner we see our sin issues as a battle over what we love in our misguided affections, the sooner we can be on the mend from these struggles.
I feel the pastoral question rising up in my heart at this moment is simple and straightforward: do you believe this? Or do these words hit you as ridiculous? Do you submit to what the Bible has to say about you here, or do these words meet your disapproval? You may be thinking, ‘Wait a minute guy, many people are alive around me everyday. Everyone – from babies to toddlers to children to teenagers to young men and women to the middle aged and the retired – they all seem to be bubbling with imagination, they all seem to think deeply, and burst with creativity, and fully alive in many ways. How in the world could you say they are dead?’ Well, everyone on the planet may be alive in these ways and may even be thriving according to worldly standards. But in the most important way, according to eternal standards, their soul is six feet under. And so, being warm to ways of the wicked world all mankind is born blind to true beauty, dead to true delight, rebellious to true redemption, cold to true clarity, frozen to true feeling, and numb to true knowing.
Throughout the history of man, three views of man have largely been believed and taught. Some believe man is fine and well on his own and therefore doesn’t believe man needs anything (Humanism). Others believe man is sick and therefore believes man needs some medicine to aid our natural effort (Semi-Pelagianism). While Christians believe man is dead and therefore believes man is in need of one thing above all else – resurrection. Bottom line? We are hopeless without Christ.
Now, why go into all this detail on the doctrine of sin? Aren’t we talking about Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) today? Indeed we are. But notice that even the ordering of our passage today reveals that without a true understanding of our fallenness, we cannot understand God’s grace to us. Now that we’ve sailed through the sea of man’s corruption, which could rightly be called the dead sea, we now enter a far vaster and deeper sea, the sea of God’s grace.
Hopefulness With Christ (v4-8)
Paul begins his transition out of our natural helplessness without Christ into our hopefulness with Christ by giving us two of the most promising words in Scripture. “But God…” These two words represent a new beginning. A break from our sinful past. A miraculous act of a sovereign gracious God. Our sin is such that we now know there is no human means of accomplishing our own redemption. We cannot do enough. We are not enough. If any man is to be saved God must intervene, and these two words tell us He has done just that. His intervention into the mess of mankind, His breaking into our brokenness highlights – emphasizes – features – displays His grace. All throughout the Old Testament we see God being gracious to an underserving people. He promised a redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head, He covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with bloody skins, He called and covenanted with Abraham, He redeemed Israel out of slavery, He gave them the Law, He instituted the sacrificial system, He met with them in the tabernacle, He fed them in the wilderness, and He spoke to them through the prophets. All of this was grace. They didn’t deserve any of it. Thus, many rightly define God’s grace by saying it is His unmerited favor given to His people. He did this to them again and again. Until one day, when the fullness of time had come, God intervened one more time…and this time His intervention came in incarnation, when God Himself would break into our world in Christ.
God’s grace, then, isn’t some kind of divine benevolence toward all mankind. It’s not some large smiley divine being who is always cheery. This also means God’s grace is ultimately more than God’s unmerited favor. God’s grace is ultimately a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ.
See how Paul describes it in the text. “…being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses…” What did God do? God “…made us alive together with Christ.” Back in 1:15-20 Paul prays for this Ephesian church and pleads with God in v19-20 that they would know “…the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward those who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead…” See the connection between that prayer and our text today. Paul prays that they would know God’s great power toward those who believe, power that God mightily displayed through raising Christ from the dead. Then in 2:5 we find that we come to know that great resurrection power not only in beholding Christ’s resurrection but by experiencing our own resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life, which God did through His powerful and immeasurable might. Therefore, Paul’s own prayer for this church in 1:19-20 is answered in 2:5.
And just in case we don’t get it Paul inserts that small note in v5 “by grace you have been saved.” Why insert that little comment? To let us know that our salvation, this resurrecting redemption, is all of grace! In v6 he continues on by showing us that our resurrection from death to life through God’s grace in the gospel takes us where Christ’s resurrection took Him. After Christ made satisfaction for sins and rose from the grave He ascended on high, taking a seat at the Father’s right hand to rule and reign over all things. When God’s grace intervenes in our dead hearts and He raises us to new life, He also unites us to Christ so much so that where Christ now is we are as well. Just as we were once physically alive but spiritually dead, so too, now we’re physically present here on earth but spiritually present with Christ in heaven. This means our new life in Christ is (and must be!) new, different – vastly different – than our life before Christ. Did you notice that back in v2-3 Paul described our sinful life in the past tense? “…in which you once walked…among whom we all once lived…” Just as God broken into our fallen world and intervened in His grace through His Son, so too, once saved by that grace of God our lives must make a new break as well. A break away from the old and toward the new. Specifically using language from v5-6, our lives must break away from a life of sin and death toward a life of power and resurrection. What is the source of such a life of gospel power? The grace of God.
Then to give all of this glorious gospel grace a unified purpose, v7 comes to us saying “…so that in the coming ages God might show (display) the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Why did God give dead sinners, who live in the passions of the flesh, carry out the sinful desires of mind and body, and follow the prince of the power of the air, why did God give grace to dead sinners like that? Why did God raise such children of wrath? He did it to dramatically display His grace in Christ to the entire world. That’s what v7 says. The ultimate purpose of giving children of wrath grace is to megaphone the marvelous nature of His grace to the world from age to age until the very end.
Lastly, in v8, Paul gives a wonderful summary of all he’s mentioned thus far in chapter 2. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” Salvation comes by grace, through faith. Why do why do so many fight against this and boast as if they are saved because of something they have done? Do you not see clearly what Paul says here? “This is not your own doing.” Well, if it’s not something we do, how does it happen to us? “It is the gift of God.” As a lion will choose to eat meat over wheat because of its nature, so too a sinner will choose sin over righteousness because of their nature. In order for the lion and the sinner to desire something foreign to their natural taste what has to happen? Their nature has to change. Can a lion do this? Can you do this? Can you change yourself this deeply? You may think you can amend yourself to look a bit nicer and neater, but deep down, every man and woman is still a sin hungry lion. We must have someone greater than us, moved by grace towards us, in power resurrect us. If we’re to be saved, if we’re to hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than sin and wickedness, God must come.
Church, our helplessness without Christ is great, but our hopefulness with Christ abounds. Why? Because of the message of the gospel – we are more sinful than we can imagine, but in Christ (Christ becoming like us, Christ living for us, Christ dying for us, Christ rising for us, and Christ ascending for us), in Christ God loves us more than we can dare hope. It is in this gospel – the gospel that calls us to remember how holy God is, how unholy we are, how pure Christ is, how He bore our impurities for us, how He defeated death for us, and how we are now being called by God to repent and believe in Christ to be saved – it is in this gospel where we see the grace of God.
So let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Gratia matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?
Last week I began the sermon telling of Martin Luther’s early life and transition from monk to reformer. Today I want to answer this question by ending the sermon telling you about the end of Luther’s life and particularly his last words.
Twenty-nine years had passed since he nailed his 95 theses to church door in Wittenberg. Being 62 years old and weary from his life’s work, Luther was asked to come be the mediator in a family dispute in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany. Through Luther’s efforts the dispute was resolved, but he fell ill in the process. Sensing his end was near he wrote his last will and testament and his friend Justus Jonas came to his side and asked him “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther shouted “YES!” The sickness increased, and as death approached Luther uttered his last words, “We are beggars. This is true.”
“We are beggars. This is true.” Do these words surprise you? On the surface of things they certainly don’t seem very hopeful do they? That he would mention his own fallen and sinful condition on his deathbed seems a bit melancholy. I mean, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about. He’d written volumes upon volumes about the nuances of gospel grace, and then on his deathbed he gives us that? I hope you don’t think these words are too strange. In fact I hope you are strangely encouraged by these words. Why? Because Luther knew what we need to know.
After laboring and sweating and agonizing and grinding his soul to the uttermost ends of his limits trying to perform enough good works to become right with God in the monkhood as a good Roman Catholic…he realized something that changed his life. He was not enough. He was a fallen man. He truly was helpless and truly was hopeless before God in his own works. But this truth about him didn’t leave him helpless and hopeless, it left him hopeful, for when he came to the end of himself he found the beginning of life in Christ. When He came to the end of Himself He learned the works that really do save aren’t his own, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone! So when it came time for the great reformer to die, he did not deny, he did not twist, he did not run away from his own fallen nature. He owned it and said “We are beggars. This is true.”
What a great way to proclaim, “…by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”
The question that he answered on his deathbed is one that each of you must answer as well. ‘How do I, a sinner, become right with a holy God?’ If your answer is anything about things you have done or things you have not done than I’m afraid you’re bankrupt spiritually. “Unlimited confidence in human ability is a product of the fall. It is this false confidence that now fills the Protestant world: from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works and brings a crowd.” All of these modern inventions are nothing more than repeats of historical heresies.
Church, may you see God’s grace as not merely necessary, but the sole cause of salvation. When asked how we become right with God may your answer ever be…
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone!
 Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.
 ESV Study Bible, page 2264.
 Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 63.
 Ibid., page 65.
 Ibid., page 66. See also E.K. Simpson, NICNT: Ephesians and Colossians, page 46-47.
 Thomas Goodwin, An Exposition of Ephesians: Vol. 1, page 688.
 Carl Trueman, Grace Alone: Salvation As A Gift of God, page 38.
 Ibid., page 40. I’ve also heard Dr. David Briones say this as well at Reformation Bible College.
 The answers to this question was clarified for me from Keith Mathison’s article on the Reformation Bible College blog – https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/blog/the-five-solas/.
 The following account was taken from Steve Lawson’s, Martin Luther’s Last Words, blog post on Ligonier.
 The Cambridge Declaration, page 6-7. Emphasis on end is my own addition.