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Grace and Glory

Grace and Glory

By Bruce Atkinson PhD
Special to Virtueonline
July 5, 2016

The Five Solas

Those among us who have studied Reformation theology are familiar with the "Five Solas" that codify the doctrines of grace as they apply to salvation. Evangelical scholars in general believe that understanding the solas are essential to understanding true Christianity.

- Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
- Sola fide ("by faith alone")
- Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
- Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("through Christ alone")
- Sola Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

I have always regarded these distilled teachings of the reformers as undeniably true. It is easy to find scriptures to back them up. However, they also have been obviously incomplete, not providing the full picture of the process of salvation (for example, there is no emphasis on agape love, the role of Church traditions and sacraments, or the role of the Holy Spirit). I have discussed this elsewhere. But in this short article I wish to focus only upon God's glory and grace.

Soli Deo Gloria ("glory to God alone")

This is the entire reason for everything, including the salvation of individuals. God is full of glory and anything that He does only increases that glory.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
34"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" 35"Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen
. (Romans 11:33-36)

To get a glimpse of the mind of God regarding His purposes in creation and salvation, the glory of Christ, and the glory He wants to share with us, we need go no further than the words of Jesus in John 17:22-24:
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as
we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete
unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even
as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be
with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."

Note that this passage links the concept of glory with the concept of unity in love, since love is God's essential characteristic.

The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer's life, not just what one does "at church." Every activity of our lives is to be sanctified toward the glory of God: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). The Westminster Confession, Shorter Catechism says it well: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

Sola gratia ("by grace alone")

From the eternal glory of God comes His grace and from grace springs mercy and His redemptive will for us. It was grace for God to send His Son to redeem sinful humanity and for His Holy Spirit to reveal Christ's light and truth. God used Christ's life, death, and words in this world to be our Gospel, revealed to us (only) in the written scriptures. God used Christ's disciples to found the Church, to write down the gospels and epistles, and to begin evangelizing the world and bringing Christ's Kingdom to earth (as per Matthew 28). .

It all starts and ends with God. Since Christ is the "Author and Finisher of our faith," our cooperation is minimally important; radical Calvinists would say that our cooperation is virtually not required at all (monergism). Arminian believers argue this point. Moderates (like myself) would say that our cooperation must occur but that this cooperation is inspired and empowered by God's Holy Spirit and is not of ourselves. We have nothing that God did not provide and thus we have no room for boasting, not even about our faith. But to be saved we still must respond to God's Gospel call, and some people don't. Only our sovereign, omniscient God knows why some do and some don't. We are not qualified to judge.

We know this: without God's grace, we never had a chance. But with His grace, we get everything:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has
blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us."
(Ephesians 1:3-8)

For each of us, our faith comes from our "hearing" this Gospel message, either spoken or by our reading it. And this faith is the result of the Holy Spirit's power that caused our conviction of sin and our belief in Christ (our new spiritual birth). The Holy Spirit also provides a new found desire and ability to love God and neighbor. So however we want to characterize our salvation and faith, it is all a gift from the grace of God. All of it.

To summarize: God gets all the glory for each person who is saved (born from above) because redemption begins and ends with the grace of God, first predestined in eternity before the foundation of the world, secondly through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and thirdly, through God's Word and Spirit working on each heart.

As scripture uses the term, the "heart" is the seat of our desires, the essence of each individual spirit: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity." (Jeremiah 29:13-14a). It is God who transforms our unregenerate heart and gives us the desire for Him. Anything we think that we must do to initiate or mediate or complete this amazing grace only acts to subtract from God some of His rightful glory (as if it could). It is an issue of the natural narcissistic ego (the flesh) which looks to take some credit for its own salvation -- and thus rob God. But ultimately, God cannot be robbed.

See also:

Dr. Atkinson is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a doctorate in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology. He is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Atlanta and also works as a clinical supervisor training Christian counselors for Richmont Graduate University. He is a founding member of Trinity Anglican Church (ACNA) in Douglasville, Georgia

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