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Sola Gratia

5ola (The Five Solas)  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:37
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What makes a good gift?

Is it the fact that you got what you asked for? Is it the flexibility (i.e. a gift card or cash)? Is it the expense? Surely expensive gifts must be great gifts.
As I’ve thought about this during the week, I came up with a few ideas of what makes a gift good or even great.
Personal - just for you
Meaningful - maybe even something you never thought of
Surprising - not so much the delivery, but the fact that you didn’t know you needed it.
Continual - We could think of this as something that keeps on giving or provides meaning for a long time.
I may have shared about this before, but I want to share a good gift that we received from a friend of ours: talk about the “&” art.
Personal - because it was from our friend, but also given to only a few people. I’m sure she could print and publish these and may even be able to make a lot of money selling them, but, at least for now, it’s a very personal and unique gift.
Meaningful - the biblical reference and the heart behind the art (Eccl. 4:12 “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” )
Surprising - we had seen this art on the wall at their house, but did not expect it to be something that we would have on our wall too!
Continual - our friend has an eye for design and so she helped us put that piece of art on our wall among several other photos. What’s more is that often when I see that “&” symbol - I think of that friend and the friendship we have with her and her family.
I bring that up today because I think it relates to the next Sola that we are considering.

Sola Gratia - Salvation is a gift of God that we receive by Grace Alone.

Over the last few weeks, as we’ve considered the other solas - Scripture alone, Christ Alone, and Faith Alone, Ephesians 2 has come up a couple of times because it touches on many of these solas.
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV
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.
As Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus, he is clearly delineating that salvation is a gift of grace.

What is Grace?

The typical definition that I’ve frequently heard is:
“Unmerited favor” - in other words, it’s a gift - not something we earn or work for - it’s free - but as Bonhoffer might say - it’s not cheap - it cost Jesus a lot. We often associate grace with our salvation, with general favor that we receive from God. But there is another element of Grace...
Carl Trueman calls this “the active outworking of God’s unmerited favor in the life of the church and of the believer” (p. 24)
So there is this sort of two-fold facet to grace - the transactional grace and the ongoing grace.
So let’s consider this gift of grace.

Sola Gratia is a great gift from God because...

… it’s personal

We could contrast this with the modifier - universal.
The idea here is that this gift of grace, while I believe is sufficient for the salvation of everyone, it specific to the salvation of those who are called and respond.
Romans 10:9–10 ESV
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
This “you” here is singular. This confession - is something you singularly must make - it’s a response to the call and gracious gift of God.
We love to quote
John 3:16 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
We love to talk about the global love of God for the the entire world. I believe He does love the whole world. But notice the caveat that Jesus puts here - “whoever” - this becomes an individual response to that global love.
This gift of grace is personal. It’s not something I can give you. I can preach and teach about it - but I can’t give it to you. You must receive it as a gift from God. Your parents can’t give it to you. They can commit to teach about it and live it out - but they can’t believe for you.
Romans 3:23–24 ESV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
While all people are fallen and sinful - the means of justification for each one is through receiving his “grace as a gift.”
Another familiar Romans passage reminds us of this personal nature of our salvation/justification.
Romans 8:29–30 ESV
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Notice that this gift is personal because it’s selective.
We don’t give gifts to everyone. We might try to be kind and loving to everyone we encounter, but the gifts we give are reserved for certain people, specific people.
In much the same way, God has chosen to whom he will give his gift of grace. There is, what Reformed theologians call “common grace” - which is something God does give to all humanity. Trueman defines common grace as:
Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God (Chapter 1: Grace in the Bible)
God’s unmerited but nonsalvific (or non saving) favor toward the fallen creation that restrains evil and allows human beings to flourish in this earthly realm...
This is a gracious gift that everyone, all of humanity, whether we believe in God or not receives.
But there is also the personal, special, or saving grace which is provides salvation “through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The grace of God has some universal elements, but ultimately saving grace is personal.
Next we see that salvation by grace alone is a great gift of God because...

… it’s meaningful

Some good gifts we receive are meaningful be cause we never thought of them, but also because they tell us something of the giver. In much the same way, the saving grace of God is meaningful because it brings life and flourishing.
Sometimes we can think of salvation as a sort of fire insurance - a means of getting out of the punishment we deserve in hell. But it’s so much more than that. It’s transforming and impactful in our lives today.
As we read earlier from Titus:
Titus 2:11–14 ESV
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
This is a salvation that doesn’t simply have eternal ramifications, but it has very tangible and beneficial, even meaningful, impact in our lives. As we recognize that we don’t deserve the salvation that Jesus gives, we in turn can live grateful lives. We also get to demonstrate that gratefulness as we put aside our fallen nature and take on godliness - living “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” all while we are waiting for the eternal realization of our salvation.
Not only is this gift personal and meaningful, but ....

… it’s surprising

We didn’t know we needed it.
A few years ago, a friend of mine got glasses for the first time in his forties. One of his first comments was “I didn’t know how beautiful my wife was.” All the time that they had been married, he looked at her with fuzzy vision. His sight was good enough to get by, but he was surprised to find out what clear vision should be like.
In much the same way, the grace of God, his salvation through Jesus Christ is surprising - in many ways - we didn’t know we needed salvation. Sure, there may have been a void in us, but we would fill that void with a variety of things - busyness, buying things, building things.
And yet there was always something that longed for more.
Ecclesiastes tells us that...
Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Paul writes in Romans that we are without excuse about the existence and even the salvation of God, but we’re blinded by our own fallenness:
Romans 1:19–21 ESV
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
What’s more, we’re dead people walking - because of our sin.
Ephesians 2:1–3 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.
And then these two little words leap off the page...
Ephesians 2:4 (ESV)
But God...
Like my friend putting on his glasses for the first time, “but God” reaveals the depth of God’s love toward us and the surprising lengths to which he will go to maintain his holiness and justice and demonstrate His love, mercy, and grace to his humanity.
Paul describes it this way in...
Titus 3:4–8 ESV
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
We didn’t know we needed this salvation and could do nothing to deserve it - God, in his love, sent his perfect Son to be the perfect sacrifice for our shame and disgrace.
God’s gift of grace is...
personal - you have to receive it
meaningful - it should make a difference in your life today and for eternity
surprising - it was unexpected and certainly undeserved.
Finally, we get to see that God’s grace is a good gift because it’s...

… it’s continual

It’s everlasting. God’s grace through Jesus Christ grants us eternal life. But wait, there is more. As we touched briefly thinking about the meaningful nature of God’s grace, it impacts our lives in several ways. God’s grace is continually manifested to us in what theologians call...

Means of grace

Theologians use this term to "denote institutions ordained by God to be the ordinary channels of grace to the souls of men.” (Eastons)
Trueman writes:
Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God The Intercession of Christ

grace must always be connected to the work of Christ, not simply in its origin in the merciful will of God but also in its execution. This is because grace is not a divine sentiment. It is the concrete, divine response to the human problem of sin and death that is manifested in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot talk about grace without talking about Christ; grace is Christ, not an abstraction.

These institutions that God has ordained include the church, His Word, the Sacraments or Ordinances and Prayer.
Church -
So often when we think about the church we think of it as what we do for God. Carl Trueman notes that so often our vocabulary around church includes things like how we “do church” as though it’s some sort of religious activity or performance. Trueman comments: “We ask how we do church; we look for new ways to do church; we wonder how other people do church. In each case, the church is presented as something that is an act of Christians, presumably in response to what God has done in Christ.”
While there is an element of our gathering in response to God, in many ways the fact that we have this gathering called church is a means of us accessing the grace of God. Each of us, as followers of Christ and covenanted members get to participate in one another’s lives. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the authors of Scripture indwells each of us. We get to speak into each other.
One Another - there are over 50 encouragements or command in the NT that talk about what we do as a covenanted community.
love
care for
bear with
encourage
exhort
speak to one another
sing to one another
All of these things and more are tangible means of us interacting with each other and experiencing the continual the grace of God.
Because we have been purchased, as the assembled people of God, we are His “new creation” (Trueman, 173)
In addition to experiencing the church as a means of grace, we get to experience the...
Word - as a means of grace
This is why the Word is so central to our gatherings. We are called to worship with the Word, we sing songs that are infused and inspired by the Word, we often pray the Word, we read the word, we preach the word. The Word of God informs what we do when we gather.
The Word also informs how we should live and love. This is why personal and family devotions can be so helpful as we read and reflect on God’s speech.
But think about this, Scripture is the the Word of God which reveals the will of the eternal God condensed into our language. We get into the mind of the Triune God that we worship by reading, meditating, memorizing, and applying His Word!
In addition to experiencing God’s grace through the church and His Word, we also experience it in the...
Sacraments
The sacraments or ordinances consist of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Let’s begin by briefly considering...
Baptism - There are several different traditions of baptism - paedo (baptizing children) and credo - baptizing people once someone has come to a place of belief. There are a few different modes of baptism as well - immersion and sprinkling being the most popular. I’m not going to split hairs over which tradition or mode is best or most biblical - in our church we practice credo baptism through immersion.
But what ultimately is baptism? How is it a means of grace?
The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 states:
Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God (Baptism and Grace: A Contemporary Reflection)
Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with Him, in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Him (Rom. 6:3–5; Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:27); of remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16); and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:2, 4).
It’s ordained by God - something God instituted.
It’s a symbol or sign of our fellowship with Jesus - a picture of his death and resurrection - which is part of why I think immersion is the best mode.
it’s a picture of us being “engrafted” into Jesus Christ.
it’s a picture of the new life we enjoy with him.
We sometimes refer to baptism as “going public” with our faith. It is, but it’s more. It’s identification. It’s a public acknowledgement that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
The other Sacrament or Ordinance that acts as a means of grace is...
Lord’s Supper or Communion - As you know, this is something we often celebrate or observe on the first sunday of the month. In many ways, this is a memorial meal. It’s a remembrance of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. But it’s more than that.
Carl Trueman helpfully illustrates this with marriage - husband might communicate love for his wife, but sometimes he will support that love with a gift - with a tangible token of his affection - a card, chocolate, flowers. Those are not expensive - but they are a way for the love to be experienced in a different way.
Similarly, the Lord’s Supper, eating the bread and drinking the juice is a symbolic and experiential participation in what Christ has done. Trueman writes...

The Supper gives us the same Christ to feed on in a different way from that provided by word alone. It involves taste, touch, even sight for those not blind. The Supper enriches the way we receive Christ—not that it is necessary for salvation, any more than a ring is necessary for a marriage, but it does reinforce and seal the promises.

He continues...

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace because when it is attached to the word it presses Christ on the believer in a powerful way. To eat the bread and drink the wine is not only to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice, but it is to know his presence through the Spirit.

I hope that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that we will see it as more than a memorial snack, but as a profound symbol of what Christ has done for us.
There is one final means of grace, or ongoing experience of God’s grace that we have and that is...
Prayer - Jesus, by his sacrifice, redeemed our lives from the curse of sin. In doing so, he became the ultimate mediator. No longer do we need a human priest to go before the Lord on our behalf. We have direct access to God. One of the primary ways we access God through Christ is in prayer - communication directly to God.
But it seems there are four ways that prayer acts as a means of grace in our lives.
The Intercession of Christ - Jesus interceded for us on the night before he was crucified - in fact he prayed for you and me that night - consider reading through John 17 later today. But scripture also tells us that he is there at the right hand of the father advocating for us (1 John 2:1 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”) We also have...
The Intercession of the Holy Spirit - Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Private Prayer - We get to pray to God wherever we are. It doesn’t have to be at church or in a certain posture. You and I have direct connection to God through Jesus Christ. We get to talk with him, interact with him, cry with him, pour out our hearts to him, even, as my father in law says - laugh with him.
Public prayer - Sometimes, the times of prayer that we have together here on Sunday mornings - often led by one of the elders, can seem formal. In some ways it is. But it’s also instructive. I love being led in prayer by the other elders. I love hearing how God is leading them to lead us in prayer as they
take us to the throne of grace,
as they lead us to sit in awe of our gracious God,
as they shepherd us through the realization and confession of our sin,
as they lead us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and to mourn with those who are mourning,
as they pray for some of those needs and concerns that are heavy on our hearts, and
as they follow in obedience to pray for those in authority over us and for the work of the Gospel around the world.
Prayer is more than a formality - it’s a tangible means of experiencing the grace of God.

Closing Thoughts

When Jesus died on the cross, he gave us a great gift. It’s personal, meaningful, surprising and ongoing.
Have you received his gift of salvation?
Are you daily experiencing his work of grace - through his Word, through prayer?
Have you obediently followed him in baptism?
Let’s pray.

Benediction

Revelation 22:21 ESV
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Sources:
Easton, M. G. Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.
Stringer, J. H. “Grace, Favour.” Edited by D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman. New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Trueman, Carl R., Matthew Barrett, and R. Kent Hughes. Grace Alone—salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taughts…and Why It Still Matters. The 5 Solas Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.
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