Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Ask yourself, what makes you to differ from your unbelieving neighbor? Is it the grace of Christ alone that saves or is it grace plus your good will? Where did this faith come from? Does it naturally arise in some and not others? Or is your faith itself a working of God's grace to change your heart? Is it something that came forth from our unregenerated human nature? The witness of Scripture would affirm that sinners are, not partly but wholly helpless and impotent in their sin. The Reformers vehemently opposed the synergistic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church by confessing that God redeems His people by a free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying us in Christ when we exercise faith, but also resurrecting us from spiritual death by His quickening Spirit in order to bring us to faith.
Grace is God's unmerited favor toward undeserving sinners like us. Being unmerited, people can do nothing to obtain it. In other words, grace is not conditioned upon anything God sees in us, like our merit or even our good will. But here is precisely where protests rise from Roman Catholics and even some modern Evangelicals. These complaints, unfortunately, are against one of the central components of the biblical doctrine of regeneration. Note that Evangelicals will, without exception, affirm that they are saved by grace, but many will actually hesitate when they are told that they are saved (regenerated) by "grace alone". It is more than many can bear and often even creates resentment. I know as I have often been the one bearing the brunt of the resentment. This anger arises, most likely, because sola gratia (or grace alone) means that God chooses to save His own prior to any movement of their own will (i.e. we contribute nothing to our salvation). It strips man of any and all hope from himself, including his faith. This is important because if God left men to their boasted will we would all perish, for no poison-filled well, like us, would freely use their polluted will to choose God, for the Scriptures affirm that the natural man hates the light and will not come into it (John 3:19, 20). Therefore, in His great mercy and, in spite of ourselves, God regenerates His people through the work of Christ's grace wrought in us. Exercising faith is our responsibility so, of course, we affirm that all men have a will and make voluntary choices, but since our will is broken and spiritually bankrupt, if we are ever to exercise faith in Jesus Christ it will mean that God must do a supernatural work of grace in our heart to disarm our natural hostility and restore our brokenness lest our hearts remain like stone, and we as a stiff necked people will refuse to come to Jesus Christ. We do not repair ourselves and then believe. Rather, we believe because God has repaired us, has illumined our mind that we might see and believe.
In contrast to the the orthodox Protestant doctrine of salvation by grace alone, Modern Roman Catholics, Arminians and Eastern Orthodox believers while affirming that grace is offered to us, but that fallen men must raise themselves up by their own bootstraps to understand spiritual truth and then make use of that grace with their own autonomous free will, even though they are still unregenerate. Paul says that the natural man (unregenerate) cannot understand the things of God and thinks spiritual truth is foolish (1 Cor 2:14) yet these synergistic belief systems (contrary to Scripture) all affirm that the natural man DOES have the moral ability and good will to believe the gospel. But the Bible rejects the concept of free will for Jesus says that those who sin are slaves of sin, and if they are slaves it means they are in bondage and if in bondage, they are not free, UNTIL Christ makes us free (See Rom 6 & John 8:36). So why do so many believe in free will? Because they have been taken captive by human philosophy and imported it into the Scriptures. They certainly did not get it out of any Bible text.
The natural man is dead in sin. But what does this mean to be dead in sin? It means that he is void of the work of the Spirit, i.e. he is unspiritual. Only the spiritual can understand the things freely given by God such as the gospel ( 1 Cor 2:12). And Paul affirms that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit?." The will of man is not what determines whether someone will be saved. Rather we only have a good will because God has done a work of grace in us. A man can only receive what is given him from above, including the will to believe the gospel. Faith is the gift of God since Jesus said, "no one can come to Me (believe in Me) unless God grants it (John 6:65 also see v 37, 39). But some will protest, does not the Bible say "whosoever will may come" and I say "AMEN". God commands men to come but, of themselves, none of themselves, want to. "It is not Him who wills or runs but of Him who shows mercy (Rom 9:16).
So why is this important?
1) Because it gives God all the glory for our salvation. Grace cannot be separated from our election in Christ. Romans 11:5,6 says, "at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace."
2) This is why we pray for unbelievers. It makes up pray for the lost ... to plead with God for them them because only He can save them. If we did not believe that only He could change their heart to believe then we would not pray at all. It would make no sense to plead for someones soul if we believed they could do it with their free will. Ironically, those who deny the doctrine of "grace alone" in their theology reveal they actually believe it in their actions when they pray for the lost. This is a real inconsistency exposed in their beliefs and should make them reconsider their theology.
3) "It is the grace of God that I am what I am." When we realize this and that apart from Jesus Christ we have nothing and that we deserve nothing, except God's wrath, then it enlarges our heart for others, for we are no better than anyone. No one is too low for us to associate with. Grace is the great equalizer.