"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 & The Baptist Catechism | Main | Psalm Thirteen: Lighten My Eyes, Lest I Sleep in Death! »

    The Five Solas - Five Things Together That Stand Alone

    New to the reformed faith, I remember taking a car journey with a fellow minister. I had a book in my hands outlining the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Seeing this, my preacher friend remarked, “I just don’t get it? The word “Sola” means alone, right?”

    “Yes” I replied.

    He then said, “Well how is it in any way possible for five things together to be alone? Its utter hogwash.”

    Now I was not sure exactly what “hogwash” was. Perhaps it is the water left behind in a tub after a pig has taken a bath. I wasn’t sure… but whatever it was, I could tell that it was not good in any way at all. My preacher friend thought the concept of the five Solas was intellectually untenable.

    You are probably now waiting for me to finish this story by saying that in intellectual prowess and intestinal fortitude, I rose up (if that is possible in the passenger seat of a car) and put ignorance and unbelief to the sword, with a single blast of God given wisdom as the oracles of God thundered forth out of my mouth. Well, I could end the story that way, but I would be lying. The fact is, I did not really know how to answer him. I stumbled around… I am sure I said something, and yet he and I both knew that I had no adequate answer that day.

    Don’t get me wrong. I knew there was an answer. I just was not sure what it was or how to articulate it.

    Many years on, if I was asked that same question today I think I would seek to provide an answer by using a simple illustration. As with most illustrations (or parables) there is usually a limit as to how far one can go – each image in the parable cannot usually be stretched too far, but the illustration can at least provide a window, an insight, that can help people understand concepts far better than before. The same is true in this case.

    The American Space organization NASA has a desire to put a man on the moon and for him to walk on it. With their best personel, they form a highly skilled team and take what they know of the laws of science and set about the task of designing and building a rocket capable of accomplishing their goal. They build a launch site for the rocket and fill the rocket with specially designed rocket fuel.. and to cut a long story short, the man goes inside the rocket, the countdown… counts all the way down… the rocket launches and many days later, the man lands and walks on the moon. Every goal was achieved; the mission was successful.

    We could summarize the mission as follows: Based on the laws of science alone, the man walked on the moon by means of rocket-fuel alone, through enclosing himself in his space suit alone, because of the rocket alone, for the glory of NASA alone.

    It was not the laws of science, plus something else added, it was not rocket fuel, plus hamburger meat thrown in, it was not the space suit plus a 30 minute moonwalk wearing only his favorite Football uniform, it was the rocket alone that got him there and not some sea hovercraft added in, and when NASA got him there, the fishermen of Iceland who had nothing to do with the enterprise could not take any of the praise when the goal was realized.

    In a similar way, the Reformers, in articulating the five Solas used prepositions to state these central truths. They explain how five things all work together in the plan of God, and yet each is distinct in itself, without the mixture of anything else added to it. Note the words that are capitalized in the following sentence: BASED ON Scripture alone, we can affirm that justification is BY grace alone, THROUGH Faith alone, BECAUSE OF Christ alone, all TO THE GLORY OF God alone.

    Now see the contrast between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Rome believed (then as it does now) that justification is by grace, through faith and because of Christ. What Rome does not believe is that justification is by faith alone, or by grace alone, or by Christ alone. For Rome, justification is by grace plus merit, through faith plus works; by Christ plus the sinner's contribution of inherent righteousness. In contrast, the Reformers called the Church back to the one true Biblical Gospel: Christ saves by Himself alone, and does not need a co-Redemptrix in Mary, or the added righteousness of Mary and the saints in the treasury of merit, which merit is made available to the masses in the form of indulgences by the decree of the Pope, who alone possesses the keys to the treasury. As 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Salvation is by God's grace alone, received through faith alone, because of Jesus Christ alone, based on the Scriptures alone, to the Glory of God alone.

    God has done for us something much more remarkable than anything science and NASA could do. Seeing our desperate need, God has come to us in the Person of His Son, born of a virgin - He lived a sinless life, dying an atoning death, and being raised up from the dead, has provided a great and wondrous salvation for all who will come to Christ as their perfect sin-bearing Savior and Lord.

    Let us celebrate the Solas of the Reformation, not because of mere historical interest, but because this is the only way God does in fact save anyone. These five central truths of the Gospel stand together, and forever, and always… alone.

    Posted by John Samson on July 18, 2010 02:03 AM


    Amazing article- I was so blessed!
    So often we hear each of these sola's alone and we try to make sense of it all as a whole.
    "Based on the SCRIPTURE ALONE, we can affirm that justification is by GRACE ALONE, through FAITH ALONE, because of CHRIST ALONE, all to the GLORY OF GOD ALONE!"
    These are the five truths that we can celebrate as a whole truth.
    Truely a blessing- thank you!

    Well for starters, the NASA analogy doesn't seem to cut it. Rocket fuel alone didn't get man to the moon, not in any way shape or form. It was not even rocket fuel alone which propelled the spaceship to the moon! Rocket fuel mixed with oxygen and that stuff we call "fire" propelled the spaceship. I could go on, but I must say the analogy was not even close to the 5 solas. I am currently researching this subject for an article on my blog when I ran across your article.

    Just one more thing, Catholics do not reject the concept of "solo christi" - nor a proper perspective of "sola gratia." Feel free to check the CathApol Blog. As of the time I am posting this, my 5 solas article is not yet posted, but should be sometime soon.

    May Christ through the Holy Ghost guide you on this journey through life.


    Hi Scott,

    Before I gave the illustration I said that as in most parables or illustrations, "each image in the parable cannot usually be stretched too far, but the illustration can at least provide a window, an insight, that can help people understand concepts far better than before." I am aware that rocket fuel is made up of a consortium of materials. But my point was that it was rocket fuel and not rocket fuel "plus hamburger meat". You seem to have missed my point.

    I also reject your assertion that the Roman Catholic Church affirms Solus Christus and Sola Gratia, at least in how the Reformers understood those terms.

    Hi John,
    I understand the point you're trying to make - I used to believe along those lines too. The point I was making is that words mean things, and "sola" means "alone," as in - nothing else added. If you were to believe in the definition James White provides (sola scriptura is the teaching that the Scriptures alone are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church) then you'd have a real problem with where Jesus empowered MEN with authority to bind or loose on Earth and whatsoever (a big and important word there!) they bound or loosed on Earth was also bound in Heaven. Now, unless you believe error can be bound in Heaven, that's infallible authority given to men.

    I also understand that you reject that we accept solus Christus and sola gratia - but on what grounds? Fundamentally - we DO agree, where we start to disagree is in the particulars. I would prefer to stress our common ground and work from there. My article is up now on my blog. Godspeed to you.

    In JMJ,


    We all know that Roman Catholics believe in the necessity of Jesus Christ, you simply don't believe in the sufficiency of Christ. What he did was not enough for you. The fact that you believe in Purgatory itself reveals that Jesus Christ is insufficient to save in RCC theology. You are still trusting in something other than Christ to get there. Christ yes, but not Christ alone. So Christ is not so much your Savior as He is your helper. Someone to help you save yourself.

    We (Catholics) most certainly accept the sufficiency of Christ! Where are you getting your information from? What He did was quite enough to save us.

    Next point: Purgatory. The fact that Purgatory exists does NOT take one iota away from the finished work of Christ on the Cross! Every single soul in Purgatory IS SAVED! Not ONE of them will go to eternal damnation! Purgatory does not save anyone.

    Apparently your source of information regarding Catholicism is a bit tainted. I urge you to openly and objectively investigate the Catholic Faith further.

    Godspeed to you on your journey.

    In JMJ,

    Hi Scott,

    I could not disagree with you more. The issues in the time of the Reformation and now were remarkably clear; the formal principle was Scripture alone (who or what had the authority to bind the conscience) and the material principle, Sola fide, justification by faith alone. Here's an article where I explain the differences between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church in their historical context.


    I would encourage you to look to your own tradition for evidence. Christ alone is anathematized in the Counsel of Trent. You add to CHrist "free will" and human works. You are obviously zealous for God but your zeal is not based on the knowledge of authoritative Scripture, Not knowing the righteousness of God, you seek to establish you own, since you are not submitting to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for RIGHTEOUSNESS to everyone who believes. (Rom 10:1-4)

    In RCC theology are all those in-grafted or united to Christ completely righteous before God now?

    Since you affirm Purgatory you thereby affirm what Christ did was not sufficient to forgive ALL their sins, and that they must make some contribution where His work lacked. You say they are all saved. Then why aren't they immediately transported into God's presence? Because what Christ did was not enough. Therefore you reject the sufficiency of Christ. Saying you believe in His sufficiency and then denying it with your theology out of the same mouth. If CHrist were sufficient you would need to add nothing. His work is complete. He sat down at the right hand of God and intercedes for sinners. His righteousness is enough to save sinners to the UTTERMOST.

    Hello again John, please pardon the delay in responding.

    The affirmation of Purgatory does not lend itself to a belief in what Christ did as insufficient to forgive all sins. Purgatory exists to purify ones soul before entering into Heaven, since nothing impure can enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27). Whereas the sins may be forgiven, there may be some amount of temporal punishment remaining. Also, for unconfessed venial sins, these too can be washed away in Purgatory.

    I would certainly hope you're not espousing the idea that one can have unconfessed mortal sin and still be "saved," or that even with unconfessed venial sins that one can enter Heaven without being first purified or "purged" of that stain of sin. Perhaps that is of the OSAS (Once Saved, Always Saved) mentality, which is also not scriptural and makes a mockery of the need to confess our sins and persevere in Him, which is St. Paul's often repeated message.

    Back to the point, Purgatory adds nothing to the work of Christ. His Sacrifice on the Cross was indeed sufficient to redeem the whole world from their sins - but since we both know (I hope) that not the whole world will be saved - then there must be something we must DO to accept His Free Gift. That Gift awaits ALL who honestly seek it AND persevere in Him after receiving it.

    Certain He sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for sinners, but ONLY for those sinners who humble themselves before Him and confess their sins to one empowered to forgive sins (John 20:23). You might claim to go before Christ Himself for your forgiveness of sins - but in doing so you violate the precept HE put in place for your forgiveness.


    Hi Scott,

    Dr. John Macarthur shows the massive difference between a true understanding of God saving grace in the gospel, and the so called "gospel" of Rome here:

    Thank you for responding. I kind of lost track of your blog for a while. I have listened to Dr. MacArthur's piece you've referenced above and am preparing a response to it. For now let me just say that Dr. MacArthur does not represent Catholicism very well, in fact quite falsely in places. If you base your opinion on that, then I can understand your confusion. I'll let you know when my response is ready.


    OK, I finished my response to Dr. MacArthur.

    In Christ,

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