A confessing community: Salvation provided

Sola 5, whose Confession we are studying in this series, is an association of God-centred evangelical churches in Southern Africa. While there is a degree of doctrinal diversity between the churches, all churches confess certain core doctrines. Most core to the identity of the association is the conviction that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Latin phrases representing these five “alone” statements give the association its name: sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola scriptura (Scripture alone), soli Deo gloria (to God alone be the glory). Confession 4.1 captures these five solas.

Although mankind, through Adam’s fall, became dead in sin and unable to save himself, God was pleased to provide a way of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ alone (John 5:39; 14:6; Acts 4:12). In order to inherit eternal life, it is essential for a person, by the sovereign intervention of God, to be taken out of Adam and united with Christ (Romans 5:12–19). Salvation is in Christ and him alone. God’s work of redemption proceeds from God’s grace alone, on the basis of Christ’s mediatory work alone, through faith alone (Romans 1:2–4, 16–17; Ephesians 2:8–9). In the deepest sense, all the initiative in salvation lies with God, and the glory for salvation belongs to God alone (Romans 11:33–36; Ephesians 3:1–14; Revelation 5:9–10; 7:10). (Sola 5 Confession 4.1)

The five solas have to do with the way that God saves his people. It is not surprising, therefore, that the clause in question begins by highlighting human lostness: “Although mankind, through Adam’s fall, became dead in sin and unable to save himself, God was pleased to provide a way of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.” This clause, and the Scriptures on which it is based (John 5:39; 14:6; Acts 4:12), highlight the absolute exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Sinners have always had a problem with Christianity’s claims to exclusivity, but Christians must affirm and share these exclusive claims. On the one hand, we must openly embrace the scandal of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:23). There is no getting around it: The exclusive truth claims of Jesus Christ are scandalous. When the gospel is faithfully presented, it is sure to offend people. On the other hand, we must work at sharing the gospel in a winsome and full-orbed way. The gospel scandalous by nature; there is no wisdom in making it more scandalous than it already is. Winsomeness is wise (Proverbs 11:30).

The Confession makes it clear, as does the full weight of Scripture, that there is no salvation outside the finished work of Jesus Christ. People often wonder, if this is true, how Old Testament saints were saved. The answer is straightforward.They were saved in the same way that New Testament saints are saved: by faith alone in God’s promised (and now provided) substitute for sinners. The core of the gospel message is found in Genesis 3:15—that God would provide a substitute to defeat sin and Satan. Though they did not have as much light as we have, they could nevertheless believe that a substitute would be provided for their sins. Faith in the substitute was saving faith.

The Confession continues by highlighting the necessity of divine sovereignty for salvation: “In order to inherit eternal life, it is essential for a person, by the sovereign intervention of God, to be taken out of Adam and united with Christ.” Romans 5:12–19 makes reference to Adam as a “type” of Christ (v. 14). We tend to think of a “type” as one who, in some way, bears striking similarity to the one of whom he is a type. Adam and Christ seem polar opposites: Where Adam sinned, Jesus didn’t. But Adam was a “type” of Christ in that his response to God’s command was imputed to all his descendants, while Christ’s response to God’s command for him was imputed to those who believe in him. Simply put, Adam and Jesus were both sources: one of death, the other of life. They were each a representative head for others.

Paul contrasts Adam’s “one trespass” with Christ’s “one act of righteousness” (v. 18). The “one trespass” occurred when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. Christ’s “one act of righteousness” is a reference to the entirety of the incarnation—his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—rather than a single event during his earthly ministry. It is by Christ’s life and death that we are saved.

When God saves a person, that person is “taken out of Adam” and “united with Christ,” according to the Confession. To be in Adam means that we are identified with him as our head. To be “in Christ” means that we are identified with him as our head. We are either identified with Adam, and thereby remain under wrath, or we are identified with Christ, and are thereby recipients of divine grace.

The great doctrines recaptured in the Protestant Reformation are brought to the fore in the Confession: “Salvation is in Christ and him alone. God’s work of redemption proceeds from God’s grace alone, on the basis of Christ’s mediatory work alone, through faith alone.” We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. These truths are crucial to embrace. If we have any part to play in our own salvation, we can claim some credit for it. If we merit our own favour before God, there is reason for boasting. Paul explicitly states that salvation is not by works, so that no one might boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8–9, “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.” “This,” which is “not your own doing,” is not a reference to grace but to the faith through which we are saved. That is, while faith is necessary to be saved, even the faith that saves us is not our own but is a gift of God. Indeed, redemption proceeds from God’s grace alone.

This particular clause concludes: “In the deepest sense, all the initiative in salvation lies with God, and the glory for salvation belongs to God alone.” The texts supplied (Romans 11:33–36; Ephesians 3:1–14; Revelation 5:9–10; 7:10) make this fact abundantly clear. Since it is our responsibility to give glory to God, we must be on guard against ways in which we might rob him of glory. Consider a few ways we can be tempted to do that.

We rob God of glory when we accept rather than deflecting praise. King Herod was guilty of this in Acts 12:20–25 and God struck him dead for robbing him of his glory. We can be guilty of robbing God of his glory when we proudly receive the credit for certain acts of ministry without deflecting the praise and glory back to God.

We rob God of glory when we praise others without referencing God. While it is good to give credit where credit is due, and to affirm those whose ministry has proved a blessing to us, we need to be careful that we do not give to others glory that belongs to God alone. As much as they should not receive such praise, we ought not to give it. When we leave God out of a compliment, we subtlety withhold the praise that He deserves for creating and gifting that individual.

We rob God of glory when we try to solicit praise from others. Many of the religious authorities in Jesus’ day believed him but would not openly confess him “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). They chose the praise of their peers instead of giving glory to God. We are always tempted to seek the praise of others, even if it means not giving glory to God. Social media is a particular challenge here and can easily become a praise-receiving mechanism.

We rob God of glory when we engage in false humility. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day were experts at presenting a humble exterior while actually seeking the praise of others internally (Matthew 23:27–28). When we present an exterior of godliness only for the sake of being praised by our peers, we may receive praise but we rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to him alone.

Given the above abuses, there are several things that we can practically do to ensure that we give glory to God. Let me suggest just two.

First, we can study his character and learn who he is. As we come to see the majesty of the God who is, we are naturally driven to worship him and give him glory. That is the purpose of these studies—not to fill our heads with knowledge, but to drive us to worship.

Second, we can practice quick, open confession when we sin. We can acknowledge that we have done wrong and ask forgiveness, thereby acknowledging that he is always right and giving him the glory that belongs to him alone. When Achan sinned, Joshua urged him to “give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him.” How would Achan do that? “Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19).

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