The Solas Part 2: Defending Sola Gratia

In my previous post, I introduced the Solas of the protestant reformation and responded to objections to sola fide, or faith alone. Sola gratia, or grace alone, is nearly inseparable from it. Both find their clear explanation in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith….” Unlike sola fide, many Catholics would agree with the necessity of grace alone. Defending sola gratia may instead be more controversial within the protestant Christian church.

Why Does Sola Gratia Matter?

In a sense, sola gratia is a step behind sola fide. Yes, you are saved only by faith and not your works, but where did that faith come from? Are we expected to discover or develop it ourselves? This was significant in the protestant reformation for much the same reason as sola fide. Reformers like Martin Luther argued that scripture is clear. Our salvation does not come by works, and no pope or indulgence will change that. It is only by the grace of God and his gift of faith that we can be saved.

Paul makes the severity of our sinful nature clear throughout the New Testament, especially in the letter of Ephesians. The language used in passages like Ephesians 2, Romans 2:5, or Colossians 2:13-14 forms the basis of sola gratia. Simply put, we cannot want or seek God unless he draws us first. The saving faith in us only comes because of the free gift of God’s grace.

Is Sola Gratia Opposed by Catholics?

As far as I can tell, most modern Catholics do not seem to oppose this sola. Sola fide and scriptura go against some of their official teachings regarding salvation and authority. Most Catholic writers and apologists I have read on grace alone, though, tend to say, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what we believe too. What’s the issue?” However, in my experience, this is perhaps the most controversial sola within Protestantism. Sola gratia touches on everyone’s favorite debate: Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

Does Sola Gratia Take Away Free Will?

Most of the objections to sola gratia come from people who lean more towards Arminianism and what some call decision theology. If we have no control over receiving faith but instead rely entirely on God’s grace, do we have free will? Advocates of reformed theology, typically the ones defending sola gratia, say…kind of. You do not have the option to choose God unless the Holy Spirit works in you first. However, only the more staunch Calvinists believe that God’s call cannot be rejected. Typically, your Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc., would say that you can still harden your heart and reject the call of the Holy Spirit.

Think of our sinful nature like being stuck in a prison cell. Nothing we do on our own can get us out of that cell. However, Jesus came and opened that cell door for us. The Arminian would say that you must first call and ask Jesus to open the door for you. The Calvinist would say that Jesus opened the door and dragged you out, kicking and screaming. The other advocates of reformed theology and sola gratia would say that Jesus opened the door and you can choose to walk out or stay inside where it’s comfortable.

What Scripture Says vs. What I Want It to Say

The basis of sola gratia is in scripture and our own sinful nature. Nobody supports this view because they like it or want the world to look like this. It does, however, fit with our experience of the world. Human depravity is one thing we can all observe.

Similarly, the notion that God predestines some to salvation and not others is a tough pill to swallow. I’m not sure anyone fully can. Thinking that we have the power to decide and control our salvation is easier to wrap my head around and also boosts my ego. What could be more American than picking yourself up by your bootstraps and seeking God? Yet what we see in scripture is more consistent with our broken, sinful nature and the need for the Holy Spirit to work in us first.

Predestination has been debated for thousands of years. Rather than tell you which side is right, just remember to keep asking yourself this simple question. Do I believe this because it matches scripture and what I see in the world, or because it’s how I want God to be?

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