The first was Rome’s denial of the sole Headship of Jesus Christ over His church. The second was the leaven of the false gospel of Roman Catholicism, a “gospel” which taught (and still teaches) that men are justified before God by their own merits, and not by the free and Sovereign grace of God in Christ alone.
The Protestant recovery of the gospel of Christ and His Apostles finds its best summation in the five “sola” statements of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria.
I. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”).
The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the unrivaled Head of His church, and He shares His throne with no man; even if that man is a pastor, priest, or pope. King Jesus exercises His rule over His church by His Holy Spirit through His Holy Word. Therefore, the Protestant Reformers insisted upon the sole authority of Holy Scripture to bind the consciences of men. Although God does empower a plurality of men known as “elders” to shepherd each local church, their authority must always be exercised under the authority of Christ and His Word, to which nothing may be added or taken away.
II. Sola Gratia (“Grace Alone”).
With the recovery of the sufficiency of Holy Scripture came the recovery of Scripture’s message: the gospel of Christ and Him crucified. The Reformers believed and then preached that the only hope anyone has of being saved from his sin and from the wrath that is to come is in the free grace (the unmerited favor) of God alone. The Triune God alone saves sinners, and He is absolutely Sovereign over when and to whom He dispenses His effectual saving grace. Fallen man is powerless to save himself or to contribute anything to his own salvation.
III. Sola Fide (“Faith Alone”).
The saving grace of Almighty God is received by sinners as they exercise faith in the Living Christ alone for their salvation. Yet even this faith is a gift of God’s grace to sinful men, so that they have no room to boast. By affirming this truth, the Reformers were denying that men are justified before God by their own merits or by an infusion of Christ’s righteousness that enabled them to keep God’s Law unto salvation. Instead, the Protestants taught that whenever a lost sinner ceases from his works and simply believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted to him for righteousness. From the moment a lost sinner truly believes the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself is imputed to him because his sin was imputed to Christ upon the cross. Therefore, from that time onward, the believing sinner is eternally justified before God based on Christ’s perfect righteousness and shed blood.
IV. Solus Christus (“Christ Alone”).
The Reformers affirmed that the only object of saving faith has always been and evermore shall be the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). The saints of the Old Testament were saved by faith in the Messiah who was to come, and the saints of the New Testament are saved by faith in the Messiah who has come and who is soon coming again. There is no other Mediator between God and men, and there is no other name given under heaven by which men must be saved but the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
V. Soli Deo Gloria (“To God Alone Be the Glory”).
Because the Triune God alone is the Creator of all things, and because the salvation of sinners is a loving work of His free grace alone; all honor, praise, and glory is His alone. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption-that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'” (I Corinthians 1:30-31)
So, what is the Reformed faith? It is the acknowledgement of the sole Headship of King Jesus over His church which He exercises by His Holy Spirit through the sixty-six books of His Holy Word. It is also the unashamed belief and proclamation of the message of those sixty-six books: the gospel of Christ crucified. This gospel teaches all men that sinners are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone to the glory of God alone. To the One True and Living God be all glory, honor, and praise in Christ Jesus our Lord both now and forever. Amen.