Skip to content

Keeping the Solas Together

From the Sola Panel

One of the aims of the Sola Panel is to go back to basics, to remind ourselves of the importance of the ‘solas’ (i.e. scripture alone, faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, glory to God alone). This post will look at one way in which these solas all fit together.

I’m currently reading through Timothy Ward’s very helpful book Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2009). It’s a good and highly accessible exposition of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, which avoids many of the petty caricatures that are sometimes thrown about, and deals well with a number of modern objections. I highly recommend it as a book to put near the top of your reading list this year.

Early on in the book, Ward seeks to ground our doctrine of Scripture in the even more fundamental doctrine of the ‘word of God’ (or the ‘speech of God’). Ward points out that God’s speech is, and always has been, exceedingly powerful. This is seen especially when it comes to God’s justification of the ungodly. In this very significant case, God’s speech doesn’t just inform us about God’s salvation; it actually brings salvation to us:

God establishes, by his own declaration, a fundamental change in our standing before him, before he brings about, by the sending of the Holy Spirit, a real change to our sinful state… he spoke, making us by that declaration to be justified in our relationship with him… Thus a fundamental aspect of God’s redemptive work occurs when he chooses to speak, and in so doing unilaterally brings us to share here and now in the right standing with him that Jesus Christ has. (pp. 27-28)

This is a pretty good exposition of some of the important connections between God’s word/speech and our salvation. But it’s important to remember that God’s ‘speech-act’ of justification is only one part of the story of salvation.1

We must always remember that when the Bible talks about God justifying us, it never talks about this justification as a mere declaration that occurs all by itself. It’s not the case that God simply says to us out of the blue, “I deem you to be justified”, and that act of speech alone brings about our salvation. Of course, God’s speech is mightily powerful. But when it comes to our salvation, God’s justifying speech-act is connected to other highly significant powerful actions of God.

The first aspect of God’s saving work that we must always remember when we think about justification is the atonement. God’s justification of sinners is based squarely on the death of Jesus Christ for our sins—that one supreme act of love and grace whereby Jesus paid for our sins and satisfied the wrath of God. Paul, who of all the biblical authors spells out the idea of justification most fully, never talks about justification in a vacuum. Paul brings the concepts of justification and atonement together. He tells us that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). The purpose of Jesus’ atoning work (Rom 3:25) is to enable God to be ‘just’ and to be the “justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Without the atonement, God could not remain true to his own just standards as creator and judge, and therefore could not justify us. You see the same thing in Galatians—Paul’s strong defence in Galatians is that God’s justification of sinners doesn’t stand alone, but it is based on the fact that Jesus “gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4). Justification and the atonement go together; justification without atonement would be nothing and would mean nothing.

The second thing that must not be forgotten when it comes to justification is that those who are justified are united to Christ through faith. This isn’t to say that our own faith is itself some wonderful meritorious action that secures a reward from God. What it means is that when God justifies us he’s not issuing some arbitrary declaration that makes no sense of the reality of our own personal sin. It’s not the case that God one day decides to say to us, “You are righteous”, when patently we are, in fact, miserable sinners. No, God’s declaration of us as ‘righteous’ is based on the fact that he, by his Holy Spirit acting through his word which brings about faith, has actually united us to his righteous Son. This means that our own sins are truly cancelled by Jesus’ death, and that we truly share in the righteousness that by rights only belongs to Christ. For example, Paul speaks about being “found in him [i.e. Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9).

In other words, the Reformation ‘solas’ all go together. God, through the supreme authority of Scripture alone, addresses us, speaks the gospel to us, declares that we are justified, and so brings salvation to us sinners. But this can only be true because Christ alone has performed that once-for-all atoning sacrifice for sins. By faith alone, the sacrifice of Christ is applied to our own reality. All of this is an act of God’s grace alone—to the glory of God alone. You can only go so far talking about one or the other of the solas in isolation. They really are a package deal.

1 I’m not disagreeing with Timothy Ward here, just clarifying a possible misunderstanding. I’m pretty sure that he would agree with what I have to say here, since in the passage I’ve quoted, he cites Romans 5:8 (about Jesus’ death), and goes on to discuss the “effectual calling” whereby God’s word creates saving faith.

Comments on the Sola Panel
Published inAtonementForgivenessJustificationRevelationSanctificationSpiritThe Briefing

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • The Named Jew and the Name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Yes no“Paul within Judaism” and Romans 2:17–29
    My article on Romans 2:17–29 supports one key feature of the "Paul within Judaism" perspective, but undermines another common feature.
  • Photo by Engin Akyurt on UnsplashThe goals of Bible teaching (1 Timothy 1:1–11)
    In gospel ministry and Bible teaching, if you’re not committed to the right goal, or if you have the wrong goal, it’s not just a matter of being ineffective: you’ll be downright dangerous. So what is that goal? What are you seeking to achieve in your gospel ministry and Bible teaching - now and in the future? And how would you know if you’d done it right? This passage in 1 Timothy 1:1–11 speaks to this issue of the goals of ministry and teaching. It challenges us to think about our own aims in teaching, and to see how important it is to get it right. A sermon preached at Moore College Men's Chapel on 14 July, 2021.
  • Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours. Photo by Vadim Sadovski on UnsplashSlow-burn crazy-making behaviours: recognising and responding
    Do you know someone who seems to have drama and problems constantly appear around them? Whenever you relate to this person, perhaps you find yourself feeling vaguely guilty, or uncomfortable, or put down, or obligated to affirm them? Do you often feel like you’re questioning yourself and your actions because of what they say and do? You don’t feel the same way around other people; it’s just this individual who seems to attract these dramas and give rise to these feelings in you. If that’s the case, the chances are it’s not you who is the problem. It’s quite possible that the person you’re thinking of is exhibiting a pattern of behaviours that can be significantly detrimental to you and to others. This pattern of behaviours is hard to pin down; it doesn’t seem too serious in the short term, and indeed it might appear quite normal to a casual acquaintance. However, over the long term, it can cause serious problems for you and others. That’s especially true in close-knit communities, like families, churches and other Christian ministries.
  • Romans Crash CourseRomans Crash Course (video)
    A 75 minute video course in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans designed for church members and leaders.
  • The Mistranslation "Call Yourself a Jew" in Romans 2:17: A Mythbusting StoryThe mistranslation “call yourself a Jew”: A myth-busting story (Romans 2:17)
    This is a story about a scholarly myth and how I had the chance to bust it. I’m talking here about a small but significant 20th century biblical translation: “call yourself” instead of “are called” in Romans 2:17.
  • Breaking news: Religious Scandal in RomeThe named Jew and the name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29
    I've just had an article published in the journal Novum Testamentum. In it, I provide a detailed defense of my new reading of Romans 2:17–29. This passage is not primarily about Jewish salvation - rather it's primarily about Jewish teaching and God's glory.
  • Photo by Joseph d'Mello on UnsplashPreaching the Pastoral Epistles
    A one-hour audio seminar with principles and ideas for preaching the biblical books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus ("Pastoral Epistles")
  • A Crash Course in Romans: Livestream
    Here's a <90 minute "Crash Course in Romans" I'm running on Monday evening 1 Feb 2021. It's aimed at leaders and any interested members of my church St Augustine's Neutral Bay and Church by the Bridge Kirribilli. Anyone is welcome to watch the livestream.
  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor