Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
The Reformers taught that the Scripture alone is the final authority for what we must believe and how we must live. This view sounds commonplace to us today, but it was radical in the sixteenth century. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had asserted its authority over against that of the Bible. The authority of the Pope, tradition, and councils were all regarded as authorities along with the Bible. Against that view, the Reformers asserted sola Scriptura: the Bible, and the Bible alone, is our only infallible source of authority for faith and practice.
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
How can a sinful man become right with a holy God? That is always the most important religious question. It was the question that plagued Luther’s conscience and nearly drove him insane before he was converted. Rome had developed a very elaborate system in response to that question. Rome’s answer involved human works and merit–a sinner must perform sufficiently well before God if he would receive the blessing of salvation.
But through the study of the Scriptures the Reformers rediscovered that salvation is the gracious gift of God. Man contributes nothing to it. It is only by the sheer, absolute grace of God. Bible words like election and predestination, which magnify the grace of God in salvation, were rediscovered, having been largely forgotten or drained of their meaning by the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic teachers.
Sola Fide: Faith Alone
The Reformers taught that the means whereby a sinner is graciously justified before God is faith–not faith plus merit or faith plus works–but faith alone. Luther discovered that the Bible teaches that the sinner must place his trust in Jesus Christ in order to gain a right standing before God. Through faith alone the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the one who believes.
Solo Christo: Christ Alone
The Reformation rejected Rome’s requirement that common church members put their faith implicitly in the church’s teachings. Instead, they argued, Jesus Christ alone is the proper object of faith. He is to be trusted for salvation–not priests, popes, councils, or traditions.
Soli Deo Gloria: The Glory of God Alone
In one sense the Reformation can be seen as a rediscovery of God—a reawakening to the greatness and grandeur of the God of the Bible. It is God, not man, who belongs at the center of our thoughts and view of the world. And it is God’s glory alone that is to occupy first place in our motivations and desires as His children. He created us and the world for Himself, and He redeemed us for Himself. Our purpose is to glorify Him.