The Reformation Solas: Soli Deo Gloria
A five-part series on the solas of the Reformation is timely and needed. There are several good books on the importance of remembering the Protestant Reformation and the doctrinal distinctions that made it necessary, but more can and should always be written. In an age of ecumenicism and doctrinal obscurity, there need to be loud and clear voices speaking out and reminding God’s church of who we are, why we exist, and what the foundational and undeniable principles of the Christian faith are. Hopefully this short series thus far has sparked your faith and your mind. In conclusion we’ll tackle the final sola: soli Deo gloria. This Latin phrase for ‘God’s glory alone’ describes not only the center of the Reformation, but the center of our faith.
But why is it one of the 5 solas, those post Reformation summaries of the doctrinal distinctives that formed the heart of the Reformation? After all, Roman theologians wouldn’t have denied the importance of the glory of God just as they wouldn’t have denied the importance of Scripture, or faith, or grace, or especially Christ. It is here then that soli Deo gloria comes to roost, as Rome did deny the sola part of other 4 solas and thus did functionally deny soli Deo gloria. You see when you insert human will and ability into the salvific process, you turn the meaning of salvation away from the glory of God to the merit and action of man. When you deny that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone and when you deny that Scripture is the final authority of every Christian, you de facto deny God the glory that is due him. This is precisely why David VanDrunen writes, “Does the principle of soli Deo gloria, magnificent as it is, really have much to do with the Reformation itself? Indeed it does, even if Rome never directly denounces the idea of glory to God alone as it denounced the ideas of Scripture alone and faith alone. Soli Deo gloria can be understood as the glue that holds the other solas in place, or the center that draws the other solas into a grand, unified whole….What justifies such strong claims? Simply put, the fact that salvation is by faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone without any meritorious contribution on our part, ensures that all glory is God’s and not our own.”[i] Later VanDrunen writes this, “By holding forth soli Deo gloria as the lifeblood of the solas, we remind ourselves that the biblical religion recaptured by the Reformation is not ultimately about ourselves, but about God. Our focus so easily becomes self-centered, even when we ask the same important questions that occupied the Reformers: Where can I find God’s authoritative revelation? How can I escape the wrath of God? What must I do to be saved? The other four solas provide necessary and life-changing answers to such questions, but soli Deo gloria puts them in proper perspective: the highest purpose of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, made known in Scripture, is not our own beatitude, wonderful as that is. The highest purpose is God’s own glory. God glorifies himself through the abundant blessings he bestows upon us.”[ii]
But should we just take VanDrunen’s word for it? It seems he is simply echoing the words of the apostle Paul, who writes in Ephesians 1:3-14 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
In Paul’s clear and marvelous explanation of God’s plan of Salvation set forth in Christ, he on three occasions highlights that all of this Salvation is about the glory of God. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wants us to know precisely why God has worked out his plan of salvation: to bring glory to himself first and foremost. Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in history is that fallen humanity so desperately desires to insert ourselves into that which only God can do, namely to provide the means, the mechanism, and the power to make dead hearts alive and bring them all the way to their eternal home. If we could merit salvation on our own, then the death of Christ was pointless. But if we cannot, then the glory of Salvation must be God’s and God’s alone.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.
[i] David VanDrunen. God’s Glory Alone: the majestic heart of Christian faith and life. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2015. p15.
[ii] ibid, 16.