Martin Luther proclaimed a message of divine promise and denounced the human merits through which, he feared, most Catholics thought they were earning the favor of God.
Lutheranism soon became more than the experience of Luther, but it never deviated from his theme that people are made right with God sola gratia and sola fide - that is, only by the divine initiative of grace as received through God's gift of faith. Because Luther came across his discoveries by reading the Bible, he also liked to add to his motto the exhortation sola scriptura, which means that Lutherans are to use the Bible alone as the source and norm for their teachings.
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Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation based on the concepts of these three Latin phrases.
Sola Gratia means "by Divine Grace alone". That means that people cannot "earn" their way into Heaven by "Good Works" but are entirely dependent on the Generosity and Grace of God for it. This eliminated the value of "human merits" and said that God Alone could affect that outcome.
Sola Fide means "by Faith alone". This refers to the "human" side of the above concept. Since people could not actively "earn" their way into Heaven, this statement was necessary to describe exactly what requirement actually applies to us. It essentially says that we each must totally accept that the Lord is God, that He is the Only God, and that the person recognizes His Atonement as freeing mankind to be able to accept Him. When a person deeply believes that, it fulfills the human responsibility, which then encourages the Lord to provide His Grace.
Usually, a third Latin phrase is associated with those two, Sola Scriptura, which means "by the Bible alone". Rather than trusting any human to provide information about important religious information, that statement means to ONLY rely on what the Sacred Scripture says.
Martin Luther had discovered these things IN the Bible, and that's why he added this last phrase. Before that, there had developed the process of "Indulgences" where wealthy people could give large amounts of money to the Church (supposedly a "Good Work") in exchange for a guarantee of getting into Heaven. Luther was pointing out that such a procedure had no value in the Mind of God, and that, more generally, we really have no "say" in the matter of what God chooses to do with each of us.
The doctrine that salvation is by faith only. The term emerged as a consequence of Luther's translation of Rom. 3:28 in which he added the word "alone" to the phrase "man is justified by faith [alone] apart from works of the Law" (NASB). He was severely castigated for this, but Erasmus defended him. The translation is justifiable in view of the only alternative, namely justification by works, which Paul expressly repudiated. The Council of Trent (1545 - 63), on the other hand, vigorously opposed Luther's translation and all that it implied by declaring: "If anyone saith that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema" (Session 6, Can. 12).
Implicit in solafidianism is the doctrine of divine monergism, which declares that man's salvation is totally dependent upon God's activity and is in no way conditioned by the action of man. Man's choice of sin has rendered him incapable of spiritual action; he is spiritually dead. Unless rescued by a source outside himself, he would eternally perish in this state. God has taken the initiative by restoring mankind to himself through the death of Christ (Christ's passive obedience to the law), which removes man's guilt, and by imputing Christ's righteousness (which he achieved while on earth through his active obedience to the law) to those who believe. Saving faith is not an innate quality of fallen man but a gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29) communicated through hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17). The ordo salutis ("order of salvation") is God's activity in grace from inception to consummation. Understandably solafidianism is opposed to Pelagianism, semi - Pelagianism, and synergism, all of which attribute justification or the apprehension of it, in one way or another, to the action of man.
F R Harm
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
L Berkhof, Systematic Theology; E L Lueker, Lutheran Cyclopedia, 726; F E Mayer, The Religious Bodies of America; C S Meyer, N I D C C , 914; F Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, II; A H Strong, Systematic Theology; H C Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology.
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