The Five Solas of the Reformation: Introduction and Analysis


Lord’s Library contributor Jared Helms offers an introduction to and analysis of the five Solas of the Reformation, along with key resources to consider. Check out Jared’s YouTube channel and two blogs: A Light in the Darkness and Blind Faith Examples. Lord’s Library’s Ministry Leaders Series is a collection of contributed articles written by ministry leaders on key Christian topics.

Ministry Leaders Series BadgeThe Five Solas of the Reformation express the core tenets of the Christian faith and mark the critical objections which motivate Protestantism. These are not new truths discovered by the reformers, but ancient truths recovered by them. As such, they remain critically important today in identifying, preserving, and advancing the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

Each of the Five Solas of the Reformation can be studied independently, but it is very helpful to view them all together to see how each one is connected to the others. The fifth Sola, for example, follows logically from the first four. In this introduction, we will briefly explain each of the Five Solas of the Reformation, and show how they set Protestantism apart from Romish tradition.

Note: Check out this unique Solas-focused devotional from Ligonier Ministries.

The Gospel

The Five Solas of the Reformation

Sola Gratia (or Grace Alone)

Sola Gratia means that we are saved by God’s unmerited favor apart from any works of our own in keeping with Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

 We contribute nothing to salvation, it is received from God. Salvation is the work of God, and He has not needed our help. Furthermore, we have not in any way merited God’s grace. This whole notion is calculated to keep us humble before God and men.

Sola Fide (or Faith alone)

Sola Fide represents that we receive grace by faith, apart from any works. We accept God’s unmerited favor (grace) trusting (in faith) that His offer is good. Good works are the result of faith and a sign of genuine faith. We do not have to go on pilgrimage in order to have faith, but in faith, we walk our pilgrimage towards Heaven. See Romans 1:17: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

Other religions and philosophies offer grace only after all one’s efforts have been exhausted. The Council of Trent in responding to the Reformation very clearly contradicts this doctrine of grace alone through faith alone:

Canon IX, sixth session of the Council of Trent: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

This is not the same gospel as Paul taught the Galatians, Romans, or anyone else, nor is it taught by anyone in Scripture. It is not the true gospel.

Sola Christus (or Christ Alone)

Sola Christus very simply means that it is Christ who has accomplished the work of salvation, by which grace is extended to us. Acts 4:12 says it well: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” There is no other savior then Christ, no other mediator between God and man; no other Lord, and no other with Him. Jesus Christ is alone the sufficient provider of grace, and we are to seek it from Him directly.

Being justified we are able to approach the Throne of God for ourselves. See the following Bible verses:

Matthew 6:6-9: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”

John 14:13-14: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”

Ephesians 2:14: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;”

Ephesians 3:12: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.”

Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

We do not need to go to Mary, or Peter, or John who can go to Christ for us; we are told to go to him ourselves as our one and only mediator. See 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” Our submission is also directly to Christ as Lord. Contrary to Romish doctrine it is not necessary to subject one’s self to the Pope in order to be part of the true Church.

See also Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

Sola Scriptura (or Scripture Alone)

Sola Scriptura means that the Word of God is our ultimate and final authority. This we believe because we believe as 2 Timothy 3:16 clearly says; that the Bible is the breathed-out word of God: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” As such it has unparalleled authority.

So, if a Pope or council should contradict scripture, that Pope or council is in error and must be reconciled to God’s Word. The same goes for science; when science contradicts scripture, God’s Word is correct and science must be reconciled to it.

We must stress here that tradition, while helpful, is not equal to Scripture as the Romish church continues to teach. This does not mean that every book is worthless, only that they must all answer to Scripture. The reformers themselves often drew on the writings of Augustine and other early saints in their work. We too can gain from extra-Biblical sources in our studies of science, history, theology, and every other field as we measure each offering against the standard of Scripture. Consequently, if there is one book, we ought to know most thoroughly it is the Holy Bible.

Soli Deo Gloria (or the Glory of God Alone)

Soli Deo Gloria means that all of salvation, and all of life is to the glory of God. That is to say, God alone gets all the credit and reconnection. The ascription of glory is God due for the glorious things He has done, which display His most awesome attributes revealing His innate glory. No one shares in God’s glory, as no one else is worthy to share in it.

Even the apostles say very clearly that it was God who worked in them and through them. Consider John 15:5, the fruit-bearing life is in Christ alone, and it is that life alone which causes us to be fruitful so that all glory again rightly goes to God: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

See also Romans 11:35-36: “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

Where churches and men insert works with grace or faith, add co-redeemers with Christ, or raise some other source to equal authority with the Bible; glory is taken from God and given to men. Reasons for reverence become confused, authority is abused, and corruption sets in. All of this has happened and continues to happen. It may seem to us that some men really are worthy to receive some glory as they appear to do great works. However, even the Apostles say very clearly that it was God who worked in them and through them.

This is confirmed in Isaiah 48:11: “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.”

This is the proper conclusion of the Five Solas, and of any theological pursuit the delightful assenting of the wonderful reality of our great God. In these core doctrines, we see Him and His work of redemption more clearly. These are five points of gospel definition, that good news which is able to save from sin unto eternal life. Therefore, they are worthy of our attention, and we pray this brief survey will draw further attention to five Solas.

This we pray for the sake of the Gospel mission, and the sake of the Protestant mission as they go hand in hand together. This has been a brief survey, each of these five points could easily occupy its own book: indeed, each one has occupied its own book.

The Five Solas of the Reformation: Additional Resources to Consider

We encourage further reading on these core doctrines, and recommend the following resources:

The Five Solas series: This five-volume set by leading contributors delves deeply into each of the Solas. Each volume shows the Biblical foundations of the doctrines, their historical development, and their contemporary relevance. This is perhaps the most robust treatment available today.

Biblical Authority after Babel: Authored by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, this book seeks to answer the main criticisms of the Reformation by recovering the Five Solas. While Vanhoozer may underestimate the importance of certain denominational distinctives, the ecumenical spirit of this work is thought-provoking. For anyone who struggles with the divisions of Protestantism, this will be a good read.

Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation: Authored by Nate Pickowiz, this title gives a 160-page survey of the Solas with an eye to their continued relevance in the modern day.

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Jared Helms
Jared Helms

Jared Helms

Jared received his Bachelor of Arts from Bryan College in 2012, and his Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Tennessee. Most importantly, Jared has walked with Christ most of his life. His interests extend from theology to church history, but he is particularly passionate about ecclesiology and homiletics.

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