What the 5 “Solas” Really Mean

Looking At The Flip Side

The Reformation has powerfully impacted Christianity. Some think that’s a good thing. Others believe it is a disaster. Many understand that, as beneficial as the Reformation was in its time, there are unintended consequences that adversely affected the Church then and continue to do so today. 

It is often pointed out that there are five main tenets to the Reformation. I’ve listed them below with some unintended consequences from my own perspective. 

  • Sola Fide: Faith alone – I don’t need to put forth any effort to experience salvation and its fullness. 
  • Solus Christus: Christ alone – I don’t need the Church. It’s Jesus and me. 
  • Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone – I don’t need Tradition, creeds, councils, or personal experience. The Bible alone, and my or my group’s interpretation of it, is the only authority I need. 
  • Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone – I don’t need saints, hierarchy, images, or priest/clergy. I believe that to honor anyone else is to dishonor God.   
  • Sola Gratia: Grace alone – I don’t need sacraments, means, or method. Grace is seen as a created substance isolated from anything material, physical, or experiential.  

And, here are some unintended consequences to the Reformation: 

  1. I don’t need church history, organized religion, dogmatic doctrine, or any spiritual authority over me. 
  2. I am an autonomous self, able to determine for myself what I will believe (or not), what I will do (or not), how I will decide, whom I will follow, and when all this will take place. 
  3. I see church as optional. I need faith, Christ, scripture, God’s glory, and grace but I don’t need the Church. How could it be that the reformers missed the claim of “Sola Ecclesia?” Of course, they could not make that claim since they were opposing the one church they knew. Centuries of church divisions, theological battles, “fresh” truth claims, and re-awakenings have not healed the church’s brokenness or purified her operation. Since it’s not what I think it should be, I can reject it. 

I doubt what I write here will be received well by many of you. But, I want to challenge your thinking about these matters. 

I’m sure the reformers were devout, smart, and articulate men – to be admired for many reasons. However, the consequences of their actions and beliefs are difficult to deal with today.

At least for some of us. 

Dr. K 

The Struggle to Be Christlike Is Made More Difficult By The Idea of Positional Righteousness

Participating in God's Righteousness is Essential

For a while now, I’ve been writing about two de-motivators of spiritual efforts towards Christlikeness – “faith alone,” and “positional righteousness.” Why engage in practices that actually stimulate a deepening communion with God when I’m already righteous in Christ by faith alone? I’ve tried to show that these two notions are not found in scripture. In fact, there is sound evidence that effort must be made so that the salvation provided by God can be fully realized. 

This is a huge topic, much broader than I can address in a brief blog post. So, let me wrap things up with these final thoughts on “positional righteousness.” 

I’m calling into question the idea of positional righteousness because it demands too much from justification.

For positional righteousness to be effective, justification must be seen as… 

  • its own entity separate from sanctification. However, these aspects of salvation ( and other aspects) are unified in scripture (1 Corinthians 1.30, 6.11; Galatians 2.17-21, 3.23-29; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; Titus 3.4-8; Acts 26.18, Romans 5.18-21; Hebrews 2.11, 10.10). The Church for 1500 years understood salvation as one whole reality. The reformers fragmented it. 
  • a forensic action. The idea is that God declares you righteous setting you free from guilt. It’s God’s verdict or opinion of you. God changes His mind about you. Even if that is true, what difference does that actually make within you? Now, you have to convince yourself that it is true. But, you look at your life and conduct and know it’s not true. So you’re paralyzed, or at the least confused, about righteousness. 
  • by faith alone. You must become convinced or convince yourself that God “sees” you as righteous. It is dependent on your believing. You must have faith in your faith. You must imagine yourself as righteous in Christ, thinking about it until you become righteous. Can you see the frailty of this idea? It depends on you. This is superficial and potentially dangerous.
  • limited to a “declared righteousness.” However, justification is broader than this. It can be understood as the act, process, or state of being justified by God. Scripture does not define justification, it describes it. And when it does, as in Romans 5.18-21, a process is described.  
  • a “thing” from God. Righteousness is seen as an entity unto itself. It comes from God but is not God. However, righteousness is God Himself. He alone is righteous. So, if you are to become righteous you must actively live in God’s righteousness. You participate in Him and He acts in you. There is no other way to become righteous.  

Positional righteousness is built like a house of cards. You blow away one card and the whole house crumbles.  

Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human being and holder of 28 medals, was never declared the winner of a race until he actually ran (and won) the race. God’s rightful declaration of our righteousness comes at the finish line, the judgment seat of Christ. So, we diligently run the race set before us.  

Here’s the bottom line. Your righteousness is not so much about being declared righteous as it is about being and living in union, relationally with God.

These are really two different “systems” of understanding what it is to be a Christian. We might say one is “judicial” and the other “relational.” Judicial has won the day in evangelicalism. However, thousands are discovering that only in a deepening relationship, a communal partnership, with God can true righteousness take place in one’s life. 

This may be what Paul is getting at in his own personal journey with God recorded in Philippians 3. He explains that he has a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Christ which includes knowing Christ – in power, suffering and death – pressing on to make this his own, and straining forward to what lies ahead. He does not say he’s declared righteous so all is good. But, he is saying that he is living in a righteousness that comes from God (only God is righteous) through knowing Christ with great effort. He must participate in that righteousness for it to be effective in his life. 

Remember, righteousness is God’s not ours. You can participate through faith in Christ Jesus in the righteousness of God, becoming more like Him day after day. The key is to participate.

How are you participating in the righteousness of God? 

Dr. K 

Identifying as Righteous: Dangers & Alternatives

Does Identifying Yourself as Righteous Help You Become Righteous?

Are you made more righteous because you think you’re righteous? That seems to be the notion behind the identity movement which says: identify yourself differently and you’ll become different. So, though it’s obvious that we’re not righteous due to our unrighteous thoughts and actions, we keep telling ourselves that we actually are righteous: “I’m perfectly righteous in Christ.” Because I’m a Christian, in Christ, I’m automatically righteous. It’s all a mind game. 

We know our conduct is not righteous but we excuse ourselves because “I’m perfectly righteous in Christ.” 

Dangers: 

Complacency – No effort towards god-likeness is needed. You simply hang out here on earth until Jesus comes. Perhaps you’ll do something for Him. But as far as your heart is concerned, you’re good to go. 

Sinfulness – Interestingly, the people I know who most strongly believe this are also people who are proud, judgmental, manipulative, and heady. Others excuse their sinful ways because they are “human” though “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” Sin is only taken seriously in theory. 

Rationalization – Literally, you reason it out. It’s right because it makes sense to you: Christ is righteous. I’m in Christ. Therefore, I’m righteous. Not necessarily. Beware, how you rationalize your behavior.  

A better alternative, more in line with reality…

Let’s assume you are in Christ. Yet you know you are far from being righteous, godly, humble, loving, and just. However, because you’re in Christ you have what you need – His life, grace, wisdom, power, and strength – to more deeply participate in Him to the healing and renewal of your soul, mind, heart, and body.

Being in Christ, you really can face your sins and faults openly and clearly leading to repentance while experiencing His love, grace and mercy in union with Him. 

Better to see yourself as you really are, find God present in the mess, and in repentance cry out for His mercy. Then, leave it to God to guide you into righteousness.  

Being “in Christ” is not a favored position in which you become complacent but a living reality which demands your participation. 

I’ll reflect on this more in my next post. 

For now, reflect on your own understanding of “becoming righteous.”

Does it matter to you?

Do you excuse your unrighteous thoughts, attitudes, and actions because you’re “clothed in Christ’s righteousness?”

Do you find yourself hesitant to make an effort to become righteous because you’re already righteous?

Do you think it’s enough to believe you’re righteous in Christ? 

How does your understanding of righteousness affect your daily living?  

Dr. K 

A Second-Look At A Popular “Doctrine” That Clouds Spiritual Reality

Positional Righteousness Re-Examined

Does this make sense to you? Why do I need to make any effort to move forward spiritually when God sees me as perfectly righteous in Jesus Christ? Since I’m perfect in Christ, why would I struggle to pray, fast, love my neighbor, or give to the poor? This highlights another de-motivating idea (along with “faith alone”) that has entrenched itself into the belief systems of many evangelicals. It goes something like this: Since the Christian is declared and seen by God as perfectly righteous in Christ, it is not necessary to exercise any effort or engage any means to become like Christ. Here is another example of a theological idea interfering with actual spiritual reality. 

Here are some common phrases to describe what I’m talking about: 

“Imputed righteousness” – Protestant Christian doctrine that a sinner is accounted righteous by God purely by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and thus all depends on Christ’s merit and worthiness, rather that on one’s own merit and worthiness. It is a concept in Christian theology that proposes that the “righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers – that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith.” It is on the basis of this “alien” (i.e. from the outside) righteousness that God accepts humans. 

“Positional righteousness” – A Christian is in perfect standing before God in Christ. The believer is just as perfect as Christ in the Father’s sight. 

“Positional sanctification” – God declares a Christian to be absolutely holy the moment he/she believes in Jesus Christ. When God looks at a Christian, He sees the righteousness and holiness of Christ. 

Nowhere in scripture are Christians actually told to identify themselves as righteous because God sees them that way.  A few scripture passages (Philippians 3.8-9, Romans 5.17, 1 Corinthians 1.30, Ephesians 1.6) are interpreted with this notion in mind. However, this direct teaching is absent from scripture.

Why Is This Popular? 

Many cling to this teaching in order to convince themselves that, despite their unrighteous thoughts, behavior, and attitudes, they are actually righteous.

Many cling to this teaching because it seems logical. I am in Christ and He is righteous so that makes me righteous. Yet, Jesus is also love, kindness, peace, humble, wise, patient, gentle, meek, wonder-working, prayerful, and rightfully authoritative. Are you automatically all of those since you’re in Christ? No one speaks of “positional humility” (I am humble because Christ is humble) because we know better. Why then, positional righteousness? 

Key Passage 

2 Corinthians 5.21: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (Unfortunately, the KJV mis-translates the Greek word genometha (might become) as “be made” – “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”)

Reasons to believe this verse does NOT support “positional righteousness:”

  1. The verse, in context, is speaking of the apostles not Christians in general.
  2. There is no mention of faith here as the hinge that makes us righteous.
  3. Imputation is not mentioned. Yet, the verse is often interpreted that our sin is laid on Him and by faith His righteousness is imputed to us. 
  4. When God took on flesh, He was made “to be sin for us.” This is not just a reference to the cross but to all of his earthly life from birth to death. 
  5. The phrase “that we might become” seems to speak of an ongoing process not a past, accomplished fact. 

In other words, if taken at face value, the verse is teaching that because Christ took sin upon himself, humans may become righteous. 

Remove a theological agenda and the verse reads:

For us, sinless Christ became like sinful man, so that sinful man might become like sinless God.

This is in agreement with Gregory of Nazianzen (329-390) who wrote: “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” Jesus assumed human flesh, soul, and mind so that all that makes us human might be redeemed and healed.

He also wrote:

Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us: to become gods through him since he himself, through us, became a man. He took the worst upon himself to make us a gift of the best.

Jesus became like you so that you might become like Him. 

Does that reality light a fire of desire in your heart? Does who Jesus is and what He did give you hope and drive to become like Him? 

Believing in positional righteousness does not inspire or give hope. But, Jesus does. 

Why is this so difficult to grasp? I’ll touch on that in my next post. 

Dr. K 

It’s All For Your Salvation

2 Corinthians 1:6 and Salvation

I was planning on moving on from my discussion of faith alone and salvation until I read 2 Corinthians 1.6 this morning. This is how it reads in the NKJV:

Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted it is for your consolation and salvation.

This verse makes no sense if you believe salvation is by faith alone. How could Paul’s sufferings or consolations have any bearing on any one else’s salvation? What do personal sufferings have to do with one’s salvation if salvation is only brought about by faith alone? 

To make “faith alone” work for this verse, you’d have to do some radical spiritual gymnastics – twisting, jumping, and flipping around. You end up being more concerned about sticking to a theological system than simply understanding scripture itself. 

However, this verse means something to us as we understand salvation to include bringing us into union with the Triune God, entailing all of life, and healing of our hearts and minds. Salvation is not limited to forgiving sins, escaping hell, and getting us to heaven. Salvation also involves enduring suffering and enjoying consolation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is much more here than faith alone. 

Salvation is ours as we, in faith, endure affliction and enjoy consolation. 

St. Paul is an example to us of this reality. 

Now the verse makes sense. 

Today, as you struggle, suffer, rejoice, and/or find comfort, know that all of this is for your salvation. 

Dr. K 

Dude! You’re Making a Big Deal Out of Nothing.

Salvation Involves Faith & Effort. Really?

Dude, Chill! Stop rocking the boat. Back off! You’re making a big deal out of nothing. There’s no big difference between faith alone and having faith. You’re gettin’ all worked up over nothing. Enough already!  

Here’s why this is a big deal – SALVATION. 

  1. It impacts your understanding of salvation. Salvation is one unified reality. It encompasses all of life. It occurs in the past, present, and future. Yet, you are taught that justification is separated from sanctification which is separated from glorification in order to preserve the idea that justification is by faith alone. Yet, we learn from every biblical writer who addresses this issue that justification includes some form of effort along with faith. Thus, salvation must include some kind of effort. Wow! That’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? 
  2. It challenges your experience of salvation. If salvation is one unified reality that includes faith and effort, then your experience of salvation must include faith and effort. You are not being saved by faith alone. You are required to participate in salvation for salvation to be a reality in your life. You cannot passively cruise into eternity on the wings of faith alone. Faith-efforts such as communing with God in prayer, fasting, loving your neighbor, persevering in suffering, repenting,  struggling in obedience, and participating in the eucharist are ways of experiencing salvation. 

Salvation By Faith & Effort Changes Everything…For Good 

To realize that you must put forth some kind of effort in order to be saved changes everything. Now, all of life and how you live it is elevated and deepened in a fresh realization that if salvation is to be real in God by Jesus Christ through the Spirit, you have to be involved. Tenacious engagement is called for. No more indifferent, inactive, lifeless, “I’m-good-to-go” Christian life for you. 

Please don’t assume that I’m advocating some sort of radical, works-righteousness, save yourself, no-need-for-grace theory. Far from it. Don’t be trapped by dualistic thinking believing there are only two positions on the subject of salvation: either you’re saved 1) by effort or 2) by grace. Thankfully, there’s another position: salvation by both. 

It’s in this participatory paradigm – participating in salvation by faith-efforts – that you realize an even deeper need of God’s grace and mercy. In the ongoing struggle of salvation, grace must sustain or all efforts are useless. 

I think I’ve spent enough time on this subject. I hope my reflections on “faith-alone” have challenged some of your assumptions and actions. Perhaps, I’ve confirmed what you’ve always believed. Maybe I’ve got you taking a second look at “faith alone.” 

Above all, I hope I’ve communicated my biggest desire for you – that you participate as fully as possible in what God has provided for you – in this case, salvation. 

Dr. K 

Shocking News: Salvation Is Not Possible By Faith Alone. Rahab Proves It!

Since “faith alone” has been drummed into your head for so long, it’s almost impossible for you to believe otherwise. Dozen of websites proclaim: “Faith Alone in Christ Alone” or “By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” I understand that strong adherence to Reformation dogma provides a neat path for many to follow. However, these “doctrines” can be in conflict. For example, “sola fide” (faith alone) does not fit well with “sola scriptura” (scripture alone). I just looked at one web site where the 5 “sola’s” of the Reformation are briefly explained. There was not one Bible reference supporting “faith alone.” (I also heard one youtube sermon where guys like myself are called “liars” and “of the devil.” Watch out!) 

The Christian life or salvation is impossible without faith. However, what do New Testament writers actually teach about faith? They teach that faith always involves effort. 

The Example of Rahab

“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11.31). 

Her faith involved a) obedience and b) giving a friendly welcome to the spies. Her faith was not “faith alone.” 

In Joshua 2 we read of Rahab’s interaction with the two spies sent by Joshua to scope out Jericho. She hid them, protected them, expressed trust in their true God, agreed to their terms, helped them escape, and finally tied the scarlet cord in her window. This is hardly a story of “faith alone.” If she had not tied the scarlet cord to her window would she have been saved? No. Her life and the life of her family were spared because she, in faith, did what the spies told her to do. 

As James writes:

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2.24-26) 

As is said of Abraham: You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works…You see a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2.22-24). 

How could it be more clear? Faith by itself is incomplete, unfinished, inoperative without work or effort. 

Faith With Effort 

Here’s the reality for all of us. You cannot be saved by faith alone. Faith must be accompanied by effort or it is dead. 

Put another way: You cannot be a Christian without effort.

As Dallas Willard, Christian sage, writes: “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” Effort is doing something; it is action. Earning is an attitude that implies merit; one is trying to obtain something by their labor or service. 

Rahab did not earn her salvation by her actions. She put forth effort in faith, participating in the mercy offered to her, and as a result, was saved. She did not save herself. Joshua spared her as she acted in faith.  

Actions of faith energized by grace are what define us as Christians. You cannot be a Christian otherwise. 

Both faith and effort that are necessary for God to save us. They cannot be separated. They need not be separated. 

Follow Rahab’s example of faith-filled efforts to discover God’s saving power and abundant life. 

Dr. K 

Some Gnarly Thoughts On Trendy Church

So Different Yet Little Change

I sat in a church service Sunday ( a church I don’t normally attend), and wondered. With much that was edifying and Christ-honoring, there was also so much to wonder about, really. It’s not that I sat IN wonder, awed by the beauty and solemnity of God’s presence. It was more the wonder of my own confusion or lostness. I wondered about church becoming a “free-for-all,” try-to-make-everyone-comfortable, innovation-is-priority, prove-a-point, drive-an-agenda experience. 

Rhonda attended a church a couple weeks ago where “self-expression” was king. Every singer had a solo. People were literally dancing in the aisles. Those on the platform were jumping up and down along with many from the audience. The hair, the clothes, the “look” said, “I’m a hip, trendy, relevant Christian. Follow me.” Self-congratualatory stories were given to prove God’s power and one’s piety. How has the church become such a place of self-promotion, self-expression, self-interest, and self-pleasing? 

3 Competitors 

The success of the service is measured by how it makes me feel. It is a “good” service because it makes me feel good. 

The success of the service is measured by how much new information I receive. It is a good service because I learn something new. 

The success of the service is measured by how creative it is. It is a good service because new, innovative activities are implemented. 

God has been knocked off His throne replaced by Feelings, Information, and Innovation. I sadly wonder. 

Everything Different, Nothing Changes

Have church services become so boring that they must be constantly tweaked to make them interesting and relevant? 

I know what I’m talking about because about 30 years ago I did something similar. Radical differences in our church and morning worship service were implemented. Music became modernized. Small groups replaced Sunday School. Guitars replaced the organ. Casual became the norm. Screens went up, pulpit came down. Novel creativity replaced stale traditions. 

At the time I thought we were pioneering fresh ideas. It turned out we were simply becoming like everyone else. 

So much different yet very little change. 

It makes me wonder. 

Dr. K