At the church I co-pastor, Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, we are deliberate about making sure that both our church members and visitors understand the doctrinal basis of our fellowship. As a small way of helping to further that end, we note in our church bulletin every Sunday morning that “we affirm the solas of the Protestant Reformation.”
By way of reminder, the five solas are five points that summarize the biblical theology recovered and proclaimed during the Protestant Reformation. As we note in our bulletin, these five solas are:
- Sola Scriptura: The Bible is the sole written divine revelation and alone can bind the conscience of the believer absolutely.
- Sola Fide: Justification is by faith alone. The merit of Christ, imputed to us by faith, is the sole ground of our acceptance by God, by which our sins are remitted, and imputed to Christ.
- Solus Christus: Christ is the only mediator through whose work we are redeemed.
- Sola Gratia: Our salvation rests solely on the work of God’s grace for us.
- Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone belongs the glory.
Each sola is important, but the first four really exist to preserve the last one, namely, the glory of God. By sola Scriptura, we declare the glory of God’s authority by noting that only His inspired Word can command us absolutely. Sola fide, solus Christus, and sola gratia all exalt God’s glory in salvation. God and God alone—through His Son, Jesus Christ—saves His people from sin and death.
We need the glory of God to be reinforced because it is the hardest truth of all for people to accept. The refusal to glorify God in an appropriate and proper way is basic to our corrupt state. As Paul says in his penetrating description of human fallenness in Romans 1: “They did not honor him as God” (v. 21).
So often when we talk about God, we describe Him in such a way that He isn’t recognizable as the God of the Bible. I’ve said more than once that if our god is not sovereign, our god is not God. But I must go further. If we don’t acknowledge the sovereignty of God, if we don’t acknowledge the justice of God, if we don’t acknowledge the omniscience of God, the immutability of God, then whatever god it is we are acknowledging, it is not God. We’re not glorifying God as God, we’re glorifying something less than God as if it were God, and to glorify something other than God or something less than God as if it were God is the very essence of idolatry.
Idolatry is our most basic sin, and in it an exchange is made: God reveals His truth about Himself, and we trade in that truth and walk out with the lie. We exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature. This can be done in a crass way of worshiping something that we craft with our own hands such as a statue or an icon. But there is also a more sophisticated, intellectual sort of idolatry—the reconstruction of our doctrine of God in such a way as to strip Him of those attributes with which we are uncomfortable. All of us have a propensity to reconstruct a god who is not holy, who is not wrathful, who is not just, who is not sovereign. We find it easy to take the attributes of God we like and reject the ones we don’t. When we do that, we are as guilty of idolatry as a person who is worshiping a graven image.
Every day in America, we hear one of the great pernicious lies about God, namely, that we all worship the same god. We are told that whatever we call him or it—Allah or Yahweh or Tao or Buddha—it doesn’t matter. We all worship the same thing. To that I reply, “No, we don’t.” The scary part about religion in general is that it underscores man’s guilt before God, but then goes on to create ineffective solutions to this guilt. The impetus for creating alternatives to the religion that God reveals in nature and in Scripture is idolatry. But even if we boldly confess this truth, we must be on guard against idolatry even within the Christian community. Because we are fallen creatures, we can be religious and be idolaters at the same time. All of us can remake God in our own image, downplaying or ignoring those aspects of His character we do not like. If we do that, we are withholding the glory that belongs to God alone.
The whole goal of our salvation is to bring us to a place where we worship God and we honor Him as God. The great danger is that we make ourselves the center of concern, and we steal the glory of God. In all that we do, the driving passion of the Christian must always be Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. And the only way for this passion to be realized is to honor God as God, to understand Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word and not according to the mere opinions of fallen creatures.