Sola Gratia: God's Gracious Acceptance of Sinners for Christ’s Sake

Rev. Donavon Riley

Grace is God's promised, free acceptance of sinners because of Christ. That is, as St. Paul writes in Rom. 5[:15]: "How much more the grace of God, and the gift in grace." By the grace of God, St. Paul means, the reconciliation of sinners with God. By in grace he means, the gift of the Holy Spirit and beginning of eternal life. So, when we speak about grace alone [sola gratia] we mean, "We receive the forgiveness of sins by grace," that is, "We receive forgiveness of sins freely, because of Christ."

Grace is free. We contribute nothing to God's mercy except our sin. Therefore, God's promises do not depend on how well we manage grace in our daily lives. As St. Paul says in Rom. 9[:15]: Moses pleaded with God to learn how he had managed to receive God's favor. He wanted to know so that he could find it again when he needed it: "Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people" (Exodus 33:13).

But God hid has face from Moses in the cleft of the rock and preached his name to Moses instead. I AM the LORD, he says, which means "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." God's gracious acceptance of Moses is not an effect of Moses' trust, it is who God is. It is his name. This is the precious cornerstone and sure foundation which the builders rejected (Ps. 118:22), by whom we've received his grace freely through the promise of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, the chief cornerstone and our sure foundation.

For Christ's sake God judges that, although we have and remain in sin all our lives, we are not accused and damned because of them. We are under grace, accepted and pleasing to God because of Christ. We are not pleasing to God because of anything in us, our disobedience to his commands, our greatest accomplishments, or our worst failures.

If we fall back on how we feel, our experiences, or our accomplishments we will never know peace. Left to ourselves sin and death hound us day and night, and the power of sin which is the law rules us like a tyrant. In this experience we don't feel like God is a faithful, loving, and kind heavenly Father. We experience him as a Judge. Then he seems too distant, too removed from our lives, a spectator who has put us on earth to test us, then judge us by how we have chosen to obey or disobey his holy law.

When we are overwhelmed in this way then sins seem to pile on sins until we cannot even measure them. Death is no longer something we watch happen round us, it is in us. We feel we have become death itself. And where is God in all this? He is not watching this happen to us, he is the one doing it to us. For there "is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one." "Their throat is an open tomb. With their tongues they have practiced deceit.""The poison of asps is under their lips." "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.""Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:9-20).

But where sin abounded grace abounded much more (Romans 5:20). This means that the more we feel our sins the more we understand and receive forgiveness of our sins as gift, because we see in ourselves nothing which causes us to say, "I deserve forgiveness." "I've earned it, so give me what's owed to me."

God does not command us to hope in what we have accomplished by obedience to the Ten Commandments or any laws. Instead, "He has given us hope in grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16). On this account we know God, or rather, we are known by God, and can approach his throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).

We are not worthy to approach God, sinners that we are, but now Christ Jesus promises us that even though we are unworthy all who call upon God are freely forgiven for his sake. For with the Lord there is mercy (Psalm 130:7). Grace has nothing to do with our worthiness and everything to do with Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Because of Christ we have nothing to fear from God. We can approach him as beloved children approach their dear Father, to accept the gift offered to us by faith.

This is very important for all Christians, that we hold tight to the little word, freely. God's grace is a gift. He forgives sinners while they are yet sinners for Christ's sake, "that no one may boast." God's grace is free. No strings attached. Without this certainty the Gospel cannot be received and enjoyed as Good News. Without faith that trusts that grace is God's promised, free acceptance of sinners because of Christ certainty always dangles just out of reach. But with this faith comes a sure and certain hope that all God's promises are "yes" in Christ. Now we can approach God confidently (Romans 8:34), because of our Christ, "who sits at the right hand of God that he may make intercession for us."

No one is able to approach God apart from Christ Jesus. He is our Mercy Seat by his blood, our Mediator, our High Priest who brings our prayers to the Father. But how will we call on him whom we do not trust? (Romans 10:14) How will we worship God in Spirit and truth without a confident hope that trusts all God's promises in Christ are true?

Only God's free grace reconciles sinners to Him by the forgiveness won for us by Christ. Grace alone restores us to a right relation with God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Grace alone stills a troubled, terrified conscience. Grace alone freely bestows forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. Grace alone gives the Holy Spirit and saving faith. By grace alone we are pleasing to God on account of Christ.

Rev. Donavon Riley is Pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Weber, MN.

Created: October 6th, 2013