It is a complicated question. What makes a Lutheran? Belief in grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone is often used to describe the essence of a Lutheran. These three “solas” are a good overview of what Lutheranism is and what defines our relationship with God. Dr. Daniel E. Paavola addresses this and other questions about his new book Grace, Faith, Scripture: Portrait of a Lutheran.
Can you give me a brief summary of what grace, faith, and Scripture are?
“Grace is the motivation of God to forgive us and call us His own people. It is the undeserved mercy which is the base for our relationship. Faith is the gift God gives us by which we trust His promises are true. After all, they’re amazing promises, and it takes the divine gift of faith to believe we are His forgiven people. Scripture brings us the first and continuing words of God that create His relationship with us.”
In your book, you talk about how these characteristics are important together, but stand alone. Why is it not Scripture plus . . . , faith plus . . . , etcetera?
“Why should God choose to be with us, to love us, and save us? If we have any answer besides pure grace, we will find that answer in ourselves. But we are the desperate sinners who can offer God nothing. Grace alone, His mercy only, is the reason God creates and continues His relationship with us. We can only hear that in the Word and nowhere else. Faith then, created by that Word, is the only response to such mercy-filled news. Faith, grace, and Scripture allow no additions to them. When you go on a perfect first date, you don’t bring your roommate along. No, this is a relationship for just the two of you. So God’s relationship with us allows no third party to intrude on grace, faith, and Scripture. Those and those alone make our relationship with Him.”
Lutheranism can be complicated to explain. Why do these three solas in particular best describe Lutheranism?
“Lutherans have prized these since Luther’s time, since these three focus on Christ’s work alone. We are the recipients of these gifts, but God is the creator and giver of each of them. While we carefully distinguish Law and Gospel, Lutherans have always been known as people of the Gospel. The Gospel can be summed up as the grace of God, received by God-given faith, which is created by the Word of God alone.”
You talk about your relationship with your wife in the book. How do these three solas apply to our own relationships?
“Yes, I tell quite a few stories about us, especially about our early days, because our family relationships are a small mirror to God’s relationship with us. I knew I was out of my league when I was dating Holly. Why would she date me? It was grace, especially when we went bowling for our second date. I’m terrible at bowling, but she still went—pure grace. We take the gift of a relationship by faith, and we trust also the words that are said, especially the clear words of His Scripture.”
How do we use grace, faith, and Scripture in our daily life?
“Start with the Word. Let’s talk with God about how wonderful He is and how fortunate we are to be with Him. That’s a conversation we can have all day, filled by the Scripture’s words. Then, let’s remember especially the words of grace, since we are people of the Gospel and the Gospel dominates our teaching. Finally, these words of God’s actions—His love, forgiveness, patience, and plans for us—are all so tremendous, faith alone can be our only answer. We can’t earn these words but receive them as a pure gift taken in by faith.”
How can we take the message that we need grace, faith, and Scripture and spread it to those who are not Lutheran?
“I think these three are a natural connection that is shared with other Christians and also those who have no church affiliation. Talk about grace, pure mercy, as the basis for a relationship with God. That is the message of the prodigal son parable, for example, and it resonates with every soul. We know that story only by God’s words alone, and we can take the message by faith alone. That sequence of grace, announced by the Word and received by faith, will build a bridge for anyone we meet.”
These three solas are found throughout the Christian faith. We practice faith and grace every day. Incorporating Scripture and thinking about our awesome God brings us together as His followers. You do not have to be Lutheran to know that these three solas are important, but it is what brings Lutherans together in common belief.