What is sola gratia?

A lot of people think that their ticket into Heaven is based on good works; they think that if they can do enough good things, the right things, or more good than bad, then the doors to Heaven will open. But the truth is, if salvation was based on good works, NO ONE would be going to Heaven because we have all done wrong (Romans 3:23)! 1 John 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." The Bible tells us that salvation cannot be earned; it is sola gratia.

The Latin word sola means "alone," "grounding," or "base," and gratia means "grace." The phrase sola gratia means that a person is saved through grace alone—which means that good works have nothing to do with it (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Sola gratia is part of a group of theological terms called The Five Solas. These are Latin phrases that became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s.

The Five Solas:

  1. Sola scriptura: "Scripture alone"
  2. Sola fide: "Faith alone"
  3. Sola gratia: "Grace alone"
  4. Solo Christo: "Christ alone"
  5. Soli Deo gloria: "To the glory of God alone"

Now that we know what the Latin sola gratia means, let's break down what exactly is meant by "grace alone" in regards to salvation.

How are we saved by grace alone?

One simple definition for grace is "undeserved kindness." In the New Testament, the Greek word for grace is charis which directly translates as "favor, kindness, or blessing." Another explanation of the word grace is "gift." You cannot earn a gift; it is freely given—without you having to "work" for it. For example, if your parents give you a gift for your birthday, they don't do so because you have been a perfect kid all year or because you are paying them back. They give it to you because they care about you—even though they know you have disobeyed them at times. The gift is kindly, freely, and unconditionally given even if it is undeserved.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." —John 5:24

Grace for Salvation

Everyone has broken God's law (or sinned)—whether that's telling a lie, desiring something that isn't ours, disrespecting our parents, or putting things ahead of God in our lives. The punishment for breaking God's law is death (Romans 6:23). This is what we deserve. Scripture tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and that there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10-11), so trying to earn our salvation is out of the question. We could never be "good enough" to go to Heaven on our own merit.

God would be justified in letting us suffer the punishment for our sin, because we DO deserve eternal death for our sin. But God showed His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, He sent Christ to die for us (Romans 5:8). Notice that the verse does not say that He sent Christ because we were good people, but it acknowledges that we are currently sinners. This means that we have done nothing to earn salvation; it was a gift. We cannot buy our way out of being in trouble with God. All we can do is accept, by faith, the gift of forgiveness and salvation given through Jesus.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace is God's Choice

God's grace is His gift to give. He has chosen to offer us the gift of eternal life instead of requiring us to pay for our wrongs toward Him with eternal death (Romans 6:23). Sola gratia is what makes the gospel "good news." Because, if it was left to us, we could never earn God's forgiveness.

God is the One who acted and sent Christ to die and take the punishment for our sin; it is He who draws sinners to Himself and stirs their heart to want to believe in Him for salvation and it is He that gives a person new life in Christ (John 6:44); 2 Corinthians 5:17). We could not desire nor accomplish this on our own. It is a gift, given to us because of God's great kindness (Titus 3:5-7). What good news! What grace!

Grace after Salvation

The fact that we need grace for salvation is obvious, but often we forget that we need God's grace after salvation too. When we believe in Jesus and are saved from our sin, that is grace in justification. But we also need grace in sanctification. Sanctification means becoming more like Jesus. Scripture often calls this "putting off the old man and putting on the new" (Ephesians 4:22-24) or "walking in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16).

Sometimes we think that producing the fruit of the Spirit—like love, joy, or patience—is up to us and our tenacity. But remember, it's called the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not the fruit of us trying hard. We need God's grace in order to obey Him and walk in His way, just as we need His grace for salvation.

John 15:5 says that, without Christ, we can do nothing. That is why we must trust in Him as our source of strength, peace, and wisdom. When we feel weak, then God is strong through us (2 Corinthians 12:9). And God wants to be strong for us so that He can receive the glory and we can receive His mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16).

We need God's grace for everything in our life—from salvation to sanctification. Without God's undeserved kindness, we could not be saved nor follow Him or grow in our faith after salvation.

If you have never believed in Jesus before, you can do so right now! Because of God's grace, you've been offered forgiveness of your sins. All you must "do" is believe and trust in Jesus' death and resurrection for paying for your sin. If you have believed in Jesus as your Savior, then by God's grace, you can now grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus day by day. Ask Him for help to follow, obey, and trust Him.

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." —2 Peter 3:18



Sola gratia is a Latin phrase that means "grace alone." This is just one of the five solas from the Protestant Reformation. Sola gratia means that a person is saved only by God's grace—not through anything they have done. Grace is like a kind gift that we don't deserve. Grace is important both for salvation and sanctification. First, salvation is not something someone can earn by being "good enough." We are sinners—hopeless to save ourselves. But God offers us forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of His Son. After salvation, we can grow in faith through God's grace (2 Peter 3:18). Without Christ, we can do nothing. His continual grace is a great gift.

Writer: Hanna S.

Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.

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