Canadian historian John Stackhouse suggests the question at the heart of the Reformation was: “How can I know God truly loves me?” This question well describes Martin Luther’s faith struggle. Understood this way, the Reformation takes on a very contemporary feel, and the five Solas – Alones – of the Reformation can be heard speaking to the deep desire in human hearts to know they are loved by God.
Grace alone affirms that God’s love comes to us not on the basis of what we have done (our works) or because we are from the “right” social group. God’s love comes to us simply and completely out of the grace of God. God’s love for us depends on God, not on us. For people who believe they are not loved or cannot be loved, grace alone is good news.
The world the reformers lived in, and our world, were and are both worlds of deep anxiety, people were anxious about their lives and about the state of the world. Anxiety leads people to doubt and fear, in the face of doubt and fear the reformers proclaimed faith alone. Instead of living in anxiety, faith alone invites an anxious world to live resting in God’s love and faithfulness. For people living anxious lives, faith alone is good news.
The question might be asked: “How can these extraordinary claims be believed?” The reformers pointed to Scripture alone and Christ alone as the only proof needed. Many voices claim to speak the truth about God and human beings. But the words of the Bible (Scripture) cut through the clamour and anxiety, sometimes because its clarion call sounds over all the competing voices and sometimes because its whisper becomes the bedrock that gives strength upon which to stand up and stand firm. The Bible leaves no room for doubt about God’s grace and faithfulness as it points to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only proof we need that we are loved by God.
As the hymn “Jesus loves me” sings, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And to this the Reformers would have said, “Amen.”
All of this, the reformers would remind us, is to the glory of God alone, who acts towards human beings in love with all the honour and glory going to God alone. We are loved by God; may all our thanks and praise go to the God of grace.
—The Rev. Peter Bush, Moderator of the 143rd General Assembly