The Protestant Reformation’s theology centered around five solae, or “Alones,” as we state them today. They represented a break from the beliefs of the Western Church of that day, which history tells us had departed a great deal from Scripture. Therefore, it is fitting that we start with Sola Scriptura, or “By Scripture Alone.”
It is important to understand what is meant by the history phrase, “by Scripture alone.” Dr. John MacArthur states it simply like so, “Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.” It’s not about trying to find answers to questions of science in Scripture. It’s not about using Scripture to predict the end of the world. Nor is it about how Scripture will support your team winning the Super Bowl. Rather, it’s simply the view that Scripture (the Old and New Testaments) provides all the answers and guidance we need in order to understand how we might be saved and also how we are to live life in a spiritual way that is pleasing to God.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39-40, ESV
Jesus tells us the Scriptures tell us how to have eternal life: they bear witness to Him. He is the key. The Scriptures point to Him and by coming to Him, we might have salvation. The Bible tells us God does the calling, the truth revealing, and the convicting. Our salvation is solely due to Him. This touches on another sola, about faith alone, but we’ll get to it in turn. The fact is that Christ made it plain that the Scriptures teach us about salvation. All we need to know about how to be saved is contained in the Scriptures.
Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. – Romans 3:31, ESV
The Scriptures give us the Law. The Law tells us what we must do to be found righteous in the sight of the Lord. Paul’s point in his letter to the Romans is that the Scriptures convict us. We cannot live up to them. We would have to do so perfectly in order to not need salvation. However, we fail. We fail constantly. This is why we need Christ and His grace every day. With that said, the Scriptures tell us what is righteous. And though one might think, “I’m saved, so I can do anything I want,” once we are His we are compelled in our hearts to try and uphold the Law. We know we won’t be perfect. We know it doesn’t save us. When we fulfill the Law, though, we please our Lord. That’s why we seek to uphold it.
We don’t need other “holy books” to tell us how we might be saved and how we ought to live. We don’t need interpretation by someone who is “privileged” to share in “hidden knowledge.” That isn’t the way God works. He has revealed to us through the Scriptures what we need to know to be saved and to live a life that is pleasing to Him. That is why we say “Sola Scriptura,” by Scripture alone.