I. The three “alones” of Reformation theology is Faith alone, Scripture alone, and Grace alone. Salvation is a gift given to humans by God’s grace, and through faith alone we receive this gift of salvation. If we erroneously believe that our own actions, such as going to church and obeying the Ten Commandments, play a role in achieving salvation, then salvation would no longer be a gift from God but rather a sort of human accomplishment. In order to be given the gift of salvation, we simply need to receive it rather than pursue it by our own actions. By faith alone, we are forgiven; there is no additional “requirement” of us to do something in order to earn this salvation. We know that God is favorable to us by trusting in the promises of God, which are dictated in Scripture. So, through faith we trust in Scripture, and in Scripture we see God’s promise of salvation to all that believe. Finally, through God’s grace alone we are forgiven and saved because God’s promise of salvation is made by grace. God’s grace is a gift; God did not save us because we are good, or create us because He had to. Rather, it is by God’s kindness to us that we are saved, regardless of our own actions. Thus, through faith, scripture, and grace alone we can know with certainty that God is gracious and faithful to us. The pinnacle issue of the 16th century was the question: how do I know that God is gracious to me? Greater emphasis was put on the two words “I” and “know”; what is the grounds of my absolute certitude that I know where I stand with God? At the time, the commonly accepted response was simply to do your best and hope that everything turns out okay. Luther, however, believed that humans are sinners who cannot do anything good on their own because they have no free will. He believes that by “doing our best” we are simply deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are doing our best because as egotistical humans, we tend to have a higher opinion of ourselves than we actually are. Therefore, we cannot “earn” salvation through our human actions. Luther’s three “alones” in Reformation theology are a response to this question of the 16th century. Traditionally, good works done by the individual have always been fundamental to Christianity. However, in the 16th century, such great emphasis was put on the individual and the individual’s actions that it seemed as if only good works guaranteed entrance into heaven. According to Luther, this is not true; it is not by human actions or works that salvation is obtained or earned. Rather, it is only God who can offer us salvation, and we must simply have faith in the promise of salvation as dictated in the Scripture by God’s grace. Through faith, scripture, and grace alone we know that God is favorable to us. It is necessary for God to save us because we cannot do it ourselves, since we do not know right from wrong. Our actions, such as good deeds, cannot justify our salvation. Instead, Christ is justified, so only through Christ we are justified. Consequently, Christians are simultaneously justified and sinners.
II. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin asserts that “we cannot with propriety say there is any knowledge of God where there is no religion or piety.” According to Calvin, there are two fundamental types of knowledge: the knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. All of the “true and sound wisdom” that we possess is twofold, because we cannot have one without the other and we do not know which precedes the other. Essentially, we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, yet at the same time we cannot know ourselves without knowing God. Calvin, however, held a very negative view of human beings; he believed humans to be full of self-interest and self-deceit, never able to do anything purely agapē because there is always an aspect of self-interest to our actions. Therefore, as fallen sinners, our human reason is like the vision of a very...
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