I’m addressing the most important decision we ever make in life. It’s not a one-time decision, like the one we made when we came to Jesus Christ for salvation. It’s the decision that preceded even that one. And it’s a decision that we have to make again and again and again ever after. We make it every time our Christian journey brings us to a fork in our road, or to a roundabout with one, two, three or even more possible exits. It’s the decision as to who or what is going to be the final governor of my life and all its choices. That decision is the vital, personal application of what we refer to as sola Scriptura.
What is sola Scriptura? The word sola is Latin for something that is unaccompanied, alone and all by itself. Shakespeare used it in the margins of his plays as a direction to actors and stage hands. It meant that at that point in the drama, there would be just one actor on the stage. He was the solo.
Used of Scripture, it means that there is some sense in which it stands alone on the “stage.” It is all by itself. It is unique.
That doesn’t mean that there are no other important considerations (actors, if you will) when we make decisions. Or that there are no other legitimate voices to listen to about life and its issues. But it means that in the end, Scripture is the final voice. It alone settles the issue.
There are many individual passages which affirm this bedrock of Scripture’s unique, authoritative role, not just in the life of a Christian but in the affairs of all the world and every individual in it. But actually, the entire Bible from beginning to end insists upon this; from Genesis 3, when God’s words were brazenly denied by Satan, to the very last chapter of our Bibles when God sentences a disastrous end upon anyone who either adds to or subtracts from Scripture (Rev. 22:18–19).
Sola Scriptura is not just confirmed by proof-texting. It’s the Bible’s whole storyline.
What this meant for the 16th century reformers was that Scripture alone settles the question of how a man or woman can be righteous before God. The reformers’ entire teaching of justification by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), because of Christ alone (solus Christus) was predicated upon their concluding with conviction that Scripture is the lone voice on the stage when it comes to our salvation. Only in this way can salvation be soli Deo gloria (to God’s glory alone).
The reformers didn’t invent this truth. But they did recover it after long centuries of competing actors had pushed it from center stage. Today, every true Christian believes and celebrates its solo role in the drama of our redemption. But sola Scriptura isn’t a truth which a Christian leaves behind once he’s justified. It’s the conviction by which he decides all things.
Here’s the way that works in daily life. I’m on a journey, attempting to stick to God’s straight and narrow way. The way of blessedness (Psalm 1). All around me are other travelers; a few pointed, like me, toward the Lord and His glory, but most pointed away from God and toward destruction. Many of these travelers, saved and unsaved, voice their opinions about nearly every step I take. They keep calling my lines and attempting to direct my standing and my sitting. They sometimes use language that confuses me.
“What we’re advising,” they argue, “is the polite thing to do, the socially acceptable or the least problematic.
“It’s the corporate standard or the industry expectation. But what you’re thinking,” they continue, “is generational, polarizing, confusing, bigoted, hurtful.”
Perhaps they have a point. How are these choices finally to be decided?
When John Foxx, the famous martyrologist, returned from Geneva to England after the death of “Bloody” Mary, he was given a prestigious position in the Church of England. But he didn’t sufficiently conform. The archbishop treated him respectfully but urged him to subscribe to the entirety of the church’s practices and positions. In a scene reminiscent of Luther’s response at the Diet of Worms over a century earlier, Foxx pulled from his pocket a small Greek New Testament. Holding it up he replied, “To this I will subscribe.”
That’s sola Scriptura for daily life. To this I will subscribe. Or in the words of the psalmist, “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right” (Psalm 119:128). If there’s Scripture that concerns the thing in question, sola Scriptura! Its voice is the final, ruling, nonnegotiable verdict.
“I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (Psalm 119:59).