Martin Luther was a prolific writer in his day. The complete works of Martin Luther contain 55 volumes. That's a lot of writings. Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther looked back at the numerous books that he had written. And he was willing that all of them be destroyed, except for two, his small catechism and his "Bondage of the Will." [1]

The first book comes from his heart for Christian education. He wrote this book for those in the church, that they might know the fundamentals of the faith, which few knew during the days leading up to the reformation. This catechism teaches by way of question and answer, going through the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and various sacraments of the church. It was all written to help give understanding to those in the church. Because, in Luther's day, this was far from the norm. In the preface to his catechism, he writes, ...

"The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form.
How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach."

He wrote it to help in the education of the people of the church, especially children. Luther had a great heart was for the family. One scholar said that Luther "placed the home at the center of the universe." He envisioned mom and dad at home, teaching their children in the ways of God. And Luther's small catechism is precisely that. It is a book, to be used by parents and pastors in teaching their children. So, the first book that Luther wanted to see preserved was for the people, for a broad understanding of the Christian faith.

His second book, on the other hand, The Bondage of the Will, was written on a more scholarly level. Though with a bit of work, you would find it very readable. But, it wasn't written for the masses to give an overall understanding of the faith. Instead, it was an academic, thoroughly theological defense of the gospel.

The book I have is translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnstone. Of this work, they write, ...

"The Bondage of the Will, ... is the greatest piece of theological writing that ever came from Luther's pen."


"The Bondage of the Will, ... is a major treatment of what Luther saw as the very heart of the gospel." [2]

Now, in order to understand this book, you need to understand the circumstances surrounding its writing. It all began with a series of letters back and forth over the span of a few years between Luther and a man named Desiderius Erasmus.

Erasmus was a man who loved books and buried himself in them. He was famously quoted as saying, "When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes."

Because of his learning, he became the most prominent Roman Catholic scholar of the day. As one man said, "No man in Europe could rival him in reading and writing the classical tongues. No man had such mastery of the treasures of ancient literature, both secular and patristic. No man commanded the ear of Pope, cardinal and king as did Erasmus." [3]

They battled theology back and forth in these letters. Finally, Erasmus wrote a book about these things entitled, "Discussion, or Collation, concerning Free-Will." Its Latin title begins with the word, "Diatribe," so, his work is often simply referred to as the "Diatribe." It came off the presses on September 1, 1524. His book was well received by the Pope and the Emperor and praised by Henry VIII. [4]The main premise of his book is that human beings have "free-will," to choose for God or not. Erasmus argued that the human will has the power to "apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same." [5]

And Martin Luther discerned rightly, that man's will is not free, as Erasmus contended, but bound. And thus, he wrote "The Bondage of the Will." By "bondage of the will," Luther meant that we have total inability to save ourselves. It is only by the sovereign grace of God that we are saved from our sins. In other words, because of our sin, our salvation must be entirely of God's grace, because we bring nothing. Again, I quote those who translated Luther's work into English.

"Man through sin has ceased to be good. He has no power to please God. He is unable to do anything but continue in sin. His salvation, therefore, must be wholly of Divine grace, for he himself can contribute nothing to it; And any formulation of the gospel which amounts to saying that God shows grace, not in saving man, but in making it possible for man to save himself, is to be rejected as a lie. The whole work of man's salvation, first to last, is God's; And all the glory for it must be God's also.

This was just what Erasmus would not say." [6]

This is the point of Luther's "Bondage of the Will." Our wills are so bound in sin that we need grace to save us. Or, you might say it this way, "we are saved by grace alone." This leads us right into our topic this morning.

In recent weeks, we have been looking at the cries of the reformation, often called the "Solas." Sola Scriptura denotes that Scripture alone is our authority; Sola Fide stands for how we are saved by faith alone; Sola Gratia proclaims that we are saved by grace alone; Solus Christus tells of how we are saved by Christ alone; Soli Deo Gloria is a phrase to say that we live to the glory of God alone.

These were the foundational beliefs of the reformers, those who sought to reform the church away from its corruptions, and toward "sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3). And though the reformers didn't know these specific phrases (they didn't know "Sola Scripture" and "Sola Fide" and "Sola Gratia"), they all embraced these specific truths. The truths about salvation.

That the Scripture is our only inerrant guide in spiritual matters. That our salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That our entire lives are to be lived for the glory of God alone. And these are truths that we hold dear at Rock Valley Bible Church. We stand with the reformers in these things. And that's why we are looking at the Solas this month.

Now, in recent weeks, we have look at Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. Today, we come to Sola Gratia. "Grace Alone." And, with Luther, I would argue that this is the core of the gospel!

Last week, we looked at "Sola Fide," Justification by faith alone. But, the foundation of "Sola Fide" is "Sola Gratia." And this is what all of the reformers believed. They had their differences in several areas, like how far to separate from the practices of the Catholic Church, how to administer baptism, the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, the manner of worship, and the polity of the local church." But, in this area, they were all united. They all believed in the utter helplessness of man in sin. They all believed in the sovereignty of God in giving grace. "To all of them, these doctrines were the very life-blood of the Christian faith." [7]

One last time, I quote from Johnston and Packer,

"The doctrine of free justification by faith only, which became the storm-center of so much controversy during the Reformation period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers' theology, but this is hardly accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention of Paul, echoed with varying degrees of adequacy by Augustine, and Gottschalk, and Bradwardine, and Wycliffe, that the sinner's entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only. The doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace; but it actually expressed for them only one aspect of this principle, and that not its deepest aspect. The sovereignty of grace found expression in their thinking at a profounder level still, in the doctrine of monergistic regeneration--the doctrine, that is, that the faith which receives Christ for justification is itself the free gift of a sovereign God, bestowed by spiritual regeneration in the act of effectual calling.

To the Reformers, the crucial question was not simply, whether God justifies believers without works of law. It was the broader question, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving them by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying them for Christ's sake when they come to faith, but also raising them from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith.

Here was the crucial issue: whether God is the author, not merely of justification, but also of faith; whether, in the last analysis, Christianity is a religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, or of self-reliance and self-effort.

The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia." [8]

In other words, you might say it his way. "Sola Gratia" is the foundation upon which "Sola Fide" stands. Without Sola Gratia, Sola Fide fails to stand.

Let me give you some theological words that help to put things in perspective: Monergism and Synergism. Monergism comes from the roots of "mono," meaning "one;" and "ergism" (energy), meaning "working." Pertaining to salvation, it means, "Salvation is a work of God alone." Synergism comes from the roots of "Syn," meaning, "with;" and "ergism" (energy), meaning, "working." In theological terms, it means that "God cooperates with us in our salvation"

In other words, monergism means: "God, alone, works on the soul to bring about spiritual regeneration." Synergism means: "The human will cooperates with God's grace to bring about spiritual regeneration." Monergism is "Sola Gratia." Monergism is the view of Luther and the reformers. Synergism is the view of Erasmus. And any degree of cooperation is not "Sola Gratia." [9]

For instance, we are trying to sell our big conversion van. Our family is shrinking, with kids off at college. We don't need such a large van anymore. Besides, the gas mileage is killing us. So, I put an ad on Craigslist. And over the past week or so, I have received some inquiries. People have asked various questions about the van. What's the exact mileage? Is there any noticeable rust? Any chips in the paint? Are there any rips or stains on the interior? Have you had any major work done on the van? Is the air conditioner working? What size is the engine? And so forth.

With a couple of calls, it has reached the point of wanting to come and see the van. I have had several requests from people living in Wisconsin to come and meet them half-way. Can you meet me in Beloit to show the van? Can you come to Janesville to show the van? This is meeting "half-way." That's "synergism." One party comes part of the way, and another party comes the other part of the way.

After researching how to sell a car on Craigslist, I have resolved in my mind that I'll show the van in the Sam's parking lot. You just say "Sam's Club," and everyone knows where that is. There is only one in Rockford, so I don't need to clarify, "You know, the one near State Street?" Also, it's near our house, like a 2-minute drive. I can walk there in 15 minutes. I can even drive there, sell my car, and walk home. But, even meeting at Sam's Club is "Synergism." Because, I have come part way.

Monergism, on the other hand is this. "You want to see the car? Come to my house. The van is sitting in my driveway." And as potential buyers come to my house, and purchase the car, start it up, and drive it away, that's monergism! And that's what God has done in our salvation.

Sadly, there are many Protestants today, who don't believe in monergism. They believe in synergism. "I'm bringing something!" (However small that "something is.") "I came to God with my faith." "I came to God when I prayed to God." "I came to God when I understood what He did for me." It's not much. But, it is me responding to God. That's "synergism." And that's not the position of the reformers. And I would argue alongside Luther, that's not the gospel. That's not the good news.

The good news isn't that I need to go to Sam's Club to be saved. The good news is that God comes to my house and starts me up, and drives away with me. That's the gospel! That's monergism! That's "Sola Gratia!"

Now, sure, people are saved without such an understanding of the gospel. But, those who are, miss the full glories of the gospel. They don't see it in its fullness. They don't see how God is the one who took the initiative and provided all of the energy for my salvation.

Well, as is our pattern in this series, I have begun with a bit of background and theology about the "Solas," and then we have gone to the Scriptures. That's what we are doing this morning. And the best place to begin here is Ephesians, chapter 2. So, open your Bibles and turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 2. This is a great chapter showing our condition before being saved, and what God does in our salvation. And I trust that you will see the truths of "Sola Gratia" in this passage.

I love preaching grace. Grace is huge in the Brandon household. The middle name of all of our daughters is "Grace." Carissa's name means "grace" in Greek, from "charis." Hanna's name means "grace" in Hebrew. Grace is huge to us at RVBC. Our church motto is "Enjoying His grace; extending His glory." We love grace.

Well, before we actually look at the passage, I want to pray. I want to pray Paul's prayer in chapter 1. Look at chapter 1 and verse 15, ...

Ephesians 1:15-19
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,

See, Paul is presenting to those in Ephesus the pure gospel. He's putting forth the greatness of God's grace. And he's praying that they might understand how great God is.

Pray for my wisdom how to put forth the glories of the pure grace of God. Pray for us, that you would give us "hearts that can see" our hope; the riches we have in Christ; the immeasurable power of God toward us who believe.

Ephesians 2:1-3
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We have to stop here and talk a bit about our state before God. Paul says that we were "dead in ... trespasses and sins" (verse 1). He said that we were "by nature children of wrath" (verse 3). This is the astonishing effect of sin. Sin kills! Adam and Eve were created sinless. Adam and Eve received the blessing of God. But, as they sinned, they became sinners. And the image of God within them was distorted. And that distortion has come down to us.

When children are born, they are born sinners. It is their nature. And as a result, they are under the wrath of God. That's the condition of every human being that enters into this world. We enter as sinners. We enter as under God's wrath.

And on top of that, we are dead spiritually. Now, of course, this doesn't mean that we can't move and that we can't act. We aren't dead physically. But, we are dead spiritually. In other words, when it comes to our spiritual lives, before Christ, everyone is dead and numb to the things of God.

We had a great example of this on Friday. A group of teens and a few parents went to Old Settler's Day in Rockton. It's basically their town's holiday. The fair comes to town. They have concerts and rides and candy corn and popcorn. And lots of people are there. And so, we went to hand out tracts to those entering the fair. We figured that we handed out about 1,000 tracts, and about 150 gospels of John. Just putting the Word of God in the hands of people.

And with many who received these tracts, you could tell that they were hard toward the ways of God. "No! I don't want that!" Over the course of the evening, I found some of the tracts wrinkled up and on the ground, as if some began to read them and didn't like what they read, and so, compounded their sin by littering! And you could tell that many were only thinking of themselves. They were thinking of the fun time that they were going to have, boys and girls carousing.

Why did we hand them tracts? Because we have hope in the gospel. We have hope that God is going to act! Our hope is that God would do Ephesians 2:4!

Ephesians 2:4-6
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Our hope is that God would show His mercy and do a work in their hearts and bring them from death to life! That's the picture here in Ephesians 2. It's a picture of God acting upon the dead and bringing them to life. It's a picture of those who were dead (verse 5), being "made ... alive together with Christ."

When a sinner comes to Christ it is no less miraculous than when Jesus rose from the dead. He was dead physically, and God made Him alive. We were dead spiritually, and God made us alive! To live for God.

Have you ever noticed that dead men don't respond! You go to a funeral and see a corpse in a casket. I don't care how much prodding you do. I don't care how much you shout at the body or shake the body. It won't be coming alive again, unless something miraculous takes place. Unless God acts upon the corpse to give it life!

And this is the imagery that Paul uses to describe our salvation. We were dead, but God made us alive. And the whole point is this: it is by grace. Verse 5 says, "by grace you have been saved." And grace is grace when it is all of God. If it was part us and part God, then, it's not grace.

We went yesterday to a high school graduation party. We had a good time, seeing several of you there. We came to rejoice with her. And of course, we came with a gift, as an expression of our love to the graduating student. As an expression of our joy in seeing her graduate. As a way to help her with her next step. And that's a gift, but that's not grace.

See, in some measure, our friend earned her gift. For years she has been working hard. Finally, her high school days are over. And it's a time to celebrate. And so, we come and eat the food they prepared. And so, we gladly bring gifts.

But that's not grace. Grace is the high school student getting in trouble at school, carousing with the boys, refusing to do his work, expressing hatred toward the teachers, dropping out of school, spending time in the juvenile detention center, refusing to look for any sort of job to support himself, engaging in the drug culture, contracting AIDS, and then, we come and throw a party for him and lavish him with gifts. Grace is the party thrown for the prodigal son! (Luke 15). He took half the inheritance and squandered it all away in sinful living. Yet, God threw the party for him!

That's grace. It's mercy and love. Mercy is not giving him what he deserves. Love is giving him what he doesn't deserve. And those are exactly the terms that God uses in verses 4-6, ...

Ephesians 2:4-6
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

And our response is one of praise! This is the point of the first half of Ephesians, chapter 1. It is a chapter of praise!

Ephesians 1:3-6
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

This is praise to God for the spiritual blessings that God has given to us! And they are all about God's grace. That's the idea of election (verse 4). That's the idea of predestination (verse 5).

God's choosing and God's predestinating us takes place "before the foundation of the world" (verse 4). That is, before we did anything good or bad. That's when God, in his sovereign pleasure, chose those to whom he will extend his grace, totally unmerited.

It's not (as many try to say) that God looked down the corridors of time to see those who would believe, and chose them. That's not grace. That's not "Sola Gratia." That's synergism. That's bringing something to God, and having God respond.

But, the whole idea of God's electing and predestinating work is such that it makes salvation an entire work of God in our hearts. That's grace. That's "Sola Gratia." That's monergism. That's bringing nothing to God. "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling."

Did you notice that these things are called "grace"?

Ephesians 1:6
"To the praise of his glorious grace."

Grace leads us to worship. Both now and for eternity.

Chapter 1 looks at our worship now. We worship God because of his great grace to us! Chapter 2 looks at our worship in the future. We will forever worship God because of his great grace to us! Look again in chapter 2, ...

Ephesians 2:4-6, 7
God made us alive ... so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Our presence in heaven is an opportunity for God to show off his grace! The mere fact that any of us are in heaven, is a testimony of God's grace! None of us will be there, able to boast of anything that we have done to deserve any of our heavenly blessings. Heaven is all about grace. And I believe that we will be telling others for eternity of the riches of God's grace toward us in Christ Jesus!

In fact, I believe that verse 7 gives us insight as to why God created this world anyway. Had God not created the world, the only praise that God would receive in heaven is the worship of angelic-like beings, those sinless beings who have never rebelled against the Lord. And they would be in heaven, praising God. Praising Him for his glory and honor and power and wealth and wisdom and might, just as the angels do now. But, they wouldn't praise him for his grace.

Because, without sin in the creation, there would be no need for grace. But, God created a world in such a way that fallen creatures, who didn't deserve anything, would experience the grace of God! And for eternity, we would stand as testimony to the amazing grace of God! Fundamentally, this is the only thing different in heaven before and after the creation. Before the creation, there was much praise in heaven for God's greatness, but not his goodness. But, after the creation, there will be much praise in heaven for God's grace shown to sinful men!

And this is what verse 7 addresses.

Ephesians 2:7
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

In heaven, God will get to show off his trophies, those who he has redeemed! We put trophies and ribbons on display to show off our great accomplishments, our championships, our first prize. And as others come and see, they rejoice with us in what we have accomplished.

God is no different. He's going to put forth his trophies of grace--us! And if we take any credit for our presence in heaven, then the trophy is tainted.

If you are at all a football fan, then you know that there has been a lot of talk this offseason about the Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. Particularly, about Tom Brady and how he has been accused of deflating the footballs to get a better grip on them, so he could throw better. And the question has come, "Is their championship tainted because of the deflating of footballs?" This is cheating, essentially. And there's debate back and forth about whether it has had an effect or not. And whether or not their championship is fully deserved. Or whether or not they cheated.

Now, opinions are all over the place. And a final ruling hasn't come down. I'm not trying to argue one way or another. But, enough to say that there's this little question in the back of many minds, "Did the Patriots really deserve to win?"

And I'll say this. Anything less than "Sola Gratia" puts a similar question in our minds. Are the trophies of God's grace really His grace. Or is there some part that we did, that brought us onto God's display shelf?

By suspecting that the Patriots cheated, in some measure, you take glory away from their championship. And by claiming you had something to do with your salvation, in some measure (however small), you take away from the glory of God. Because, your salvation is all about grace! That's what verses 8-10 share.

Ephesians 2:8-10
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

If you are a believer in Jesus this morning, know that you are saved from your sins by the grace of God. Not because of works that you have done. And you have nothing to boast about.

Now, there are plenty on the synergism side that say this, "I bring my faith to God. Isn't that what verse 8 says? 'You have been saved through faith.' It's not God's faith. It's my faith. That's what I bring." To them, I simply respond, "Well, then, finish the verse."

Ephesians 2:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

And I say, "What is not your own doing?" The answer: everything. Grace is a gift from God. Faith is a gift from God. Our salvation is a gift from God. Verse 9 says, ...

Ephesians 2:9
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

You have nothing to boast about. God saves us in such a way that there is no boasting! There is NOTHING that we bring to the table. It is all of grace! It is "Sola Gratia."

God gives grace. God gives faith. God gives repentance.

Do you remember in the book of Acts when the Jewish church was wrestling with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church? They concluded by glorifying God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18). It's the shear, sovereign grace of God that brings us to himself. Apart from his acting, we would be condemned in our sin. But, praise be to God that he gives faith and grants repentance.

And when you come to see this, your worship of God, and your joy in God, is only heightened!

I began my message talking about these letters that Martin Luther and Erasmus were exchanging back and forth before their books came out. In one letter, Luther wrote to Erasmus, "Your thoughts of God are too human." Many who resist these things are resisting the supreme God of the universe, who has all things in the grip of his hand, who turns our hearts like channels of water, wherever he wills (Proverbs 21:1). People don't like it when they think of God's hand in the affairs of men. They think it makes them puppets. We aren't puppets. You know that we aren't puppets. We live and act as we please.

But, the issue is that our hearts (and our wills) are in bondage. They are in bondage to sin. We need God to break the bondage.

Well, there are all sorts of objections to these things. People say, "Well, if it's all of God's grace, then what are people going to do? Won't they live sinful lives?"

I say, "No." I say, "No," because verse 10 shows us the way those who have experienced this grace will respond. We will walk in the good works that God has prepared for us.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Other say, "Well, if it's all of God's grace, then we don't need to share the gospel with those who are apart from Christ, because God is going to save them anyway." To this, I say, "No." If you genuinely believe these things, then you will tell others of God's grace in Christ Jesus. Why do we go out and hand out tracts, explaining the way of salvation? Not because we think ourselves to be winsome enough or attractive enough for people to believe. But, because we have our hope in God, to bring sinners to himself.

Do you ever pray for the salvation of others? Then you are asking God to break the bondage of someone's will. Then you believe in "Sola Gratia."

And this is what Martin Luther (and the rest of the reformers) experienced during that days of the Reformation. God was at work in the hearts of many, granting faith, granting repentance. Do you know this grace? Have you believed in Jesus? [10]

This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on June 21, 2015 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see

[1] In July 1537 (10 years before he death, he wrote to Wolfgang Capito, "Regarding [the plan] to collect my writings in volumes, I am quite cool and not at all eager about it because, roused by a Saturnian hunger [i.e. a Roman god who ate his children], I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the one On the Bound Will and the Catechism.

[2] Bondage of the Will, Historical and Theological Introduction, p. 40, 41.

[3] Ibid., p. 17.

[4] Ibid., p. 38.

[5] Ibid., p. 137.

[6] Ibid., p. 48.

[7] Ibid., pp. 58.

[8] Ibid., pp. 58-59.

[9] is one of the best sites on the internet for Biblical content.

[10] If you are interested in other Scriptures that speak of the same thing, I commend to you Romans 9, 1 Corinthians 1-2, John 6, John 8, Matthew 11, or even the entire book of Habakkuk. These are simply starters. There are many more that teach this same thing.