1. Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone Is the Standard
The doctrine that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority was the "Formal Principle" of the Reformation. In 1521 at the historic interrogation of Luther at the Diet of Worms, he declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, "Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons - for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another - I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God's Word."
We affirm the Bible as sole authority, and emphasize that no individual, church, tradition, council, personal intimation, or subjective feeling will supersede Scripture. Other sources of authority exist, have roles to play, and are established by God, but if they depart from Biblical teaching, they are to be judged by the Bible and rejected.
2. Solus Christus: By Christ's Work Alone Are We Saved
The Reformation called the church back to faith in Christ as the sole mediator between God and man. While the Roman church held that "there is a purgatory and that the souls there detained are helped by the intercessions of the faithful" and that "Saints are to be venerated and invoked;" "that their relics are to be venerated" - the reformers taught that salvation was by Christ's work alone. As John Calvin said in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, "Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him...we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!"
We add nothing to Christ’s atoning work, and we affirm that salvation has been accomplished once for all by the mediating work of Jesus Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification.
3. Sola Gratia: Salvation Is by Grace Alone
A central cry of the Reformation was salvation by grace. The reformers rejected the idea that Mass granted grace and penitence, and returned to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Our righteous standing before God is imputed to us by grace because of the work of Christ Jesus our Lord. As the London Baptist Confession of 1689 says, "Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in their behalf;...their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners."
We affirm that God owes us nothing except just punishment for our many and very willful sins. In fact, apart from His grace and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that flows from it, no one would be saved, since in our lost condition, we are not capable of winning, seeking out, or even cooperating with God’s grace. It is grace alone expressed through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ.
4. Sola Fide: Justification Is by Faith Alone
The "Material Principle" of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. The Reformers never tired of saying that “justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.” When put into theological shorthand the doctrine was expressed as justification by faith alone - the article by which the church stands or falls, according to Martin Luther.
We affirm that this is a material principle of Christianity, because it involves the very matter or substance of what a person must understand and believe to be saved. It can be stated as this: Justification is the act of God by which He declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.
5. Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer's life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God. It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36 when he wrote, ˜to Him be the glory forever! Amen.” As our Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."
We affirm that all of life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God. That is why we say, “To God alone be the glory!”