October 25, 2020 The Four Solas of The Reformation
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Today we call to mind the Lutheran Reformation. Some might think that the Reformation is just dull history; *shouldn’t we be more concerned with the current economic, political, & health issues, rather than what went on in Europe 500 years ago? But, *what if what went on back then was used by God to preserve the truth of eternal salvation for our day? Then that history becomes our present-day blessing for our eternal souls. What the Reformation did was identify & sweep aside some corruption & falsehoods in the Christian faith; so that people could more clearly see Jesus, the Eternal Son & Savior of the world = the One in whom we live & move & have our being. That’s vitally important; history is God-at-work for us.
Like when we learn the history of the people of Israel, it teaches us to learn from other’s mistakes. Paul says in 1Cor.10 that, even tho God kept His promises to Israel, God was not pleased with most of them, & their bodies were scattered all over the desert. He writes: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” Whatever our earthly troubles in our day, we need the eternal truths of God’s correction & God’s favor just as much as 500 years ago, or as Moses or David did.
So, *what was the Reformation all about? You’ve heard of the Renaissance period in world history. Between the years 1300 & 1700, there was a new birth of art & literature in the world; it was the beginning of modern sciences, such as mathematics & medicine; men like Christopher Columbus began exploring & mapping the world. This rise in human achievement was good, and improved daily life; but it also affected the Church. The focus of life turned to man’s abilities, and to the earthly things of knowledge & wealth & power. This focus also affected the leaders of the Church = the clergy.
The Church began to operate like a worldly business; God’s forgiveness of sins & Church blessings were bought & sold for money, or traded for favors. God’s Word was set aside, and the church was -mostly- doing man’s religious things in a worldly way.
The common person of faith was told what to do, or what to pay, in order to please God; they didn’t have much choice.
The people became superstitious = that is, fearing that the well-being of their soul depended on the various religious actions they did; they were taught to venerate objects instead of God, and call on dead saints & angels to speak to God for them. True faith was not gone, but more & more it was covered up by rules to follow; rules made by the clergy to control scared people.
Bible history teaches us that God has always been faithful to preserve His Church & true faith; but people are always in danger of following their own ideas, & wandering away from Him & losing their faith. We know of church groups in our day that have been tempted, by corrupt teachers & the world’s ways, to ignore parts of the sacred Scriptures. Groups claim to be Christian -or even ‘Lutheran’- but they preach false teachings, and they accept immoral behaviors that are directly contrary to the Bible. This is the serious danger the Church faces in every generation. So, God is always calling us back by raising up courageous leaders who are committed to Him, to His written Word, & to the salvation promise of His Son.
500 years ago, there were sincere believers that protested against the false teaching of the religious leaders; they called for returning to God’s Word, and for God’s Savior to be the center of the church’s life. But those protesters were silence by the clergy’s power, & even killed. But God is faithful. In 1483 in Germany, a child was born to Hans & Margarit Luther. Young Martin was then raised into this corrupted religious thinking. The teachers taught him that God’s main job was to punish sin, and Jesus Christ was the severe judge.
They said that God could forgive your sin, but you had to first prove yourself worthy of His favorable attention. Martin had very serious doubts about his chances of salvation. *How could he ever be good enough? He didn’t deserve God’s favor or forgiveness. But he didn’t want to give up and go to hell.
Since the church taught that a holy life would win God’s favor, Martin decided that the surest way he could get to heaven was to be a monk. Now, I’ve read that Martin Luther is considered one of the five most gifted & intelligent people in the world at that time. It could be true; because Luther didn’t just become a monk, he became a ‘champion’ monk. He achieved & surpassed all the rules & duties that monks had to follow. He fasted & prayed diligently; read & studied, confessed & worshiped constantly, often going without sleep; he punished himself to make himself worthy of God’s forgiveness. He had the most committed AND most miserable life, and still had no peace of mind. He was sure God was still angry with him.
Young Martin quickly earned a doctorate in his studies and became a professor, teaching Bible courses at the university at Wittenberg. As he prepared his lectures on the Scriptures, God gave him understanding, and he began to see the true meaning of the Gospel = esp. in Paul’s letters of Romans & Galatians. Luther said Galatians was the most precious = it was like a wife to him. In Psalm 22, he found the words Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and he wondered, *why would the holy Christ be rejected by God? The answer was in 2Cor.5, that the One ‘without sin became sin in our place.’ But, then *how could the church teach that Jesus was our condemning Judge instead of our Savior suffering in our place? –or suffering for only part of our sins?
In Romans 1, he read this: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’” But, the church was teaching that this ‘righteousness of God’ referred to our obedience to God’s commands. Yet here, the Scripture teaches that this ‘righteousness’ was earned by Jesus Christ, and is given to us by grace & thru faith! At this, Luther said it was like the doors of heaven burst open for him. Luther now realized that his salvation did not depend on how many works he did, but completely on God’s mercy in Christ Jesus. This was the gospel’s good news for the whole world of weary & condemned sinners.
Pastor Luther did not have the goal to cause trouble in the church, or to turn the world upside down. He first wanted a personal assurance of God’s love; and now, he was in the position to teach the Bible’s truths to his students, and to preach the truth in his congregation.
And then, the Lord made him bold enough to share what he found with those in authority over him. 1517 ~ that’s when he posted those 95 theses, which he debated with the corrupt scholars & biblically ignorant church leaders of the day. Then the Holy Spirit made the saving gospel of Christ spread like wildfire. This began the re-formation of the Christian Church in the early 1500’s in a way that hadn’t been seen since the time of the Apostles.
As a result of this historic time & event we call ‘The Reformation’, four main Biblical truths emerged. They are so important, they each stand alone as pillars, or the foundation stones, of the Christian Church on earth for all time. They are: /Grace alone, /Faith alone, /Scripture alone, /and Christ alone. We call these ‘The Four Solas’.
As Christians, we need to believe, teach & confess with God’s Bible: +that man is saved by grace alone, without our works of the law; +that a person is justified before God thru faith alone, which is a gift from God; +that Scripture is the only true measuring stick by which all teachers & teachings are to be judged & evaluated; +and it is thru the merits of Christ alone that God’s salvation is brought to us.
So, #1: salvation comes to us by God’s grace alone. God’s Word declares to us that we were dead in our sins, & cut off from God. A spiritually dead person cannot do spiritual things. A spiritually dead person has no ability to spiritually repent, or to ask Jesus into their heart. God’s Spirit must come to us to work on our dead soul. Ephesians 1 says, “…Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.” By God’s grace alone, Jesus was sent to atone for the sins of all mankind, once & for all, on the cross at calvary. That was none of our effort; but we benefit from it.
And now, *how is this gift of God’s grace received by our soul? That’s #2: salvation comes thru faith alone. As it is taught in Scripture, righteousness in God’s eyes comes thru faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t generate this faith or trust in Jesus in our mind or will, as if God sees we have decided to put our faith in Jesus, & so He rewards us & saves us. Faith is the thing God creates in us when He puts before us His Savior & His promises of mercy & hope.
This gospel promise calls us to believe in the gospel Savior. The Holy Spirit uses the message of the cross & the promise of forgiveness to created this faith in us. Once the Spirit has come, and woken up our dead hearts to know & trust in God’s Savior, then this faith will change our minds & life so that we live bearing the good fruit of this Christian faith. Without God’s grace, and the gift of faith given to us, we can do no good thing.
*And how does the Holy Spirit reach out and touch the dead souls of sinners? By the preaching & hearing of the gospel message of Jesus, which is found in #3: Scripture alone. As Romans 10 declares, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard thru the Word of Christ.” Jesus told Nicodemus that this saving Word can also be applied to a soul thru His promise of Baptism = which is the Spirit using water to apply the name of God to cause a new spiritual birth in that person. This is how powerful God’s Word and Spirit are.
In Ephesians, we’re told that the Word of God is the ‘sword of the Spirit’; it’s a living and active word; the Word of absolute Truth. We’re told that the Scriptures alone are able to make us wise for salvation thru faith in Christ Jesus. The Spirit writes thru Paul, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
And these three, grace, faith, and Scripture alone, all find their meaning & purpose in #4: Christ alone. As John writes: “all these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
Christ alone is our life; He alone is the one mediator between God and man; He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; He alone gave Himself as a ransom for us.
This was the needed re-formation of the church back then; and is the solid foundation of the faithful church in our day. It all centers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God; the promise of God made flesh. He declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except thru me.” So, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
So that we can have this life in Christ, God’s grace has been made known thru the Spirit-filled Scripture to give us the gift of faith. This is why history is important to God’s people, because thru history, the Lord will teach us, and keep us on track, avoiding previous errors, so we -& our children- can be faithful to Him. WE are living with God’s Reformation.
As it always was, it is now, and it will be until Christ returns that these four solas are true: /Grace alone, /Faith alone, /Scripture alone, /and Christ alone.