WEEKLY SERMON BLOG
The Foundation of Reformation Theology
The history of the Medieval Church demonstrates that if God’s people are not faithful to preserve the Gospel, it can be lost and replaced with a distorted version of the Gospel that focuses upon what we as sinners can do to save ourselves, rather than what God does to save us. Therefore when we read the following statments of the Reformers, we are not merely examining the beliefs of influential men of a bygone era; we are also reading about declarations of truth to which we must passionately commit ourselves. They represent the heart of the Gospel, that God in His Son Jesus Christ, committed to the apostles and the Church
I. Soli Deo Gloria: (To God Alone be the Glory)
The original historical context which led to this declaration was the Roman Catholic teaching that salvation is synergistic; meaning it results both from what God does and what the person does in response. Although Roman Catholic theologians would suggest that they were taking nothing away from the glory of God; that is simply not true. To understand the point that is being made here, it is important to understand what the word “glory” actually means. It can refer to something bright and magnificent, or it can refer to the acknowledgement by others that someone or something is truly magnificent. It is in this latter sense that the word is used in regard to how we are to respond to God. It means we are to recognize that all the credit, all the accolades, and all the praise for the good things that happen belongs to God and no other. God made this point emphatically through the prophet Isaiah:
Yahweh expressed that He will not share the glory or praise that is appropriately His with anyone else; and in this passage He specifically cites idols. In ancient Israel they tended to believe that the other gods that the people worshipped actually existed and should be given credit at times for providing rain, fertility, or protection from enemies. However, God wanted His people to understand that those things were entirely His doing. In the conflict with the Church of Rome, the Reformers understood that the church, its leadership, and worshippers themselves were putting themselves in the same place the Israelites had put the idols. The church, its leaders, and the people were involved in saving their lives from eternal destruction. But that is simply untrue, and Paul asserted this in his argument about the nature of the Gospel:
Paul’s point was that if in fact Abraham had anything to do with saving himself, then he would have something to boast about (claim responsibility for). But Paul immediately explains that the Scriptures argue against this idea. In fact Paul had denied this idea in even stronger language in one of his earlier letters:
Believers are admonished to live in such a way that rules out giving glory to anyone but God:
(I Corinthians 10:31)
In context Paul wrote this in regard to the strife that existed between believers who had different standards about debatable things. However, there is an overarching principle that is applicable to this reformed declaration. If everything we do is to be done in such a way that it brings glory to God (focuses praise and adulation on God and no one else) then clearly there is no time or effort left over for gaining glory for oneself or other people.
The simple idea is that salvation is accomplished solely by God, and attributing even the smallest degree of the recognition of God’s great work to anyone else is profoundly evil and absolutely false:
The Temptation believers always face is the tendency to magnify ourselves or other people and attribute to them what only God can do. The Scriptures teach unequivocally that God alone saves His people. He may work through us, but it is still God who accomplishes the miracle of providing new life and a new nature in Christ.
II. Sola Scriptura: (Scripture Alone)
The historical context of this declaration was the Roman Catholic teaching that church leaders and tradition had equal authority to Scripture in regard to establishing orthodox belief and the ethical principles that were binding upon the conscience of believers. However, there is nothing in the New Testament to substantiate that claim. Instead, we read how the Apostles exhort, plead, encourage, and admonish other believers, but never tell others what must be done on the basis of their own personal authority to make such pronouncements. Instead, believers are told over and over that it is the Holy Scriptures that are the source of what is true:
(II Timothy 3:16-17)
The believer is only admonished to submit themselves entirely to obedience to God’s Word:
It has been argued that believers are also commanded to obey their spiritual leaders, and that this implies that they are to render to them the same obedience that is to be rendered to Scripture:
It is true that we are exhorted to obey the leaders that God sets over us, both civil and religious. However, the Reformation Principle is that only the authority of Scripture is absolute. Therefore where the teachings or commandments of people is in conflict with what the Bible teaches, the believer is to recognize that the Scriptures, as God’s Word, is the only absolute authority in his/her life and must be obeyed even if doing so requires us to disobey human authorities:
The Temptation that Christians will always face is to base our lives either on our own ideas or those of people we admire or who attempt in one way or another to control us. Only Scripture contains absolute truth without error, and it is the only source of information without a human agenda. If we wish to know, practice, and propagate the true Gospel; we must find it in the Scriptures alone.
III. Solus Christus: (By Christ Alone)
The context of this declaration was the Roman Catholic teaching that the work of Christ only makes salvation possible. To actually be saved one must add one’s own virtue to Christ’s work.
This suggestion flatly contradicts what the New Testament teaches; because throughout its pages there is emphasis on the fact that the work of Christ completely pays for one’s sins, and imputes God’s own righteousness to the believing sinner:
(Hebrews 10:10, 14)
Believers are admonished that the way of salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ, and nothing is suggested that we somehow contribute to providing access for ourselves to God;
In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, He explains that this way of life is a narrow path that leads to eternal life rather than destruction (Matt.7:13-14). Jesus then adds that the characteristic that identifies one as being on the path of life is that they are known by Christ (i.e. have an ongoing relationship with Him-Matt.7:23; Jn.17:3).
The Temptation in any age is to be persuaded to believe that something other than Christ contributes to a person’s salvation. Be it their superior morality, their supposed innocence, or the sincerity with which they embrace the falsehoods of another religion. The Reformers declared to the Roman Catholic Church of their day that salvation is only through Christ. If we wish to preach the same Gospel that Jesus preached then we will do the same to those around us.
IV. Sola Gratia: (Grace Alone)
The Context of this declaration was the Roman Catholic teaching that salvation is by grace and human merit. But as with the other assertions of the Roman Catholic Church, this one also contradicts the teaching of the New Testament. Paul in particular stresses that salvation is only provided by the grace of God, apart from human merit:
(II Timothy 1:9-10)
Believers are admonished to deal with their brothers and sisters in Christ, in the same way that God has dealt with them. The orientation is to relate to others in grace, not relate to others according to what they merit:
The Temptation believers will always face is to think God merely gives us a little help at the start to be a better self, and then we complete the process by our own good nature. But this is a false idea. The Scripture teach that human nature is wickedly depraved and lost in deception (Jer.17:9; Rom.3:10-18). If our relationship with God is in any way dependent upon our meriting His love; we could only anticipate eternal judgment.
V. Sola Fide: (Faith Alone)
The Context of this last declaration was the Roman Catholic teaching that faith only saves when it is combined with obedience. The Reformers did not teach that good works had no place in salvation; the distinction from the Roman Catholic teaching was more nuanced than that. Both sides would agree that choosing to be righteous through obedience to God’s Word is part of the salvation process. The difference is that the Roman Catholic Church taught that good works along with faith resulted in salvation; while the Reformers taught that faith alone saves, but that saving faith will inevitably result in good works and life change. So the Reformers did not agree with Rome that good works is part of the way that one gains salvation; instead they taught that works were a fruit of the change of heart that results from salvation.
First, they demonstrated that the New Testament taught that the sinner is justified by faith alone, apart from works:
The practical exhortation in the New Testament is simply to believe:
This would be woefully inadequate if one was also responsible to do good works to be saved.
The Reformers then explained how the teaching of James could be reconciled with that of Paul:
Throughout James’ letter he was not writing about how to be saved, but about the evidence of salvation; whether or not one’s faith and thus their conversion was genuine. Therefore James is not referring to faith period, but to particular claims of faith. Later in this passage James refers to one person who has faith and works and the other who has faith but no works. The contrast is not between believing and not believing, it is about how to evaluate a faith that produces no works (after all in verse 18 James speaks about demonstrating one’s faith through works). James’ point is that a faith that does not result in life change is not saving faith. In essence it isn’t real faith at all, it is simply an outward profession. As James finishes his argument he cites the life of Abraham and Rahab. James says they were justified by their works (an idea expressed like this nowhere else in the NT). His point is clearer from verse 23 where he writes that the act of Abraham fulfilled the pronouncement of his justification by faith. The point is that true faith will eventually result in life change; one that does not isn’t real faith. It is what reveals to others that our faith is real; because only God can see our hearts.
The temptation that believers will always face is either the pull toward legalism to mark ourselves as particularly committed, or to give into license believing that grace means we need not worry about being holy.
History teaches us that the truth of the Gospel can be lost. Let us take this time to re-dedicate ourselves to these essential truths of God’s revelation to us in Christ.
In the Bonds of Christ,
Pastor Michael Huard