Five Scriptural Pillars of the Reformation
(Why I Thank God For October 31st)
October 31, 2005
Back in the mid 70’s my wife and I lived in Haiti. It was an experience that we will never forget. Haiti was and still is a very dark country. Let me explain what I mean. Haiti was politically dark. At that time there was a dictatorship in control of the country. If you disagreed with the "powers that be" you may disappear, never to be heard from again.
It was dark for human rights as well. Women had little or no rights. I remember an incident that happened in front of the house we were living in. A man on horseback, with a whip in his hand was whipping a woman he had on a rope. He would whip her. She would squeal and run ahead, and he would jerk her back and whip her again. Further, human life was cheap. I remember seeing a woman trying to cross the road and being hit by a taxi. She flew ten yards or so and another car ran over her. A policeman observed this. He called over a helper. They went and dragged the lady to the side of the road. I heard him saying in French, "stupid woman."
It was a dark country financially speaking. The average annual income for a Hatian was $71.
It was a dark country morally speaking. Young prostitutes would wander the highways and byways with little or no clothing on and would boldly come up to men offering their sexual services and quoting their price.
It was a dark country spiritually as well. The common people were in bondage to superstitions and fear. I never did get used to hearing the Voodoo drums and hearing the screams of the demon possessed devotees. The witchdoctors held mesmerizing power over the people, and they would not go against his directive for fear of their lives. It was common for these repressed people to pay the witchdoctor nearly a year’s wages to buy a fetish to bury in their gardens to insure that they would have good crops that year.
Haiti was, and still is, for all practical purposes, in the dark ages. This experience takes me back to the period in history called "The Dark Ages." It was a time much like my experience in Haiti, except worse. For roughly a 1000 year period when the Pope and Roman Catholicism Dominated the world. It was a time when the Holy Bible was kept from the people. Superstition, fear, intrigue, and mystery shrouded true Christianity, obscureing it from the people.
But, in 1516 a young German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther (1483–1546) began teaching that men and women are justified, or made right with God, by trusting only in Christ. This doctrine of justification by faith was based on Luther’s reading of Romans 1:17, which became the banner of the Reformation. Then on October 31st, 1517 the darkness of superstition and ignorance was fractured and the light of Scriptural truth began to shine in. It was on that day that a young Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther, nailed his now famous 95 Theses, or objections to the teachings and practices of the Church of Rome, to the Castle church door in Wittenberg. In response, Luther’s writings were declared heretical, and ordered to be burned. However, once the darkness was fractured and the light of the Scriptures began to rush in. Reformation truths began to rise like the Sun on a crisp clear morning, causing the darkness to flee.
In this message we will look at the Five Scriptural Pillars That The Reformation Was Built On…
Let’s briefly look at each of these five pillars.
Sola (solus, soli) is the Latin word that means "alone." Therefore Sola Scriptura means the Scripture Alone. For hundreds of years the people had been taught that Canon Law, the traditions of "the Church" (of Rome), and the words of the pope and priests, were equal with, and even superior to the Holy Bible. They taught that the common man cannot understand and should not study the Bible for himself. However, the Reformers understood that the Scriptures superseded all traditions of men. Our Lord Jesus said the Pharisees made "the word of God of none effect through your tradition…" (Mark 7:13).
The Church of Rome was emphatic that their traditions and laws were equal to the Scriptures. They ignored Proverbs 30:5-6 "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. 6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
Peter wrote, "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." 1 Peter 1:24-25
Martin Luther and the other Reformers returned to the Bible truth that the Scripture alone is the final authority, not the Pope, not the "Church." Luther made this clear in his trial before the ecclesiastical court in Worms. He said, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason---I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other---my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen."
Before I move on, let me share an observation in our day. Many once solid churches, which would still claim they hold to the Scripture alone authoritative, have separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice their church is guided by culture. One preacher put it this way – "Therapeutic techniques, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more sway about…how the church functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God." The truth is, biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, and churches are adapting their "faith" to meet the felt needs of the people. We need to get back to the truth of Sola Scriptura. Next…
How can a person have access to God? Is it through the priests, departed saints, holy angels or the Virgin Mary as the Church of Rome alleges? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Christ alone is set forth in Scripture as the only mediator. The Bible says, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" 1 Timothy 2:5 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6 "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12
Only through Christ can we have acceptance with God. He is the only way of access into God's presence and the only channel by which blessings are bestowed. ‘Solus Christus -- By Christ Alone.
Generally speaking saving grace is the free, unmerited favor of God. Specifically, grace is the unmerited eternal salvation of God, which comes freely to the believing sinner as a gift through the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is receiving the opposite of what we deserve. It is the free forgiveness of sin and the offer of free imputed righteousness, which was purchased by Jesus Christ. Salvation by grace means salvation is not attained or maintained by human works; rather, it is the free gift from God offered to sinners deserving of nothing but punishment, through faith in Christ's blood. This is the Gospel of the grace of Christ.
Salvation is entirely of grace. This means it is exclusively a divine work, absolutely sovereign and free, in which sinners play no part and make no contribution. Paul promotes this Bible truth in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast."
I must remind you that God is not obliged to save anyone. No one merits or deserves salvation. Grace, and grace alone, is the cause of salvation. If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. Romans 11:6
By grace, God chooses people to eternal life, redeems them through Jesus Christ, calls them by the Holy Spirit, justifies them by faith, adopts them into His family, and preserves them unto eternal life (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 11:5; Galatians 1:15; Titus 3:7; Ephesians 1:5-6; 2:7; Romans 5:21).
But, the scheme of salvation taught by the Church of Rome is totally contrary to the Bible teaching that salvation is by grace alone. Rome teaches the doctrine of merit, that good works do truly deserve eternal life; and whosoever believes differently is accursed. The Roman Church taught and teaches the idea that a righteous person may accumulate a surplus store of good works, over and above what is required (called, works of supererogation). These extra merits, form a treasury or fund, and can be dispensed by the Pope to less holy Roman Catholics who can then enjoy the benefits earned by others (the doctrine of indulgences)!
But the Reformers declared the truth of the Bible that -- [God] hath saved us...not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9). This is Reformation doctrine, Sola Gratia. It is explained quite well by Augustus Toplady. He said --
"The way to Heaven lies not over a toll-bridge, but over a free-bridge; even the unmerited grace of God in Christ Jesus. Grace finds us beggars but leaves us debtors." The next pillar of Reformation truth is…
"How can a person be right with God?" The Bible and the Roman Church give us conflicting answers! The Bible says, A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).
Let’s begin by defining the term justification. Justification means, "to declare righteous." Justification is God's declaration that those who trust Jesus Christ are perfectly righteous before Him. It is a legal concept, as when a judge gives a verdict. God is the great Judge. It is His law we have broken. Before I am saved, God declares that I am a condemned sinner. After I come to Christ, God declares that I am righteous because of what Christ did for me on Calvary. Justification is being brought into a new spiritual position before God (Romans 5:1-2).
The doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ is the central truth of Christianity and the real test of a church's fidelity to the Gospel. When God justifies sinners, He declares them to be exempt from punishment and entitled to reward solely on the ground of what Christ has done for them (Romans 3:24; 5:9). Faith is simply the sinner's personal reliance on Christ as Savior (Ephesians 1:13).
God justifies us when, in our desperation, we flee to Christ and place our entire confidence in His substitutionary life and death. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16).
Dr. Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer and preacher put it this way -
No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done:
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of Thy Son.
The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before Thy throne;
But faith can answer Thy demands,
By pleading what my Lord hath done.
The Roman Catholic Church denies the doctrine of justification by faith. According to Roman dogma, "The instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism," and, "through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works..." enables people to be - "further justifled!" (From: The Decrees of the Council of Trent.)
The Reformers raised their voices in united protest against such perversion of biblical Truth. Luther's declared:
"I, Martin Luther, an unworthy preacher of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus profess and thus believe; that this article, that faith alone, without works, can justify before God, shall never be overthrown ... This is the true Gospel... This is the doctrine I shall teach; and this the Holy Spirit and the Church of the faithful has delivered. In this will I abide. Amen."
‘Soli Deo Gloria’ - Glory To God Alone
As Jonah of old declared, "Salvation is of the LORD." Jonah 2:9 The Apostle Paul wrote "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began," 2 Timothy 1:9
God alone is responsible for our Salvation and therefore we should lift high the voice of adoring praise and thanksgiving, so that all the glory is given to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The entire plan of salvation as the Apostle Paul teaches is, "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Hence the doxology: Unto him be gloiy in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." Ephesians 3.21.
The Reformers rejected the Romanist doctrine that exalts the Pope, the priests and, by its doctrine of salvation by works, believers themselves. They rightly saw it as a man-centred religion, very far removed from the religion of the New Testament. The Truth rediscovered in the Reformation brought the glory back to God.
William Tyndale, the English Reformer, Bible translator and martyr, wrote in his Prologue to the Epistle to the Romans:
"We see that God only, Who, according to the Scripture,
worketh all in all things, worketh a man's justifying, salvation, and
health... God's mercy in promising, and Truth in fulfilling His promises,
saveth us, and not we ourselves; and therefore is all laud, praise, and
glory to be given unto God for His mercy and Truth, and not unto us for
our merits and deservings."