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The Reformation: An Invitation to the Gospel
by Matt Shown
For most, October 31 is about costumes and candy. But something far more frightening and weighty is also celebrated on that day. October 31 is Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, a hammer strike would echo through centuries – in fact, the echo is still reverberating today. In 1517, Martin Luther would nail his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany sparking the Protestant Reformation that shaped Christian history.
The Reformers sought to bring the church back under the authority of God’s Word. This wasn’t to say tradition had no value, but rather that the sole “God-breathed” authority for any believer was not the word of Popes or councils, but the words of the Bible. The Reformers echoed the conviction of Jesus when He responded to the Sadducees in His day, “Have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Matthew 22:31). The words on the pages of Scriptures were God’s very Word- God breathed and sufficient to equip believers to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Sola Scriptura – that Scripture alone is the supreme authority for faith and practice was the formal, or foundational, principle that sparked the Reformation.
But there was a second principle – a material principle- that dealt with the content of the gospel. This material principle was called sola fide. Sola fide was the confession that faith alone was the way in which mankind can be in right relationship with God. By grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone mankind can be justified, which means to be set in a right relationship with God. Romans 4:5 tells us, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” John 3:16, the most popular verse in the Bible, reminds us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Many misunderstand what sola fide means because we misunderstand what faith is. Faith is not a blind leap into the dark. Faith isn’t separate from repentance of sin (Mark 1:15). Faith isn’t simply beliefs in our head, but transformation of our head, heart, and will. Biblical faith is conviction rooted in assurance (Hebrews 11:1, Romans 4:21). It isn’t the empty profession that James 2 illustrates. Faith isn’t walking an aisle at church on Sunday and walking in darkness Monday through Saturday. Saving faith is conviction rooted in assurance that God’s Word is true. It is marked by a transformation of self (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jesus illustrates saving faith in parable about a tax collector and the Pharisee. Luke tells us he told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and we may be surprised what self-righteousness looks like. Both men entered the temple to pray, and the Pharisee gave lip service to God’s grace, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). He recognizes God’s grace, yet ultimately found hope in his own works. While the tax collector displays reverence toward God by bowing his head and praying a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee recognizes God’s grace, the tax collector relied on it. It was the one who relied on God’s grace, through faith, that went home justified, not the man who simply gave lip service to grace while trusting in himself.
This is an illustration of why the Reformation matters. The church was making men into Pharisees rather than into justified tax collectors. The message of the Reformation was to cease simply recognizing grace, and to instead rely on it. The message was a confession of mankind’s ungodliness, God’s incomprehensible holiness, and the sufficiency of Jesus’ cross and empty tomb to save!
The Reformation is an opportunity to, by faith alone, rely on God’s grace. It is an opportunity to trust the promises of God in His Word because the Bible is enough for us. It is an opportunity to let go of unbiblical traditions and to embrace the apostolic traditions found in the pages of God’s Word. The Reformation is an invitation to the reader who may not have assurance of their relationship with God. It is an invitation to assurance through faith in Jesus Christ.
“How can I be right with God?” There is no more important question. It is that question that ignited the Reformation and it is a question all of us must answer.
Matt Shown has served as a bi-vocational pastor and church revitalizer for the past 4 1/2 years. He loves God’s Word, good preaching, and Mac N Cheese. He is married to his incredible wife Dana. Matt received his Master of Divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at http://www.ShowntheWay.Wordpress.com.