God will often line the timing of things up in a unique way. For instance, the month of October was the month Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Whittenburg church in 1517, and I’m studying the Reformation this month in my church history class. I have also been reminded of the importance of the Word (a major emphasis in the Reformation) in some of my morning readings. So with all this coming right at the same time, I thought it’d be good to take some time and look at the five main tenants the Reformers emphasized in their teachings. These are described in a newer song, which I’ll get to here in a little bit.
Breaking away from a mere acceptance of the authority of the Catholic Church, the Reformers began looking at Scripture itself. And that’s one of the main points they emphasized: Scripture Alone. When we look at what the Bible says about itself, we have to realize that the Bible alone is the authority for our lives. Not a confession of faith, not a Baptist convention, not an Ordnung. The Bible alone. Check out some of these verses.
Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s “word is truth.” Paul reminds us quite emphatically that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable” to prepare us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Peter gives us a little more detail about what Paul meant and shows that inspiration refers to God moving the human authors in their work, not just “inspiring” them as we think of the term today. He says, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). One of those men was Isaiah who says that “that everything must be held up against the authority of God’s Word (Isaiah 8:20).
There’s a lot more to say about the Bible, but this sampling of verses gives us a clear picture of its authority, infallibility, and true Source. Men didn’t make this up. It’s God’s Word to us, the directive for our lives, and we should hold it fast and live by it.
The next major pillar of the Reformation is Grace Alone. This refers to the fact that we are saved, not by our works, but by God’s grace. Even in the Old Testament, “all our righteous deeds” are shown to be woefully useless for salvation (Isaiah 64:6). In Romans, we are taught that the unsaved “mind…is hostile toward God,” “cannot please God,” and does not seek “for God” (Romans 3:11; 8:7, 8). We need God to save us. Paul perhaps states this clearest in Ephesians 2:1-10, and here’s the heart of that passage—
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8,9
We cannot boast about what we’ve done, how much we’ve given to the church, whether we’ve done penance, or anything else. It is grace alone that saves us.
That’s the divine part of salvation. However, Scripture is clear that we have a choice. We have to choose Christ. This is why salvation is by grace alone, through Faith Alone. We are called to “believe in the Lord Jesus,” just as the Philippian jailer was instructed (Acts 16:31). John writes that we have to “receive…Him,” receive Jesus (John 1:11, 12). And of course, we can’t pass over what Paul says about the subject. Ephesians 2 is key, but so is Romans 10. In those verses, Paul emphasizes that we have to personally choose to “believe in your heart” and “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9, 10).
So when it comes to salvation, we have to choose to accept God’s grace. It was His grace alone that provided the means to salvation, and we respond in simple faith. No works, no payment, no future punishment to purge us of sins. By grace alone through faith alone.
We’ve already touched on this next point, but we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Alone. Romans is such a key book, and for good reason. Paul argues powerfully that “all have sinned,” but are “justified as a gift by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24). In another letter, Paul affirms that the way we are declared righteous is not through any “righteousness” we claim through our works, “but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9). Can’t get much clearer than that.
But just to settle the issue, we’ll look at another verse. Perhaps the most well-known verse in Scripture, John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Boom. Sums it all up right there. We are saved through faith in Jesus alone. The fact that your parents were Christians won’t cut it. No, not even having a granddaddy for a pastor. simply being a member of a gospel-preaching church won’t work either. It must be a heart-felt, personal faith in Jesus Christ alone that saves.
And what is all this for? Just so we can sit back and be glad were saved? Not at all. The whole purpose we are given Scripture and why we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus is so that God would get the glory: Glory to God Alone. Listen to what Jesus said about His own ministry. After saying that He did not “speak from” Himself, He said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:17, 18). He was seeking the Father’s glory. He would say later during that same feast, “I do not seek My glory” (John 8:50).
Later on, Jesus would tell His disciples that the “fruit” they bore brought the “Father” glory (John 15:8). Paul tells us, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). There is nothing that is excluded from this. Even the most mindless, daily habits of eating and drinking are to be done for God’s glory.
He is worthy of it all, and we must not keep any of it back for ourselves. Sometimes, the church (and not just the Catholic one) can get so caught up in tradition or the beauty of its services, it forgets to give the glory to God. Even in our personal lives, we can so easily slip into pride and think we’re really something. We forget that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Paul would ask the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Ouch. Strong words, but so true.
Everything must be done for God’s glory, and for His glory alone. The Scripture we cling to is His Word. He must be glorified for it. The Grace we receive is from Him, as is the faith which we have in His Son, Jesus. All of the other four pillars of the Reformation point to this one. God is to be glorified in all of life.
Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that could be said on all of these, but this will do for now. These are points of doctrine we must cling to. A degree isn’t required to understand them. They are the foundation for our lives, or at least they should be.
Chris Anderson and Bob Kauflin have written words to a beautiful “Reformation Hymn” that briefly and powerfully goes through each of these tenants, and I encourage everyone to check it out (the link is below). These are strong truths we should go out singing, giving praise and glory to God. They are a rally cry for the faithful, a call to hold fast to the truth of Scripture and to live each day for the glory of God alone.