Reformation Day and the Five Solas

Unfortunately, Halloween comes to mind when many people think of October 31st. This date actually looks back on one of the most dramatic moments in church history. On this day in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. These Ninety-Five Theses became the catalyst for the Reformation, which produced the Five Solas.

Martin Luther spoke one of my favorite quotes when the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate him. He said:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the 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. God help me. Amen.

The Catholic Church was unable to defend their false teaching with Scripture or respond to Luther’s criticisms. On May 25, 1521 Luther was declared an outlaw and his literature was banned. The Catholic Church said, “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It was a crime for anyone in Germany to give him food or shelter.

Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It’s hard to argue there are more significant fulfillments of this promise than the victory God produced through Martin Luther. When October 31st rolls around each year we would do well to think not of Halloween, but of the Reformation and the Five Solas.

In honor of the Reformation I want to provide a brief summary of each of the Five Solas…

1. The Five Solas: Sola Fide—“Faith Alone”

This excludes any works from being necessary for salvation. Justification – or being declared righteous by God – is received by faith only, apart from anything man can do. At the time the Catholic Church emphasized the use of indulgences (donated money) to purchase status, and even forgiveness, with God. Works, such as baptism and other sacraments, were seen as required for salvation. Continue reading “Reformation Day and the Five Solas”

Unworthy of Heaven?

Unworthy of HeavenIn The Parable of the Wedding Feast, heaven is pictured as a marriage with Jesus saying, “Those who were invited (referring to the Jews) were not worthy.” (Verse 8). These words stuck out to me: “How could they not be worthy when we’re all not worthy?”

Worthy can mean you deserve something; therefore, were they unworthy because they didn’t deserve to attend? The Jews were God’s chosen people. If anyone deserved to attend, it would’ve been them. If they didn’t deserve to attend, nobody deserves to attend.

Worthy can mean you’ve earned something. Had they not done enough? There are two reasons this can’t be the case:

  1. Paul said the Jews “have a zeal for God” (Rom 10:2). They had probably done more for God than anyone; if anyone had earned, or shown themselves worthy to be in heaven, it was them. If the Jews hadn’t done enough, nobody has done enough.
  2. The Gospel is salvation by grace through faith, and grace is unmerited or unearned favor. Grace can’t be earned. Grace can only take place when something hasn’t been earned: Romans 11:6 If by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. Grace is the opposite of being worthy; grace is necessary because we’re not worthy. By definition the Gospel is for unworthy people.

So they can’t be unworthy because they hadn’t done enough.

Worthy can mean “great character or commendable excellence”, so did their sinfulness make them unworthy?That would seem reasonable except verse 10 says, “the wedding hall was filled with guests” and they were as sinful as the Jews who couldn’t attend (Rom 3:10, 23).

So if they’re unworthy, but it’s not because they didn’t deserve it, and it’s not because they hadn’t earned it, and it’s not because of their sinfulness, what makes them so…not worthy?

They were unworthy for one very simple reason: they rejected the invitation. They were invited in verse 3 and it says, “they were not willing to come.” The simple, yet terrifying truth is if you reject Jesus then you become unworthy of heaven. None of us are unworthy because of our sinfulness or lack of works, but we are unworthy if we don’t embrace Jesus. The King says, “I can handle murderers, adulterers, thieves, people who haven’t done anything deserving attendance, but I can’t handle anyone who doesn’t love My Son.”

In John 16:9 Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” This sounds like an odd statement considering there are so many sins. We’d expect Jesus to say, “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because men are sinners” but His statement makes it sound like there’s only one sin: not believing in Jesus. While there are different sins, there is only one sin that has eternal consequences…there’s only one sin that can’t be forgiven…there’s only one sin that determines where people spend eternity, and it’s not the sin of lying, adultery, murder, homosexuality…it’s the sin of not believing in Jesus. And that’s sin these people committed; that’s what made them unworthy…

Acts 13:46 Paul and Barnabas [told the Jews], “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and JUDGE YOURSELVES UNWORTHY of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

People who reject Jesus judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life. People who surrender their lives to Jesus – regardless of what they have earned or haven’t earned, regardless of what they deserve or don’t deserve, regardless of what they have done or haven’t done, regardless of their sinfulness or perceived lack of sinfulness – become worthy of everlasting life and will find themselves at the wedding: Revelation 19:9 Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!

You can listen to a sermon I preached on The Parable of the Wedding Feast here.

Balancing Liberty & Holiness

From the administration of the sacrifices to the setting up and tearing down of the tabernacle, the precision of the Mosaic Law was really amazing. With 613 commands (365 negative, telling people what not to do, and 248 positive, telling people what to do), the question was never, “What should or shouldn’t we do?” the question was, “How perfect can we be?” and the answer was, “Far from perfect.” Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. As a result, God graciously provided the New Covenant, so we are no longer under law but grace (Rom 6:14). We breathe a deep sigh of relief and it’s like, “Ahhh…grace.”

The problem though – and truthfully I almost feel a little bad saying this – is we lose the exactness of the Law. With the New Covenant comes the responsibility for each man to be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom 14:5). We have to decide for ourselves what our consciences allow (1 Cor 8:7, 10). There are times I almost wish I didn’t have the liberty afforded under the New Covenant; I wish I had a tutor in the language of Galatians 3:24 telling me what to do and not do. I wish I had the clarity of the Old Covenant helping me navigate certain situations. The Law might have felt like an “unbearable yoke” in the words of Paul in Acts 15:10, but I bet people didn’t walk around saying, “Hmmm…how do we handle this grey area?

I know the New Covenant actually calls us to a higher standard than even was found under the Old Covenant. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard it was said not to _____ but I tell you not to EVEN _____” (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-34, 38-39, 43-44). The Law forbids physical murder and physical adultery, but Jesus forbid committing those sins in our hearts…the Law was an eye for an eye, but Jesus said turn the other cheek; He was setting an almost exponentially higher standard. A verse I’ve really been meditating on is: Hebrews 12:14 Without holiness no one will see the Lord. I read this and think: “I can’t see God without holiness? No salvation without holiness? Holiness is pretty serious.” I don’t take the verse to mean our salvation is earned by being holy, as that would conflict with the Gospel; however, I do think it means holiness is a byproduct of salvation; it’s something salvation produces. Saved people strive for holiness. The absence of holiness would seem to be evidence of being unsaved. Jesus called His disciples to a higher level of obedience, but what I’d say He really called us to is a higher level of holiness…higher than even the Law commanded.

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The two sides of the Gospel's Good News

We’re going through Luke’s Gospel on Sunday mornings and this past week I was studying Luke 4:18, which says “Jesus preached the Gospel to the poor.” In many translations it says “Jesus preached the Good News to the poor”, because gospel means good news. This had me thinking about what the good news actually is and I really see two sides to it. Of course the Good News is that through faith in Christ our sins are forgiven and His righteousness becomes our righteousness. It’s the Good News that we get to go to heaven. I’ve heard some people say, “You don’t want to tell people about hell though…that’s the Bad News!” Well…no, it’s not actually. It’s actually as much the good news as the Good News. I would say it like this: there are two sides to the Gospel, or two pieces of Good News for us:

  1. We get to go to heaven.
  2. But it’s equally Good News that we don’t have to go to hell.

We rejoice that we get to go to heaven, but we should also rejoice that we don’t have to go to hell. Since when did it become Bad News that we don’t have to go to hell? If you preach the Gospel and you leave out hell, you’re leaving out some really important, wonderful stuff. You’re leaving out that Jesus experienced Hell so we wouldn’t have to. The Gospel is about the grace AND mercy of God, but if you leave out hell, you’re leaving out the mercy of the Gospel. Here’s what I mean:

  • Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, and going to heaven is grace. Heaven reveals the grace of God. We don’t deserve to go to heaven, but we get to go by God’s grace.
  • Mercy is not receiving what we deserve…it’s not receiving a punishment we deserve (you’re speeding and the cop doesn’t give you a ticket; he had mercy on you because you didn’t receive what you deserved). If we don’t go to hell that’s mercy, because we’re not receiving the ticket we deserve. Being spared from hell is the greatest revelation of God’s mercy.

Think of Jesus’ example: Luke 4:18 says He preached the Gospel, and He taught about the Kingdom of Heaven really often…but He also talked about Hell…A LOT. If you present the Gospel and don’t mention hell, you’re leaving out the mercy; you’re leaving out half of the greatness of the Gospel. Tell people how to be saved. Tell them what they’re saved for: Heaven. But also tell them what they’re saved from: Hell.

Here’s the sermon I preached on part of Luke 4:18: The Spiritually Poor.

Salvation in the Old Testament?

We know we’re saved by grace through faith, and one of the most common questions I’ve received since teaching the Bible is, “How were people in the OT saved, since they lived before Christ’s First Coming?” The answer is people were saved in the OT just like they’re saved in the NT: by grace through faith. God made numerous prophecies that a Messiah would come into the world. If they believed those prophecies, or had faith those prophecies would come true, or had faith that Messiah would come, they were saved as they looked forward in faith to the Messiah coming.

Last Sunday we looked at the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the Woman would come and crush the head of the Serpent. As soon as sin came into the world, that prophecy was introduced allowing people to look forward to, or put their faith in the Seed of the Woman. In other words, as soon as sin came into the world, so too did the opportunity for people to be saved by grace through faith. Just like we pass along to our children what we know about Christ, that prophecy would’ve been passed along to Adam and Eve’s descendants,  allowing them to be saved by grace through faith.

What was their faith IN since they didn’t know Jesus like we do? Their faith was in all the prophecies about His coming. If they believed Jesus would come, they were saved, similarly to how we’re saved if we believe Jesus has come. OT and NT believers are both saved by looking to Christ in faith, but from opposite sides of the cross. People in the OT were saved by grace through faith in Jesus coming like we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus having come. That’s why Gen 15:6 can say Abraham was saved (accounted righteous) by his faith or belief in what God had said to Him in Gen 12 when He established the Abrahamic Covenant with him. But didn’t Abraham live before the Gospel? Genesis 3:8 says God “preached the gospel to Abraham.” Consider that!!! Abraham heard the Gospel!  Here’s a quote I really like: “The basis for salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various ages.”

"There, but for the grace of God, go I"

As most of you know, last Saturday night we held a service at Green Hills School. I think because it’s called a school, I wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s actually a maximum-security detention center for individuals 17 to 21 years of age. I asked the serving chaplain what could land the young men there and he said, “Anything and everything. Murder, rape, you name it.”

When the young men entered the auditorium (we’d been waiting about ten minutes for them), I’m not sure what exactly I anticipated, but based on what the chaplain said, I wasn’t expecting them to be the kind of audience they were: attentive, respectful, appreciative, etc. From the bottom corner seat I was in a position to have all the young men on my left and our choir on the stage in front of me.

I couldn’t help looking back and forth between them. Our youth looked nicely dressed, wholesome, modest, conservative, while the young men from the center obviously had a rougher look to them. I wondered what their lives would be like if they’d grown up in the homes of our youth? How many of them would be standing on the stage instead of sitting in the chairs? What if they’d had the Christian influence that’s been afforded to so many of us? What if they’d been hearing the Bible since they were young? What if they’d grown up in church surrounded by Christian friends?

Similarly, what if some of our youth grew up in their homes? Would any of our youth be sitting in their seats instead of standing on the stage? Whether young or old, I think all of us that have grown up in the church should be thankful for those heritages, appreciating many others haven’t received the same. We should recognize the great accountability and responsibility we have before God to live up to that kind of blessing. I have no doubt there are plenty of people who’d give almost anything to have experienced the childhoods many of us have been afforded.

Our pride encourages us to imagine such differences between others and ourselves; we think we’re so much better and different. We commonly think, “I can’t believe he did that…” or “I would never do what she did…” but John Bradford famously said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I think we could all say that.