Happy 500th Birthday!
Happy 500th Birthday!
Something we tend to do, is celebrate birthdays. I don’t know if you still do it when you are inside. People make a special fuss. As a kid, we used to get excited because we looked forward to getting presents. When it is a significant number we make a special fuss. I remember when it was my 50th birthday the family clubbed together and shouted me a Cessna flight over Banks Peninsular; John came along on that flight. I took some photos, which are quite interesting because there are aerial shots of the centre of town with all the high-rise buildings; which are now all gone. 50 was a special number! This year I went up to my parents place to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. That is a decent number; but what about 500 years?! [P] This year it is 500 year since a Roman Catholic monk in Germany nailed a notice to a church door – the start of what became to be known as “the Reformation”. The name of the man was: Martin Luther [P]. These days we don’t talk too much about what took place; but, seeing it is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I thought I’d have a bit of a look at some of the issues – issues which are still of concern today. So, back-along 500 years, Martin Luther was living in Germany. He was a monk, training in the church. A Dominican friar called Johann Tetzel visited Germany selling, what was called “indulgences” – this was a clever scheme: you paid the church some money and you got time off purgatory, your punishment for your sins was reduced. All it was, was a money-making scheme to pay for the building of St. Peters in Rome. It was a pretty good scheme – people gave you money and they got nothing tangible in return! This didn’t sit well with Martin Luther – surely you didn’t pay for sin with money?! If that were the case it would be like the old negro spiritual: “If religion were a thing that money could buy; the rich would live and the poor would die”. But the church, the pope himself, was behind this. Who was Martin Luther to say that it was wrong? Have you ever had that: you are sure something screwy is going on but everyone else is going along with it? He was in the church; how could he go against it? How do you know who is right? Was it his opinion or the church’s? How do you know the truth?!! And here was birthed the first principle of the reformation:
Scripture alone: [P] Famously, Martin Luther is quoted as saying: “Here I am, I can do no other; to go against conscience is neither safe nor honest. My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” What is the authority? The church? His conscience? No, Scripture. Everybody has their own opinion, people disagree, everyone knows about religious arguments! How do you know the truth?! God has told us! The Bible is not a product of human invention, it is the Word of God. Now, a man may lie and deceive, or he may be just plain mistaken – you cannot rely on what he says. Today we revere science; it has the answers. But a science text book is out of date as soon as it is published, because ideas are changing. What scientist said was true 10 years ago, they would now say was not! But the truth does not change! It is always true! How do you find the truth? You find it in God’s Word. Because God is true, His Word also is true – it does not change! [ The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.] [ But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.] Jesus said: [ “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.] The Bible itself, claims to be true. You will hear many opinions: you are hearing me, you may disagree, you may hear something else from some other speaker, from the program. Which is right? Don’t accept what I say, check it out against Scripture – that is true. If I say something that is contrary to what the Bible says, reject it. Many religions have their “holy writings”, e.g. Islam has the Koran; but only one book has the words of God. Martin Luther took the Bible as His sole authority for what was true. It has to measure against this standard. This principle is still vital 500 year on. If you want the truth; you will find it in the Bible! The church was saying you could pay for the punishment for you sins with money – is this what the Bible said? No! The church was wrong. Then how was righteousness to be obtained? How do you pay the penalty for your sin. If the debt can’t be paid with money, and that is what the Bible says: [ No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him— for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever.] Then how can it be paid? Here is the second principle of the Reformation:
Christ alone: [P] The church was wrong in selling forgiveness of sin; the Bible says that you cannot pay. Who can pay the debt that you owe to God for failing to do as He requires you to? If I owed the bank a thousand dollars, I would be in debt. Suppose I went to John, and suppose he was in overdraft; could he pay my debt for me? No, because he is in debt himself; he hasn’t any money to pay the debt with. So it is with the debt of sin; no one else can pay the debt for my sin, because they all have a debt of sin themselves! Only someone who has credit; who is perfectly righteous, who has no debt of sin, can pay; or to use the Bible word: redeem. Only Jesus is without sin. Only He can pay the debt of sin that I owe. God did that by [ He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. ] Jesus is the only One who can pay the debt. There is no other, there is no other way – it is Christ alone: [ Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.] Jesus is the only way. It is exclusive. Only Jesus. You cannot add Him to another belief; it is Jesus only. Not Jesus and Mary as a co-redemptrix. Only One can save from the consequence of the sin that you have committed: [ “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”]. Righteousness doesn’t come by what we do; but by what Christ has already done. So that is fine. Jesus is righteous; He died in my place; paid the death penalty instead of me. But how does that death become mine? How does His righteousness come to me? Here is the next principle of the Reformation, and it’s most well-known cry:
Faith alone: [P] “The just shall live by faith!” It is by faith alone. The church required the doing of all sorts of things: making penance. You would go to the priest and he would give you certain things that you had to DO in order to make penance. It still happens in confession today. And it is true of every religion that they require you to DO, to perform, to work, to knock doors, to fast, to give, do good, keep certain rules, perform certain ceremonies, whatever. You work for, or earn, your salvation. But Luther read the Bible and saw something different. You didn’t get to heaven by keeping the Law, that didn’t make you righteous: [ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”]. It was by Christ alone, by what He had done by dying in your place on the cross. And what He did is appropriated by faith. It becomes yours just by relying upon Him alone and what He did on the cross – believing in the sufficiency of His death and resurrection. The resurrection vindicated Him; it was God’s declaration that His Son was indeed righteous – there was nothing in Him that merited death. His resurrection life is given to the one who believes! His life becomes our life! Eternal life. Sin brings death; the one who has no sin, who is righteous, lives. So we live because of righteousness; how does the righteousness come? By faith! By relying on Jesus and His righteousness. Paul describing this Good News, the Gospel, said: [ For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”]. So the Reformation spelt the end of trying to earn your own way, being good enough. It was by faith alone not by works. So if it has nothing to do with what I do; then this salvation from the consequence of sin, from death; has nothing to with deserving it or earning it. Here is the next principle of the Reformation:
Grace alone: [P] Being rescued from the consequence and penalty of sin, being saved from death; doesn’t come through the keeping of a set of rules, the Law: it comes by grace alone. Grace is a gift; something freely given. The thing with a gift is that it is totally at the discretion of the giver. They don’t have to give, there is nothing that you can do to make them give. If they give; all you can do is receive. If you try to pay them back, it is no longer a gift, it is a purchase. If you are given something, it is a gift. If you earn it, then it is a wage. We are so accustomed to earning our keep, that this idea runs deep. You can earn a wage: the Bible says: [ For the wages of sin is death, (what you earn by your own efforts is death!) but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ] Would you rather have wages, or a free gift? Luther from reading the Bible discovered that salvation is by grace alone: [ 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.] And there is the genius of the Gospel – boasting is excluded! There is no place for pride. The greatest Christian is solely dependent upon Jesus and what He has done; so too is the weakest! We are all on the same level – because it is not what we do but what Jesus has done so all the glory goes to Him alone. And here is the final “only” of the reformation:
Glory to God alone: [P] In other religions it is the one who makes a long pilgrimage, or goes without food, or does great deeds of sacrifice, or good deeds for the poor. People revere them and say: “what a great saint!” That person is the one who gets the glory. Jesus told a story: [ “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”] Religion leads to pride – the Gospel results in glory going to God alone. He has done it all: He conceived it and revealed it in the Scriptures: it is Sola Scriptura. Jesus alone is the way of salvation: it is Sola Christos. Righteousness doesn’t come by what we do but the righteous shall live by faith: it is Sola fides. No one can earn it, it doesn’t come by keeping laws; it is solely the gift of God: it is Sola gracia. Because it is all God’s doing from beginning to end the glory goes to Him alone: sola Deo Gloria. The five “sola’s” of the Reformation. It is still by …. Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and glory to God alone.