Come, Let us Sing the 46th!

With COVID-19 running around the globe these days we can easily find ourselves growing anxious and unsettled. We therefore have a great need to be settled in heart. How can we ground ourselves again amid such a time? We sing the 46th (!) and remember and return to what is true, that our God is a Mighty Fortress! Below is a sermon I preached last year on Psalm 46, it is fit for such a time as this. Listen in, be encouraged, and read below about how we can gain the confidence to sing the 46th!

How do we bring this Psalm home to us today?

Having already seen the Psalm in its meaning to the original audience, we now must see the fullest and richest meaning the text allows us to bring forth.[1] Twice this Psalm calls us to pause and consider one grand reality. In v7 and v11 we read, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” As encouraging as the Lord’s very presence was to His people of old, how much more encouraging is it to us who have seen and welcomed by faith Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ. His presence with us His Church is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 46. It is Christ, who calms the chaos of all threats that come to us His people. As His disciples were terrified, with just a word He calmed the stormy sea. As He was being arrested in the garden, with just a word He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers. And then He, the very Word of God, took our place, bore our curse, and allowed Himself to descend into chaos in His death on the cross. But He didn’t stay dead, He rose (!) and decisively defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Now we today, are attacked on all sides by the spiritual powers of darkness in this present world. And as our enemies come and make their threats, we often tremble and shake and fear. What is the ruling and reigning Christ doing as His bride is attacked? He sits in the heavens and laughs at the demons who mock our redemption, as though the besetting sins we struggle so hard with could really lessen His commitment to see our salvation through.[2]

In Christ we have a mighty fortress and for this reason we must “Be still…” As fierce as the threat may be, as chaotic as it may become, we’re to be still, knowing that Christ is God, and trust that however dark the situation looks, however severe the threat may be…what? That Christ will be exalted in us and in all the earth! Or to say it another way: the certainty of knowing that Christ will, however bleak it looks, be glorified in and over all things, is what brings our restless hearts to rest. In such triumph and stillness we ought to pause and meditate on a truth too often forgotten, a precious privilege which cannot be too often considered.[3]

“Christ is with us; Christ is our fortress. Selah”

So Church, as Luther said to Melancthon many years ago, I say to you today, “Come, let us sing the 46th, and let our enemies do their worst! The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever!”


[1] Plumer, page 524.

[2] Kidd, page 45-46.

[3] Spurgeon, page 343.

Are We Still Protesting? Yes.

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes.

Though there is a true danger in idolizing the past, there is also a great danger in forgetting or ignoring the past as well. So we look back to gain wisdom for today, and ask a question: why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we often do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?

We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.

And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

Why Solus Christus? Because He is Everything

Why did the doctrine of Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today? We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside!

Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[i]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[ii]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[iii]

 

 

Citations:

[i] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[ii] Ibid., page 13.

[iii] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.

Why Sola Fide? Because of Works

In our continuing discussion of the Five Solas, we now turn to Sola Fide – Faith Alone. To describe this hear the story of Luther’s conversion.

Luther knew well the Catholic doctrine that the way one is saved is by a combination of God’s grace and man’s work. But as a young monk Luther was acutely aware of his many sins. Try and try as he may, he never felt he was good enough, for God’s Law demanded perfection and he couldn’t match its demands. So he would spend hours in confession, one time he even spent six hours confessing sins but ended that occasion in despair when he realized there may be sins he’s committed but isn’t aware of them. He panicked and thought: “Sins to be forgiven must be confessed. To be confessed they must be recognized and remembered. If they are not recognized and remembered they cannot be confessed. If they are not confessed, they are not forgiven.”[1]

His mentor Johann Staupitz told Luther to see God as love by looking to Christ. Luther responded by saying, “God out of mere delight hardens men and damns them for eternity…is this who is said to be full of such mercy and goodness? This is cruel, intolerable even. Love God? I hate Him!”[2] His mentor than did the unthinkable, against Luther’s wishes he made him a professor of theology in the University. Luther was tasked with teaching through the Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans. And the moment came, in studying Romans 1:16-17 that Luther was finally converted. Here’s his own words.

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but this one expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ I took it to mean that righteousness is God punishing the wicked. And my situation was just that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled, with no confidence in my own works. Therefore I did not love this just and angry God, I hated Him and murmured against Him…yet I clung to Paul, longing to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the phrase ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us through faith. I felt myself reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”[3]

For Luther, to hear that we are saved and given the righteousness of God, not through our own works, but by faith was like entering the gates of paradise. Then all of sudden something surprised him. He knew the role and place of works in the Christian life. Works don’t save, but they show we have been saved. Works aren’t the foundation of our salvation, they’re the necessary consequence of it. We’re not saved by good works, we’re saved unto good works. So for Luther and the rest of the reformers faith alone saved, but faith was never alone.

Fast forward to today.

We think salvation works like this. We are a frog that has fallen into a jar of milk, and after realizing we cannot jump out of this jar, we do the only thing we can…we start paddling. So we paddle and paddle and paddle and slowly but surely we paddle that milk into butter and launch ourselves out and up to freedom.[4] We may say Amazing Grace is one of our favorite hymns, but deep down we think if we just do our best we’ll get to heaven one day.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We need once again to return to Scripture to see that our works, on their best day, are still filthy rags before our Holy God. Our works aren’t enough to make us right with God. Therefore we could never do enough, and ought to despair of our efforts. But though despairing of ourselves we need not lose hope, because of Christ. His works, His gospel works for us and given to us through faith are always enough.

So reader, may your confidence ever be, not in your own works, but in Christ’s works for us. May we always boast in Sola Fide, Faith alone! Because through faith we grab hold of the great gospel power of God. Indeed, we grab hold of God Himself.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, page 42.

[ii] Ibid., page 44.

[iii] Ibid., page 49-50.

[iv] Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 83.

Why Sola Gratia? Because We Are Beggars

Twenty-nine years had passed since he nailed his 95 theses to church door in Wittenberg. Being 62 years old and weary from his life’s work, Luther was asked to come be the mediator in a family dispute in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany. Through Luther’s efforts the dispute was resolved, but he fell ill in the process. Sensing his end was near he wrote his last will and testament and his friend Justus Jonas came to his side and asked him “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther shouted “YES!” The sickness increased, and as death approached Luther uttered his last words.

“We are beggars. This is true.”

“We are beggars. This is true.” Do these words surprise you? On the surface of things they certainly don’t seem very hopeful do they? That he would mention his own fallen and sinful condition on his deathbed seems a bit melancholy. I mean, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about. He’d written volumes upon volumes about the nuances of gospel grace, the Christian life, the Church, and then on his deathbed he gives us that? I hope you don’t think these words are too strange. In fact I hope you are strangely encouraged by these words. Why? Because Luther knew what we need to know.

After laboring and sweating and agonizing and grinding his soul to the uttermost ends of his limits trying to perform enough good works to become right with God in the monkhood as a good Roman Catholic he realized something that changed his life.

He was not enough.

He was a fallen man. He truly was helpless and truly was hopeless before God in his own works. But this truth about him didn’t leave him helpless and hopeless, it left him hopeful, for when he came to the end of himself he found the beginning of life in Christ. When He came to the end of Himself He learned the works that really do save us and make us right with God aren’t our own works, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone! So when it came time for the great reformer to die, he did not deny, he did not twist, he did not run away from his own fallen nature. He owned it and said “We are beggars. This is true.”

What a great way to proclaim the content we find in Ephesians 2:8, “…by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”

The question that he answered on his deathbed is one that each of you must answer as well. ‘How do I, a sinner, become right with a holy God?’ If your answer is anything about things you have done or things you have not done than I’m afraid you’re bankrupt spiritually. Sadly, taking the state of the Protestant Evangelical world in America this means much of who we are is bankrupt. Why? The Cambridge Declaration explains it well, “Unlimited confidence in human ability is a product of the fall. It is this false confidence that now fills the Protestant world: from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works and brings a crowd.” All of these modern inventions are nothing more than repeats of historical heresies.

So reader, may you see God’s grace as not some kind of general kindness or benevolence of God, but the sole cause of our salvation. When asked how we become right with God may your answer ever be…Sola Gratia – Grace Alone!

Why Sola Scriptura? Because of Misplaced Authority

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does Sola Scriptura still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line? We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel. And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

The Word Did It All

I recently listened online to Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. preach a chapel sermon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary concerning the orthodox beliefs Christians hold concerning the Bible. In that sermon, Dr. Mohler shared an observation from a secular historian regarding the Protestant Reformation. This historian noted that in a generation, Christians in Germany shifted from going to church to see the mass to now going to church to hear the Word of God. Dr. Mohler added that once you have heard the Word of God, nothing else will do.[1]

Martin Luther would wholeheartedly agree. Luther, commenting on what took place during the Reformation, summarizes what causes profound spiritual change: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. While I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”[2] Such movements of Reformation and Revival are always marked by the pulpits of churches coming back once again to faithful, biblical exposition. In his great work, Preaching and Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching. Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church.”[3]

This seems rather straightforward but a famine exists in churches today. Why do so many pastors and preachers confess their beliefs concerning the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Scripture but practically deny its sufficiency? Does one really believe in the supernatural power of the Scripture if one believes that it is not enough to convert sinners and strengthen the saints? The pull that so many pastors and churches feel is to adopt the standards of the world when it comes to whether they are achieving success, relevancy, and notoriety. So, if that becomes the measuring stick then it is not surprising when pastors and churches move away from the sufficiency of Scripture to believing that it must be supplemented with something else. Before long, the Bible becomes less and less central to the church while the methods of the world become more and more prominent within the church. Dr. Steven J. Lawson pens these poignant words: “God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone should receive the glory, but this will happen only when His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When people-centered schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s shtick, the flesh provides the energy, and people – not God – receive the glory.”[4]

A new generation of pastors must hear the words of Paul written to Timothy. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). In his final words recorded, Paul increases the emphasis on sound preaching: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). These are only two of many passages with clear teaching concerning the manner and the content of what pastors and preachers are to be giving to the flock of Christ. This is what is called expositional or expository preaching. Why is biblical exposition so important? Mark Dever writes: “Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture – that the Bible is actually God’s Word…A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word – not just to affirm that it is God’s Word but to actually submit to it.”[5]

What would be said about your ministry or the church you are a part of? Would you join with Luther and say that the Word does everything? Pastors and churches must throw off the yoke of a worldly measure of success and be faithful to the Word. As the pastor of a church that has undergone a revitalization process transforming from a fundamentalist, legalistic Baptist tradition to now being a Reformed Baptist congregation, it was the Word that has and continues to do everything. It will require patience from you but if you give your people the Word week by week, doctrinal exposition centered on Christ, and out of a heart that loves the flock, you will see the effects and you will know that it was the Word that did it all.

 

Citations:

[1] http://equip.sbts.edu/chapel/bible-gods-word/

[2] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/expositor-magazine/

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 31.

[4] Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 26.

[5] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 44.

The Word that Sparked the Reformation

I’ve heard it said that one spark from a campfire can travel over a mile before burning out. But there is one spark that has managed to travel thousands of miles, even across oceans, and through five centuries of time and has spread a blaze across the world; this spark is the reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The word that sparked this Reformation is the word ‘sola’ or ‘alone’ in English.

In his book Faith Alone:The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, R.C. Sproul remarks, “It was the sola of sola fide that was the central point of dispute…Martin Luther and the Reformers insisted that justification is by faith alone. Rome affirms that justification is “by faith,” but not “by faith alone”’ (page 36, 122).

How could such a small word carry so much weight and cause so much controversy? Because the word sola differentiated not between two different ways of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ, but two totally different gospels altogether: the true gospel and a false gospel. In the Roman Catholic view, which hasn’t changed since, our good works contribute to our salvation. In the Reformers’ view, which also hasn’t changed since, we are totally depraved sinners who cannot contribute anything to our salvation except the sin that reveals its necessity.

When you really boil it down, the Roman Catholic understanding of justification is a false gospel that teaches we are not as sinful as the Scriptures reveals us to be, God is not as holy as the Scriptures reveal Him to be, and the cross is not as essential as the Scriptures reveal them to be.

The current leaders of the Church of England have called for Protestants to “repent of the sins of the Reformation.” Some may agree with them and see the Reformation as an unnecessary division in the one body of Christ. Many in our Western age of tolerance consider any divisions, whether doctrinal or anything else, to be from a lack of love. But it would be foolish for us to repent of the sins of the Reformation not only because we weren’t there to do them, but also because it wasn’t a division of the one body of Christ at all. Rather, the Reformation marked a differentiation between those in the true body of Christ and those in a heretical body claiming Christ. As far as the unloving claim, it was love and unity for the protection and preservation of the true body of Christ that drove the Reformers to take the stand they did. Rather than repent of the Reformation, we ought to rejoice in it. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and their fellow Reformers fought for the purity of the gospel and for the purity of the church and we owe them a great debt.

Some have argued that the Reformers held to a view of justification that allowed for sin. They claim that the constant use of the word alone or sola actually implies a salvation that doesn’t have any connection to good works or righteous living. The Reformers were not teaching, however, the unbiblical notion that our justification and our sanctification are not related. Rather, they were teaching that our sanctification flows out of our justification, not vice versa. John Calvin himself noted that while we are saved by faith alone, it is not by a faith that is alone. Justification produces the fruit of sanctification. Where Rome went wrong was that they confused the fruit with the root. If, according to Rome, our salvation is through faith and works, then we have something to boast about and this would turn heaven into a big merit party (“Look at how much I did with my life”). But, aligning themselves with Scripture, the Reformers taught the full and free gospel of God’s grace to guilty sinners who would repent and believe. This is the salvation that consumes the attention of the worship of heaven.

We have so much to be thankful for when we think of the Reformers. They refused to offer to the world a checklist and say, “Here is how to get saved.” Instead they heralded the true gospel of grace and so extended to the world a crucified and resurrected Savior who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

May we never cave to the voices around us that call for an end to our resolve to stand on the gospel of grace. These voices are more than five hundred years old, going back to the garden of Eden where the serpent questioned, “Did God really say?”

May we stand with the Reformers in our own day, no matter what the culture thinks of us and say, “Yes, God did say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”

Then, may we extend the only true gospel to all types of sinners, while calling them to repent and believe in Christ.

Faith: A Receiving and A Resting

One particular genre I always enjoy and in which we can see a great deal about who we are is music. There is a list of songs as long as the Mississippi river that mention faith. Faith is a very widespread concept in popular culture. But faith in this respect is usually spoken of in relation to a lover, or has having faith in yourself. Both of these fall enormously short of the Biblical idea of faith.

In the Bible when the word faith is used it more resembles an idea of trust, a believe, hope, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, and dependence upon God Himself. In question 86 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism it asks “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Think of it like this – when we turn from or repent of sin we don’t turn towards nothing…we turn to faith, and not just faith in general like so many people speak of but faith in a Person, namely, the Person of Jesus Christ. And what happens in the heart once we turn? As the catechism says there are two things that happen: a receiving of Jesus and a resting in Jesus.

A Receiving of Jesus

As the Apostle John begins his gospel and begins unfolding the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh he says this in 1:9-13. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people, did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So Jesus came into the world that He had made. He came into to His own, yet His own did not know Him or receive Him. Then in v12 we find the wondrous moment of contrast where John points out that not all rejected Him, some did receive Him. What does it mean to receive Jesus? v12 continues and explains it for us, “…to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name…”

To receive Jesus, therefore, is to believe in His name. This word ‘believed’ in John 1:12 is the Greek verb ‘pisteuousin’ which is used by Paul in its noun form ‘pistis’ which we translate as ‘faith.’ So, to receive Jesus is to believe in His name. And, to believe in His name is the same as having faith in Him. v12 shows us what it means to have faith in Jesus, v13 shows us the origin of our faith in Jesus. When you receive Him, or believe in His name, or have faith in Him John says you become a child of God who is born, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. So the sovereignty of God is on display in the faith of man, in that, just as God grants repentance, so too God gives faith to His people. That’s why v13 is placed after v12.

That God gives faith as a gift to His people is confirmed in Ephesians 2:8-9 when Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” There are many important things to glean from this verse, it’s one of the pinnacle passages describing justification by faith alone. But one often overlooked thing in this passage is the small phrase “And this” in the middle of v8. What is the word ‘this’ referring to? Paul has just spoken of us being saved by grace through faith, so grace and faith are in view. When he continues on and starts the next sentence with “And this” he means “And grace and faith” are not your own doing, it is the gift of God. So both grace and faith are gifts from God.

A Resting in Jesus

To explain this idea of resting in Jesus I want to describe the conversion experience of Martin Luther. Some of you already know this story, but I know some of you don’t. Here’s how it played out. Looking back throughout Luther’s life there’s an intriguing pattern to notice. Every five years he was involved in, or had himself, a major controversy. In 1505 he was almost struck by lightning and ran into the monastery. In 1510 he visited Rome on an errand and became disenchanted with Roman Catholicism by all the wickedness he saw. In 1515 he had what proved to be his most pivotal controversy, and to this day it is called ‘The Tower Experience.’ After doing much in depth study of the Scriptures Luther came to believe that the proper way to interpret the Bible is to find the ‘sensus literalis’ which means we should interpret the Bible according to it’s literary genre. Well, later that year Luther was assigned to teach through Paul’s letter to the Romans. So in his private study in preparation for his lectures he came to Romans 1:16-17 and came to a screeching halt. That passage says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written (quoting Habakkuk 2:4) ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Luther came to a halt because he found v17 repulsive. It was the word ‘righteousness’ that haunted him. He said, “I hated that word ‘the righteousness of God’ by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers that God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.” This, for Luther, was a barrier to God, a chasm between the holy God and his unholy heart that cannot be crossed. Luther saw no way around it and despaired of all hope. He was not righteous, thus, he could not live by faith. But, then Romans 1:17 broke upon his soul. He saw that what Paul was teaching was that there is a righteousness that is received as a result of faith and not as a result of works, and that once a person received this by faith they were reconciled to God.

What made the difference for Luther was that he was now studying the Greek text of Romans, not the Latin. You see, in the Latin text of Romans the word for righteousness is ‘eustificare’ which comes from the Roman legal system and means to make righteous. So the Latin meaning of this word in Romans 1:17 is that God’s very righteousness is in view. But in the original Greek the word was different. The Greek word for righteousness was the word ‘dikaiosune’ which means to count or to declare one as righteous. This was Luther’s awakening. Luther saw that Paul was teaching, not of God’s own righteousness, but of a righteousness God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have a righteousness of their own. Then he read St. Augustine on Romans and saw that he also believed this. Then Luther said this, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

This ‘Tower Experience’ explains a lot of why Luther was the way He was. Luther was so unwavering and steadfast against the onslaught that would soon come his way for teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone because he knew that when looked upward he beheld a reconciled Father because of Jesus’ work, not an angry Judge. Luther received Jesus by believing in His name and having faith in Him and as a result Luther rested in Jesus.

Phil. 3:8-9 confirms this rest of soul that comes by faith and shows us what all of this leads to. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

Luther’s boldness as we’ve seen, and our boldness comes from this. We can live like v8, we can count knowing Christ as better than all things, we can count all things as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus our Lord because God has done v9 to us! He has given us a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that stands full and final in our account never to be removed.

See a pattern in all of this:

Receiving Jesus leads to resting in Jesus.

Resting in Jesus leads to recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things.

Recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things leads to risking all for Jesus.

Receiving, resting, recognizing, risking – begun by faith, sustained by faith, and Lord willing…finished by faith.

The Reformation is Over? Ummm…No.

Today is the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

To give attention to this anniversary NPR news ran an article today on Pope Francis’ efforts to heal the divide between Catholics and Lutherans caused by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. They quote Gerard O’Connell who says, “Perhaps, both sides missed something at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church missed ways of reforming itself. Luther and those around him pressed in a way that just couldn’t be taken on board, so, in a way, both sides misspoke.”

Jens-Martin Kruse, pastor of a Lutheran Church in Rome, says the approach Pope Francis is taking is “walking ecumenism.” Kruse continued, “We are moving together, this is a new experience that we are together on this walk. Walking together, we find that we have lots of things more in common than we thought before.”

The effort to reconcile Catholics and Protestants has been on the rise over the past generation. Many well known Protestants and Catholics in America signed a petition in the 90’s called ECT ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together‘ to move toward unity. More so on this day in 1999 a group of Catholics and Lutherans issued a joint statement on the doctrine of justification in Augsburg, Germany stating that “a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.”

To all of this I want to say…ummm, no.

Perhaps I want to say hogwash because I tend to have a contrary personality, perhaps I want to say hogwash because people have said I can be too stubborn, or perhaps I want to hogwash because I think too many Catholics and Protestants are committing the heresy of being indifferent to doctrine. It is my opinion that someone needs to call this nonsense what it is, foolish. The differences between Catholics and Protestants on the doctrine of Justification, and many other matters, are not just differences of opinion, they’re not just mere disagreements that we can agree to disagree about. Our differences of opinion are too vast to ignore, too deep to sweep under the rug, and too large to push behind us.

Peace is not what is needed, repentance, clarity, and courage is what is needed.

Regardless what Pope Francis says, regardless what a Lutheran pastor in Rome says, and regardless what almost all mainstream Christians are saying today, the reason Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on this day in 1517 was to call into question the vague and erroneous teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. For doing this, Pope Leo X excommunicated and condemned Luther. And as a response to Luther and the rest of rising Protestantism the Roman Catholic Church had a council in Trento, Italy from 1545-1563 to address the concerns raised by the Protestants.

The result of the Council of Trent was another reformation. The Catholics saw that many of Luther’s concerns were correct and that there were indeed many abuses within the church. But doctrinally, they continued their condemnation of all things Protestant. Look at the following statements from Trent:

-Canon 9, “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

-Canon 12, “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified…let him be accursed.”

-Canon 14, “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

-Canon 24, “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.”

-Canon 30, “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”

-Canon 33, “If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

Clearly, in the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed their previous teaching on the doctrine of the justification and condemned anyone who disagrees with them. In all the efforts towards peace and unity between Catholics and Protestants today why is no one talking about Trent? It has never been revoked by any other Roman Catholic council or creedal statement to date. In fact, because of the affirmations made in Trent numerous Protestants were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church afterwards. Conclusion?As long as the Council of Trent stands, there can never be unity. As long as the Council of Trent stands, Catholics teach that all Protestants are damned. As long as the Council of Trent stands, we must continue to proclaim the truth, that we are not saved by our works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

So on the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation many are asking, is it over? Can’t we just get along? Shouldn’t we move forward and push our history behind us? The clear is answer is no. As long as the Roman Catholic Church continue to propagate false teaching and do not repent for such teaching by turning towards the truth revealed by Luther and others, the reformation will not be over. More so, because the human heart naturally moves towards a works based gospel and away from a grace based gospel – the reformation will never be over.

The gospel that was re-discovered under the tyranny and oppression of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century must continue to be proclaimed today with the boldness, clarity, and courage.

Stephen Nichols reminds us:

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.

Today: stand and celebrate the 499th anniversary of the reformation.

“I admit I deserve death and hell…what of it?”

In 2003 the Movie Luther was released.  One of the reasons I like the movie so much, and think you should watch it, is because it is almost exactly historically accurate.  My favorite quote from the movie comes when Luther (played by Joseph Fiennes) is preaching and says this:

Those who see God as angry, do not see him rightly.  If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, than we have a God of Love, and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.  So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf, his name is Jesus Christ Son of God, where He is, there I shall be also!

“…whether he yet lives I know not…”

Albrecht Dürer was a notable German engraver, painter, and print-maker of the Reformation era. He was deeply moved by Luther’s calls for reformation. When Frederick the Wise imprisoned Luther to protect him, the outside world did not know what had happened. Dürer was distraught as this journal entry from May 17, 1521 shows:

“On Friday (May 17) before Whit Sunday in the year 1521, came tidings to me at Antwerp, that Martin Luther had been so treacherously taken prisoner; for he trusted the Emperor Karl, who had granted him his herald and imperial safe conduct. But as soon as the herald had conveyed him to an unfriendly place near Eisenach he rode away, saying that he no longer needed him. Straightway there appeared ten knights, and they treacherously carried off the pious man, betrayed into their hands, a man enlightened by the Holy Ghost, a follower of the true Christian faith. And whether he yet lives I know not, or whether they have put him to death; if so, he has suffered for the truth of Christ and because he rebuked the unchristian Papacy, which strives with its heavy load of human laws against the redemption of Christ….But this is above all most grievous to me, that, maybe, God will suffer us to remain still longer under their false, blind doctrine, invented and drawn up by the men alone whom they call Fathers, by whom also the precious Word of God is in many places wrongly expounded or utterly ignored.

“Oh God of heaven, pity us! Oh Lord Jesus Christ, pray for Thy people! Deliver us at the fit time. Call together Thy far-scattered sheep by Thy voice in the Scripture, called Thy godly Word. Help us to know this Thy voice and to follow no other deceiving cry of human error, so that we, Lord Jesus Christ, may not fall away from Thee. Call together again the sheep of Thy pasture….”

From the Christian History Institute

Trunk or Treat….Fall Festival? C’mon Guys!

Today marks a wonderful day in church history.  October 31, 1517 is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  To make much of Luther today I want to discuss Halloween?  Why?  Because Luther was known for mocking the devil, and that is precisely what Halloween is all about.

I am fully aware that within the Church there are differing views on Halloween.

Some believe that dressing up like goblins and ghouls and asking for candy at every door in the neighborhood is completely sinful.  As a consequence for believing in the sinfulness of Halloween, some churches have therefore created events such as “trunk or treat” or had a “fall festival” to allow the kids in the congregation to have fun in a “safe” manner.

I am not one of these people.

Is it not a double standard to believe Halloween and it’s activities are sinful only to participate in an event at church where one does the same Halloween activities one does in the neighborhood?  It is.  Not only do I think this is wrong, I think it’s historically ignorant.  All Hallows Eve was a celebration the Church invented to mock the devil and his minions by dressing up like them.  This day would be followed up with All Saints Day on the following day to celebrate what Jesus did in creating His Church.

But, I do think that’s not the real issue at hand here, there’s a deeper idolatry.  When you get down to it, I believe the heart that wants to participate in a “trunk or treat” or “fall festival” is a heart that wants to avoid the great commission and avoid being a light in the darkness among our lost neighbors.  Rather than going out into the community to be a light in the darkness, or continuing to develop friendships and relationships for gospel purposes with our neighbors, we choose to do the “safe” thing and go to church.

This leads me to a question: should the church allow people to avoid the world by opening it’s doors more?  No.  We ought to meet for worship, we ought to meet for Bible study, we ought to meet for prayer, we ought to meet in small groups – these things are good, godly, and great ways to fan our faith into flame.  But when the church opens its doors and seeks to create a “Christian-ized” version of normal world holidays it seeks to remove itself from the world and allow its members to delve deeply into isolated Christian bubbles.  This is not healthy.

What, therefore, should you do on Halloween?

Do something with your neighbors.  Invite your lost friends to do trick or treating with your family around your neighborhood so you can continue to get involved in the lives of the lost people around you.  Bottom line?  Don’t isolate yourself in a Christian bubble.

Happy Reformation Day!

LutherTo make much of Reformation Day 2014, I want to point you to a podcast I listen to very often.  It’s called “5 Minutes in Church History” by Dr. Stephen Nichols, and it’s one podcast I look forward to every week.  Click here to listen to today’s episode called, “Happy Reformation Day.”  Below is a manuscript of the 5 minutes conversation Dr. Nichols had with R.C. Sproul:

Stephen J. Nichols: October 31, 1517, is the day we mark as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, so every year we celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. To help us celebrate, we have a special guest joining us—Dr. R.C. Sproul. Welcome back, Dr. Sproul.

R.C. Sproul: Thank you, Dr. Nichols.

SN: Let’s start with the contemporary Bible study question. What does Reformation Day mean to you?

RC: The Scriptures make reference to what we could call a holy space or holy ground, but also sacred times—moments that define everything that would come after it. And when I think of Reformation Day, I think of that moment in history, and particularly in church history, when everything changed. This was the watershed movement—Luther’s writing the Ninety-Five Theses and tacking them up on the church door at the castle church in Wittenberg. And here we saw the recovery of the gospel.

I enjoy celebrations. I enjoy birthdays, I enjoy the Fourth of the July, and I enjoy Thanksgiving Day. But these days all pale in significance compared to that day in history when the gospel was brought out of darkness and into the light with the Reformation. And so, in terms of our heritage as Christians, this is a time to celebrate.

In terms of our heritage as Christians, this is a time to celebrate

SN: It really is. And these moments of celebration can help us remember what we’re celebrating and why we’re celebrating. And they can cause us sometimes, I think, in a healthy way, to look back to the past, and to understand a little bit better who we are and why those past events matter.

One of the things that I find interesting about Luther is that after he posted the Ninety-Five Theses, he lived another twenty-eight years. That’s a long time. He had a long life after Reformation Day. Is there any moment in that time period after Reformation Day that stands out to you as having significance in the life of Luther?

RC: The next five years were critical as a result of his posting those Ninety-Five Theses. The theses, as you know, were not designed as a public proclamation, but as an invitation issued to the faculty of the University of Wittenberg to discuss the doctrine of indulgences, among other things. And Karl Barth made the observation that Luther, when he posted the theses, was like a blind man who climbed the stairs in a bell tower, lost his footing and thus began to fall. He reached out to grab something to save his life. And what he reached and grabbed was the bell rope. But a floodgate was opened. Soon there were debates at Leipzig and Augsburg and other places, and then ultimately Luther was brought to Worms in 1521 for the imperial diet called by the emperor, Charles V.

At the Diet of Worms, of course, there was that moment when he was called to say revoco, “I recant.” The Hollywood version is that he stands up and gives his “here I stand” speech. The truth is that he stood there trembling, shaking, and he said, “Can I have another twenty-four hours?” Then he went back to his cell and penned one of the most moving prayers that I’ve ever read in my life. He was incredibly frightened, and he called out to God. But he only sensed the absence of God. And he said, “God where are you? Are you hiding? This cause is yours and I am yours; send help.” And then the next day, he came again before the diet. And when they said, “Do you recant?” he said, “I can’t say revoco. I can’t recant unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.” What a moment in church history that was.

SN: Well, we have two great moments—Reformation Day and the “here I stand” moment. Thank you, Dr. Sproul.

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Martin Luther: My #1 Dead Influence

Martin Luther is my largest dead influence.  There are two large reasons for this.  

First, Luther’s life is a huge example to me about who one ought to fear.  Of all men in history, Luther had every reason to fear man, but he chose to fear God instead.  The entire known world seemed against Luther, he was kicked out of the only established church, and a price was on his head. What a lesson to us all in the midst of what we call “suffering.”  Luther experienced more suffering than most could ever dream of, and due to God’s insane grace Luther stood firm and we reap the benefits today.

Second, Luther wrote a book called “The Bondage of the Will” that cemented the doctrine of Original Sin (or Total Depravity) into my soul.  Reading this book in my early 20’s lead me to the great reality of my sin.  It was so clear and powerfully written that I was convinced of the utter wicked nature of my heart and my utter inability to change myself – God’s grace must interrupt my wicked heart.  And praise God that His grace did do just that, continues to do just that, and that He uses me as an avenue for His grace to flow into others.

Brief Bio:martin-luther

Born in Germany in 1483, Martin Luther became one of the most influential figures in Christian history when he began the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He called into question some of the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism, and his followers soon split from the Roman Catholic Church to begin the Protestant tradition.

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Saxony, in modern southeast Germany. His parents, Hans and Margarette Luther, were peasants, but Hans had some success as a miner and ore smelter. In 1484, the family moved to nearby Mansfeld, where Hans held ore deposits. Hans Luther knew that mining was a tough business and wanted his promising son to have better and become a lawyer. At age seven, Martin Luther entered school in Mansfeld. At 14, he went to north to Magdeburg, where he continued his studies. In 1498, he returned to Eisleben and enrolled in a school, studying grammar, rhetoric and logic. He later compared this experience to purgatory and hell.

In 1501, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt, where he received a Master of Arts degree (in grammar, logic, rhetoric and metaphysics). At this time, it seemed he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. However, in July 1505, Luther had a life-changing experience that set him on a new course. Caught in a horrific thunderstorm where he feared for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was saved. Most historians believe this was not a spontaneous act, but an idea already formulated in Luther’s mind. The decision to become a monk was difficult and greatly disappointed his father, but he felt he must keep a promise. Luther was also driven by fears of hell and God’s wrath, and felt that life in a monastery would help him find salvation.

The first few years of monastery life were difficult for Martin Luther, as he did not find the religious enlightenment he was seeking. A mentor told him to focus his life exclusively on Christ and this would later provide him with the guidance he sought. At age 27, he was given the opportunity to be a delegate to a church conference in Rome. He came away more disillusioned, and very discouraged by the immorality and corruption he witnessed there among the Catholic priests. Upon his return to Germany, he enrolled in the University of Wittenberg in an attempt to suppress his spiritual turmoil. He excelled in his studies and received a doctorate, becoming a professor of theology at the university.

Through his studies of scripture, Martin Luther finally gained religious enlightenment. Beginning in 1513, while preparing lectures, Luther read Psalm 22, which recounts Christ’s cry for mercy on the cross, a cry similar to his own disillusionment with God and religion. Two years later, while preparing a lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he read, “The just will live by faith.” He dwelled on this statement for some time. Finally, he realized the key to spiritual salvation was not to fear God or be enslaved by religious dogma but to believe that faith alone would bring salvation. This period marked a major change in his life and set in motion the Reformation.

In 1517, Pope Leo X announced a new round of indulgences to help build St. Peter’s Basilica. On October 31, 1517, an angry Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper with 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. Though he intended these to be discussion points, the Ninety-Five Theses laid out a devastating critique of the indulgences as corrupting people’s faith. Luther also sent a copy to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Aided by the printing press, copies of the Ninety-Five Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months.

The Church eventually moved to stop the act of defiance. In October 1518, at a meeting with Cardinal Thomas Cajetan in Augsburg, Martin Luther was ordered to recant his Ninety-Five Theses by the authority of the pope. Luther said he would not recant unless scripture proved him wrong. He went further, stating that he didn’t consider the papacy had the authority to interpret scripture. The meeting ended in a shouting match and initiated his ultimate excommunication from the Church.

Throughout 1519, Martin Luther continued to lecture and write in Wittenberg. In June and July of that year he publicly declared that the Bible did not give the pope the exclusive right to interpret scripture, which was a direct attack on the authority of the papacy. Finally, in 1520, the pope had had enough and on June 15 issued an ultimatum threatening Luther with excommunication. On December 10, 1520, Luther publicly burned the letter.

In January 1521, Martin Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. In March, he was summoned before the Diet of Worms, a general assembly of secular authorities. Again, Luther refused to recant his statements, demanding he be shown any scripture that would refute his position. There was none. On May 8, 1521, the council released the Edict of Worms, banning Luther’s writings and declaring him a “convicted heretic.” This made him a condemned and wanted man. Friends helped him hide out at the Wartburg Castle. While in seclusion, he translated the New Testament into the German language, to give ordinary people the opportunity to read God’s word.

Though still under threat of arrest, Martin Luther returned to Wittenberg Castle Church, in Eisenach, in May 1522. Miraculously, he was able to avoid capture and began organizing a new church, Lutheranism. He gained many followers and got support from German princes. When a peasant revolt began in 1524, Luther denounced the peasants and sided with the rulers, whom he depended on to keep his church growing. Thousands of peasants were killed, but Luther’s church grew over the years. In 1525, he married Katharina von Bora, a former nun who had abandoned the convent and taken refuge in Wittenberg. Together, over the next several years, they had six children.

From 1533 to his death in 1546, Martin Luther served as the dean of theology at University of Wittenberg. During this time he suffered from many illnesses, including arthritis, heart problems and digestive disorders, and the physical pain and emotional strain of being a fugitive might have been reflected in his writings. Some works contained strident and offensive language against several segments of society, particularly Jews and Muslims. During a trip to his hometown of Eisleben, he died on February 18, 1546, at age 62.

Martin Luther is one of the most influential and controversial figures in the Reformation movement. His actions fractured the Roman Catholic Church into new sects of Christianity and set in motion reform within the Church. A prominent theologian, his desire for people to feel closer to God led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers.