“The Five Solas” for the 21st Century
Today, the Western world celebrates Halloween. On October 31st in communities all across America will have little children dressed up in costumes. With the custom of dressing up in costumes that reflect the darkness and even the demonic (witches, warlocks, ghosts, goblins, bats and spiders), God in His sovereignty permitted a rather significant event to happen on October 31, 1517. On that day Dr. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church — which also served as the community bulletin board.
This day commemorates the day and even the event that began what history deems as the Reformation. The Reformation, as the root word outlines, means that a reform came to the church. It was a reform that recovered the pure simplicity of the Gospel. You see during the Middle Ages (around 500 to 1500 A.D.), the Gospel had gotten bogged down in the Catholic church because of politics and corruption and a hierarchy with the church that distanced itself from the people whom they were to serve. Illiteracy was rampant. No one owned a copy of the Scriptures except for the clergy — and even then it was a Latin translation by St. Jerome known as the Vulgate.
Why does what happened in 1517 matter in 2005? Because the lessons learned in that tiny town in Wittenburg are lessons the church must absorb now or the church will lose her influence! From this, five blessed lynchpins for our faith re-emerged gloriously and with fire!
1. Scripture alone.
For the Reformers, the doctrine of ‘sola Scriptura’ needed to be recovered as well. The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages resembled the modern-day Pharisees in that the traditions that had accumulated had grown to have equal standing with the Word of God. And nothing has changed even now. In Mark 7:8-13, we see how the Pharisees operated:
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
The Pharisees started out as ones who were simply interpreting Scripture — soon they elevated their traditions to be equal with Scripture. After a while, they nullified Scripture by exalting their traditions above it.
In Roman Catholic dogma, if you used the phrase “Word of God,” they would not view it as many Protestants do. For them, the Word of God is the sum of an equation: Sacred Scripture plus Holy Tradition equals The Word of God. From the Roman Catholic’s own Catechism, we read how they view what they called Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Holy Tradition (their interpretations since Biblical times).
81 “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit and [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”
82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
The Reformers rightly said, “Wait a minute — you have traditions that are not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. The doctrine of purgatory, the veneration of Mary, the honoring of icons or images, and even the doctrine outlining a need for a Pope — these are not called for in Scripture. Where did this come from? If it didn’t come from Scripture, it had to come from some other uninspired source. This cannot be!” The interpretations of Scripture as the Catholic Church saw them were given the same authority, even when they seemed to add or contradict what was written in Holy Scripture.
Paul warns the Galatian church not to listen to another Gospel — in fact, Paul puts this warning in the starkest of contexts in Galatians 1:11-12:
… For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
But we go to the Scriptures. What does it say? Deuteronomy 4:2 tells us: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Deuteronomy 12:32 again says: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”
In Psalm 19:7-11, David writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Perfect. What does perfect mean? It means that it is to full maturity — complete. If it lacked anything or if something from it needed to be taken away, it would surely not be perfect.
From the New Testament, we see from Jesus’ own words when he prayed for His disciples and all who would believe to “sanctify them in thy truth — thy Word is truth.” This is the perfect Word of God as given to us by God Himself — the Word we are neither to add from nor from which we are to take away. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we see that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The Word here is “Scripture.” Some will say, “But Paul only had the Old Testament — the New Testament folks didn’t see their own letters as Scripture.” But we read from 2 Peter where Peter describes Paul’s teachings and says, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). So Peter understood that God had inspired Paul and that his writings were not just on par with Scripture, but were Scripture.
John Calvin, one of the great Reformers along with Martin Luther, noted:
This, then, is the difference. Our opponents (speaking of the Roman Catholic Church) locate the authority of the Church outside God’s Word, that is, outside of Scripture and Scripture alone. But we insist that it be attached to the Word and to not allow it to be separated from it. … For this reason the Church should not be wise of itself, should not devise anything of itself but should set the limit of its own wisdom where Christ has made an end of speaking. In this way the Church will distrust all the devisings of its own reason. But in those things where it rests upon God’s Word the Church will not waiver with any distrust or doubting but will repose in great assurance and firm constancy.”
So we too in the 21st century must be careful!
2. Grace alone through faith alone (Galatians 1:8-9; Ephesians 2:8-9).
So the recovery of the blessed doctrine of Scripture and Scripture alone being our rule of faith. And what did Scripture teach? Scripture teaches that salvation by ‘grace alone.’ In Galatians 1:6, Paul in sheer exasperation tells the Galatian church,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).
Notice Paul says that they are deserting the God who called you ‘in the grace of Christ’ and are turning to a ‘different gospel.’ Paul is saying, “The grace of Christ is the Gospel.” The Gospel is the Good News. The reason we see that the Gospel is such good news is only truly possible when we see that our soul is in such bad shape! In Galatians 3:10, the Apostle Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 in saying, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”
You say, “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not as bad as so many others are. I may not be a Christian, but I am a good person!” You say, “The Book of the Law is not my authority. I don’t see it like that.” Well, in a situation like that, your opinion is not only misses the mark, but misses the point. What matters is what God says! And whether we see it as our authority or not, it will be the standard by which we will be deemed fit for heaven or not.
During the time of the Reformation, the church taught that salvation could be bought by indulgences. The Pope at that time (Leo X) wanted to build St. Peter’s Basilica and used this horrid doctrine of indulgences on the people so they could buy salvation for their family members who were in purgatory. “When a coin clings in the chest, a soul flies up to heavenly rest,” indulgence-advocate John Tetzel would say. Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church questioning this practice.
Without grace, we have the law looming over us and we live in fear of its dictates. But we also must not add to grace. The Reformation was a fight over the Scripture’s teachings of grace alone. Not grace partly, then us coming along partly so that we may decide for it and ultimately earn it. Grace stands alone — otherwise, it’s not grace.
In Galatians 2:15-16, we read:
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
In these two short verses, we come away with a very serious understanding of how one is made right with God. It is not by works of the law. As the Reformers noted, it is not by attending Mass, going to confession, the abundance of saying prescribed prayers, or membership in a Church. It is solely by faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 states it another way: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
God through Christ initiated grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Grace through faith, according to Paul, is diametrically opposed to what he calls ‘works of the law.’ Doing works of the law shows you are trying to compensate for your sinful acts by doing good works to tip the scales in your favor. But Paul says, “Your salvation is a gift! His grace is a gift! Your faith, even, is a gift! Your salvation is not the result of works — otherwise who would get the glory? You would, not God!”
Romans 1:16-17 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, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
We live in a faithless world. As we spoke of the Sadducees last week, we saw that they were ‘secular humanists’ — operating only on things they could grasp with their senses. Living by faith is for the weak, the foolish, the lowly. But St. Augustine spoke it rightly when he said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” In other words, if you truly want to understand, then believe first. Then trust in Christ first.
And so it is with saving faith. We think we have to have it all figured out before we come to Christ! We think we have to get things in order before we are ready to give ourselves to Him! That’s not walking by faith in the least!
A husband and wife didn’t really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among other things, his “do’s and don’ts” indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died. As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his appreciation. One day as he was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn’t given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband’s list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation.
3. Christ alone (John 14:1-6, 1 Timothy 2:5; Romans 5:10; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
In the 1953 movie “Martin Luther,” there is a scene in which Luther is bothered by all the veneration of relics. Relics were collected then and were to be venerated, thus reducing the Christian’s time in purgatory. But Luther had been studying Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and came across the verse we just discussed — Romans 1:16-17, and was especially captured by the phrase “The righteous shall live by faith.” As he brought this to the attention of his superior, he asked him, “Do we see anywhere of relics? Of beads? By faith the just shall live.” His superior replied, “Brother Martin, if you take away these objects, what will you put in their place?” Luther simply stated, “Christ! Man only needs Jesus Christ.”
We do not need objects to help us in our worship. The second commandment states clearly in Exodus 20:4-6:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The issue is worship, bowing down, venerating, and paying homage to the image that represents. We even need to be careful in our pictures of Christ and how we picture Him even in heaven. Our flesh is weak and will begin to craft and picture Christ in our own image! That leads to idolatry.
Some say it is OK to pray to the saints, or to Mother Mary, as a mediator to help in answer to prayer. But does not the Apostle Paul state in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The only sufficient intercessor (or if you prefer – ‘go-between’) between this fallen world and the holy world of heaven is the One who is Lord of both, His name is Jesus Christ. Nowhere in Scripture to we see Christians who are in heaven interceding with those still alive on earth. Only Christ has accomplished that.
He accomplished this through His creating power as well as His saving power. This is all summed up in 1 Cor. 1:30: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
When John MacArthur visited India, we took time to visit Mother Teresa and the orphanage she established. As a gesture of friendship, she gave Pastor John a copy of her book and wrote on the inside, “May you enter the heart of Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary.” In Catholic dogma, Mary is see as a co-redemptrix — one who helps redeem and fit people for heaven. But does not Ephesians 1:7 say, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”? In Him we are redeemed and purchased out of the tyranny of sin, not Him and anyone else, even His earthly mother! This is not supported by Scripture in the least!
Romans 5:10 tells us: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We are reconciled by God’s Son and saved by His life, not our own life nor anyone else’s.
One more — 2 Cor. 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God made who to be sin? Christ. Who knew no sin? Christ (the only one who never knew sin according to the Scriptures). How are we made the righteousness of God? “In him.” You get the idea, I hope.
Charles Biggs in a recent article about Reformation Day noted that we need to have little bracelets that should not only say, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) but WHJADIHLDRAAFM? (What has Jesus Already Done in His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension for Me?”
Let me tell you this, my friends. The three sweetest words ever spoken were not “I love you.” They were spoken by our Savior when He proclaimed, “It … is … finished!” Nothing more needs to be done to secure our salvation. Christ has accomplished it in full.
Won’t you trust in the wooing and drawing of the Holy Spirit as He brings you to Christ?
(Preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, Sunday, October 30, 2005)