This Sunday, October 31, will mark the 504th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Philip Schaff, a noted church historian, writes: “The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. The Reformation was, at its heart, a recovery of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and this restoration had an unparalleled influence on churches, nations, and the flow of Western civilization."
Justification by faith alone was Martin Luther's great spiritual and theological breakthrough. It did not come easily. He had tried everything from sleeping on hard floors and fasting to climbing a staircase in Rome while kneeling in prayer. Monasteries, disciplines, confessions, masses, absolutions, good works-all proved fruitless. Peace with God eluded him. The thought of the righteousness of God pursued him. He hated the very word "righteousness," which he believed provided a divine mandate to condemn him.
Five years before the act that initiated the Reformation, in 1512, in the Tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg, Germany, a brilliant Roman Catholic monk by the name of Dr. Martin Luther was sitting with his Bible open to Romans 1:17 where he read, "... the just shall live by faith." After years of fasting praying, self-flagellation and self-denial in an attempt to merit favor with God, suddenly the eyes of his understanding were opened, and the burden of his soul rolled away as he became a new creation in Christ Jesus. Luther saw that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone was the heart of the gospel and became for him "an open door into paradise.... a gate to heaven."
The Fruits of Justification
What are some of the fruits of the reformation?
- Acceptance before God. Romans 5:1, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God..." Justification means that there is forgiveness of the penalty for sin; that condemnation is gone; that there is peace with God; that there is a restoration to God's favor; there is an imputation of Christ's righteousness; there is the assurance of heirship, of escape from God's wrath, of ultimate glorification, just to name a few of the benefits.
- There is access to God. Romans 5:2, "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." We do not have to depend upon the intervention and intercession of any other person to put us into contact with the throne of God. Through the real atonement of Jesus, our High Priest, we have ready access to a throne of grace.
This great truth is referred to as “the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-10): According to the Bible, the priesthood is not exclusive to just the official, Church-ordained priests. (In the Old Testament, yes; in the New Testament, no.) We no longer need to go to a “priest” to confess our sins, receive absolution – nor engage in unthinking repetitions of “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s.” This also did away with the idea that only the priest could receive the elements during the Lord’s Supper and opened it so that everyone who professes Christ as Lord could participate (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-34).
- Authority under God. The man who understands that he stands justified before Sovereign, Holy God knows that men are not sovereign, nor in control of another person's destiny. He knows that kings and all other governing officials do not have "Divine rights" that places them in a position above the law of God and in a position to control their eternal destiny. He knows that time cannot control eternity. This individual cannot become a slave to men. He will oppose any attempts at government trying to "play God" by providing womb to tomb security.
- Joy in worship. The Sixteenth Century recovery of the truth of justification by faith alone produced great joy in worship. It restored congregational singing. In fact, the Geneva Psalter of 1562 was nicknamed "The Geneva Jigs" due to its exuberant singing of the Psalms by the entire congregation.
- Accurate and adequate direction. The justified person's worldview is generated within the parameters of "sola scriptura" ‑‑ the scriptures only as the final court of appeals. The person who has been justified by grace through faith in Christ understands that rights come from a gracious God and not from gigantic governments. The justified man is self-governed under God's government. He doesn't need a policeman on every corner to keep him from committing a crime, or thousands upon thousands of laws in the books to give him direction. He lives his life "Coram Deo" – “before the face of God.” He knows that power, direction, and dominion come from truth and righteousness.
- Assurance. The justified person knows that their past is forgiven, their present is meaningful, and their future is secure. They know that their eternal destiny is not in the hands of presidents or popes, preachers, or politicians.
- Awareness of the dignity of all persons and vocations. The justified man knows that in the household of faith there are no little people. The office of a housewife has as much dignity as the office of the king. The recovery of the truth of justification by faith provided society with a basis for true liberty. The individual had freedom because there was a consensus based upon the absolutes given in God's Word, the Bible. A fifty-one percent vote can never become the final source of right or wrong in government.
This doctrine inspires a resolute, almost defiant, freedom in those who deem themselves the subjects of God's electing, justifying grace. In all things they are more than conquerors through the confidence that nothing shall be able to separate them from the love of God. No doctrine of the dignity of human nature, of the rights of man, of national liberty, or of social equality, can create a resolve for the freedom of the soul as this personal conviction of justification by faith. He who has been justified feels that he is compassed about with everlasting love, guided with everlasting strength; his will is the tempered steel that no fire can melt, no force can break. Such faith is freedom; and this spiritual freedom is the source and strength of all other freedom!
"Justification by faith," John Murray writes, " is the jubilee trumpet of the gospel because it proclaims the gospel to the poor and destitute whose only door of hope is to roll themselves in total helplessness upon the grace and power and righteousness of the Redeemer of the lost."
In our decadent and desperate day there is a crying need to reestablish and defend, with prayer and hope, in the power of the Spirit, the scriptural proclamation of this doctrine. The relevance and urgency of this doctrine relate to the identity of the church, the essence of Christian theology, the proclamation of the gospel, as well as to the scriptural-experiential foundations of the Christian faith for every one of us. Not only is justification by faith still, in Luther's words, "the article by which the church stands or falls", but by this doctrine each of us shall personally stand or fall before God. Justification by faith alone must be confessed and experienced by you and me; it is a matter of eternal life or eternal death.”
If the Church is to make disciples of all nations; if America is to regain her lost liberties, the people of God must declare in the power of the Holy Spirit, the five emancipating truths of the reformation that alone can transform individuals, churches, and nations:
No Priest but Christ!
No Sacrifice but Calvary!
No Authority but the Scriptures!
No Confession but at the Throne of Grace!
No Justification but by Faith!
God help us to recover and realign our lives and labors with these transforming truths!
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