Remembering the Reformation

Luther at Diet of WormsThe five solas are the pillars of the 16th century of the Reformation.  During this pivotal period in church history, a great movement swept over Europe led by courageous men in strategic places propagated by technology (i.e. the printing press).  These are “the doctrines that shook the world” as James Boice put it.  These men stood against the powerful institution of the Roman Catholic Church.  They sought to combat the excesses and errors of Catholic dogma.  The five solas remain essential to evangelical truth.  The reformers did not invent these pillars they recovered them.  I’m thankful they did.  I’ve listed the five solas along with an explanation taken from James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace: Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).

  1. Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone.  This sola speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the sixty-six books of the Bible for the Christian (2 Timothy 3:16).  “In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole and ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils, and the pope.  Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem; we assert biblical authority.  Rather, our problem is in deciding whether the bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work” (Boice, 66).
  2. Solus Christus or Christ alone.  This sola affirms that Jesus has accomplished what is necessary for salvation apart from any work of our own (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 8:1-3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  Jesus will never stand next to a plus sign.  “Justification because of Christ alone (solus Christus) means that Jesus has done the necessary work of salvation utterly and completely, so that no merit of the saints, no work of ours performed either here or later in purgatory, can add to his completed work.  In fact, any attempt to add to Christ’s work is a perversion of the gospel and indeed is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-9)” (Boice, 88).  Compare this to the damnable error of the Catholic church which claims, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1129, emphasis added).  The footnote in this entry (#51), cites the Council of Trent (1547): DS 1604 which asserts “If anyone shall say that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but are superfluous, and that, although all are not necessary for every individual, without them or without the desire of them through faith alone men obtain from God the grace of justification: let him be anathema.”
  3. Sola gratia or faith alone (Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:5, 8). This sola establishes that whoever is saved is the undeserving recipient of a gift he/she did not merit.  “When the Reformers spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God, none at all; that God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins; and that, if he saves them in spite of their sins, which he does in the case of those who are being saved, it is only because it pleases him to do it and for no other reasons” (Boice, 107).
  4. Sola fide or faith alone.  This sola states that trust is the means whereby an individual receives the blessings offered in God’s saving promises (Romans 3:22, 26, 28; Galatians 2:16).  Faith is the hand that receives God’s gift of salvation, as it were.   “…faith is the channel by which justification comes to us or actually becomes ours.  Faith is not a good work.  It is necessary and essential.  But it is not a good work.  In fact, it is not a work at all.  It is God’s gift, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ But although it is only the channel by which we are justified, it is also the only channel.  This is what is meant by sola fide (‘faith alone’)” (Boice, 137).
  5. Soli Deo Gloria or Glory to God alone.  This sola declares that the saving work of God redounds to His glory (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6).  “…each of the other solas lead to the last and final sola, which is ‘to God alone be the glory,’ the final point of Romans 11:36, which concludes with the words: ‘to him be the glory forever! Amen.’  When we ask why that should be, the first part of the verse is the answer.  It is because all things really are ‘from him and through him and to him’” (Boice, 158).

As we remember the reformation, I hope we cherish the five solas as they establish the centrality of the gospel.  However, I also hope that we not only celebrate the five solas but more importantly the Christ Who is the centrifuge from which the solas gravitate.  Reformation Day is more than an opportunity to affirm the five solas, it is also an occasion to renew our love for and commitment to Christ.

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Otsego Festival Question Series: How Do You Know God Is Real?

In January of 2005, Bobby Henderson, an Oregon State physics graduate, sent an open letter to the Kansas School Board. This was when the school board was debating over whether or not intelligent design should be taught in science classes. He wrote:

We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence.

The school board did not respond to the letter, but when he posted it on the internet, it became an instant hit with some 350 million hits since it was posted. It was intended to be a spoof; a tongue-in-cheek response to claim that Intelligent Design (ID) is not science. Whether one can lay claim that ID is science, I am not qualified to say but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a problem with the claim that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the creator of all things. Henderson’s point is that if it lacks evidence, it cannot be taught as science and should be disallowed. What this means is that if God lacks evidence, creationism should also be discredited and not taught.

The line of reasoning for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism seems to be:
1. There is no evidence for the existence of God.
2. There is no evidence for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
3. Therefore, belief in the Judeo-Christian God and belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster are on equal epistemic grounds. (This means the evidence through which we verify their existence is equal).

The problem is that the first premise, there is no evidence for the existence of God, is an a priori rejection of any evidence, were it given. I contend that God is real and there is evidence for the existence of God. If we could find forensic evidence that would support the existence of God, the fingerprints of God, as it were, in the world, we can list at least three: God’s creation, God’s word, and God’s Son

The Bible assumes the existence of God. What this means is that the Bible is not an apologetic for the existence of God, rather it reveals who God is and how He works in the world. It is like a person’s biography. The biographer does not take the first chapter to provide proofs of the individual’s existence. The biographer clearly assumes the existence of the person about whom he is writing.

While the Bible assumes the existence of God, there are some places where evidences of God’s existence are found. It may be that these proofs are incorporated throughout the Bible because God Himself is invisible (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27).

1. God’s creation
The first fingerprint of God in the world is creation. Personally, I find this to be a compelling argument for the existence of God. To observe (what we can observe) about creation points us to the intricate, artistic mind of a Creator. This is, in fact, intentional according to Psalm 19:1.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

It is the height of folly to credit evolutionary chance with the order of the natural world and its beauty.

The microscope and the telescope have given us entry into whole new worlds and universes. Yet before we had these, all we had to do was look up with what we can see with the naked eye. So the Apostle Paul says to the men of Athens

Yet God is actually not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

How could Paul say this?  Because of creation!  According to Romans 1:20, no one can plead ignorance concerning the existence of God when they have the gigantic canvas of creation to behold.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Michael Newdow, known for suing to have the words “under God” removed from the pledge of allegiance, argued that if he could not see, hear, touch, or smell God he does not exist (Hal Seed, The God Questions, 23).  While creation is not God, it lets us know that a Creator exists.

2. God’s word
The second fingerprint of God in the world is the Bible. Hebrews 1:1 make the clear statement: “God spoke!”

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke . . .

God’s word provides us what we know about God. The Bible is the collection of what God has revealed that He wants us to know,

All Scripture is breathed out by God . . . (2 Timothy 3:16)

When you consider the time span as well as the number and diversity of authors of the Bible, the internal consistency is flawless and difficult to explain other than attributing it to its Divine Author.

To be sure, its accuracy does not prove the Bible to be divine—human beings are also sometimes quite accurate—but it is what we should expect if the Bible is the result of God’s effort (James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, 59).

3. God’s Son
The third fingerprint of God in the world in Jesus Christ. There are very few who would deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. In fact, even the most liberal of scholars seek to disprove His claims more than His existence because His life is so well documented. But throughout history people have longed to know what God is like.  In fact, if one could not see God one wanted to make a representation of Him, which God forbids in the second commandment in Exodus 20:4.  Remember Philip’s question to Jesus in John 14:8,

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’

There is a desire for something greater in every person (incidentally, we call this “the image of God”).  Also consider Colossians 2:9.

For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.

This means that Jesus was fully God and as such He can truly manifest God to us.

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

And

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

Not only has God spoken as I mentioned above, but He has spoken to us through His Son according to Hebrews 1:1-2,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

In conclusion, there are at least three fingerprints of God in the world: God’s creation, God’s word, and God’s son. To reject the existence of God has several severe consequences:

  • To reject God’s existence and authority over us is the height of folly.

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1).

We could add “for me” at the end of the fool’s statement, “There is no God” to express the idea of the statement.

  • To reject God’s existence is to reject for that which we were made, we exists for Him (1 Corinthians 8:6).

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.

  • To reject God’s existence is to reject the creative power of salvation and spiritual renewal He provides in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18 ] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

I’ll conlcude my answer to this question with an anecdote.

In The Dust of Death Os Guinness makes this point [that the key to knowledge of God eludes us if God does not exist or if the failure to know God is God’s fault] by describing a comedy skit performed by the German comedian Karl Vallentin. In this routine the comic comes onto a stage illuminated only by one small circle of light. He paces around and around this circle with a worried face. He is searching for something. After a while a policeman joins him and asks what h has lost. “I’ve lost the key to my house to my house,” Vallentin answers. The policeman joins the hunt, but the search eventually appears useless.
“Are you sure you lost it here?” asks the policeman.
“Oh no!” says Vallentin, pointing to a dark corner. “It was over there.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“There’s no light over there,” answers the comic.
(Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 148 in Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, 28-9).

God does exist and He has revealed Himself so that we can know Him. But we must look where He can be found. Those places are creation, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Each of these cast a brilliant light on the existence of God.

Grace Alone

One of the five pillars of the 16th century reformation was sola gratia.  It is a Latin term meaning, “grace alone.” 

When the Reformers spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God, none at all; that God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins; and that, if he saves them in spite of their sins, which he does in the case of those who are being saved, it is only because it pleases him to do it and for no other” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, 107).

The pillars of the reformation, including sola gratia, were all rediscovered NT truths that had been lost in Catholic soteriology.  When we encounter the Johannine declaration about Jesus, “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16), we cannot help but magnify grace.  Paul called the Ephesian believers to rejoice in this stunning grace: “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).  It is no wonder then that the reformers returned to sola gratia.  All the NT authors highlight grace.  For instance, the author of Hebrews, Peter, and John open or close their writings with grace: 

Hebrews 13:25, “Grace be with all of you”

1 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you”

2 Peter 1:2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

2 John 3, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”

Revelation 22:21, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Yet the Apostle Paul seems to take grace to the next level.  How?  The apostle who experienced the saving grace of God (1 Corinthians 3:10; 15:10) and suffered to proclaim the grace of God (Acts 20:24) begins and ends every one of his epistles with grace!

Romans

1:7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

1 Corinthians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

16:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”

2 Corinthians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Galatians

1:3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

6:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”

Ephesians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

6:24, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Philippians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

4:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Colossians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

4:18, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains.  Grace be with you.”

1 Thessalonians

1:1, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”

5:28, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

2 Thessalonians

1:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

3:18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

1 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6:21, “for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.  Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy

1:2, “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

4:22, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

Titus

1:4, ‘To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

3:15, “All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.”

Philemon

3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

25, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

It seems that “amazing grace” all too quickly becomes “boring grace,” as Boice put it.  In other words, grace is pedestrian for the believer amidst the daily grind.  But it need not remain that way.  For a moment, do this.  Remember who you were before the grace of God appeared in your life.  Recall the thoughts, words, and deeds that were a part of your daily routine.  Now think of the sinful bents in your life, unfettered by the grace of God and left to the passions of your flesh and the desires of your body and mind.  What thoughts would you allow to nest in your mind?  What words and volume would characterize your responses?  What fleshly desires would you indulge in?  If we forget what a totally depraved sinner looks like apart from the grace of God, grace ceases to be amazing.  When we remember who were before grace and who we are in Christ after grace, grace will become amazing once again!  It will lead to spontaneous praise like when the blind man who received his sight exclaimed in front of the Pharisees, “though I was blind, now I see!” (John 9:25).  It will also yield the good fruit of humility.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  As John Bradford (1510-1555), the English reformer and martyr, famously uttered while imprisoned when he saw a criminal on his way to execution, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford” we too humbly say, as God’s grace keeps us from sin, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So, be strengthened, Christian, by the life-giving, stunning grace of God!  2 Timothy 2:1, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Be holy, Christian, motivated by the redeeming, saving grace of God!  Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, [12] training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  The grace of God is nothing short of amazing—it saves, strengthens, and sanctifies!   

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This Godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
and all th’ angelic choirs above,
And all th’ angelic choirs above.

Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
(Samuel Davies, “Great God of Wonders”)