20 Oct The Reformation: Five Truths That Changed Luther—And the World
October 20, 2017
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed.”
Around 1513, a German monk was preparing for a sermon he would give that Sunday. This young monk had struggled for years to figure out how a sinner like himself could be reconciled to a holy God. So he tirelessly searched Scripture for answers.
While reading the book of Romans, he finally understood God’s plan of salvation—salvation was entirely by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. When that good news sank into the monk’s heart, he said, “It seemed to me as if I had been born again and was entering into paradise through newly opened doors.”[i] The realization of God’s grace motivated this monk—Martin Luther—to try to reform an enormous church system that had corrupted the simple message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
His bravery would transform the world.
It all began on October 31, 1517. This October marks the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther’s 95 Theses—his 95 criticisms of the Medieval Church—were nailed to the Wittenberg Chapel door. By taking this bold stand, Luther began what became known as the Reformation—the movement to reclaim the gospel from the clutches of church tradition and man-made doctrines. By embracing the truths Luther rediscovered—as well as following his bold example—we, too, can transform our culture with the simplicity and power of God’s Word.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church enjoyed stunning power. Church officials told the illiterate masses that only they could dispense salvation. “Yes, believing in Jesus is important,” they said, “but you also need to do other things to earn salvation.” Those things included taking the sacraments (which only they could give), going on pilgrimages, fasting, and beating oneself as an act of penitence for sins. Salvation could also be earned by praying to Mary and the saints, suffering for centuries in Purgatory after death, and making special payments called indulgences to the Catholic Church. Indulgences were a form of racketeering. In order to free yourself or a deceased family member from Purgatory, you could purchase an indulgence from the Catholic Church—a kind of spiritual “Get Out of Jail” card—that would release a soul into Heaven. The Church even used a catchy jingle to spread this lie: “As soon as the coin in the box rings, the soul out from Purgatory springs.”[ii]
Make no mistake: Many of the actions the Church wanted people to perform were good. Others were simply misguided. And some were downright harmful. But they were all powerless to save anyone. However, since the average person could not afford a Bible, and since the Church’s Bibles were written in Latin (which almost no one could read), few people realized how terribly the Medieval Church was abusing its power—that it actually slammed the door shut to Heaven and God, rather than opening it wide.
Into this spiritual abyss walked Martin Luther. Through his dedicated study of the Scriptures, Luther unearthed five priceless truths that had been buried for centuries: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria.
These truths not only changed his life, his eternity, and his world, but they will change your world as well.
The Darkness Has Not Overcome It
Instead of accepting these five truths, the Medieval Church responded by condemning Luther as a heretic and excommunicating him. When Luther realized that he would not be able to reform the Catholic Church from within, he started new congregations that boldly proclaimed the rediscovered gospel of Jesus Christ. Other reformers—men like John Wycliffe, John Hus, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and Thomas Cranmer—also started gospel-centered congregations, which became known as Protestants because they were “protesting” unbiblical teachings and practices within the Catholic Church.
These Protestant Reformers were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured—and some were even murdered by the Medieval Church. But God’s truth could not be stopped. Through prayer, perseverance, and the preaching of God’s Word, these redeemed sinners transformed Europe and began spreading the light of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the globe.
These heroes of the faith were not perfect. They had many flaws—just like you and me. But God used them mightily, because they loved their Savior and were willing to teach and live God’s truth—no matter the cost.
You and I may not face the same doctrinal errors they did, but our culture is riddled with misperceptions and heresies, such as: “Many religions lead to Heaven, not just Jesus,” “If you have enough faith, you will always be healthy and wealthy,” and “If you do more good things than bad things, then God will let you into Heaven.” These errors must be lovingly confronted with God’s truth—no matter the cost.
The reformers displayed for us what ordinary people can do when they arm themselves with God’s truth, and when they decide to follow Jesus with their whole hearts. We, too, can transform our world when, like the reformers, we choose not to fear what the world thinks about us, but instead we hold fast to the truths of God’s Word and keep our eyes on Jesus Christ.
Copyright © 2017 by Pathway to Victory. All rights reserved worldwide.
[i] Martin Luther, “Tabletalk,” Luther’s Works, vol. 54, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 105.
[ii] Sobald der Pfennig im Kasten klingt, die Seele aus dem Fegfeuer springt. Jingles like this were commonly used to sell indulgences at the time. Luther addresses this in theses #27 and #28 of his 95 Theses: http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/creeds-confessions/luther-95-theses.html. It is unsure who used this exact jingle—whether Johann Tetzel, as legend claims, or someone else—but it certainly was being used. And according to Catholics, it clearly reflects Tetzel’s teaching. See the Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14539a.htm. For more information, see: http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2012/01/did-tetzel-really-say-as-soon-as-coin.html.
FIVE WORLD-CHANGING TRUTHS
Martin Luther rediscovered five earth-shaking truths of Scripture. The reformers eventually summarized these truths into five Latin slogans, called the five solas (sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”). They are:
- Sola Scriptura (By Scripture Alone): Scripture alone is the final authority for salvation and life—not tradition, not church councils, and not popes.
- Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone): We are saved by God’s free grace alone—not by good works, paying indulgences, acts of penitence, self-denial, or anything else.
- Sola Fide (Through Faith Alone): We access this saving grace by faith alone—by trusting in what Jesus has already done for us—and not by works.
- Solus Christus (In Christ Alone): Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man—not Mary, not the saints, not the priests, and not the Church. His death and Resurrection has already earned our salvation.
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone): We cannot boast in our salvation. God has done it completely for us. He alone deserves all glory, praise, and honor.