New City will celebrate our rich theological tradition along with a multitude of other churches throughout the world on October 29th, on what is commonly called “Reformation Sunday.” This tradition celebrates an important point in history when the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work in the visible church to guard the truth of God’s Word and the purity of the gospel. This time period in history is generally regarded to be 1517-1689 AD.
Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, which led to significant discussions culminating in the Protestant Reformation. This time of reformation centered around two major questions: First of all, where (or to whom) should we look to find our ultimate authority on things pertaining to God, life, salvation, the church and Jesus Christ; and secondly, what makes a person right with God? From the first century on, men and women have died defending the biblical answers to these questions. However, the reformation was a moment in history where the defending of the biblical answers, and the dying for it, was intensified. Why did they take this so seriously? Because if the answers to the questions of “what makes a person right with God?” and “what is our chief authority?” are ever twisted then everything is twisted and all is lost.
This Reformation led to the recovery of essential doctrines of the Christian Faith such as salvation by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone rather than by our own works of righteousness; and the authority of scripture reigning over any lesser authorities, such as church tradition.
Luther set into motion other church and societal reforms as he translated the Bible into German and put the Word of God in the hands of the people. Today, scripture is available in the vernacular language of many people groups, enabling lay people to study the bible. He reformed the Latin mass by putting the liturgy in the common tongue so that non-scholars could hear and understand the preached word of God and worship the Lord with clarity. The legacy of the reformers lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant congregations worldwide. Robert Capon reminds us what happened during the time of the Reformation: “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof grace — bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.”
What happened? The Reformers recovered the biblical gospel of God’s grace: that God accepts us sinners not because of any work or supposed merit of our own, but because of His works! By his mercy, on the grounds of Jesus Christ’s finished work. This is a gift to be received by faith. Faith receives what God did for you in Christ by his grace. When you believe, God credits the righteous standing of Jesus to you. And the guilt of your unrighteousness is placed upon Christ, and buried with him as he suffered the judgment of God in your place. When Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “it’s not by works,” he means, “it’s not by your works.” It’s important to note that not even your faith itself is a work that you contribute. Faith is us placing our confidence in Christ’s work. Salvation is not the contribution of God’s grace plus a contribution of our faith. It is not our works plus a bit of God’s grace to help nudge us along. It is not faith plus works. It is not Christ’s work plus our work. The only thing we contribute to our salvation is our sin, the very sin that made it necessary for Christ to be crucified.
The reformers said, if this teaching stands, the true church will stand. But if this teaching collapses, the church collapses.
Believing these truths cultivates a lifestyle of humility, gratitude, and joy. Pray that we would gladly trumpet God’s grace to ourselves and to others, and, as a result, may our Lord regularly grant us all the gift of repentance that leads to times of refreshing coming from the presence of our Lord. Don’t let this Reformation Sunday pass without praying this for yourself, your family, your church, and our world!
Let us celebrate the gift of God’s Word in our lives that leads us to know Christ our Savior!