Getting Right with God
Each year, the last Sunday of October marks an opportunity to celebrate Reformation Day. I am thankful for the Protestant Reformation, and the opportunity to remember it and celebrate it.
The Reformation, an event with religious, cultural, and political implications, took root in Europe, beginning in the early sixteenth century. Martin Luther (born 1483), a monk, knew he was estranged from God. His conscience, sensitized to God’s standards of righteousness, knew no peace. In his heart of hearts, he was aware that even the personal disciplines (including self-flagellation and fasting) to which he exposed himself as he endeavored to make himself right with God were insufficient. Like the apostle Paul, in a state of awakening faith, he began to realize that he needed a righteousness greater than his own—not a righteousness of human law, but “that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
The reality of Psalm 31 began to bear upon him—to be delivered from his condition, he needed help from on high: “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.” And so, wonderfully, in 1519, he experienced the invincible power of justifying grace. The reality of the opening verses of Romans 5 became imprinted on his soul:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:1-11)
Not only Luther, but others were awakened by this God-inspired movement. John Knox (“Give me Scotland, or I die!”), William Tyndale (translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the English of his day—“If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than thou doust!” he once said to a clergyman), William Farel, John Calvin (“No man is excluded from calling upon God; the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief” [Source of quote]) and others burst onto the scene, heralding the greatest news that, in the Person, and because of the Work of Jesus Christ, God accepts sinners who would turn from their godless ways and trust in the Savior appointed, welcoming them into His family.
Why I Love the Reformation
The Reformation unleashed a powerhouse of constructive activity. People, set free from wrong teaching, superstition, and ignorance, began to realize that
- The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1)—therefore, there was an acceleration in scientific research and endeavor, and colonization of the far regions of the world could take into account spreading the knowledge of God’s Christ to the regions that yet lay in spiritual darkness;
- Work is a good and noble calling (hence the Protestant or biblical work ethic), thus putting an end to the unproductive days spent in venerating saints as was the case in so many places in Europe;
- Worship of God could be cleaned up and simplified. God is a Spirit and to be worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4:24);
- The stage was set for confessional Christianity, leading to the formulation of doctrines as expressed, in due course, by the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms and other carefully thought through standards;
- Education could take into consideration the reality that all of life belongs to God; so the stage was set for an integrated worldview;
- Economic prosperity could be achieved by ordinary people through initiative and hard work.
The Reformation spawned generations of manly men and womanly women, people with the courage of their convictions, convictions generated by the weight and force of truth. They put their money where their mouths were. They faced imprisonment, torture and death rather than recant from what they knew to be the truth. A modern Christian was once quoted in these words: “Here are my convictions; actually, if you don’t like them, here are some other ones.” Not so of our fathers in the faith. Luther is remembered for his words at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other—so help me, God.”
As we think about these things, let me ask you a few questions:
- Are you gripped by the power of truth—God’s saving truth in the gospel of His Son? Do you love this wonderful gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ alone saves sinners?
- Are you celebrating the wonder of free grace?
- Do you sing the grand, objective hymns and songs of the Reformation in preference to subjective ditties so prevalent in some modern church worship services?
- Are you teaching the grand truths of the Reformation to your children?