The last Sunday in October is generally acknowledged as Reformation Sunday. On this day, we recall an important event in the age of the New Testament Church. Before the year 1500 AD, spiritual darkness reigned for an entire century in greater Europe. The bright light of the truths of the Gospel were concealed by traditions and false teachings. In answer to the corruption of a certain church practice, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the church door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. In the years that followed, many foundational truths of the Gospel resurfaced, which many reformers upheld and supported and were prepared to suffer for because of their courageous proclamation of the Word of God. These truths were so important to them that they endured imprisonment and torture rather than denying it. To this day, the living truth of the Gospel must be preached and believed, because errors lead to spiritual darkness and death, as Jesus states: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Let us examine five foundational truths that grew out of the Reformation movement and which are still proclaimed to this day.
1. Saved by faith alone – Sola Fide (Latin)
During the time of darkness, the foundational truth that someone who remorsefully seeks God’s grace can be saved by faith alone went missing. The church had altered this doctrine, teaching that a person must earn his salvation by doing good works.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).
No one can earn their salvation by their own doing, as it is the completed work of Jesus on the cross and the gift of God to us. In order to be saved, we must repent of our sins and accept the great gift of love from God.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
After a person has been born into the family of God, the Lord expects each of His disciples to bear fruit. In other words, one should do good deeds that are pleasing to God. The Apostle Paul explains this truth in the following verse. Good works should flow out of those who are born again by the Spirit.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
2. Saved by grace alone – Sola Gratia
Over the years, the church modified the simple celebration of remembrance and biblical ordinances into a sacrament that somehow was thought to impart grace to the participants. For example, it is presently promoted that participation in Communion, through the symbols of bread and wine, will bring special grace to the believers.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
As the Lord’s disciples, we should participate in the Lord’s Supper and thereby be reminded of His great sacrifice. We should thank Him that He redeemed us through the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb. If we participate in Communion and have sin in our hearts, we will not receive grace but rather will invoke the wrath of God on ourselves. Paul continues his teaching as he explains:
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
Similarly, the act of baptism by complete submersion serves as an affirmation that a person has become a child of God. Baptism illustrates the spiritual truth of having died to sin and now having been raised up to new life in Christ. However, this step in no way somehow gives us a special grace. We are simply blessed by obediently following Christ’s commandment. It is through grace alone that we are saved, not by doing good works, nor by participating in Mass, nor by any one of the other sacraments that were invented by the Roman Catholic Church.
3. Christ alone – Solo Christo
During the Middle Ages, the fallen church began to elevate the priesthood as well as Mary, mother of Jesus, to a higher position. They saw Mary and the Pope as assistants to Jesus in His role as Mediator of the New Covenant. However, Jesus remains the only Mediator of His Church, and He alone intercedes on behalf of His people. There is absolutely no need for any other mediator, be it Mary or the priesthood.
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:5-7).
Those who have been called to be preachers, teachers, or bishops are only His witnesses and servants. They point others to Christ and may help them to pray in His name. Nowhere do we find that they are to fulfill the role of Christ. Only Jesus can forgive sins and add us to His Church, strengthen us, answer our prayers, and give us eternal life!
4. Scripture alone – Sola Scriptura
During the great apostasy of the truth, the church for centuries allowed only the priesthood to have the Word of God. When reformers such as Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Luther translated the Bible from Greek or Latin into the language of the lay people, they were heavily persecuted by the Catholic Church. By reading the Bible, many would have their eyes opened to God’s truths, and the corrupt practices and opposing teachings of the church would be revealed.
One of the key phrases of the Reformation time was “back to the Scriptures alone.” In other words, they would not accept any new decrees, writings, catechisms, or traditions of the church that were later added on. For example, praying to Mary or to one of the saints was a later invention of the Catholic Church and is not biblical.
The Bible is God’s inspired Word and does not require any further revelations or teachings since its completion (see Revelation 22:18). We rely on the Bible alone.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
5. Holiness alone – Solo Sancto
As the Reformation further evolved during the 1800s, another vital truth from God’s Word became clear.
Reformers such as John Wesley and Daniel S. Warner began to teach that a Christian should lead a holy life. Once a believer has been saved by grace and has begun to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it is necessary to lead a holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
There are many Bible passages that illuminate this wonderful truth that children of God can overcome sin and temptations and can lead a holy life. Passages such as Ephesians 5:25-27, Romans 8:5-8, and 1 John 3:4-9 explain this. This indicates that all habitual sins have ceased. A liar lies no more, a robber steals no more, the one who swore swears no more. For we have been sanctified by the grace of God and the words of Jesus: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11; John 5:14).
The Holy Spirit is the source of power to completely overcome temptations and have complete victory over sin. The long-lost truth about sanctification or baptism by the Holy Spirit is what gives a Christian the inner strength. This experience of Pentecost requires that believers give themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). God acknowledges this offering by filling His children with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul emphasizes very clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Later, he writes this wonderful promise:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
This priceless truth signifies the blessed unity of all God’s children in the living Church of God. All should be redeemed and sanctified and serve Jesus in true holiness.
Let us remember these fundamental truths of the Reformation and keep the inspired Word of God in mind and live it out – not only in October, but throughout the entire year.