Ruminations for Reformation Day
October 31st, 1517 was a day that, unbeknownst to a frustrated, hammer-wielding monk, would echo down through the corridors of ecclesiastical history. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses hung by a nail on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany that cool autumn afternoon. Much more, however, hung in the balance for the church universal. As a former law student, Luther’s keen evaluation of Scripture led him to defy the Roman Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences as well as the primacy of church tradition over Scripture. Specifically, Luther resurrected the seemingly forgotten doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide (Eph. 2:8-10).
Although much more could be said about the ways that God seemingly used Luther and the other Reformers to regain the primacy of the gospel of grace, let’s personalize the slogan of the Reformation: Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei. This Latin phrase translates: “The church reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.” Although church tradition, creeds, and ecclesiastical councils have their place, it is the Word of God that is to shape and mold God’s people into the likeness of Christ. Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the final and authoritative standard for the people of God. The author of Hebrews states: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Luther used a hammer to reform the church, but God uses a sword to reform his people.
A two-edged sword is a dangerous weapon, one that is able to inflict a great deal of pain. Likewise, the sword of the Word of God, when applied by the Spirit to our beloved idols, produces a wincing pain. We must bear in mind, however, that the One who wields the sword is the Vinedresser who prunes his beloved vine in order that it may bear more fruit (cf. Jn. 15:1-11). How does the Lord bring about this work of reformation in the lives of his children through the agency of his Word? Let’s look at a few examples:
1. John Calvin once quipped that “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Our sinful tendency to reduce God to our level is captured in the psalmist’s words: “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (Ps. 50:21, emphasis added). Scripture reforms our low thoughts of God through a text like Isaiah 40. A humble reading of this great chapter thrusts a steel dagger through the heart of puny and idolatrous thoughts about the Almighty.
2. The glorious reality that God truly loves his children ought never to grow stale for the child of God (cf. Rom. 8:28-32). Reducing God’s blood-bought salvation to the level of my self-focused happiness, however, is abominable. Although we delight in God, the Word of God is plain when it says that he saved us “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). Enjoying God is the Christian’s delightful duty, but moving the spotlight away from his glory to ourselves is a temptation that needs constant reform by the Word of God.
3. Placing our trust in material comforts (e.g., employment, status, financial standing, health, beauty, etc.) is sinful and hopeless. The Word of God cuts deep into our hearts and calls us to ascend higher: “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Ps. 91:2). Unstable fortresses are of no use to any weary soldier. Luther, however, penned a hymn that rings true to this day: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” We should be continually reforming our thinking according to God’s Word instead of worldly wisdom that tempts us to find security elsewhere.
This October 31st I challenge you to celebrate Reformation Day by thanking God for his sovereign preservation of his precious gospel (cf. Gal. 1:8). Also, I encourage you to ruthlessly seek out areas of your life that need to be reformed according to the Word of God. Our marriages, parenting, worship, evangelism, prayer, conversations, relationships, finances, preaching, and myriad other aspects of life should come under the blade of God’s Word so that his will reigns supreme in our lives. God comes to us through his Word to lovingly mold and shape us into the image of his beloved Son (cf. Rom. 8:29). He does so for our joy and his glory. Therefore, we can say “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Ps. 119:16). Happy Reformation Day!