How Justification by Faith Alone Works: Remembering the Reformation as We Enter 2018

samuel-zeller-432101.jpg8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:8–10 —

Few things are more important than getting the doctrine of justification right. Because we are made by God, for God’s glory, and yet find ourselves as objects of his wrath by our very nature, there is no more important question than this: “What must I do to be saved?” How one answers that question will do more to determine the course of a person’s life, not to mention eternity, than anything else.

Indeed, one’s standing before God is what the Protestant Reformation was all about. And though 2018 leaves behind the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel is as important today as at any time in history. Mass confusion remains about how one is reconciled to God—both inside the church and out. And thus it remains wise and good to learn from the Reformers about justification by faith alone and to learn how justification by faith alone is the engine to a life of good, God-pleasing works. Continue reading

Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church (A Biographical Sermon)

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Martin Luther: Rediscovering the Gospel and Reforming the Church

As we gathered at church this Reformation Sunday, we did so with the fruits of the Reformation still impacting our lives. From the Bibles in our laps (or on our phones) to the message justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we who know the true gospel of grace are, in so many ways indebted to the men and women of the Reformation. Through their suffering, couple with the faithful who have gone before and after them, we have received an incredible heritage.

Accordingly, it is appropriate to spend time learning from their example. Indeed, it is even biblical. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who taught you the word of God, consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith.” This morning, that is what our church did, setting our series of Ephesians aside for one week, in order to remember the life of Martin Luther and to learn from his faith.

Indeed, any study of Martin Luther requires a specific topic. His writing is so voluminous and his impact, not to mention his personality, is so vast, it requires any biographer to hone in on some aspect of his life. When John Piper preached a biographical sermon on Luther, he chose his relationship with God’s Word. For me, I chose to focus the church he aimed to reform with the gospel he reclaimed.

In this biographical sermon, I considered how Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel led him to fight for the purification and replanting, if you will, of the church. In truth, he never abandoned the church, but with the key of the gospel, he sought to unlock the church from its captivity to Rome. Therefore, there is much to learn from Luther about the gospel and the church, and how we can and ought to be gospel-centered churches.

To find out what we can learn from the life and legacy of Martin Luther, you can listen to the sermon online, or you can read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are included below. Continue reading

By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

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By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

When it comes to understanding the heart of the gospel, Ephesians 2:8–10 is an anchor passage. And this week I had the privilege and the challenge of preaching it. The privilege comes in the fact that, this verse encapsulates so much gospel truth. The challenge is unpacking all that is there in those three verses.

As with many sermons, preaching this passage makes the preacher feel as though so much more could be said about this vast and glorious subject. Nevertheless, I pray this week’s message articulated the gospel truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone. And such free grace ensures that the new life of the believer means that saving faith is never alone, rather as Ephesians 2:10 says: it produces a life of good works.

Below you will find discussion questions and a few resources on the subject matter. You can also find the sermon online, as well as the sermon notes. Continue reading

What is the Protestant Reformation? 4 Reasons and 9 Resources for Digging Into This Recovery of the Gospel

lutherFive-hundred years ago, on October 31, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. This action launched a series of disputations about the Bible, the gospel, and the church—to name only a few. In time, Luther’s action would be considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation.

But what is the Protestant Reformation? And why do we need to know about it? And what is there to learn?

To answer those questions and others like them, let me give four reasons why the Reformation should be highlighted and then a series of multi-media resources that might help you better understand the history and value of the Reformation.

Four Reasons to Highlight the Reformation

1. The Protestant Reformation is the largest revival in church history.

When American Christians think of revivals, they might think of big tents and saw dust trails. Or, if they are more historically inclined, the First or Second Great Awakening may come to mind. Still, in church history no genuine revival and outpouring of the Spirit (as evidenced by gospel proclamation, genuine conversions, and churches planted) outpaces the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.

For close to a century, two generations of Reformers preached the gospel, translated the Bible, and planted churches, such that their effects are still felt today. For instance, Martin Luther and John Calvin’s writings continue to feed the church. The churches begun in that period continue to preach the gospel—sadly, with many deviations and perversions included. But most importantly, the Reformation principles that recovered the gospel—Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and God’s glory alone—continue to motivate and instruct the Protestant Church today.

In its day, the preaching of the gospel, with its emphasis on grace over works, justification by faith, trust in the finished work of Christ, and the sufficiency of God’s Word, led to mass conversions. Protestant churches sprung up in urban centers throughout Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In short, the Reformation recovered the gospel and with it freed thousands (and in years to come millions) of souls from the enslaving doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Thus, we should consider the Reformation because it is the largest revival in church history. Continue reading

No Other Gospel: Reflections from The Gospel Coalition

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
— Galatians 6:14 —

For three days this week, ten of us from Occoquan Bible Church traveled to Indianapolis to join 8,500 other followers of Christ at The Gospel Coalition’s bi-annual gathering. This year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its recovery of the gospel. The theme of this week’s conference was “No Other Gospel” and in less than 72 hours we heard six messages from Galatians and three messages on the historical figures of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformation heroes, including the women who contributed to the Reformation. We also sat in on countless breakout sessions related to church history and practical ministry. In all it was a much needed time of refreshment and recalibration.

In all, our trip to Indy was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and learning. I benefitted most from John Piper’s opening message on Galatians 1 and Tim Keller’s closing message on Galatians 6. In particular, Keller’s connection between boasting in the cross (Galatians 6:14) and spiritual transformation was powerful.

His point was this: It is not enough to know about Christ and his cross. If one wants to be changed—i.e., freed from sin and full on grace—he or she must boast in the cross. This means verbal praise but even more, it is a confidence in life that taunts all other competitors and presses deeper into Christ. There is nothing more glorious than Christ and his cross, the message of the gospel. As we cling to that truth and boast about that reality above all others, God will change us.

With that in mind, let me share a few more observations from the men who went to Indy. Hear them boast in Christ, his cross, and the chance to devote three days to worshiping. Let it spur you on and encourage you to listen to the sessions online or to join us next year. Continue reading

A Reformation Day Meditation: The Law, the Gospel, and Martin Luther

 

martinRemember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
– Hebrews 13:7 –

Today, October 31, the world celebrates Halloween. But Protestants with a sense of history will celebrate the birth of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517 the Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther, “published” his grievances against the Roman Catholic Church’s system of indulgences. In an era before “open letters” and the Internet, Luther “published” his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Castle Door.

We celebrate this event not because it divided Protestants from Catholics, but because it recaptured the gospel from the clutches of a corrupt church. The Protestant Reformation esteems the centrality of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and salvation that comes entirely by God’s grace through Spirit-empowered faith. In other words, the Reformation reclaimed five solas: Solus Christus (in Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Sola Fide (through faith alone), Sola Scriptura (from the Scripture alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of this monumental event. In remembrance of this, our church will take time in 2017 to consider its historical and theological significance. For some of you, you may be interested in attending ‘No Other Gospel” a conference in Indianapolis (April 3–5) hosted by The Gospel Coalition. (Fittingly, the price goes up after today). For others, you may be interested in studying the five solas. Matthew Barrett has edited a new series on The Five Solas by authors like Thomas Schreiner and Steve Wellum. I would commend them to you.

For now, let’s reflect briefly on the gospel which the Reformation recovered. Continue reading