Almost 500 years ago, a pugnacious Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 statements to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany. He was protesting against the sale of indulgences by the Papacy. He was appalled by the idea that the Church was selling absolution from sin and judgment. His protest was meant to be a purely academic event designed to encourage a debate among fellow theologians. It did that and more. It turned out to be the spark that ignited what history has called the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther is one of the most interesting characters of church history. Originally intending to become a lawyer, Luther left the university and joined the Augustinian Friars after he was caught in a horrific July thunderstorm with lighting bolts striking all around him. Afraid he was going to die, he cried out to St. Ann for deliverance vowing to become a monk if he should live. He did live, and he came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break.
Luther poured himself into monastic life believing that strict asceticism—the self-denial of all comforts—was a life pleasing to God. He fasted to the point where it would adversely affect his health for the rest of his life. He slept without a blanket even in the winter and at times would even sleep in the snow. He wore out his fellow monks with marathon sessions of confessing—sometimes as long as six hours at a stretch—going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. Luther was a monk’s monk. Despite the hardships, the menial tasks and the penances he underwent as a monk, he still felt the burden of guilt because of sin. He had hoped that monastic life would give him spiritual peace with God. It did not. Later he was to confess: “If ever a man could be saved by monkery, it would have been I.”
Luther was also brilliant. After earning his doctorate in theology, Luther was assigned to teach at the new university at Wittenberg. As an academic professor, one of Luther's assignments was to teach the Book of Romans. It had a profound affect upon him. Romans 1:16-17 in particular stabbed at his heart and conscience:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and aso to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."/ (Romans 1:16-17, NASB95)
Luther wrestled with that passage because it was just the opposite of what he had been taught. The Catholic Church of that day taught that the righteous man shall live by good works. One day while in his room, Luther was agonizing over Paul's phrase, the righteousness of God. What did Paul mean? He looked at his bookshelf and saw all the important writings of the Fathers of the Catholic Church—the great theologians of days past—but they were of no avail. He cried out to the departed saints, but they gave no answer. Luther again read through the Book of Romans. Suddenly, his spiritual vision cleared; he felt as if a veil had been taken away. He could see what Paul meant. The righteousness of which Paul spoke was not the righteousness of God seeking retribution, but that which was imputed to the believer by a gracious God when the sinner put their faith in Christ alone. It was at that moment that Luther was delivered. Luther would write of that event: "It seemed to me as if I had been born again and as if I had entered paradise through newly opened doors."
From that moment on, Luther rejected the Creeds of the Ecumenical Councils, the Traditions of the Church, and the Authority of the Pope, and proclaimed that Scripture alone should define the faith and practice for the Body of Christ. He adopted the motto, Sola Scriptura—that is "Scripture alone!" Luther would have made a good Baptist at this point. In time, Luther and the Reformation would add to that motto four other Solas—Sola Christus (Christ alone), Sola Gratia, (Grace alone), Sola Fide, (Faith alone), and Sola Deo Gloria, (the Glory of God alone). Five hundred years after Luther nailed his theological challenge to a church door, these Solas remain the core of Evangelical faith: We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone.
I want to take about a month to preach on these five solas. Since the first one is the key to the other four, we will begin with Sola Scriptura. What does it mean and what are the implications for our lives?
We believe that the message of the bible is the only hope for lost men. We believe the bible is the only source for faith and practice. We believe that the bible is truth without any mixture of error.
Luther's motto is has become our motto: Sola Scriptura—Scriptures alone. God's Word will always guide us correctly!
ILLUS. Some years ago, Linda and I went skiing out at Winter Park, Colorado. Besides being a beautiful place to ski, Winter Park is a center for handicapped skiers. One the slopes you'll see skiers with only one leg. Some have no arms. Others are paraplegics and ski in a sled-like device. The most amazing people are the blind skiers, impossible as that sounds. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers are taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When they master that, they are taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners ski beside them shouting “Left." and "Right!"
As they obey the commands, they are able to negotiate the course and descend the mountain. They depend solely on the sighted skier's word. It's either complete trust or catastrophe.
What a vivid picture of the Christian life. In this world, we are often blind as to what course in life to take. We must rely solely on the Word of our Lord in the Scriptures about what course to take. His Word gives us the direction we need to finish the course.