The District President of the Southern Illinois District of the LCMS wrote a pretty nice article for Reformation. HT Uneasy Priest.
What does it matter that we are Lutheran? “I don’t want Lutheran theology, I want Biblical theology!” said the lady in my Bible Class. There began an extended discussion, to be sure. “For me, Biblical theology and Lutheran theology are one and the same,” I responded. I am a passionate Lutheran not because the Lutheran Church is the biggest (we’re far from it) or the most perfect (we’re full of sinners – forgiven, yes, but sinners still) or even the fastest growing (in some parts of Africa we are), but I am a passionate Lutheran simply because I believe Lutheran theology brings the greatest comfort to the penitent sinner. Every point of the doctrine shows the work of Christ for us to bring life and salvation to all. If you know you are a sinner, then this doctrine is for you.
The Reformation is all about the Church being re-centered in this Gospel. To be Lutheran is to be all about the forgiveness of sins in Christ. There are four common watchwords of this Lutheran Reformation – Sola Scriptura, sola gratia, solus Christus, and sola fide.
Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) – Lutheran theology IS Biblical theology and Biblical theology is Lutheran theology. Scripture alone is the source and norm of our teaching. But of course, doesn’t every church claim to be based on Scripture? Yes, and that’s why we always need to examine everything in the light of Scripture. And yes, we also identify ourselves by our confessions because we have found them to be faithful to Scripture and because they faithfully help us keep the Gospel at the center. And again, that’s why we also confess three more “solas.”
Grace alone (sola gratia) – We are saved and find favor with God by grace alone, for the sake of Christ Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead. In saying this, we also recognize our deepest need. Human nature is not just a little corrupt or a little impaired. The Scripture says we were dead in our trespasses and sins. “You He made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… but God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5). That’s why salvation can only be by grace, never our deserving. God is not fair, but He is gracious, full of undeserved love for us in Christ.
Christ alone (solus Christus) – God’s grace comes to us only in Christ, for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection. Go read Ephesians 1:1-14. Every verse has the phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Him,” or “in the beloved,” or “in whom,” referring to Christ. Only Christ Jesus has crossed the great divide called death and returned. Only Christ can give true life. “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:11-12).
Faith alone (sola fide) – Can you buy a gift someone else gives you? No, if YOU pay the price, it’s no longer a gift but a purchase. In the same way, the new life we have in Christ, the forgiveness of sins and every gift of God’s grace, are simply that, gifts to be received. Christ paid the price for us with His own blood shed for us, His own body broken for us. The gifts of God are gifts we receive by faith – believe it and you have it! Otherwise, they are no more grace, but wages earned. “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace…” (Romans 4:16a).
Why is all of this so important? It’s the Gospel! This is precisely why the German version of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession contains this powerful comment in Article IV, on Justification:
“[The doctrine of Justification] is especially useful for the clear, correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible. It brings necessary and most abundant consolation to devout consciences. . . . the adversaries do not understand what the forgiveness of sins or faith or grace or righteousness is. Therefore, they sadly corrupt this topic, hide Christ’s glory and benefits, and rob devout consciences of the consolation offered in Christ.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, par. 2. Translated in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), p. 82-83.)
So – a blessed Reformation observance to all and Happy 523rd Birthday for Martin Luther (November 10th). God be with you all!