For most Americans, October 31 conjures up images of jack-o-lanterns, linen-clad ghosts, and fun-sized candy, but this day should hold a special place in the hearts of the Church for a very different reason. On October 31, 1517, German monk Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther recognized that unbiblical traditions of men and idolatry had supplanted the centrality of Scripture through man-made doctrine, selling indulgences as penance for sin and praying to saints rather than through Christ. Luther’s act was the first of many to reclaim the glory of Christ’s Church and the essential truths of the Gospel, and it was the spark that lit the fire we know as the Protestant Reformation.
Many of the Reformers’ protests against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church could be condensed down to five distinct statements we refer to as The Five Solas. These five succinct statements distinguish Protestant doctrines from those taught by the Church of Rome in their understanding of the nature of God, His Word, and the Gospel of Jesus as it pertains to the salvation of men. One of these Solas is Sola Scriptura, or “Scripture Alone.” At the time of the Reformation, the ideology of the Church had become polluted with the traditions of men and carnal corruption, and it was in desperate need of a return to the sole authority of God’s immutable law as revealed in the Scriptures to His people.
The centrality of God’s Word in the lives of faithful churches today is the fruit of the seeds cast by many sixteenth-century saints, many of whom did so at the cost of excommunication, exile, and martyrdom. On April 18, 1521, Luther stood before the Diet of Worms to answer for his literary works and beliefs based on Scripture alone. When asked if he would recant, Luther responded, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither safe for us nor open to us. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
The Bible is replete with instances of God’s people turning from Him and returning to Him after being confronted with the authority of His holy Word.
In 2 Kings 22, after the rediscovery of the forgotten Word of God, we read, “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes . . . saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that has kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do all that is written concerning us'” (vv. 11–13).
The people of God experienced a similar situation in Nehemiah 8 when they were gathered “as one man” to hear “the Book of the Law of Moses.” On this occasion, Ezra “read from it . . . from early morning until midday,” and “the ears of the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (vv. 1–3). Ezra confronted the people with the authoritative Word of God, and after he blessed the Lord, the people “answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (vv. 6–7). The sinfulness of Israel’s heart was exposed in the light of a perfectly holy God revealed through His Scripture, and it resulted in the corporate confession and repentant worship of “a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:17).
Nowhere do we see a clearer portrayal of repentance and restoration than in Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. In this story, Jesus shows us a glimpse into the heart of every rebellious child of God who turns away from the abundant love of the Father in pursuit of worldly pleasures. Destitute and undeserving, the rebellious son turned back to his father with nothing more than a recognition of his sorrowful, sinful state and faith that his father would be waiting for him, ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
The authoritative Word of God is the remedy for people lost in the trappings of contemporary moral relativism and the vain traditions of men. It is the lens through which sinful men gain the clarity needed to see their darkened hearts and personal need for the Light of the World. It is the herald from which men hear calls for confession and repentance, and it is the home where weary hearts find rest.
Confession of sin is a means of grace provided by God to the Church for her benefit; it is a pathway toward repentance, an instrument of restoration, and a motivation for reformation. It is also the response God intends when we are confronted with the truth of His Word. God’s Word is our unchanging reminder always to be reforming our wandering hearts, minds, and churches according to Scripture alone and for the glory of God alone.
Questions of Application
- How have you allowed secular culture to influence your understanding of who God is and what His Word teaches?
- How have you allowed the traditions of men to influence the way you practice what you believe?
- Are confession and repentance a regular part of your life?
- In what area(s) of your life are you in need of repentance today?