11.07.23 | News | by Jonathan Calloway


    Every two years or so, Ligonier Ministries produces a survey of Christians and their sentiments regarding the church, the Bible, and doctrine. One of the most lamentable observations of this survey is the fact that most Christians have not really thought that much about their true standing before God. It has been said that someone does not truly learn to love God until they understand their need for God. Have you contemplated this in your own life? What does it really mean to be “right with God”? Is it possible to spend so much time in prayer and Scripture reading that God cannot “help” but save you? How about your involvement in church? If you give enough money and volunteer enough time, would that motivate God to love you more or grant you more grace than others wanting to enter Heaven?

    Believe it or not, these questions are similar to those that sparked a revolution in the 15th century that we know as The Protestant Reformation. The dominant church, the Roman Catholic church, taught that if a person died with any blemishes on his soul, he would have to spend time in Purgatory (a place where blemishes got purged like gold in a crucible). They promised that it was possible for a person to spend less time in Purgatory through a system of merits earned by the sacrament of penance, among other methods. This teaching led to very serious corruption in the church - chiefly characterized by the sale of indulgences. Through the purchase of indulgences, one could effectively buy their way to Heaven. While most wouldn’t admit it openly, many 21st century Christians believe and practice their faith in similar ways.

    God used the preaching and writing of several men and women to spark and feed the flames of the Reformation. Two of the most influential heroes of the Reformation were Martin Luther and John Calvin.

    Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 (meaning he was nine years old when Columbus discovered the New World). His father wanted him to be a successful lawyer, but Luther became a monk. He observed many practices that made him question Catholic doctrine. For example, Princes were able to purchase a bishop’s office even though they didn’t qualify for it, and the highest-ranking church leaders in Rome were financially and morally corrupt. The more Luther openly questioned the church, the more controversial he became until his teachings and writings were brought to the attention of Pope Leo X. The pope eventually labeled Luther a heretic and excommunicated him in 1520. Luther translated the New Testament into German while in hiding, and overall was an extremely prolific writer for the remainder of his life before dying in 1546.

    During his life, Luther influenced many, including a young Dominican scholar named Martin Bucer. Bucer influenced another Catholic theologian named John Calvin. Luther was thirty-three years old when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg; Calvin was nine years old. Like Luther, Calvin was a prodigious writer, but he was also an excellent expositor, a world class scholar and exegete, and an ecclesiastical statesman. Most notably, Calvin was a warm-hearted pastor whose ministry now has touched millions more than five hundred years later. 

    Two of the most important themes from the lives of Luther and Calvin are their thoughts on the doctrines of Justification by Faith and Sanctification. These doctrines are extremely important for Christians to grasp because through them we understand that God’s grace is a free gift that we do not earn. This imparted grace is the path through which we are able to enter God’s throne room and commune directly with Him, not through a human priest. For Luther, the proverbial “light bulb” went off in his head when he studied Romans 1.16-17, “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 also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” The Latin Fathers understood the doctrine of Justification as an active justification by which a person, through the sacraments of the church, was made righteous. Studying this passage in Greek, Luther discovered that the correct interpretation sees Justification as an act by which God regards, or counts, us as righteous just as He did Abraham (Genesis 15.6). In Romans 1, Paul was speaking of a righteousness that God gives freely to people - not to those working to earn it through merit, giving, volunteering, or any other such sacrifice. 

    It is very difficult to condense the lives of these Reformers down to a few paragraphs. Several great biographies have been written on Luther’s life and influence, but a very concise and accessible one was written by R.C. Sproul entitled Luther and the Reformation. This little book serves as a great introduction to Luther’s life and also serves as an entry point into his thoughts on grace. 

    John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of his most influential works. Calvin produced the first edition of this in 1536 when he was only twenty-seven years old. Over the next two decades, he continuously added to it until it had grown into what is today - a two-volume masterpiece on Christian faith and living. “A Little Book on the Christian Life” is a short yet important extract of that great work and serves as a gateway into Calvin’s full volumes. 

    We are pleased to offer both of these books on the Book Resource Ministry shelves for a donation of any amount. We hope that these books will be a blessing to you and help you in your walk with the Lord. Please remember that we are only able to offer these resources because of the generous donations given to us by our members.

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