On October 31st in the year 1517 Dr. Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door.  He wanted to discuss the issues relative to salvation and the practice of the church.  He wanted the church to be reformed by the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of this brief monograph to celebrate and encourage the church to be reformed by the word of God.

Reformation (the recovery of biblical truth) and revival (spiritual renewal) is much needed among churches and in the lives of individual Christians.  The only authority for reformation in the church is Holy Scripture.  What we believe will not bring reformation.  What God believes will bring reformation!  Christians are commanded "not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).  Think God's thoughts after Him.  Have the mind of Jesus Christ.  The renewing of your mind will not automatically take place.   It is not like having a blood transfusion.  You cannot have the mind of God by looking in the want ads, or a Walmart Supercenter, or by magic, but through serious and maybe even difficult inquiry into the Holy Scripture.

A powerful and influential church preceded the 16th century Reformation.  It was through serious and agonizing inquiry into the word of God that provoked Dr. Martin Luther to stand against the most powerful church in the world.  The church had replaced the central teachings of Scripture with church tradition and the imaginations of men.  The modern evangelical church has fallen prey to the same error by replacing the central teachings of Scripture with church tradition, the tools of modernity, and postmodern concepts.

I wonder how many professing Christians could give a brief explanation of the following central doctrines of Scripture without consulting outside help.  Dr. Martin Luther called these doctrines "cor ecclesia" or the "heart of the church."  These doctrines are:  1) justification by faith alone and 2) salvation by grace alone.  These central doctrines of Scripture have been lost.  We must recover these central doctrines (reformation)! 

While Christians of all ages have lived in fear of the nether world (and Hell is to be feared), the more pressing issue is the hither world.  I find that Christians are more worried about committing a "mortal" sin in the present time than they are about how they will pay for the sin later.  Either way its a losing battle.  We are sinners and we know it, but we know that God requires perfection.  What an awful dilemma!

Dr. Martin Luther faced this dilemma nearly 500 years ago and it nearly destroyed him.  He tried every way possible to have a right standing with God and failed every time.  The Roman Church had convinced Luther that he could do something to secure a right standing with God.  Most churches teach, at least subtly, a similar doctrine today. 

After a long, serious, and diligent inquiry into the word of God, Luther found his answer (reformation).  "The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, But the righteous man shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).  Luther came to realize that the operative word in that text is not faith.  The operative word is "righteous."  The righteous (and only the righteous) can live by faith.  "The righteousness of God is revealed" is an act of God.  The word "revealed" is a passive verb.  God is taking the initiative to declare those He has called as righteous in His sight.  This doctrine is called "justification by faith alone."  God does not actually remove our sins, but he no longer counts them against us.


Is there anything we can do?  Yes, believe and receive this declaration by faith.  We receive this declaration by believing and resting in what Christ alone has accomplished for us.   Even our faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Dr. Luther called "justification by faith alone" the article by which the church stands or falls.  The truth of this theological concept is unquestionable.  Without "justification by faith alone" redemption and eternal salvation would not be possible.  Luther is correct!  However, in the evangelical church, justification has been replaced with human effort.  If the church is to stand against corruption, evil, and error, it is time to recovery this essential doctrine.  Receive, believe, and practice "justification" because it is a gift by God's grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).

Rugged individualism is the mark that characterizes American democracy.  "All men are created equal. . .with certain unalienable rights. . .[like] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Liberty and equality demands the structure commonly known as "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  Luther struggled bitterly with the concept of "bondage and freedom."  His flair for individualism provoked an internal battle, because despite his effort to free himself from sin, he found himself imprisoned to guilt and sin.  His study of the book of Romans revealed the answer:  "Justification by faith alone."  But how did he obtain this declaration of freedom?  Luther said it was, sola gratia, by grace alone.

The reformation of the church in the 16th century has radically affected our individual Christian lives as well as the life of the evangelical church.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the evangelical church realized and acknowledged that salvation came forth from an eternal and sovereign God and His inscrutable will was worthy of absolute trust for eternal salvation.  Today the evangelical church has changed its theology and placed part of the process of salvation in the hands of fallen human beings.  Like the Roman church of the 16th century, the majority of the evangelical church of the 20th century teaches that humans can, at least, cooperate in their salvation.  The giants of classical Christianity have always taught that the human is enslaved by sin and Satan, until “God takes the initiative” and by His grace alone gives new life so that the human will can respond to the call of the gospel.

Yes, we're all born equal.  At birth we are depraved sinners and just like the corpse at the mortuary, we are unable to raise ourselves from the dead.  The people of God are given new life, “sola gratia”, by grace alone.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9).  God does not run a democracy.  His government is not "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  His government is absolute, sovereign, benevolent, and eternal.  Trust God, because He alone can free you from prison and give you eternal life.


Martin Murphy

Dothan, Alabama

October 28, 2011