So all of us in the Reformed world know the significance of today’s date in the history of the church. 499 years ago, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg and the rest is history.
Or is it?
Is The Reformation over?
I submit to you that it goes on today. We do not push back simply against the church in Rome but, to be brutally honest, against modern day evangelical so-called Christianity. So what was driving the Reformers, such as Luther, to push back against the church in Rome? What drives us today to continue the work of the great Reformers.
1. Sola Fide – Faith alone
Can we honestly say, as we look the state of the church in the west that this drumbeat doesn’t need to continue? To say that we are saved by faith alone still needs to be shouted from the mountaintop. Don’t believe me? Go to most mainline Protestant “churches” this next Sunday, open your Bible and see if the guy standing up front tells you that you are saved by faith alone. In most modern day evangelical churches, they’ll pay lip service to “faith alone” but you better believe that, if you listen real close, their message says you are saved by faith and being Republican or American or being a good little boy. Oh they won’t say that out loud but if you pay close attention, that’s what they’re saying.
2. Sola Gratia – Grace alone
I could say a lot of the same things with this that I said in my first point. If we actually believed and preached that we are saved by God’s grace alone, we wouldn’t be seeing so many people leaning so heavily back toward a works based salvation. I’ll give you an example. I had coffee with a brother today. During our conversation, he began to bemoan the fact that he wasn’t spending enough time in prayer or reading God’s Word. He said, “I have to do this.” I asked him why he needed to spend time in God’s Word. He said something along the lines of because it must be done. Now, follow me closely here. I’m not saying you don’t need to read your Bible or pray but the instant we say that something must be done to gain access to God, we deny the atoning work of Christ and that we believe in salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. In essence, we fall back to works based salvation. What we’re saying is that if we will just spend more time reading the Bible or praying, then surely we’ll be more holy or God will love us more or something like that. Which brings me to the third thing.
3. Solus Christus – In Christ alone
We are saved by grace (alone) through faith (alone) in Christ alone. Back to the conversation with my buddy this afternoon. It is very subtle, the work of Satan. See, he wants to convince you that you can pray enough, read the Bible enough, go to church enough, be good enough to work your way to God.
If you could earn it, then you can lose it. Pay close attention to your heart. Your emotions will lie to you and tell you that you can do more, try harder, pray more…etc.
Now for the good news. If you believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, then you should also believe that He who began a good work in you will finish what He has started (Phil. 1:6). In other words, your sanctification is not up to you. The Bible says that He who began a good work in you (salvation) will bring it to completion (sanctification and glorification). Of course we participate in His work but we mostly participate by resting in the One who has finished it all on the cross.
4. Sola Scriptura – In Scripture alone
I want to go back to my conversation with my buddy earlier and ask a rhetorical question. Why do you read the Bible?
That’s a serious question.
Why do you read the Bible? Do you read it because you have to or you’ve been told to by your preacher? Do you read it because you are looking for some inspirational quote that you can take out of context and fit into your day?
Do you long to hear the voice of your Saviour? Are you desperate to hear the love song of your Creator? Do you understand that God has spoken by His Word? Stop and think about that for a second. God has spoken and has said all He needs to say in His Word.
We don’t need any other word. He has revealed Himself in the Word.
5. Soli Deo Gloria – To the glory of God alone
The whole point of all this from creation to His restoration of all things is the glory of God. And yet we really act like it’s for our glory or the glory of America or whatever. When you hear that God has done all this (creation, fall, redemption, salvation and restoration) for His own glory, what do you think? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Do you find God somehow greedy? Or petulant or narcissistic?
Here’s what I find narcissistic. That we think this is somehow all about us. God has done all He has done and continues to do for our good and His glory. He gets to do that ‘cause He’s God. If He is, within Himself, the greatest good, then it logically follows that all things for His glory makes sense. Where we’ve gotten things off is that we’ve tried to make it all about our glory. That’s called idolatry.
So again I ask you: Is the Reformation over? Or will we always be reforming, always looking for our salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone? Do we look to His Word for all we need and live for His glory? Or have we actually never really left the church in Rome and still believe that we can earn it?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
Soli Deo Gloria!
We are concluding our series in the baptism series with this post. The other four posts have really led to this one. I really believe that we cannot have a conversation about baptism without having a conversation about the covenants and how they play out in Scripture. I’m not going to get too deep into the weeds of covenant theology but what I will do is offer a brief explanation (my opinion) of how I believe we can understand the covenant framework of Scripture.
The idea of covenant shapes pretty much all of the Bible and therefore our hermeneutic. We see covenant language and covenants all throughout Scripture. In fact, at the very beginning of Genesis in creation we see the introduction of a covenant between God and His creation. A covenant is very simple. The simplest way to explain it is to say that a covenant is an agreement between two parties. Both parties promise something in the relationship. So, for a covenant to work properly, both parties must meet up to their end of the agreement. So a covenant is simply an agreement.
At the very beginning we see the introduction of a covenant between God and man. God says, ‘Do this and don’t do this and I will do this.’ See the creation account of Genesis 1-2. Adam and Eve (and us) failed to live up to their end of the agreement. They sinned. So God had to step in and promise to fulfill the covenant for them (see Gen. 3). Then, later in Genesis and Exodus, God makes a covenant with Noah and later with Abraham, Moses and the nation of Israel and King David. My point is this. Multiple covenants were made with multiple people in the OT. The question that we could debate is whether they were indeed multiple covenants or was it one overarching covenant with multiple applications and addendums. I submit to you that there were multiple covenants that have ultimately found their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. We won’t get into that too deeply with this post. There will be some of you reading this that will disagree with me on this point and that’s totally fine.
What I want to focus on in this post is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant. I also want to talk about the real question in these two and that is to whom do these covenants apply and how do we then apply the sign of that covenant. I hope this makes sense to you so far.
To start with, I’d like to ask you to read Genesis 12, 15 and 17. Read it carefully as it relates to the covenant between Abraham and God. In Genesis 15, we see some very deep and rich symbolic behavior in the ceremony of God ratifying His covenant with Abraham. I’ll let you read that without unpacking it too much in this post. In Genesis 17, we see the sign God gives to Abraham of the covenant: circumcision. It’s pretty clear from Genesis 17 what’s going on. God tells Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household, including even the slaves and that it will be an everlasting covenant.
Everlasting as in forever. Forever as in it never ends.
Now we get to Exodus 19-20 where we see God make a national covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. This is an important distinction that we need to see. Through the covenant with Abraham for God to set apart for Himself a people, we now have the nation of Israel. Now God will make a national covenant with the people He has set apart before through Abraham. So we now have the giving of the law as a national covenant with the nation of Israel.
I think one of the problems that comes about in most conversations about the old and new covenant is a lack of understanding of what we mean when we say “old covenant.” Most people I talk to about this do not differentiate between the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenant. As we can see from a close reading of these texts, there is a difference. One relies on the other. There would be no giving of the law without the initial covenant with Abraham. This is important that we see this difference. If you’re thinking that the biblical writers and prophets didn’t see them as being different, then I submit to you the famous “new covenant” text from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Turn to that text now and let’s look at it together.
The question that I will ask you to consider as you read this text is this: which covenant is being referenced here? Look at verse 31-32. Clearly this is the Mosaic covenant (aka the law) that is being referenced. This is important. This clearly means that the “new covenant” is tied to the law and the Mosaic covenant. I think this is clear when we also read Romans 4, as well as Galatians 3-4. Take time now to read those texts in light of the Jeremiah text, as well as Genesis 15 & 17 and Exodus 19-20.
I think we can all agree that the sign of the new covenant is baptism. Both credo and paedo baptists agree on this point. The difference that needs to be looked at is: to whom do we administer the sign of the new covenant?
I think it becomes very clear when we hold up the OT texts in light of the NT texts we’ve looked at, as well as the clear practice of the apostles in the book of Acts (household baptisms), that the sign of the new covenant (baptism) be administered to both believers and their children. God set this in motion in the covenant with Abraham and has never rescinded this covenant.
If God has not rescinded it, why should we then withhold the sign of the covenant from those whom God has said are to receive it (Genesis 17)?
We can see clearly from the Jeremiah text that the “new covenant” referenced there is the Mosaic covenant that Christ Himself would fulfill and abrogate by His life, death, burial and resurrection.
We can see the clear pattern of household baptisms by the apostles themselves in the book of Acts and we can see the clear ties between circumcision and baptism in the texts we looked at in the last post as well as Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4.
I hope you have found this discussion on baptism helpful and educational. I welcome any and all feedback (as long as it is polite and charitable). At the end of the day, those who follow Christ can be unified around the gospel message and can be together in our love for Jesus, for the Word and the covenant people of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!