The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome, said: “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 to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Ro. 1:16,17). But, just what is this gospel that has the power to save us? Paul defines it for us in a letter to the Corinthian church: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” ( I Cor. 15:1-3). The gospel is the “good news” of the death of Jesus Christ for sins, His burial, and His bodily resurrection, proving that God the Father was satisfied that Jesus had fully accomplished a plan of redemption for all who believe (Jn. 3:16; II Cor. 5:14). “He was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Ro. 4:24,25). Jesus final words from the cross were “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). The plan of redemption was complete. The “Lamb of God” had come and put away sin (Jn. 1:29). The work of the Old Testament priests was ongoing. Hebrews 10:11,12 tells us: “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He (Jesus Christ), having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
Jesus paid for all my sins, past, present and future. When I believe that He was God in the flesh, dying for my sins, and ask Him to come into my life as my Savior and Lord, I receive eternal life, based solely on what Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection, acknowledging that my only contribution to the “plan of salvation” is my sin, that there is nothing I need to add by my performance to what Jesus already accomplished. If I think that there is anything I can do to help “earn” my way to heaven, then I have denied what Christ accomplished and have distorted the true gospel. Unfortunately down through the ages there have been many who have done just that and have led many down a wrong path that leads to destruction (Pr. 14:12). Nearly everywhere that Paul preached the gospel, there were those who came and tried to convince the new converts that there were things they had to do to add to their simple faith in Christ in order to really be saved. They were putting people back under the yoke of a law of works. For example, when Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia (in Asia Minor), he said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another, only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified…You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 1:6-8; 2:16; 3:1-3).
The Apostle Paul is not the only one who has confronted the distortion of the true gospel. During the 14th-16th centuries a number of influential individuals in Europe began seeing some of the fallacies of the teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church, such as the sale of indulgences for the absolution of sin and the placing of the papacy as the highest authority. They began protesting what they saw and attempting to reform the church. One such individual was Jon Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and dean and rector at Charles University in Prague. Because of his stand against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he was burned at the stake, but said as he was was being burned, “You can cook this goose, but a swan will arise.” (“Hus” means “goose”!).
Another protestor/reformer of the 14th century who opposed the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church was John Wycliffe, an English scholar, and theologian. He was a seminary professor at Oxford, and the first to translate Scripture (the Latin Vulgate) into English in 1382. Wycliffe was posthumously condemned as a heretic and his body exhumed and burned in 1428 by the Roman Catholic Church.
Most remembered, however of the reformers is Martin Luther (Nov. 10, 1483—Feb. 18, 1546), a German professor of theology, composer, priest and monk. He came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and on Oct. 31, 1517 (500 years ago tomorrow), he tacked his “95 Theses” document (which attacked the Church’s corruption and propounded a number of central Christian beliefs) to the church door in Wittenberg. This really spawned the “Protestant Reformation” that transformed much of Europe and thus spread to North America, and really changed the course of church history. (And by the way, Luther was referred to by some as “the swan,” fulfilling the prediction of Jon Hus!).
The Reformation was continued by John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and others, resulting in the arising of the Anabaptists, Moravians and others. The Reformation transformed Christianity and eventually led to the emergence of the Protestant denominations that exist today. Actually “renewed” might be a better word than “transformed,” for they were returning to the teachings of the Bible and the “true Gospel.” They were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation and the authority of Scripture. Five tenants of faith emerged during the Reformation that summarized the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. They are given by the following Latin phrases:
1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority for faith and practice.
2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God totally apart from our works.
4. Solus (Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
Praise God for those whom He has raised up to protect His Word and to enable us to hear the “true Gospel” which is the “power of God unto salvation to all who believe!”