There’s something attractive about the Reformed heritage of my faith. For me it’s even more than a series of confessions or a list of doctrines, but also includes the rabble-rousing, steady-handed, hard-hitting, faithful-serving way of life embodied in this background. These men fact-checked their leaders and recognized that the line they were being fed had been cluttered by a lot of tradition.
In my own efforts to fact-check my faith, I’ve seen time and again where my beliefs have been cluttered by traditions of men. And there have certainly been times where I may have taken my rabble-rousing a little too far, but these guys remind me that there are some things in life worth fighting for. The Reformers pointed to 5 guiding principles that shaped what fit this category. I wanted to take a moment to overview these principles.
The Basis of Salvation: Faith Alone
There is nothing I can do that will ever earn salvation for me. Only on the basis of faith can Christ’s righteousness stand in my place. The consistent command of Scripture is that of simple trust. All of my righteous works are as filthy rags.
The Object of Faith: Christ Alone
Ultimately, I don’t trust in my faith to save me. I don’t trust in a prayer, a baptism, a priest, or a pattern of life as the source of my salvation. Christ and Christ alone stands as my righteousness. In him I approach the throne of God with boldness.
The Source of Authority: Scripture Alone
Scripture serves as our only rule of faith and practice. Christian movements have a way of gathering up cultural and traditional baggage along the way. But the appeal to sola scriptura is an attempt to strip away that baggage and return to the core of what Christianity is all about.
The Ground of Salvation: Grace Alone
Unearned and unlimited, God in his grace chose and saved a people unto himself. There wasn’t a thing I did that earned that gift of salvation. Grace is God chasing me while I was running from him.
The Purpose of Salvation: For the Glory of God Alone
Many Christians, if asked about the purpose for their existence or the purpose of the Church would tell you that these things are for the glory of God. The method by which God the Father gets glory is by the Church lifting up the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One day I was walking to class wondering why I was such an arrogant legalist – an annoying little jerk who liked to follow the strictest set of rules and liked to point fingers at everyone who broke them. Never mind the fact that I had sins of my own locked up deep inside…no, I kept the list as far as everyone else knew. But that was the life that I could remember for, well, as long as I could remember.
As I tripped on the bottom stair and continued up the sidewalk ahead hoping no one would notice (peoples’ opinions mattered, after all), I started wondering if there were others who had been hemmed in with similar struggles their whole lives. Well, of course there were! I could name a dozen or two more legalistic than myself…oh wait. That was a rather legalistic thought, wasn’t it? That’s how sneaky legalism is. When you think you’re beating it, you think you can tell by comparing your legalism to other peoples’ legalism.
Pushing this thought aside, I started thinking a little more down another mental path: are there people who don’t struggle with legalism? Are there people who don’t have the spiritual superiority complex? You know, people who just enjoy their relationship with God and love other people like crazy? I thought of a couple people that I really looked up to and wished I could be like them. How epic it would be just to have a spirituality like theirs! Frustrated, I kicked the bottom of the door frame as I pushed it open and moved from the atrium into the classroom hall.
But even these people surely plagued by some of my same problems. Why is it that people like law and not grace? Why do people, like me, like rules and religion rather than the righteousness of Christ? Why does my heart pile up standards like garbage at a landfill, trying to make a makeshift Babel and climb to God? It is almost like I start running to works unless God, by His grace, points me back to the cross. Yes, I know the Gospel is far lighter than my set of rules and self-elevating standards, but I keep running back to them. Why? Why? WHY??? Doesn’t Galatians (4:21) speak about people who desire to place themselves under the law? Maybe that was the key. I remembered something a pastor once quoted from Martin Luther: “Religion is the default mode of the human heart”…or something like that. So maybe this is something endemic of the whole of humanity. Maybe we’re all in on this.
When I think about what the resurrection means to me, I guess there’s a lot that comes to mind. There’s the historical aspect of the resurrection which marked out Jesus to be the Son of God and ignited the Christian faith around two-thousand years ago. Without the historical fact of the resurrection, every deed of charity or sacrifice or martyrdom is worthless. This resurrection event was no claim that was added to the doctrine of the Church some centuries after Jesus died (giving them time to fabricate a myth about him). No, this was a central claim that was made from the earliest claims of Jesus’ followers and was able to be verified by those who lived contemporaneously with Jesus of Nazareth (see 1 Corinthians 15).
But the resurrection is so much more than just a historical fact. The resurrection is God’s declaration that He has won. It is something of an invitation too. Easter is the audacious claim that God not only defeated sin and death and Satan, but that He invites us to win with Him too! We are offered the chance to identify with Jesus in His resurrection and victory. Maybe there is something in this suggestion that gives me hope of something greater and better. Everything I see around me passes from life to death with no hope of change for the better. But in the resurrection I see death rise into life and hope suddenly restored again. It is a hope that I’m not resigned to staying the way I am because I was “born this way,” but that I might be re-born and re-made. It is hope that the death-cycle is broken. It is hope that something greater than my greatest imaginings is in store.
You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans. I look for my righteousness within myself. I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor. All this I have done, but I keep coming up short. I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not. Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me. Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You! Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him. Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you. Let Your life live in me. Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!