Reformation Day Sermon:
Rev. Frank Schaefer
we celebrate the 489th anniversary of the birth of Protestant
church. It was in 1521 that Martin Luther stood firm in front of the
papal envoy as well as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet
The words he spoke on that eve of the
Protestant church are still ringing loud and proud: I will not and
cannot recant of my words; it is neither safe nor right to go against
one’s conscience; Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God!
What is so remarkable was that Luther
knew fully well that his bold stand would likely result in
excommunication and execution. In fact, on that day he was
excommunicated by the pope and the emperor declared him an outlaw.
What was Luther’s crime? He believed in
the Scriptures as the only authoritative word of God and by that
challenged the power of the pope (whose decrees were held to be just as
inspired as the bible)
Luther also opposed the church on other
grounds, such as his experience of salvation by faith rather than works,
and he most definitely opposed the selling of indulgences—pardons from
hellfire for a donor’s relatives.
We as Protestant Christians celebrate
Reformation Sunday not only because of our history but also for what we
are privileged to believe in.
Sometimes the main Protestants beliefs
are summed up with the teaching of the “five solas.” They are identified
Scriptura –Scripture only
Sola Fide –by faith alone
Sola Gratia – by grace alone
Solo Christo— through Christ alone
Soli Deo Gloria—glory to God alone
There’s not enough time to expound on
every single point, so I thought I’d rather focus on the one principle
that Protestants celebrate and that really sets Protestants apart from
the Roman/Orthodox Church: the assurance of faith doctrine.
One of the Scriptures often quoted by
Protestants is from Hebrews 11 which defines faith as an assurance of
salvation: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance
about what we do not see.”
Luther even translated the phrase with “eine
gewisse Zuversicht,” that is, “a certain confidence.”
Many Protestant believers describe this
certain confidence as an inner witness of the Holy Spirit which allows
the justified disciple to know they are saved.
The Apostle Paul certainly also received
such an assurance of his salvation during his conversion experience as
described in the book of Acts.
We can find a similar description of
such assurance in the writings of many church fathers, most notable in
the “Confessions” by St. Augustine of Hippo.
The biggest criticism of the Protestant
“assurance doctrine” is that it has the tendency to make believers
complacent. Why would they continue to do good works if salvation is
already in their pocket? Scripture passages such as those from the
epistle of James support this notion: “Thus also faith by itself, if it
does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17)
I think deep down, most every Christian
would agree that both aspects of salvation are very important, faith and
keeping the law (which includes doing good works).
I think, even the apostle Paul in our
text from Philippians had a role for keeping the law / human works in
his concept of salvation. I think we need to see the context into which
he is writing to understand what he means.
First, we need to understand that he
came from a background where keeping the Mosaic law was considered
In Verse 6 we hear him say: “…as for
righteousness based on the law, [I was] faultless.”
Paul, before becoming a Christian,
living as a Jew, never broke the law! That’s remarkable. Just as
remarkable as the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking about
salvation and telling Jesus: I have kept all of the law, all my life!
However, even keeping the whole law of
God, did not prevent him from doing something terribly wrong: he
persecuted the church (“as for zeal, persecuting the church” V6)
So, in Paul’s experience, even keeping
the whole law all his life did not lead him to salvation.
Paul does not want to discredit good
works or God’s law; the purpose for his writing is to teach the church
at Philippi an important lesson:
His intent is to correct an arrogant attitude some of the folks had.
They were bragging about their righteous works and thought that they had
earned their salvation. They thought they were better than others.
That’s why Paul opens this passage by
saying: if anyone has reason to brag, it would be me. I have kept the
whole law. But that’s not what ultimately saved Paul. He was saved by
God’s grace, by faith that came after his eyes were opened by Christ
himself. Now, that puts things in perspective. Don’t brag about earning
your salvation, Paul says, rather do good works, keep the law, run the
race based on the strength that comes from being saved by faith.
As a good Protestant, it makes sense to
me to have assurance of faith and still wanting to keep the law. I want
to do good works for my Lord, who has done everything for me. I don’t
need any other motivation, and I certainly do not need the fear of
losing my salvation in order to do them. That's how I understand Sola
Fide--saved by faith alone.
One of the original reformers in the 16th
century used an analogy that I find very helpful in this regard: that of
a fruit tree:
Before a tree can be productive and bear
fruit it must grow into a healthy and strong tree. Once the roots are
deeply established the fruit is a natural outgrowth much like good works
and an adherence to God’s law comes naturally to those who have been
saved and made into a new creation by God.
Good works, God’s law are very important
aspects of our faith, but to Protestants the assurance of faith is
certain and primary. In this theology we avoid the pitfall of becoming
modern-day Pharisees while at the same time giving credit where credit
is due: to our Creator God, our Savior and Redeemer.
Praise be to God who continues to draw
all men unto him, who reveals his plan of salvation to us. And let’s
not forget: He who began the good work of faith in us will be faithful
to complete it until the day of his glorious return. Amen
More Sermons (DPS
Luther and Tetzel,
Multi-Media Reformation Resources