Why the Reformation Matters


500 years ago today Martin Luther nailed 95 Thesis to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. And we might be thinking, “So what?” 

Luther himself probably did not realize the importance of this simple act. The church door in a German town was like a public bulletin board. Along with Luther’s document outlining the corruption of the church in his day, the church door might have also held an announcement for a lecture series at the university or a posting of the times for confession in the upcoming week.

But Luther’s act of nailing the 95 Thesis was the beginning of the Reformation of the church–a church that had added man’s rules and customs onto the Word of God. A church that had misled the people. A church that told the masses they needed more than faith, more than grace to get to heaven.

The three cornerstones of the Reformation were Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide–Word Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone. These cornerstones are still important to us today.

Sola Scriptura–Word Alone

In the years leading up to the Reformation, the church had begun to add onto the Word of God. The edicts of the church and of the pope were considered equal to the Bible. Martin Luther and other reformers reminded the people that God’s Word has all the truth necessary for our salvation and that no words added by men–even important men–are on the same level as the Bible.

In our modern world, we are also tempted to look for the answers to our problems everywhere but the Bible. Certainly, Scripture does not tell us how to bake a red velvet cake or give directions to Minneapolis. But it does tell us how to have a relationship with God, how to obtain peace and joy,  how to love and live in a broken world.

Why theReformationMatters

Sola Gratia–Grace Alone

In Luther’s time, people were told that God’s grace was not enough to get to heaven. Good works were a prerequisite. Luther himself agonized over this teaching, totally despairing because he knew he could never be good enough. He could never be perfect.

But through Scripture, Luther realized that none of us can measure up to God’s standard of perfection and that the only way to heaven is by the Lord’s mercy and grace. None of us deserve God’s forgiveness, it is only available to us through Christ’s death and resurrection.

This truth matters today because we often try to fix our problems on our own. We rely on self-help books. We work hard to improve our financial situation. We live like it all depends on us.

Grace alone allows us to let go of the try-hard life and rest in God’s mercy. It is only through His love and acceptance that we can come to Him. His grace gives us the strength to live day by day.

The truth of Grace Alone allows us to let go of the try-hard life and rest in God's mercy. Click To Tweet

Sola Fide–Faith Alone

Another falsehood the church of Luther’s day promoted was that faith in Christ was not enough to get to heaven. A man named Johann Tetzel and others were selling indulgences–little pieces of paper that “guaranteed” a quicker path to heaven. Most of Luther’s 95 Thesis dealt with this practice.

Romans 1:16-17 tells us:

 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 for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

These verses were the turning point for Luther’s relationship with God. Once he realized that salvation was not dependent on good works or expensive little pieces of paper, but on faith in Christ, he felt the burden of his sin lift. Righteousness can only come from faith in what Jesus has already accomplished on the cross. I do good things out of gratitude for what He has done, but I do not have to be “good enough” to get to heaven. What a relief!

Even today, listening to preachers on radio and TV today may leave listeners with the feeling that there is so much they need to do to be a good person. So much to do to earn a ticket to heaven. But God’s message is faith alone–faith given to us through God’s grace. We accept this faith as a life-changing gift.

Faith alone in Christ’s death and resurrection gives us access to God and His power and love.

Faith alone in Christ's death and resurrection gives us access to God and His power and love. Click To Tweet

What happened 500 years ago in a little town in Germany changed the world. A list nailed to a church door still matters today.

Next step: Take a moment to contemplate the three tenets of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide. Which of these truths is hardest for you to put into practice in your everyday life? Ask the Father to help you in this area.