On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther ignited what would become known as the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses on door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg. Luther was disgusted by the sale of indulgences and the bad theology that was being taught in the church. For some time, Luther struggled with his own theological convictions, but in 1515, after reflecting on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he became convinced that salvation could not be earned or bought but was the free gift of God appropriated by faith.
This rediscovery of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone would not only set Luther free from his struggle with guilt and shame, but would be the clarion call of the Reformation that ultimately birthed the Protestant movement. This rediscovery of the Gospel not only shaped Luther’s theology, preaching, and ministry; it also paved the way for Gospel-centered preaching that points people to lasting hope in Jesus rather than to a religion of works and guilt.
Have you ever thought about what preaching would be like if there were no Reformation? For those of us who are preachers, think about how hopeless our sermons would be if the centrality of the Gospel had not been restored during the Reformation. Think about how different your preaching would be if there were no Reformation:
(1) Your message would have no authority.
During the Reformation, five theological truths (known as the five solas) emerged that summarized the convictions of the Reformers. The first was Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The Reformers believed that the Bible is our highest authority. For those of us who are preachers, when we stand before people and open up the Bible, and systematically teach it, we are standing on the authority of God. Our goal isn’t to speak our words but to speak God’s words in a way that penetrates the hearts of a twenty-first century audience. We don’t preach the ideas of a denomination, personal opinions, or personal philosophies, but rather we preach what God reveals in His Word. If we lose sight of the authority of God’s Word, we lose the ability to speak God’s authoritative truth into the lives of people.
(2) Your message would have no hope.
The second sola of the Reformation was Solus Christus (Christ alone). I’ve always loved what Peter says. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3) If you think about it, everything you place your hope in outside of Christ is a dead hope. For example, you can place your hope in your spouse, hoping that your spouse will meet all your needs. But, your spouse won’t. Eventually your spouse will let you down. For me, I’m placing my hope in the University of Georgia football team to finally win a national championship, but it’s a dead hope. There’s no guarantee they will win the championship, and even if they do, they’ll probably let me down next year by not repeating. Everything we place our hope in outside of Christ will ultimately let us down. However, when we place our hope in Jesus it is a living hope. He will never fail us. We preach hope in Christ alone. He is the only one that can give us what our hearts desires, and we can believe that everything He promises will come to fruition.
(3) Your message would not be unique.
The third sola to rise from the reformation was Sola Fide (faith alone.) Think about it. Every time you stand to preach, you preach a message that is absolutely unique from the message that every other religion on the planet preaches. You preach the message of a God who did everything necessary in order for us to experience salvation and eternal life. Our salvation depends on His work for us, and not our own attempts to work our way to heaven. All that is required is faith; believing that the message is true and placing control of your life in the hands of God. This unique message inspires awe and wonder. This unique message leads us to worship and bow down our lives in surrender. This unique message leads us to walk by faith.
(4) Your message would enslave.
The fourth sola of the reformation was Sola Gratia (grace alone). Without grace, we are enslaved. We are enslaved to sin, and no amount of work we can do can overcome our sin problem. Without grace, we are enslaved to a life of human effort that will never get us anywhere with God. Without grace, you would stand before people every Sunday and proclaim, “Try harder. You’re not doing enough. You can do better.” But, the message we preach is a message of freedom. Because of grace, we are free. We are free from the enslavement of sin, and we are free from the never-ending cycle of trying to please God through our own efforts. Because of grace, we can stand and say, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”
(5) Your message would glorify man.
The final sola of the reformation was Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone.) The ultimate goal of life is to give glory to the God of all creation. Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The temptation is to glorify man. We like to point to others and say, “Look how good he’s doing. He really has his act together.” Or, we like people to point to us and say, “Wow! You’re an amazing person!” Self-exaltation is not the goal of preaching. In other words, our calling isn’t to preach messages of self-improvement so that our congregations might walk away saying, “If I try hard enough, I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to.” No, our job is to preach in such a way where people walk away glorifying God for His work of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son.
Praise God that the Reformation led to a rediscovery of the Gospel, and praise God that those of us who are called to preach have the privilege of standing before people each Sunday to proclaim the glories of the God of all creation. I pray that the Gospel will be central in your life and in your preaching.