It’s Reformation Day again–the day we celebrate the Reformation of the Church (and mourn its current disunity) by remembering Martin Luther’s nailing of The 95 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenburg. Last year I wrote a little piece on the proper way of celebrating Reformation Day through repentance. This year, I’d simply like to include a few links and readings for your Reformation Day.
First of all, there’s the 95 Theses themselves, or more properly “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Now, you need to know these are a series of theses to be argued about in a theological context, so some of it inside baseball that only medieval theology experts will get. What’s more, most Protestants, and Luther himself, would come to dispute plenty of these. Luther was still a good Augustinian monk at the time he penned these. That said, there’s real power in some of them, that non-experts like you and I can benefit from, starting with the first and most famous of them all:
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
If you want a good understanding of what all went into that from one of those medieval experts, Justin Taylor has an interview with Carl Trueman on it that’s pretty helpful.
Following that, it’d be wise to work your way through Luther’s more mature letter to Pope Leo, commonly known as “The Freedom of the Christian.” It’s really just fabulous. After you get through the hilariously sarcastic opening, (vintage Luther) you get to some truly meaty Reformation spirituality as Luther explains the true righteousness and freedom that God gives us by faith.
Now since these promises of God are words of holiness, truth, righteousness, liberty, and peace, and are full of universal goodness; the soul, which cleaves to them with a firm faith, is so united to them, nay, thoroughly absorbed by them, that it not only partakes in, but is penetrated and saturated by, all their virtue. For if the touch of Christ was healing, how much more does that most tender spiritual touch, nay, absorption of the word, communicate to the soul all that belongs to the word. In this way, therefore, the soul, through faith alone,  without works, is from the word of God justified, sanctified, endued with truth, peace, and liberty, and filled full with every good thing, and is truly made the child of God; as it is said: “To them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John i. 12.)
From all this it is easy to understand why faith has such great power, and why no good works, nor even all good works put together, can compare with it; since no work can cleave to the word of God, or be in the soul. Faith alone and the word reign in it; and such as is the word, such is the soul made by it; just as iron exposed to fire glows like fire, on account of its union with the fire. It is clear then that to a Christian man his faith suffices for everything, and that he has no need of works for justification. But if he has no need of works, neither has he need of the law; and, if he has no need of the law, he is certainly free from the law, and the saying is true: “The law is not made for a righteous man.” (1 Tim. i. 9.) This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law or works for justification and salvation.
It’s probably best to print this one, as it’s a longer read.
I’d also commend this article by Michael Horton on the 5 Solas or “Onlys” of the Reformation (“Only Scripture,” “Only Christ,” “Only Grace,” “Only Faith,” and “To God Alone Be Glory.”) It’s a good summary and explanation of the significance of each of these “Five Pillars of the Reformation.”
Finally, Calvin fan that I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to this excellent recent article by Chuck Colson (no, not that one) over at Mere Orthodoxy on Calvin’s view of salvation and sanctification through union with Christ. One of the chief calumnies against the Reformation is that taught a doctrine that cut the nerve of Christian holiness. It seems fitting end by remembering that receiving a justifying righteousness by the free grace of God comes only through union with Christ, and therefore necessarily results in a deeper holiness than that secured by fear or self-justifying works. The Reformation was not only about recovering a true understanding of God’s justifying grace, but his sanctifying grace, through Christ alone.
To quote Calvin:
Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness (Institutes, 3.16.1)
Soli Deo Gloria