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A Re-Reformation of the Protestant Church

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Right now I’m reading a book by Martin Luther (the monk not the king.) This little treatise is called “On Christian Liberty”. It’s a devotional meets open letter meets booklet addressed  to Pope Leo X that deals with every Christian’s freedom from sin and freedom to serve. At the core of it all is the defining doctrine of the Protestant Reformation: Sola Fide (Latin for “faith alone”).
The seminal idea of this revolutionary message is that we cannot be saved by our works, deeds or actions. To walk the pathway of trying to earn our salvation is no pathway at all, but rather, a highway…to hell (At least ACDC had a little of their theology right!)

When you think of the Reformation you probably think of the ideological battle between the Roman Catholic church and those who protested their teachings 500 or so years ago (AKA “the PROTESTants”). But I think the Protestants need a reformation today, or, a “re-reformation” if you will.

Why? Because the leaven of dependence on good deeds, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, humanistic approaches to salvation have crept into the vast majority of churches in America in one way or another.
Do you find that hard to believe? If so, think of the average “gospel” presentation in the typical church. It probably includes one or more of the following phrases:

  • “Just say this prayer and you will be saved”…sorry Charlie. But there are going to be a lot of people who end up in the Lake of Fire who said “the sinner’s prayer” but never put their faith alone in Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. You’ll never find one case where Jesus or any of the disciples led anyone through a prayer for salvation. Having said that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having a new believer articulate their newfound faith in God in the form of a prayer (I do it myself). The problem is when a person thinks that saying the right words will save them. No, only Jesus can save them through faith and faith alone.
  • “Fully surrender yourself to Jesus and you will be saved”…Nope. Can’t be done. A lost man cannot commit to anything. Why? Because he is spiritually incapable of following through on any commitment. And as soon as you start depending on your own “commitment”, “submission” or “surrender” then you are forsaking the gospel of grace. When we ask someone to “surrender all” to follow Jesus we are actually turning our backs on Jesus and insulting his free gift of grace in the same way that we would insult somebody who was taking us out to dinner and we chose to pay the tab instead. Why do you think Paul was so hard on the Galatians? He said that as soon as you start trusting in yourself and your own ability to commit/surrender/submit to God by keeping the law rather than trusting in Christ alone (sola fide) then you are “deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ” (Galatians 1:6.) I am FULLY convinced that if Galatians were re-written by the apostle Paul today he would not be attacking the legalist Judaizers who were trying to force the Galatian believers to keep the law for the salvation of their souls (after all they’re all dead!) I’m convinced this little book of Paul’s would be written to the legalists in the church today, these who are desecrating the grace of Christ by adding a “surrender all” prerequisite to the free gift of eternal life.
  • “Turn from all your sin and you will be saved” Oops. Those who preach this as a condition of salvation forget one little thing in their “gospel” formula…Jesus. How can we turn from one sin (let alone all our sin) until Jesus is working from the inside out? The Greek word for “repentance” in the New Testament means “a change of mind”. When used in the context of salvation it is used to describe a person changing their mind about who Jesus is (Acts 2:38) and what they are trusting in for the salvation of their souls (Acts 3:19 is in the context of Peter emphasizing that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone three verses earlier.) Did you know that the only book of the Bible written to a totally unsaved audience, the book of John, doesn’t use the word “repent” once in any form? Instead it uses the word “believe” 98 x’s in the verb form alone! Does that mean “repent” or “repentance” is a bad word? NO! NO! NO! Repent is a great word. And repentance is necessary for salvation. But the word repent is interchangeable with faith throughout the New Testament. When you repent (AKA “change your mind”) about what or who you are trusting in, you are believing. And when you believe in Jesus, you are changing your mind about what or who you are trusting in. But to say that repentance is turning from sin and a separate act of faith is implying that the book of John and Jesus himself (and the rest of the apostles by the way) preached an incomplete gospel. That’s a dangerous if not damnable implication.

The last two Mormon missionaries who came to my door reminded me that they “had the same view of salvation as most Protestant churches.” I begged to differ. They said something like, “Oh yeah, you guys believe that to be saved you need to repent from your sins and completely surrender your life to Jesus to be saved and that’s what we believe.”
I guess they were right. Many, if not most, Protestant churches preach a gospel that focuses primarily on what we must do to earn, er, I mean, “receive” the free gift of eternal life. But their “free” gift comes with a price tag. Their view of the gift of eternal life is like opening a present from your parents at Christmas only to have them say “that will be $49.99 please! Pay up!”
A gift that costs anyone but the giver is no gift at all. Any gospel message that demands we “pay up” is not really good news. It’s self-dependent, humanistic, “work your own way to heaven” religion 101. To use a technical theological term, it’s a load of crap.
Can you guess that I have a really big problem with a gospel presentation that a Mormon has no problem with? Why don’t many Mormons (and the last few Jehovah’s Witnesses I witnessed to by the way) have a problem with the works-laden approach to salvation that many Protestant churches preach? Because they know a works centered approach to Jesus when they see one! If Mormons can see this then why can’t we?
What do I believe? I believe that salvation is truly a free gift of God’s grace that we receive through faith alone in Jesus. I believe that once we are saved we don’t “make Jesus Lord” of our lives. He is Lord! As we submit to him we are blessed and conformed to the image of Christ. If we resist we are disciplined until we submit. If we continue to resist then one of two things is true: we were never truly saved or we are in for a divine encounter of the Old Testament kind (Hebrews 10:26-32.) Once we repent (i.e. change our minds and believe in Jesus) he begins a work of sanctification and turning us from our sin that cannot be stopped by us (Philippians 1:6). It may take death to complete the work but it will be completed.
It’s time for a re-reformation of the church. It’s time to preach the gospel of grace for what it is…the gospel (AKA “good news”) of grace (AKA “undeserved, unworked for, unmerited favor and love of God received through faith alone in Christ alone”).Once we embrace this grace Jesus embraces us and he won’t let go until we are fully conformed to his image.

The original reformation began when the rogue monk, Martin Luther, nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door. Because I’m not a tenth as smart as Mr. Luther, I’m just nailing this one theses to my blog (and hopefully your heart!)

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