Happy New Year! Every January we kind of start off trying to get our heads and our hearts turned in a good direction for the rest of the year. We focus in on what it looks like to follow Jesus, what it means to be the church, and how to find happiness in living as God’s children.
And I think this is a good practice. Each new day, every Sunday, every New Year is an opportunity to let go of the mistakes of the past, to go beyond the challenges that may have been holding you back, and to grow stronger and experience more of the joy and blessing that God has planned for you.
Here’s how we are going to start addressing the year ahead this morning. We’re going back into history about 500 years.
It was 500 years ago, in 1517, that events started to unfold that would later be called the Protestant Reformation.
This was a time when the Roman Catholic Church had lost its way and was using its considerable power to build wealth and possessions and political influence for the leaders of the church at the expense of ministering to the eternal and everyday needs of the people.
The Reformation was a response to the excesses and abuses of the church in that period, and it is out of that time that men like Martin Luther and John Calvin began to re-emphasize basic faith principles that still serve as a foundation for understanding all that God is doing throughout history.
The teaching of these men and others have been summarized in Latin phrases that are called the Five Solas. Sola means “alone” or “only,” as in when you are learning to fly, you don’t get your pilot’s license until you fly solo, alone.
Here are the Five Solas:
Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone
Sola Fide – Faith Alone
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
Solus Christus – Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone
These are the fundamental ideas that we are going to focus on over the next few weeks, not because we are in need of a reformation in our church, but we do this to lay a solid foundation as you seek to shape and re-form your life in a way that makes your heart happier and your spirit healthier in the year to come.
There are traditionally Five Solas. But because we are the Revolution Church, we always like to put our unique perspective on things, so before we’re done, we’ll actually add a Sixth Sola to this list.
Some of you may remember the M. Night Shyamalan movie “the Sixth Sense,” and how what you learned at the end of that story changed your perspective on everything that came before. So I just kind of want to pique your interest in that Sixth Sola which we’ll get to at the end.
Okay, that’s the introduction. Congratulations on making it this far!
Now let’s talk about Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone.
What does that mean?
Here’s the explanation of this principle from the Westminster Confession of Faith which was compiled by the Church of England in 1646, just at the end of the Reformation Period.
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (WC 1:4) The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word. (WC 1:6)
Now these points were so revolutionary during that time, because the Roman Catholic church was teaching that the people could not possibly read and understand the Scriptures for themselves.
They needed the Pope and the priests to interpret God’s Word for them, and then they went even further and taught that the Words of the Pope and the priests carried the same weight and authority of Scripture.
And one way they kept control of the interpretation was to resist the printing of the Scriptures in any common language that the people could read for themselves.
Here’s what reformer William Tyndale said in response to this:
“I defy the Pope, and all his laws, and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.” – William Tyndale (1494-1536)
Tyndale made it his life’s work to get the Scriptures into the hands of as many people as possible, translating it into English, and distributing the Bible throughout Europe, which carried the sentence of death.
Ultimately he was charged with heresy for defying the Pope. And Tyndale was tied to a stake where he was strangled and his body was burned. Observers said his last words were, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.” And it was 75 years later when this prayer was answered when the James the First commissioned what would become the standard for English translation, many of you grew up with this – the King James Bible in 1611.
Now I know it’s tempting to think none of this has anything to do with you. Or to maybe receive it as a history lesson that simply makes us grateful for those who stood for truth and freedom in an earlier age. But I do want you to realize that the idea of Sola Scriptura has relevance for your life today.
Now in the Reformation, the main thrust of Sola Scriptura was to re-emphasize that rather than the church exercising judgment and authority over the Scriptures, that instead the church and its leaders were to be guided and directed and judged by the Bible.
God’s Word has the ultimate authority, not the church.
I doubt today that anyone here would dispute that. Because of the Reformation, we have hundreds of years of understanding that no priest or pastor or deacon or Bible teacher or church is the ultimate authority over your life.
When we see a circumstance where a leader or governing structure in a faith context tries to be in control of every aspect of your life – all your thinking, your actions, choices and relationships, we call that a cult. As Christians, we don’t do cults. We follow Jesus. We worship God.
And we know how to worship God and how to follow Jesus primarily and most authoritatively by learning and understanding God’s Word. God has given us by natural intellect and by His Spirit the ability to read and understand and apply His Word.
But here’s the problem for many today.
While we readily accept as Christ-followers that God’s Word has more authority over our lives than any human teachier or leader even in the church, we still may not actually live as if God’s Word has the ultimate divine authority and supremacy over all other claims to truth in this world and even over our own thoughts and desires.
Let me put that more simply. Some may accept Sola Scriptura – the Divine Supremacy of Scripture – in principle, but they do not practice Sola Scriptura – the DIVINE AUTHORITY of Scripture – in the day to day lives.
That’s the challenge. To let God rule in your life through the instruction and the teaching and the guidance of His Word.
So many places in His Word, God tells us how it is powerful and useful for us in everyday living.
Let’s look at just two of many passages where God tells us the difference that His Word will make in your life.
12“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
This really speaks to the power of the Scriptures to get inside of you and change you and affect the way you look at life and your choices and your relationships and all the different philosophies and desires that clamor for your attention and affection.
God is saying that His Word will enlighten and empower you and shape you so that you are more and more like Jesus. So that you more and more will take on God’s character. You will more and more think like God does and feel like He does and be motivated according to Godly desires and aims. You will love like God loves and have passion for what God adores.
Man, I love what Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist minister from the 1800’s said about this. Hear these words:
“The Word of God is like a Lion. You don’t have to defend a Lion. All you have to do is let the Lion loose, and the Lion will defend itself.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892
I’m telling you, we all need some more of this. You need more Lion in your life! If you’re not reading God’s Word regularly or you’re not in a weekly Bible study with other believers trying to get more of His Word into your heart, then you are forfeiting a lot of the growth and blessing that God has for you.
Look at just this one more passage, this one from the Old Testament Psalms:
7“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
– Psalm 19:7-8
Oh my gosh, I know you want these things in the year ahead.
You want your soul to be revived! You want to be wiser in your affairs! You want your heart to overflow with joy! You want to see and deal with circumstances and people with clarity and purpose! This will give you all that! The Word of God!
Sola Scriptura means...
This is how we begin the New Year. We talk about what’s important. Here is the foundation for your happiness, your peace and your growth. Take this ancient principle of Sola Scriptura and put it into PRACTICE in your life.
Scripture Alone – the Word of God – will be my highest authority in the year ahead.
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