Reformation 500

October 31st isn’t just the day little kids dress up in costumes and knock on strangers doors demanding candy. It is a date far more historically meaningful than any ghost, goblin or Disney character. It is also the date that marks the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That glorious event that reclaimed many of the biblical truths you may take for granted today and reshaped the world in sweeping and dramatic ways. 

This October is especially important as it marks the Reformation’s 500-year anniversary. 

I have obsessed over the celebration of this momentous event. So much so that my wife is sick of hearing the names Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly. But not everyone is equally enamored with Reformation Day. Many ask the question, “Why does the Reformation matter?” 

A great deal has happened in the half millennia since Martin Luther nailed his theses to the chapel door and you are its beneficiary. But from what have you benefited? 

The Reformation is not a date on the calendar or a mere historical event but as something alive and active in your life today. Below are two reasons the Protestant Reformation matters today.

1. The Bible you hold in your hands or keep in your pocket.

Reading the Bible for yourself was not a common or acceptable practice 500 years ago. The church told you what it said, what it meant and what you were to believe. The concept of a commoner with a Bible in their language was so unthinkable that it got John Wycliffe in trouble nearly 200 years before Luther. Wycliffe died before he could finish translated the Scriptures into English, but that didn’t stop authorities from digging up his body, burning it and throwing the ashes into the river. That’s what you call opposition to an idea! 

The reformers picked up Wycliffe’s torch and ran with it by translating the Bible into the languages of everyday people. They put the words of God into the hands of men and women to read and learn for themselves. 

While facing martyrdom Luther declared, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves–I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” 

If your heart and mind are to be held captive to the Word of God, you have to be able to read and know what it says. Without the tireless efforts of the reformers, you may not have the access and knowledge of exactly what the Bible says. 

2. Justification by faith alone.

The reformers reclaimed the very heart of the gospel. The sweet and simple message of the good news of salvation was corrupted by the Roman Catholic Church. A system of penance and religion had replaced the finished work of Christ. Luther led the charge to recover the truths of the gospel—namely that salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. 

The Westminister Catechism expresses this clearly in question 70: 

Question: What is justification?

Answer: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Talk about an issue worth standing and ultimately dying for! 

Luther was right that justification is, “the article by which the church stands or falls.” It was the case 500 years ago and it remains so in our day. Too many have abandoned the truths of Scripture delivered to us, chief among which is how a man is saved. The church needs to hear the call of the gospel again today and every day.  

Spiritual Disciplines: Perseverence

We complete our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Perseverance. If you’d like to know more about what we’ve been doing, you can read about it here

Last week, we discussed Learning. In that post, we discovered that spiritual maturity doesn't increase by age and experience alone. It requires a teachable heart. 

Each week I have worked to draw your attention to a reminder like this. Going through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. The Holy Spirit will. Engage in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will use them to make you more like Christ. Keep this in mind as we move on from our study of the Spiritual Disciplines.

Summary

Our schedules overflow with activity. Most of us go, go, go seven days a week. There is little rest for the weary it seems. The Spiritual Disciplines aren't for a special class of Christians. We don't need more time or a better handle on things.

“The godly person,” Whitney said, “is a busy person. The godly person is devoted to God and to people, and that leads to a full life.” The people we admire are busy people as well. They have responsibilities, families, and jobs like us. In truth, they are busier than we would ever know. 

“Laziness,” Whitney said, “never leads to godliness.” He is onto something with that point. Seldom have I met a maturing believer in Christ, whose schedule wasn’t full. As we grow in godliness our level of activity and service increases. 

“God makes Christlike people,” Whitney said, “out of busy people, and He does so through the biblical Spiritual Disciplines.” The Disciplines aren’t for a special class of believers, but you and I amidst a crazy schedule. In fact, the Spiritual Disciplines refuel our hearts and give us the power we need to maintain our busy pace. “Instead of adding additional weight,” Whitney said, “the Spiritual Disciplines are actually one of the ways God lightens your load and gives you smoother sailing.” 

Our busyness can become an excuse to neglect the Disciplines, but we do so to our detriment. “Without practicing the Spiritual Disciplines,” Whitney said, “we will not be godly; but neither will we be godly without perseverance in practicing the Disciplines.” We can’t do them every once in awhile—when schedules and energy allow—and expect to become more Christlike. 

The Holy Spirit isn’t going to impose Christlikeness upon us in this life. We have to discipline ourselves towards that purpose. While salvation is a work of God from beginning to end, sanctification is a work of both God and man. We play a definite and vital role in our sanctification and will experience as much of it as our efforts permit.

Lest we fall into the trap of believing that we bring about the change we seek of our own efforts. “We must perpetually remind ourselves,” Whitney said, “that despite the most fervent diligence to our responsibility to discipline ourselves ‘for the purpose of godliness,’ we cannot make ourselves more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit does that, working through the Disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him.” 

So while there is a role we play in our growth in godliness, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. The Spiritual Disciplines help position us so that when the Holy Spirit sparks, a fire is lit. We don’t have control over when the Holy Spirit does His part, but that shouldn’t cause us to neglect ours. 

We aren’t able to grow in Christlikeness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and we won’t grow in isolation either. It is quite fashionable to rail against the church these days as if one can love God and not love His people. The church is a gift to the believer and we need each other far more than we realize. “Without true fellowship,” Whitney said, “even the Christian who is ardently practicing the personal Spiritual Disciplines will not develop in a biblically proportioned way.” 

John Bunyan’s Christian didn’t make the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City alone. And we won’t either. “Associate with sanctified persons,” Thomas Watson said, “They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy.” 

Christian fellowship is more than socializing with other believers in Christ. “Christian fellowship,” Whitney said, “involves talking about God, the things of God, and life from a uniquely Christian perspective.” The Lord uses socializing to connect us with both believers and unbelievers alike. There is a higher aim for Christian fellowship. It is to push and stretch us to be about the Lord’s work and ever growing in godliness.     

“Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines and progressing in godliness,” Whitney said, “will be accompanied by struggle.” The Christian life is not any easy one. Every believer must do battle with the world, the flesh and the Devil. Christ won the ultimate victory over these three foes at Calvary. We must persevere in the Disciplines to experience that victory day to day.

“So we need to remember,” J.I. Packer said, “that any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in our pursuit of holiness in this world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us as waking experience daily disproves it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, just as our Lord’s was.” 

Reflection

I’m amazed at the degrees to which we will go to find a loophole or shortcut. I find more and more that there are zero true shortcuts in life. Good old fashioned hard work is required to do anything of real and lasting value. There are those who will attempt to convince you otherwise, but they're wrong. The disciplined application of effort is the only path to that will get you where you want to go. 

Whitney has done us a great service by calling to the Christian mind the enduring need of discipline. No amount of will or self-control can get anyone to Heaven. Only Jesus life, death, burial, and resurrection can secure that for us. 

“One of the surest signs that someone does cling to Christ,” Whitney said, “is his or her ever-deepening desire to know Him better and to become as much like Him as possible. That is what godliness is, and genuine disciples of Jesus passionately pursue it. And just as the only way to God is through Christ, so the only way to godliness is through the Christ-centered practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.” 

I am thankful for Whitney’s reminder of discipline’s place in the Christian life. He has given us a clear a path to pursuing Christlikeness. There will never be a ‘right time’ for me to put in place what I’ve learned these many weeks. However I integrate these Disciplines into my everyday life, I will have to do so with life still up in the air.  

Next Week

Congratulations! You reached the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. If you didn't jump in with us this time, I'd encourage you to buy the book and walk through the series on your own.

Your Turn

This is the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. I’d love to hear what stood out to you this week and every week throughout our study. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.
 

Spiritual Disciplines: Learning

We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Learning. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here.

Last week, we discussed Journaling. In that post, we discovered that meditating on Scripture unlocks yet another door to experiencing more of God. As we dwell on His Word our affections are stirred towards worship.  

Simply walking through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. Engaging in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus helps you become more like Him. Keep this in mind each week as you study and learn. 

Summary  

Twelve chapters in, we turn our attention to gaze more closely upon a Discipline we’ve been engaging in throughout this series, learning. As we have read the first eleven chapters of Whitney’s book on the Spiritual Disciplines, we have discovered many things with the potential to transform our walks with Christ. In short, we’ve been learning about how to grow in godliness. 

“One of the characteristics of a wise man or woman,” Whitney said, “is a desire for learning.” They know they can’t learn too much, there is always more to be understood and a deeper ocean of truth in which to swim. You’ve at least shown a leaning in this direction by reading along with me these last many weeks. Way to go. 

“A wise person,” Whitney said, “not only ‘acquires’ knowledge, he or she ‘seeks’ it. Wise ones desire to learn and will discipline themselves to seek opportunities for learning.” There are a hundred different ways the Christian can discipline themselves to towards the end of learning. Whitney touched on at least six in this chapter: 

1. Listening to recorded books
2. Podcasts
3. Study Guides
4. Conversation
5. Classes and Groups  
6. Reading Good Books
 
“Christians,” Whitney said, “must realize that just as a fire cannot blaze without fuel, so burning hearts are not kindled by brainless heads.” What we do in the area of learning has big ramifications. If we neglect our on going education and cease to hunger to know God more, it won’t be long until our hearts grow cold. Knowledge fuels devotion. You can’t be devoted to a God and His purposes if you don’t know much about either. 

“God has made us,” R.C. Sproul said, “with a harmony of heart and head, of thought and action...The more we know Him the more we are able to love Him. The more we love Him the more we seek to know Him. To be central in our hearts He must be foremost in our minds. Religious thought is the prerequisite to religious affection and obedient action.” 

Our efforts in reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life have been that we might discover how each of the Disciplines help us grow in godliness. This knowledge is meant to drive us forward into action. Learning and action are supposed to be linked activities. Acquiring more knowledge of things we’re never going to do doesn’t make us more like Jesus, it makes us more like the Pharisees. 

“No one grows into Christlikeness without learning about it—what Christlikeness looks like, how they should cultivate it, why it’s necessary, where it leads, and more.” Learning may be where things begin, it just can’t be where they end.

Reflection

While some are have a hard time disciplining themselves for the purpose of Christlike learning, that’s not my problem. Mine tends to rest on the other side of that equation. I am obsessed with learning. I read as many books as I can get my hand on, listen to dozens of podcasts each week, and chew through blogs like a beaver does wood. I also surround myself with godly men and ask them questions on a regular basis. In short, I love to learn. 

Here is a smattering of books, blogs, podcasts and more that I’ve found helpful: 

Books: Greg Koukl, Tactics; Randy Alcorn, If God is Good; John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress; Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage; Randy Alcorn, Heaven; Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language; Randy Alcorn, hand in HandArthur Bennett, Valley of Vision; The Story of Reality, Greg Koukl

Blogs: Tim Challies, Scott Kedersha, Eric Geiger

Podcasts: The Briefing; The Stand to Reason Weekly Podcast; The Cold-Case Christianity PodcastLet My People ThinkJust Thinking; Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul

More: Stand to Reason, Ligonier Ministries, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, The Bible Project, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) 

I mentioned that learning wasn’t my issue earlier, but I didn’t explicitly define where this chapter hit me. I’d like to do that now if I may. I have the tendency to store up knowledge like The Rich Young Ruler stored grain, meaning that I find comfort and joy in the pursuit of knowing and learning more, but as you remember from Christ’s parable things didn’t end well for him. Just as he was meant to leverage his wealth and material blessings for the purposes of God and the good of others, I am to do the same with what I learn. 

I do this well on the blog. I make it a regular habit to share the things impacting my heart, life and brain with you here, but I don’t always do so in real life conversations with real people. Too often I am content to listen and ask questions, without taking the next step to follow up by sharing something I’ve recently learned either from or about God’s Word. I’m seeking to grow and do better at speaking up in those moments, instead of allowing fear or propriety get in the way. 

One final thought on the topic of godly learning is this, our children are watching and will pick up the habits and attitudes we display. “The reason young people are not intentional learners,” Whitney said, “is because their parents aren’t.” This hit me with the force of an atomic bomb several months back, as Hannah and I brought our son home from the hospital. That little boy will be watching me as he grows up. The stakes for how I engage in the Spiritual Disciplines couldn’t therefore be any higher. 

I must tend to my daily habits, routines and attitudes about the things of God, if my prayer for Hudson is that The Lord would capture his heart at a young age. The example I set before Hudson will be the primary vehicle The Lord uses to teach my son about Himself during Hudson’s early years.  

Next Week

We will complete with the final chapter (chapter twelve) of the book next Sunday. We may be nearing the end of reading Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together, but it’s not too late for you to jump in. 

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you this week. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below.