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: Bible Intake

We kick off our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Bible Intake. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of Spiritual Disciplines and shared some of my history with them briefly. In that post, we discovered that Spiritual Disciplines are practices found in God’s word that help cultivate Christlike joy and character within us. We also saw that God uses people, events, and discipline to change us; the latter being the only one we have control over.

There is a danger in this stuff. We must remember that we are to engage in the Spiritual Disciplines out of delight, not duty. Otherwise, they can become a burden that weighs us down or shackles that bind our limbs. At every turn, we must keep the goal of Christlikeness fixed before us! In short, we must beware of drudgery.

Summary

Bible intake is about more than reading it. It is a wheel with many spokes, which include hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating. Each of these sub disciplines works in tandem with the others to move the believer into closer intimacy with God. Let me explain.

Hearing - This is the easiest of the disciplines related to the intake of God’s Word. It requires the least effort of us, but delivers something far greater—God’s word faithfully preached. “Disciplining ourselves to hear God’s word,” Whitney said, “means primarily developing the practice of steadfastly attending a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is faithfully preached.” There are additional methods to hearing God’s word, which can include everything from reading it aloud to listening to the radio or a podcast. The important principle to walk away with is a commitment to hearing God’s Word.

Reading - Jesus expected those claiming to be the people of God would have read the Word of God. We see it over and over again throughout the gospels. Sadly, studies have shown only 18% of Christians read the Bible daily. “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ,” Whitney said, “discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Schedule ten minutes at the start of your day to read through a passage or even a single verse of Scripture. Start filling your mind with it daily. “God promises that those who read and heed His Word will be blessed.” Whitney said, “But only those who discipline themselves to do so will receive those blessings” Remember that our goal is Christlikeness however, many a man—myself included— has turned this life giving practice into one of toil and strife. Be on guard, and fix your end in mind each time you open your Bible.

Studying - The discipline of studying God’s Word, “takes you beneath the surface of Scripture,” Whitney said, “for an unhurried look of clarity and detail that’s normally missed by those who simply read the text.” This is my favorite discipline, I must confess. While I enjoy reading through God’s Word each day, I love slowing down to chew on it even more. To study Scripture is to immerse yourself in a single passage, idea or book for a period of time, that you might glean a deeper understanding of it. Don’t be intimidated to start. A pen and paper are all you need. Write down what stands out to you as your read, and questions you have. There are a million resources to help you study God’s Word in-depth. “Don’t settle only for spiritual food,” Whitney said, “that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”

Memorizing - Hearing, reading and studying God’s Word is great, but they aren’t usually sufficient for remembering what you’ve learned. For that, you’ll need to apply yourself to memorizing God’s Word. This is where all the spokes on the Bible Intake wheel, start coming together. Memorizing Scripture, helps you not only remember what you’ve read but have access to it at just the right moment. “When Scripture is stored in your mind,” Whitney said, “ it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” The Spirit can’t call it to mind in your time of need if you haven’t memorized it. This is your best tool in the fight against temptation. Memorizing God’s Word also strengthens our faith, by reminding us of truth and gives us words of encouragement to share with others. “Until the verses are hidden in the heart,” Whitney said, “they aren’t available to use with the mouth.”

Meditating - “Let’s define meditation,” Whitney said, “as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a spiritual perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application and prayer.” I hadn’t given much thought to the discipline of meditation prior to reading this chapter for the first time. I engaged in many of the meditation practices Whitney mentions without realizing it. This chapter challenged me to start intentionally letting God’s Word brew in my brain. The practice of meditation found in Scripture isn’t an emptying of the mind, but a filling of the mind with truth. “Hearing and reading the Bible is the exposure to Scripture—that’s needful, but it’s only the starting place.” Whitney said, “After the exposure to Scripture we need to absorb it. Meditation is the absorption of Scripture. And it’s the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience of God and the transformation of life we long for when we come to the Bible.”

The overriding principle of these two chapters is this: “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ, discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Are we disciplined in the ways we seek God’s Word? Do we use these five spokes to fill our hearts and minds with the very words of God? Becoming a doer of the Word comes through meditation upon it. The general rule, then, in your personal, daily intake of Scripture is to both read and meditate.

Reflection

I’ve read and listened to many talks on the topic Bible intake. Few have reached my heart in as convicting and convincing a fashion as these two chapters from Whitney. Being shaped and changed by God’s Word is a far more active endeavor on our part than is usually encouraged. It seems most Christians barely drink at the well of reading the Bible, let alone investing the energy and time it takes to actively engage with it. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times—no one escapes failure in this regard.

Whitney says that growth in Godliness starts with the disciplined intake of Scripture. It is the lifeblood that runs through all other Spiritual Disciplines. If we would grow in Godliness, we need to apply ourselves to this task. Let me then leave you with the words of John Blanchard:

“Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation, and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day! As the American evangelist D.L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter four) of the book next Sunday. We have only begun, so there is plenty of time to get the book and join in.

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you in these two chapters. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.

Work in process

It’s easy to get frustrated with your progress in this life. 

You hope to be and do better, but find yourself not reaching that destination quickly enough. 

“Do this, this and this and you’ll get there,” is well-meaning advice, but life doesn’t work that way. 

There are very few instances in which life comes with turn by turn navigation. 

In one sense, you’ve already arrived at your destination. 

You already have everything you need in Christ. He is your portion and your prize. In Him, you are righteous and perfect before The Father. 

At the same time, you’re not quite there. You have a ton of work left to do. Areas to grow, mature and change. 

You’re not a finished product. You’ll never arrive this side of eternity. 

You’ll always remain a work in process. Striving, pushing and seeking to be more like Jesus. 

This life is all about that journey. 

The long toilsome journey from one degree of glory to another. From who you were yesterday to who you’ll be tomorrow. 

Today is but one day in that journey. 

Make it count. 

Rest in the finished work of Christ. 
 
Pursue the Lord faithfully. Seek Him and find Him in His word, through prayer and in the communion of the saints. 

That’s going to require discipline on your part. But you’re up for the task.