Martin Luther and Sola Scriptura
Martin Luther was a man who stood for the truth. It is one thing to believe the truth, but it is something else to stand for it, especially at the threat of your own life. In the face of mounting difficulties and growing dangers, this German reformer held tenaciously to what came to be known as sola Scriptura. These two Latin words, meaning 'Scripture alone,' formed what came to be known as the formal principle of the Reformation, because it gave form to what Luther and the Reformers believed and preached. In the tempestuous sixteenth century, sola Scriptura became the battle cry for those who fought the good fight for the truth of the gospel.
So bold was Luther's commitment to the singular authority of the Bible that he resolutely stood against Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg and remained resilient before Martin Eck at Leipzig. So firm was his stance that he burned the Pope's bull in Wittenberg and was immovable before Johann Eck at the Diet of Worms. Unbowed, Luther publicly confronted Erasmus in Bondage of the Will by holding to the word alone. In this pivotal movement, this frontline soldier stood against centuries of church tradition and papal abuse as he asserted the Scripture alone.
The Defining Moment
The defining moment came on April 18th, 1521, when Luther had been summoned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V to appear at the Imperial Diet in Worms, Germany. Despite the warning by friends not to come, Luther nevertheless appeared. Assuming it would be an opportunity for him to present his beliefs on the Scripture, he soon discovered that he was standing at his own heresy trial. The political and ecclesiastical hierarchy of the day was present - in addition to the Emperor, six electors, the Pope's legates, archbishops, bishops, dukes, margraves, princes, counts, deputies, ambassadors of foreign courts, and numerous dignitaries. Outside were several thousand spectators.
A table in the middle of the room held twenty-five of Luther's books and treatises, including his 95 Theses, On the Papacy, Address to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of the Christian. The prosecuting attorney for the Roman Catholic Church, Johann von Eck, essentially asked Luther two questions. "Martin Luther, are these your books?" and, "Will you recant?"
Luther realized that this was not an open debate, but an examination for a capital offense. Sensing the gravity of the moment, he asked to recess for the night that he might give careful thought to the answer. The request arose not from any lack of courage, but from a sense of responsibility. He wrote a friend that night, "I shall not retreat one iota, so Christ help me." The next day, Luther appeared before the dense crowd and stated he would not recant his books. Such writings are filled with Scripture, he asserted, and to recant would be to recant the word of God itself.
Luther then issued his famous response:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, I am bound by the Scriptures that I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot to do otherwise. Here I stand, God help me.
By this declaration, Luther testified that the Bible is the sole authority upon which he stood. He asserted the Scripture is a higher authority than church traditions, ecclesiastical councils, or even the pope himself. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church had espoused the authority of the Scripture and these other things. But Luther rebutted this position and declared that Scripture alone has the right to rule in the church. By this fearless posture, he established and embodied sola Scriptura.
For Luther and the other reformers, sola Scriptura meant a fundamental commitment to six essential truths about the Bible.
The Inspiration of Scripture
First, Luther's commitment to sola Scriptura meant he fundamentally affirmed the divine inspiration of Scripture. This core conviction was ground zero for the Protestant Reformation. In the sixteenth century, this truth that the Bible is God-breathed gripped his heart and refused to let him go. Luther believed that the Bible is precisely what it claims to be, the written word of the living God. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, "All Scripture is inspired by God." The Greek word used (theopneutos) is translated 'God breathed.' This means that God breathed it out of His very being. In the temptation account, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that precedes out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Here, the Lord affirmed that the sacred writings in the Bible have come out of the mouth of God.
Luther held strongly to this foundational doctrine of divine inspiration. He declared, "Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture." The idea is not that the biblical authors wrote down their own ideas, and then God breathed into their writings, causing them to become inspired. Instead, the doctrine of inspiration means that the Bible has proceeded from God, who is its Author and Source. It can be said that every biblical text has a primary Author and secondary author. The secondary author is the human instrument whom God chose to use to record the text, but the primary Author is God Himself. There were over forty human authors who God used to write the Bible, yet God alone is its ultimate Author. Luther was rock-solid in this underlying conviction.
Without equivocation, Luther affirmed, "The Holy Spirit is the Author of this book." Though an individual book in the Bible may bear the human author's name, such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, it is nonetheless the product of the mind of the Spirit. Luther said, "We attribute to the Holy Spirit all of the holy Scripture." He held that every jot, tittle, verb tense, word, phrase, sentence, chapter, and book of holy Scripture is the product of the Holy Spirit. Again, Luther stated, "The Scriptures, although they were written by men, are neither of men nor from men, but from God." By this, he stressed that when the Bible speaks, God Himself speaks.
Consequently, Luther was convinced that the Bible is uniquely different from every other book. He said, "We must make a great difference between God's word and the word of man. A man's word is a little sound that flies into the air and soon vanishes, but the word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yes greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God." In other words, man speaks, and his words merely evaporate into thin air. They have no power to rescue sinners or reassure saints. But when God speaks, the effect is entirely different. In the Bible, the supernatural power of God is unleashed to convert the lost and to conform believers into Christlikeness.
Luther said, "The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. The Bible has feet. It runs after me. The Bible has hands, it lays hold of me." Here, Luther is alluding to Hebrews 4:12, which states, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword." The Bible is a "living" book, full of divine life, and is able to give eternal life to the human soul. Every other book containing human wisdom is a dead book. There is only one living book that imparts divine life, and that is the Scripture alone. Luther understood this truth, and he took his stand on the divinely-inspired word of God.
The Inerrancy of Scripture
Second, an adherence to sola Scriptura also meant that Luther held to the inerrancy of Scripture. He believed that what God has spoken is recorded in His word without any mixture of error. He was convinced that the Bible contains the pure, unadulterated truth of God. The Scripture is without any blemish or mistake. Luther said, "The word is flawless, so that not an iota in the law or the divine promises is defective." This fundamental belief was based upon the clear teaching of Scripture. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by your word. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). Whatever God says in His word, Jesus affirmed, is the truth, and so did Luther. The word "truth" simply means 'reality.' The truth is the way things really are. The condition and destiny of man is whatever biblical truth says it is. Sin and salvation are what the word says they are. Heaven and hell are what the Scripture says they are. Whatever God speaks in His word is absolute truth.
The holiness of God necessitates the inerrancy of Scripture. The Bible says, "God cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). That is, He always speaks the unvarnished truth. Thus, the Bible always tells it like it is. Again the Scripture testifies, "It is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). There are some things God cannot do. He cannot act contrary to His own holy nature. Nor can He speak contrary to His moral perfections. God the Father can only speak truth because He is the "God of truth" (Psalm 31:5). God the Son said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). The apostle John testified that He is "full of…truth" (John 1:14). Jesus Himself claims to speak words of truth (John 8:31-32). God the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), who authored "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Everything each Person of the Trinity says in the word is the truth.
The psalmist David further testifies to the inerrancy of Scripture. He writes, "For the words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace on the earth refined seven times" (Psalm 12:6). The imagery here is that of an ancient smeltering practice, where a precious metal was put into a furnace and the heat greatly increased. It would become so intensely hot that there would be a separation as the impurities would rise to the surface. The smelterer would skim the dross off of the top, leaving behind a pure metal. That is what David is claiming for the written word of God. The Scripture is refined seven times, the number for perfection. It contains no contaminations of flawed human opinions, worldly philosophies, or secular ideologies that would defile the truth. In the Scripture, there is only the pure, inerrant truth of God.
The psalmist writes, "The sum of your word is truth" (Psalm 119:160). In other words, the reality of every individual part of God's word is absolute "truth." The wisdom of Agur states, "Every word of God is tested" (Proverbs 30:5). Again, the ancient process of refining metal is used to convey the inerrancy of Scripture. In the heated furnace, there was the separation and removal of every impurity from the precious metal. Even so, the word of God has been tested as by fire and is found to be a pure record of divine truth. It is utterly devoid of any errors or fallacies. The Scripture is without any mixture of error.
Luther strongly believed this doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. He rejected the false notion that the Bible was a collection of fallible human writings, drawn from men's flawed insights into life. Instead, he maintained, "If God has said it, it must come to pass. For no one should ask whether it is impossible, but only determine whether God has said it." That is, all that matters is what God says in His word. Luther was affirming that if God has said something, then it must be the truth. This is exactly what Paul affirms, "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar" (Romans 3:4). A holy God can only speak inerrant words.
On another occasion, Luther declared, "The apostles show that one should not trust the holy fathers and the church unless it is certain that they have the word of God. Only Scripture is to be considered inerrant." These words "only Scripture" are an early statement of sola Scriptura. Here, Luther asserted that the church fathers are right only to the extent that they are in perfect alignment with the word of God. Those teachers who preceded Luther are correct only as they speak in agreement with the Scripture. Scripture alone is the plumb line by which all human teachers are measured.
The purity of Scripture, Luther stressed, also means it is without any contradictions. He declared, "The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself." He strongly believed that the entire Bible speaks with one voice. From cover to cover, it presents one dilemma for mankind - sin. It offers one solution for sin - the gospel. It teaches one pattern for living - holiness. It reveals one plan for the end of the age - the return of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Luther believed that the Bible never speaks out of both sides of its mouth. Rather, the Scripture presents its message with a perfect internal consistency and unbroken unity. Luther added, "Scripture will not contradict itself on even one article of faith." This is what the Reformers called the analogia Scriptura, or the analogy of Scripture. This important principle affirmed that the Scripture is one seamless tapestry of truth, perfectly woven together, without a thread out of place, giving one self-consistent testimony of the truth.
The Authority of Scripture
Third, an allegiance to sola Scriptura for Luther meant that he firmly stood on the supreme authority of Scripture. The word of God, he believed, is the highest arbitrator in the church. Every human opinion and ecclesiastical voice must yield to whatever the Bible teaches. Luther stated, "The pulpit is the throne for the word of God." Here, he reveals his fundamental belief that God must rule in His church through the binding testimony of His word.
Luther certainly had sufficient biblical grounds to support this claim. The supreme reign of Scripture is taught because the Bible is identified as "the law of the Lord" (Psalm 19:7). This means the Bible contains the divine law that is authoritative over all people. In the next verse, the Bible is referred to as "the commandment of the Lord" (verse 8). The Scripture is not a collection of mere suggestions for people to consider. It does not contain human opinions to ponder. Neither is it laying out options to weigh. To the contrary, the Scripture speaks with the governing authority of God Himself and contains the commandments that men must obey.
Luther understood this and believed that men must base their convictions, not by citing human leaders, but with the Scripture. He said, "When they extol the authority of the fathers or they extol the authority of Augustine or of Gregory and likewise of the councils, our answer is 'Those things have no claim on us. We demand the word.'" This stance put Luther at direct odds with papal authority in Rome. Luther declared, as if addressing the pope directly, "My dear pope, you must not lord it over Scripture, nor must I or anybody else, according to our own ideas. The devil has that attitude!" The epitome of human arrogance, Luther exclaimed, is to elevate man's thoughts, even those of the pope, above God's truth.
Luther forcefully declared:
God…would hold us solely to His word [so] that we may learn to despise the great cry: "Church! Church! Fathers! Fathers! The church cannot err! The church cannot err!"…We should learn to put out of sight church, fathers, temple, priesthood, Jerusalem, God's people, and everything, and listen only to what God tells us in His word.
Here, Luther stressed that what really matters in determining the veracity of any issue is what does God say. He exclaimed, "Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on the earth." Found in this statement again are the words "Scripture alone," which came to be sola Scriptura. Luther went on to say, "God's word wants to be supreme or it is nothing." Simply put, God's word must be recognized as sovereign over the church and all human lives or it has no binding authority whatsoever. There is no middle ground.
Luther also said, "God forbid that there should be one jot or one tittle in all of Paul which the whole church universal is not bound to follow and keep." He understood that the Bible is not simply dispensing advice, but it is making assertive claims upon the lives of people. The Scripture must be recognized as having the right to regulate every church and every believer in every generation. That was the test to which Luther was put at the Diet of Worms. The whole matter was a crisis of authority. What would be the ultimate authority in the church? Would it be church tradition? Would it be ecclesiastical councils? Would it be the pope? Or would it be "Thus says the Lord?" For Luther, he bowed the knee to the sole authority of the word of God.
The Perspicuity of Scripture
Fourth, a dedication to sola Scriptura meant that Luther affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture. This particular aspect of the Bible refers to the unmistakable clarity with which it speaks. In other words, the Bible is the most lucid book ever written, specifically when it addresses matters of salvation and personal godliness. David writes, "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Psalm 19:8). The word "pure" means 'clear, not obscure, not darkened or oblique, without ambiguity, not vague.' This is to say, the Scripture is comprehensive, understandable, cogent, coherent, and articulate. The Bible is like crystal clear water into which one can look and easily see what is lying at the bottom. It is the opposite of a muddy stream or a murky lake that has no visibility to the naked eye. This psalm states that the teaching in the Bible can be easily seen and understood. Its message can be clearly discerned.
This claim is supported in several of the challenges that Jesus issued to the Pharisees. He said, "Have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?" (Matthew 12:5). This rhetorical question implies a positive answer. The point Jesus is making is that if these religious leaders can read, which they undoubtedly can, they should know the truth of Scripture. Jesus said the same when He addressed the Pharisees on another occasion. They had tried to trap Him on the controversial matter of divorce and remarriage, and Jesus directly appealed to the Scripture. He said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?" (Matthew 19:4). Again, this rhetorical question implies a positive answer. If they can read the Bible, they should know the answer because it is clear enough. The truth is right in front of their eyes. They should look into the Bible and see for themselves. Jesus makes the same appeal one more time when He says, "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God?" (Matthew 22:31). If they can read, they should know the truth.
In the sixteenth century, this issue of the clarity of Scripture became a critically important matter. At this time, the Bible was being withheld from the laity on the grounds that they could not understand it. In the days prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church looked down upon the people as though they were too ignorant to interpret and understand the Bible for themselves. Therefore, the church refused to translate the Bible into the vernacular language of the common person. Rome restricted the Bible to Latin, which was the tongue used by the learned in the academic classrooms of universities and monasteries. However, the farmer in the field or the blacksmith in his shop did not know Latin. Tragically, priests preached in Latin and conducted the worship service in the same, further keeping the people in ignorance.
By stark contrast though, Luther was convinced that the Bible is the most lucid book ever written in the essential matters of the gospel and Christian living. He held that God speaks in such a clear manner that He can be easily understood. Thus, when Luther was kidnapped by his friends after the Diet of Worms and taken to Wartburg Castle in 1521, he spent his time doing what was most strategic for the German-speaking people. He translated the Bible into the German language. This gift to hi fellow countrymen was published in September 1522 and came to be known as the September Bible. From that point, a common German worker could take the Bible, read it for himself, and understand what God meant in His word. The people soon discovered there is no mention of indulgences, purgatory, treasury of merit, the pope, last rights, nor the removal of sin through baptism or church membership. The people could read for themselves that the way of salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone.
So lucid is the Bible, Luther said, "No clearer book has been written on earth than the holy Scripture." The Bible is plainly understood in the essential matters of salvation and the pursuit of personal holiness. Luther said, "Everything there is in the Scriptures has been brought out by the word into the most definite light and published for all the world to see." The message of the gospel in the Bible is not hidden from man's eyes, but is in the open for all to see. Again, Luther said, "The meaning of Scripture is in and of itself so certain and accessible and clear that Scripture interprets itself and tests and judges and illumines everything else." He contended that what is in the Bible is abundantly clear, and by it we understand the issues of life, death, and eternity. It is by the word of God that God, the world, and one's self is understood. Luther also said, "There is not on earth a book more lucidly written than the holy Scriptures." This persuasion was in total contradiction to the dogma of Rome, but it was consistent with Scripture's own testimony.
Moreover, Luther maintained, "Scripture is intended for all people. It is clear enough so far as truths necessary for salvation are concerned." The gospel, as recorded in the Bible, is not to be reserved for only a few educated elitists. It is to be read and understood by all people. Luther certainly admitted that some parts of Scripture were hard to understand. But they are those portions that have nothing to do with knowing and entering the way of salvation. The difficult parts of Scripture are the peripheral issues, while the primary parts are crystal clear. When reading the parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand, he said, "If you cannot understand the obscure, then stay with the clear." Again, he said, "If the words are obscure at one place, they will be made clear in another place." That is to say, Scripture shines the best light upon Scripture. Put another way, Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Fifth, a belief in sola Scriptura also meant that Luther firmly held to the sufficiency of Scripture. He believed the Bible is fully able to carry out all of God's saving and sanctifying purposes. Nothing else needs to be added to the written word of God, because it is complete in and of itself in matters of finding acceptance with God and growing in conformity with Christ. No human wisdom or worldly knowledge needs to be added to the testimony of Scripture. All that any man needs to know concerning his relationship with God is found in the Bible alone.
Luther was in full agreement with what David writes, "The law of the Lord is perfect" (Psalm 19:7). The word "perfect" means 'complete, whole, comprehensive, lacking in nothing.' This is clear testimony to the sufficiency of Scripture. Isaiah 55:11 says, "My word which goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire. Without succeeding in the manner for which I sent it." Whatever God is doing in the world in converting sinners and maturing saints is being carried out by the ministry of His word. The Scripture never fails to accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.
The apostle Paul affirms the sufficiency of Scripture when he writes: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The word "adequate" refers to a person who is made capable and proficient to perform a task. The word "equipped" indicates he is enabled to meet the demands that God requires. All the divine truth that we need is deposited in the word of God. Other books written by men are helpful only to the extent that they help us understand and apply the word of God. Insights from other sources are not needed for anyone to enter or advance in the kingdom of God.
Luther understood this when he wrote, "This word is the word of life. It is the word of truth. It is the word of light, of preaching, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory and every blessing beyond our power to estimate." He believed all that is necessary for anyone to come to faith in Christ and follow Him is contained in the Scripture. This truth, he believed, is a reflection of the sufficiency of God Himself. Luther said, "What kind of God would He be if His word is insufficient and is in need of supplementing by men?" An incomplete Bible, Luther reasoned, would mean that its Author is lacking. Any perceived insufficiency in Scripture would mean that His word is not enough, and that men would have to augment God's wisdom with their own wisdom. Such empty thinking is an open attack upon God Himself.
Luther repeatedly affirmed that the Scripture is sufficient to lead the sinner to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Luther states, "We should know that God has ordained that no one is to come to a knowledge of Christ or to obtain the remission of sin without external and general means. God has deposited this treasure in the spoken word of the ministry." When Luther says "external means," he refers to the special revelation in the written word of God. When he says "general means," he means the preaching of this word. Thus, Luther affirmed the supernatural ability of the word preached to convert the soul and conform the life into the image of Christ.
The Invincibility of Scripture
Sixth, a loyalty to sola Scriptura means that Luther believed the Bible is a superior weapon. He was confident it wields an invincible force in the hands of a skilled, Spirit-empowered handler. Luther held that no human weapon can match the irresistible power of the word of God in the day of His power. When the apostle Paul describes the full armor of God, he concludes, "take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). The word of God is a razor-sharp sword that can cut through the thickest façade of a person's life and pierce to the heart. When unsheathed and used against the enemy, the Bible gives the believer an astounding victory in the evil day. All other weaponry crafted by man is inferior. The word alone enables the believer to live victoriously in Jesus Christ.
The invincibility of Scripture was clearly seen on the temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness. The three climactic attacks by Satan began when the evil one said, "Command these stones to become bread" (verse 3), Jesus responded by repelling this assault by using the word of God, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4). The devil then tempted Jesus to jump off the temple, to which Jesus responded, resisting him with the sword of the Spirit, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (verse 7).
Finally, Jesus was taken up to the highest point of a mountain and the evil one offered him the kingdoms of this world on one condition, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me" (verse 9). Jesus fended off this temptation of Satan by unsheathing the sword of the Spirit, and resisted the devil, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only'" (verse 10). Even Jesus used the word of God to overcome the temptation. No matter how shrewd the devil is, the word of God is greater and is able to give the victory in the evil day.
In like manner, Luther knew that in his own wisdom and strength, he could not stand against the papistry and its ecclesiastical hierarchy. But one man armed with this sword of the Spirit is able to withstand the deadly deceptions of Rome. He was well aware of the triumphant power in the word of God. He was a frontline warrior who was attacked on every side by many advances from the evil one. He was constantly exposed to the hidden ambushes and frontal assaults of Satan. Though he faced temptations and discouragements on every side, Luther remained armed for the battle and made to be victorious in the conflict.
Why Luther Stood Here
Why was it so necessary for this German reformer to adhere so strictly to sola Scriptura? What was at stake? Why was this conviction so critically important?
Principally, Luther knew if he stood upon anything except sola Scriptura, it meant he would be taking steps away from God Himself. God and His word cannot be separated. The two are inseparably bound together. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. To depart from the exclusive nature of the word of God, even in the slightest, is to take steps away from God. Such a departure from Scripture is always the first step onto the slippery slope that leads to the downfall of any movement or ministry. To take one step off of the high ground of the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture inevitably leads to apostasy. No one can stand with God and yet forsake His word. To drift from the word of God is to turn one's back on its Author. Luther knew this, and he could not abandon the sacred writing, because to do so would be to desert the God of truth.
Moreover, Luther understood that to abandon sola Scriptura is to abandon Jesus Christ. An inseparable connection exists between the living Word and the written word. In fact, the Scripture is identified by the apostle Paul as "the word of Christ." He writes, "So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Paul further writes, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you" (Colossians 3:16). Here, the word of God and the word of Christ are synonymous expressions. To abandon the written word is to move away from the living Word. To reject the one is to reject the other.
In addition, Luther realized that to abandon sola Scriptura was to forsake the truth for lies and deceptions. Paul refers to the Scripture as "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus affirmed the same when He identified the word of God as "truth" (John 17:17). That is to say, the word of God is the record of the truth of God. The Bible is the self-revelation of God Himself. It is the self-disclosure of God to His people. In the Scripture, the mind of God is revealed and the glory of God is displayed. To abandon the Scripture is to depart from the light of truth and enter into the darkness of error. Luther knew this and dare not go there.
Finally, for Luther to abandon sola Scriptura was to forsake the gospel message as the only way of salvation. To desert the gospel message as taught in the Bible was to depart from the narrow gate that leads to life. Paul writes, "In Him you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation" (Ephesians 1:13). Here, Paul equates "the message of truth" with "the gospel of salvation." These two statements are synonymous and interchangeable. If anyone walks away from the word of truth, he is deserting the gospel. James writes, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth" (James 1:18). Only by "the word of truth" is anyone brought into the kingdom of God. God exercises His sovereign will in salvation exclusively where His word has been planted into human hearts.
This is why Luther took his stand upon sola Scriptura. If we are to see a great work of the Spirit again in these days, it will come only as we hold tightly to the same convictions concerning the word of God. Every reformation in church history has been ushered in by a return to the exclusive claims of Scripture. J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, the great historian of the Protestant Reformation, said, "Every reformation emanates from the word of God." If we are to see a reformation in our day, then pastors and preachers in pulpits must be firmly committed to sola Scriptura. The preacher must have nothing to say apart from the word of God. His calling is to be simply a mouthpiece for Scripture. Spiritual leaders must govern their churches and ministries by Scripture alone. Sermons must be saturated with the Scripture. Worship services must be regulated by Scripture alone. The witness of the church to the world must be governed by its commitment to sola Scriptura. God will honor the man and church who honors His word. But He will abandon the man and flock that departs from the word of God.
The Word Did It All
As the Reformation began to develop, Luther was asked to explain how such a history-altering movement was taking place in Europe. Luther responded with these words:
I simply taught, preached, wrote God's word. Otherwise, I did nothing and then I slept…and the word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince and never an emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The word did it all.
Luther was not looking for any means to advance the work of God apart from unleashing the power of the Scripture. So it must be in this hour. We are not looking for gospel gimmicks in our day. Nor must our reliance be upon the latest fads or techniques. We are looking for men and women, churches and seminaries, ministries and denominations that will stand upon the word of God alone. Let us proclaim the word in the power of the Spirit and then trust the word to do its work.
This article originally appeared in Expositor Magazine, No. 20, Nov/Dec 2017