Indulgences led to confidence in a merit apart from Christ. In his classic the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin critiqued the Catholic doctrine of penance. He said Catholics held ‘that there are many helps by which we may redeem sins: tears, fasting, offerings, and works of charity. With these we must propitiate the Lord. … With these we must merit his pardon. For although he has forgiven the guilt through the largeness of his mercy, yet by the discipline of his justice we retains punishment. … When the Scripture says, ‘by the name of Christ,’ it means that we bring nothing, we claim nothing of our own, but rely solely upon the commendation of Christ” (3.4.25). This is a crucial Reformation doctrine. We claim nothing of our own, but rely solely upon the commendation of Christ. This is the matter of today’s sermon. Our whole salvation rests on Jesus Christ and him alone.
Question 45: How will Christ come to save his church?
Christ will come to save us, his church, very shortly, at a time that no man knows, before God pours out his wrath during the Tribulation, by rapturing those dead and alive in Christ to meet him together in the air.
For Luther, the authority for the church was Scripture alone. This became a very important matter in the Reformation. It is not without accident that our second catechism question is What rule has God given whereby we may glorify him? The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule to glorify God and enjoy him. This simple answerwas not in any way self-evident in the medieval church. But medieval Christianity not only denied that Scripture was the final authority in matters of doctrine and practice, it also kept the Bible from the people. To argue for the doctrine of sola Scriptura, I want to look at three books in particular. It’s not that the teaching isn’t found elsewhere, but I trust this will nevertheless illustrate that the Scriptures do, in fact, espouse that Scripture and especially the New Testament is our ultimate authority.
One of the key questions for Martin Luther and John Calvin was, how is a man right with God? That is, how can a man be justified in the sight of God? This was central for the Reformers. Their answer, which they took from Scripture, was absolutely right: men and women are justified by faith alone. We also affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone, not because the Reformers taught it, but because, as they rightly rediscovered, the Bible teaches it. God’s Word teaches faith alone in many different places, but I’ve selected Paul’s words in Romans 3:21-26 to draw it out for us this morning.