The Legacy of Martin Luther and the Reformation
“The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone.” – Martin Luther
On October 31, 1517, a priest just shy of his 34th birthday nailed his now famous 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church located just a stone’s throw from the Elbe River in Wittenberg, Germany. As Brandon D. Smith wrote in Echoes of the Reformation, “The main point was simple: you can’t buy God’s grace, and you can’t override the authority of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church had missed these truths, and that was a dangerous place to be.”
While his intent was to reform the church, in his faithfulness to the Bible, Martin Luther’s act that day instead ignited an entire Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years later, let’s take a look at a few of the main points Luther emphasized that still have relevance to our world today.
Sola Scripture: Scripture Alone
“Luther’s greatest legacy to us is his love for and submission to Scripture,” wrote Smith. In the 1500s, the pope had as much power as Scripture, but Luther knew we needed to open the Bible to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). Luther himself wrote, “I am bound by the Scripture I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
“The Roman Catholic Church couldn’t sell grace, and Luther knew this,” Smith wrote. “Indulgences put an unbearable law on God’s people. But God in His Word tells us that we have no shot of earning grace, and that’s OK because Jesus came to earth as walking, talking grace.”
Sola Fide: Faith Alone
“This sola is perhaps the cornerstone of the Reformation,” said Smith. “Luther’s struggle with his own sin, his continual feeling of being an absolute wretch, reminded him that faith was all he had…He had faith that God saved him, and that was his only hope.”
Sola Christus: Christ Alone
In his time, Luther felt that the church had put the pope in place of Christ. However, Luther knew that Jesus himself had said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul also wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a).
Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone
As Smith wrote, “God can’t have all the glory if people play any part in salvation, and the church insisted that works are an essential part of salvation…God gets all the glory, not us. We’re just blessed to be able to look up and see the heavens declaring His glory.” Praise God that one day God’s glory will be so bright that we longer need the sun (Revelation 22:5) and every tongue will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).