The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany. What happened changed the world.
500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. Therefore, today we’re beginning a new sermon series called “Five Solas” where we’ll cover the five large themes of the reformation, finding out why they mattered then, and why they still matter today.
The Five Solas are:
-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone
-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone
-Sola Fide, Faith Alone
-Solus Christus, Christ Alone
-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone
Today we turn our attention to the first of these, Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it.
In context v16-17 of 2 Timothy 3 come to us in the midst of Paul calling Timothy to continue on in the gospel. In v14 Paul tells him to continue on in the gospel remembering those who taught it to him. Specifically his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois, and his mentor the apostle Paul (1:5). In v15 Paul tells him to continue on in the gospel remembering that these people taught him the gospel as a young boy through the Scriptures which, Paul adds, are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Coming out of his instruction in v14-15 Paul then makes another statement about the Scripture. A statement that would become the most famous statement about Scripture in all of Scripture.
v16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Scripture is Inspired
All Scripture. Not just some Scripture, not just the New Testament, not just parts of it we understand, and not just parts of it we like to read often. All Scripture is breathed out by God. Some translations say ‘inspired’ instead of ‘breathed out.’ Both are aiming at the same meaning. To say Scripture is divinely inspired, or to say Scripture is breathed out by God, is to say it is top down revelation, from God to us. Just as you can awkwardly feel the heat of a close-talkers breath when they invade your personal space to talk with you, so too, when you open the Scripture you can feel the exhale of God, the warmth of His breath. And His breath doesn’t stink, it is sweeter than honey according to Psalm 119:103.
So much flows out of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture. This passage is like an all you can buffet of the richest of delicacies. Because Scripture is inspired by God it leads to a whole host of other glorious things as well.
Because Scripture is inspired it means it is the Word of God. I don’t mean the Bible contains the word of God within it, or that by reading the Bible you can find the true Word of God in its teachings. No, the entire Bible – the whole thing – is the Word of God. So, the Bible doesn’t bear witness to the truth, it is the truth. Every word carries with it a divine weight. Jesus held a similar view and in Matthew 5:18 said that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle, not one iota or dot of Scripture will pass away. The grass may wither, the flower may fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
Because Scripture is inspired it means the Scriptures do not err (that’s inerrancy) and more so because it is inspired the Scriptures cannot err (that’s infallibility). Because the Scripture is inspired it means it holds the highest authority over us so that when the Bible speaks to us God speaks to us. Or to say it another way, God through His Word stands over us, rules over us, and makes commands of us. We do not stand over God or His Word as if we were the judge of Him. To say the Bible is authoritative is to say it imposes requirements on us. When God commands, we’re to obey. When God promises, we’re to trust. When God declares, we’re to believe. This is illustrated all throughout Scripture. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Israel, and the prophets all experienced God exercising His authority over them by His Word. God then sends Jesus, His incarnate Word, who exercised God’s authority in His teaching. Jesus then sends out the apostles in His name as ambassadors to exercise this very authority. Now, through the Spirit inspired writing of the apostles the same authority is exercised over you and over me. Throughout all of redemptive history God has, is, and will continue to exercise His authority over all creation through His Word. Therefore to disregard the Bible as if it had no authority over our lives is to disregard God Himself. Church, God is trustworthy and true, so it naturally follows that His Word is trustworthy and true.
Because Scripture is inspired it means it is necessary. We need Scripture in order to know how be reconciled with God, and we need Scripture in order to know how to walk in a manner fully pleasing to God. Only here do we find out who God is and what He demands of us. We need Scripture, it is wisdom from above that transcends human wisdom. No Scripture, no gospel rescue. No gospel rescue, no life.
Because Scripture is inspired it means it is clear. This does not mean everything in the Bible is easy to understand, it does not mean everyone will understand the Bible, it does not mean everyone will agree about how to understand the Bible, and it does not mean we will have no questions about what we find in the Bible. But, it does mean that those things which are necessary for the salvation of man and the Christian life, are so clearly taught in Scripture that anyone willing to look in it can understand them.
Because Scripture is inspired means it is sufficient and contains all that is needed for any aspect of human life. 2 Peter 1:3-4, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who has called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Peter means to tell us that all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Sure, the Bible tells us a lot about God, but what does it have to say about fixing my transmission? Or potty training my dog?’ Fair questions, but listen to the answer. Scripture does indeed contain more information relevant to doctrine than to automotive repairs and dog training, but the sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that those doctrinal truths, those precious promises as Peter put it, teach us how to live while doing automotive repairs and dog training. Thus whatever we do, the Bible will teach us how to do it to God’s glory, in this way – all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life.
Finally, because Scripture is inspired it means it is beautiful. By saying the Scripture has beauty is to say that which it reveals to us carries more beauty than any other thing. What does Scripture reveal to us? God. Who He is, what He’s like, and what He requires of us. He is beautiful in His glory, matchless in His wonder, and stunning in His splendor. He is ultimately what the Scriptures reveal to us, and He is beautiful.
All of this comes from this first phrase in our text today, “All Scripture is God breathed…or inspired.” But continue on now with me. Scripture is not only inspired…
Scripture is Useful
Useful for what you say? Paul tells us as much in the rest of the passage. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (or useful) for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Scripture is useful for teaching. All of Scripture is intended by God to govern, direct, guide, and define all of life. The whole counsel of God for the whole people of God. No preacher comes into any true pulpit with a good thought for the day, or a nice story to share. No, in preaching, in hearing, in reading, and in discipling it is the Word of God that teaches the people of God.
Scripture is useful for reproof and correction. We are by nature bent toward the all the wrong things, and if it weren’t for the Scripture coming along and turning us back to the right path we’d be lost. Scripture admonishes us and calls us to amend our lives so that they’d be more in line with God’s revealed will. It truly is “a lamp to our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105).
Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Recall in our sinful state we have no righteousness of our own, only unrighteousness. In our salvation God declared us to be righteous because of Christ’s righteousness reckoned to our account. Now as we grow and mature in Christ, as God sanctifies us, He is making us into what He’s declared us to be, righteous. How does He do this? Through His word, where He trains us in righteousness. Remember 2 Pet. 1:3 we read earlier? “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him…” Thus, it is the Scripture that gives all that is needed for our knowledge of God, and it is also the means God uses to train us in righteousness. Jesus said it better in John 17:17 where He asked the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your Word is truth.”
Lastly, because Scripture is useful for all these things: useful for teaching, useful for reproof, useful for correction, and useful for training in righteousness…through His Word God equips us with all we need for every good work.
Taking all of this together, we can now formulate a definition for Sola Scriptura. The Scripture alone, because it is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word, is our final authority for life and practice. In the Scripture alone, we behold the peculiar glory of God and from beholding that we grow in the same from degree of glory to the next.
So let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?
The issue at stake during the reformation was authority. The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. As we’ve said, they believed when Scripture speaks, God speaks. Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and tradition is certainly helpful, but the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.
Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. And with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.
Why did the reformers do this? Why were they willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it! Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast out to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.
Now, why does Sola Scriptura still matter today? Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us, and employ modern cultural methods within the Church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. No, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel. The faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.
We need reformation still.
Where does reformation begin? It begins where King Josiah began in 1 Kings 22-23. It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.
 Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.
 These four statements on the clarity of Scripture come from Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, page 315-324. This book filled out much of my understanding of sola scriptura.
 John Piper, Peculiar Glory. All of it.
 The answers to this question was clarified for me from Keith Mathison’s article on the Reformation Bible College blog – https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/blog/the-five-solas/.
 Thirty years after his death the Roman Catholic church dug up and burned Hus’ bones and threw the remains in the river.
 Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, The Cambridge Declaration, page 10.