Martin Luther and John Calvin changed the world by the power of their good theology in spite of their bad theology. The Dark Ages from which they were emerging were very dark, indeed, and some of that darkness clung to the great Protestant Reformers even as they ran toward the light. The revolution they sparked lay chiefly in two seismic shifts of understanding they released into public discourse:
The Bible alone, speaking to individual conscience, is to be our rule of faith and practice, not the authority of any man or any church.
Salvation is the gift of God’s grace to be received by faith alone and therefore cannot be earned by any deeds we might do.
With these two powerful ideas, the Protestant Reformers initiated a trajectory of change they could not see through to its logical end. Other Reformers arose after them and discovered additional lost truths, and the work of Reform continues even now.
Here are 95 Theses to ponder for the continuing Reformation.
- The Bible is the inspired word of God through human agents (2 Peter 1:21). “It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired,” so that “the divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God.”*
- The prophets were “God’s penmen, not His pen,” so that “God, as a writer, is not represented” in Scripture,” and yet the Bible is “the book that unfolds the character of God.”
- We need to let Scripture speak to us unencumbered by the imposed constructs of those who would reduce it to a church creed or a list of doctrinal beliefs held outside of the context of God’s “matchless love” (1 John 4:8).
- “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union.”
- “As a people we are certainly in great danger, if we are not constantly guarded, of considering our ideas, because long cherished, to be Bible doctrines and on every point infallible, and measuring everyone by the rule of our interpretation of Bible truth. This is our danger, and this would be the greatest evil that could ever come to us as a people.”
- The Bible isn’t a rulebook by which God is trying to control us from the outside in, but a storybook by which God is trying to liberate us from the inside out (Genesis 1:1; Matthew 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:20).
- If we don’t grasp the story Scripture is telling us, we will inevitably reduce the Bible to a tool of bondage rather than seeing it as the messianic narrative of freedom it actually is (2 Corinthians 3:6-18).
- The Bible is not a systematic theology textbook, a prooftext manual, a positive-thinking guide for financial success, or an apologetic argument aimed at logically defeating unbelievers. Rather, the Bible is the true story of God’s “covenant of peace” and “unfailing love” (Isaiah 54:10; 55:3).
- The Old Testament is a promise made, in which God is saying, I will faithfully love you at any and all cost to Myself. No matter your posture toward Me, I will never stop loving you. I will come to your world and enter into your pain. I will bear your shame upon My heart, absorb your sin into My love, and overcome it’s power to destroy you.
- The New Testament is a promise kept, in which God is saying, See, I am here, and I will fulfill every aspect of My promise to you. I will love you to the utter end of Myself. All the rage and hatred you can heap upon Me will not vanquish My love for you. And when I am lifted up on the cross in self-sacrificing love for you, I will draw you back to Me (2 Corinthians 1:20).
- In order for the Reformation to be completed, we must rescue the Bible from argumentative reductionism—both in the form of conservative fundamentalism and liberal criticism—and view its message as a whole, discerning its overall narrative arc from Genesis to Revelation.
- “God is love.” That’s the whole Bible, the whole story, in a nutshell.
- Christ is the supreme subject and therefore the supreme object of Scripture (Luke 24:27).
- All the shadows, types, symbols, prophecies and stories reach their end, their fulfillment, their point of crystal clarity in the person and work of Christ (John 5:39; Romans 10:4).
- Jesus is the one and only perfectly accurate revelation of God’s character (Hebrews 1:1-4).
- To comprehend Christ in all His beauty, is to comprehend the Father (John 14:9).
- The voluntary incarnation of Christ reveals the condescending love of God, demonstrating that God came all the way down, laying aside His powers and privileges as God, in order to enter into sympathetic solidarity with us forever (Philippians 2:5-9).
- The life of Christ reveals how God sees people and interacts with them, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, 17-18).
- The substitutionary death of Christ reveals the self-sacrificing love of God, demonstrating that God literally loves all others above and before Himself (1 John 3:16).
- The victorious resurrection of Christ reveals that God’s love is “the law of life,” the eternally sustainable principle of interdependent existence, and that His voluntary death on the cross conquered sin and the power of death inherent to sin (John 10:18; Romans 8:1-2).
- In Christ, redemption is objectively achieved without any contribution from us (Romans 3:24).
- In Christ, God has achieved omnidirectional reconciliation—God with man, man with God, man with man, achieving a complete reciprocal loop of relational integrity (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
- In Christ, a new humanity has been created—“one new man”—free from all relational enmity (Ephesians 2:14-22).
- Jesus broke the cycle of retaliating violence in the only way it could be broken: “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
- God’s grace is first universal and revelatory and then personal and transformative (Titus 2:11-14).
- Grace is the means by which God saves, apart from and prior to any works we might perform. We are not saved by our works, but we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- Grace simultaneously set us free from obedience to the law as a means of salvation while making us willing captives to God’s love by which sin loses its power over us (Romans 3:19-20; 6:14).
- The person who feels at liberty to sin because of God’s grace doesn’t understand God’s grace (Romans 6:15).
- God is faithful or full of faith (Romans 3:3).
- Faith is the fundamental relational dynamic of love, which is to say, faith is what love looks like in action toward others. God is love, therefore God hopes the best for and believes the best of every person (1 Corinthians 13:7).
- God is love, therefore God never fails in His relational commitment, never ceases to be who He is, never gives up on a person (1 Corinthians 13:8).
- God is love, therefore God relates to us according to our potential rather than according to our present reality, which means He regards us as righteous and innocent ahead of the fact, not as a lying fiction, but as an act of living faith (Romans 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
- We are fundamentally and dangerously flawed in our theology if we preach faith in Jesus as the starting point of salvation. Before I can have faith in Jesus, I must encounter the faith of Jesus. His faith is the catalyst for mine, not mine for His (Romans 3:21-22).
- The sinner’s faith in Christ possesses no merit, contributes nothing to the achieved reality of our salvation in Christ, adds no additional salvific data whatsoever to the objective facts of the gospel. Faith does not produce facts, but rather perceives and believes the facts that precede it in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- In the light of God’s faith-full love, the only way for any person to be eternally lost is by persistently choosing to resist God’s love to the point that the very capacity for perceiving and believing His love is obliterated from the soul (John 3:18-21; Romans 1:18-20).
- There is no saving power in the law (Galatians 3:11).
- All the law can do is reveal sin and therefore increase awareness of guilt (Romans 3:19-20).
- The law is a teacher that leads us to realize our need of Christ, because when we try our best to obey the law we soon realize that we are completely bankrupt of the selfless love and perfect relational integrity required by the law (Galatians 3:23-25).
- The longer you remain in ego-centric stubbornness, imagining that you can keep the law, the more self-deceived, pretentious and legalistic you will become, causing misery to everyone around you with your judgmental attitudes and moral arrogance (Matthew 23:23-29).
- The law is a lesser “glory” that exists to be out-shined by the greater “glory that excels” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).
- It is the goal of the Holy Spirit by means of the gospel to facilitate in our lives the ultimate paradigm shift, “from glory to glory,” from the lesser glory of the law to the greater glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6-18).
- The law given at Mount Sinai was perfectly lived out by Jesus when He died on Mount Calvary, because His voluntary sacrifice was the perfect act of self-giving love (Romans 13:10; 1 John 3:16).
- The law is not to be read a as list of prohibitions we can actually obey if we simply try hard enough, but rather a series of promises God has fulfilled in Christ and will fulfill in every heart that ceases its quest for salvation by law-keeping (Exodus 20; Galatians 5:1, 5-6, 16, 22-23).
- Obedience to God’s law does not produce salvation, but salvation does produce obedience to God’s Law (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- The ideal state of the human being is to live where pleasure and purity align as a single experiential reality (John 8:29). This is called “the new covenant” (Hebrews 8:7-13).
- ”The letter kills,” slaughtering motivation toward God and driving people to either Phariseeism or despair (2 Corinthians 3:6).
- Rules without relationship result in rebellion (Romans 7:5).
- It is spiritually abusive to hammer people with the idea that they must stop sinning while withholding God’s unconditional love from their view (Matthew 23:15).
- At the core of all false religion is the idea of salvation by works in one form or another. “The principle that man can save himself by his own works lay at the foundation of every heathen religion. . . Wherever it is held, men have no barrier against sin.”
- No person will be justified before God by the works of the law, because those who are justified before God are made thus by His faithfulness, not by their own (Romans 3:20-22).
- The objective reality of salvation is an accomplished fact in Christ. Our subjective experience of that salvation contributes nothing to our salvation, adds no increased merit or better standing before God (Romans 3:24).
- There is nothing you can do to earn God’s love, because He already loves you and there’s nothing you can do to make Him stop (Romans 8:35-39).
- ”Reliance upon human merit intercepts the view of Christ’s infinite love.”
- Legalism is a subtle form of self-centeredness. It allows me to maintain my obsession with myself while pretending it’s all about God (Philippians 3:2-11).
- Attitudes of moral superiority often hide actions of moral degradation, and condemnation of others is often a cloak for secret sin (Romans 2:1-3).
- “There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”
- The gospel is constituted in the historical facts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
- The gospel is good news, not good advice. It declares what God has done, not what we ought to do (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
- The gospel of Christ is essentially a theology of faithful love, a psychology of internal liberation, and a sociology of other-centered fellowship (1 John 1-2).
- The gospel is the good news, the happiness-inducing message, the endorphin-activating report, that God loves you more than His own existence, proven as a historical fact in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ (John 3:16-17).
- You can know that you are not hearing the true gospel if the message leaves you with a sense of, I ought to, I have to, I should, I must.
- You can know that you are hearing the true gospel when the message leaves you with a sense of, Christ is, Christ has, Christ will, therefore, I can, I will, I want to, I get to (Galatians 2:20).
- I am righteous in Christ before I do anything righteous (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3-8).
- The way this works is that God relates to me as if I were righteous before I actually am righteous in order to remove the sense of shame from my conscience, thus arousing in me a sense of assurance and acceptance before Him that empowers me to aspire to live righteously (Romans 4:17; 6:11-14).
- Righteousness is only produced by faith, and faith is only energized by vital encounter with God’s love as revealed in Christ (Galatians 5:5-6).
- If I pursue righteousness, I will not attain righteousness; but if I give up on trying to be righteous and rather look to Christ by faith, righteousness will be produced in my life as a natural byproduct of my relationship with Him (Romans 9:30-33).
- Righteousness is an inside out affair, not an outside in affair (Matthew 23:25-26).
- Obedience to God’s law isn’t necessary for salvation, but it is inevitable to salvation as a spontaneous response to His love, so that “when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses” (Psalm 40:8; John 14:15).
- Obedience does not earn salvation, but it does reveal that we do really know Jesus (1 John 2:3).
- Every imagined way of salvation other than righteousness by faith is legalism, whether conservative legalism or liberal legalism, long-list legalism or short-list legalism (Galatians 3).
- Good works done for salvation are bad works (Matthew 7:21-23).
- It is not possible to have genuine faith without having genuine works, because the first always manifests itself in the second (James 2:17-18).
- I can do all things pertaining to obedience and victory through Christ, and nothing at all without Him (Philippians 4:13; John 15:5).
- Victory over sin is not achieved by trying hard enough, but received as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 15:57).
- It is axiomatic to the gospel that those who realize they are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:47).
- “Nothing reaches so fully down to the deepest motives of conduct as a sense of the pardoning love of Christ.”
- Therefore, “love is the agent which He uses to expel sin from the heart.”
- Jesus came into the world to save us by the revelation of God’s non-condemning love, which precedes any right-doing on our part (John 3:17).
- The power to overcome sin does not precede, but rather follows, my realization that God does not stand toward me in a posture of condemnation (John 8:11).
- Yes, my conscience condemns me, but God is greater than my conscience, so that even though He knows everything about me, He does not condemn me (1 John 3:20).
- It is by living under the assurance of God’s non-condemning love, not by dependence on my performance, that all fear is banished from my heart and I can stand with confidence in the judgment (1 John 4:17-19).
- If I have Jesus and believe in Him as the true revelation of God’s love, I can know with full assurance that I have eternal life (1 John 5:9-13).
- The church is called to be a “theater of grace” in a hostile world that only knows methods of retaliation, condemnation, revenge, coercion and violence (John 13:35).
- The church is to be an utterly unique and beautifully uncommon fellowship composed of every ethnicity and culture, free from all racial divisions and injustice, thus demonstrating God’s love as a living testimony to the world (Acts 2; Revelation 7:9).
- Racial reconciliation is not peripheral to the gospel, but central. Wherever there is racial division and injustice, Christ is denied (Ephesians 2:14-22).
- The church exists to give the world “the final and full display of the love of God,” not to be the moral police of the culture and impose its will upon unbelievers through legislation.
- The church of Christ is not to be a hierarchy of authority, but rather a fellowship of equals who constitute a “priesthood of all believers,” a “royal priesthood” composed of all its members (1 Peter 2:9).
- Principles of organization and servant-leadership—characterized by the cultivation of love and trust through humility and communication—are necessary for the advancement of the gospel (Matthew 20:25-28).
- But the employment of political maneuvering, pressure tactics, threats, ultimatums, manipulation, an accusatory spirit, divisive rhetoric and polarizing hype, are completely contrary to the character of God and the essence of the gospel (Matthew 20:21-24).
- It was an evangelistic principle of the apostles to remove every possible obstacle that might prevent people from coming to Jesus (Acts 15).
- Truth should never be compromised for cultural relevance, but neither should we make our personal cultural tastes synonymous with truth (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
- The first rule when making rules is this: makes as few rules as possible. To multiply amoral rules and unbiblical tests of fellowship is a sign of unfaithfulness to the gospel. The church should not make universal rules for its members that are not clearly articulated in Scripture (Acts 15).
- “There must be no fixed rules. Our work is a progressive work, and there best be room left for methods to be improved on.”
- “When the practices of the people do not come in conflict with the law of God, you may conform to them. If the workers fail to do this, they will not only hinder their own work, but they will place stumbling blocks in the way of those for whom they labor, and hinder them from accepting the truth.”
- When the true gospel is preached, the church will not have to be pressured and programed into witnessing, because those who believe the true gospel of Christ will speak what they have found in Him (2 Corinthians 4:13-14).
RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH
*all words within quote marks that are not attributed to the Bible are from the writings of Ellen White and may be looked up online at egwwritings.org.