How many of you went shopping (either in person or online) on Black Friday last week? Have you ever noticed that you don’t know you need something until it’s on sale? You know what I’m talking about? I didn’t spend the last 11 months of 2017 thinking about how much I needed a Dremel Multitool Kit…but when I open the newspaper and see that it’s 50% off, I begin to think of all the reasons I really should buy it.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are a host of suggested gifts that I see advertised and think, “Why on earth would anyone need that?” Dave Berry from the Miami Herald is particularly helpful in this department. His 2017 Holiday Gift Guide included the following recommendation:
KITCHEN SAFE: “This is the ideal gift to give when you want to express the joyful holiday message: ‘You could stand to lose some weight.’ This is a plastic food container with a lock and a timer. Let’s say you have some fudge, and you don’t want to eat any more, but you lack the willpower to stop yourself. You can simply put the fudge in the safe, set the timer for the interval you want (it can be one minute to 10 days) and press the lock button. Now your fudge is totally secure, because the safe cannot be opened until the time is up, unless you get a blunt instrument and bash the safe open, which you will do within minutes, because, come on, its FUDGE.’”
That’s one of those gifts you think, “Man, I’m sure that’s helpful for someone somewhere, but there’s no way I’m paying $54.90 plus shipping and handling. I mean, if that sort of thing works for you, go for it. I’m just not really interested. If I need to lose some weight, I’m pretty convinced I can take care of business without the hassle of a kitchen safe. Nice to have? Maybe for some people. Necessary for me? I don’t think so.
Sadly, I think we often have the same attitude toward something of far greater importance than a kitchen safe. It’s called theology or the knowledge of God. Some of you read that word and immediately get excited. You love theology. You prize sound doctrine. The thought of spending a day shopping and watching football or spending a day reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics isn’t even a contest. Hands down, you’re going with Bavinck.
On the other hand, some hear the word “theology” or “doctrine” and immediately start running in the opposite direction. All you think about when you hear those words are arguments, conflicts, and division over all sorts of secondary issues that seem to have nothing to do with the essence of the Christian faith. It’s all about Jesus, right? Why do theology people have to go making things so complicated? Love God. Love people. Do what Jesus did. That’s it.
Friends, I warn you as Paul warned the church in Thessalonica. To neglect sound doctrine is to neglect the gospel, neglect the Bible, and imperil your soul. Why? Because an unwavering resolve to hold fast to sound doctrine is the distinguishing mark of the people of God.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. 500 years ago in October, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses or doctrinal assertions to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, effectively initiating a recovery of the truth of the gospel – the very gospel that Paul so carefully taught the Thessalonians centuries some 1,500 years beforehand. Just as in 1517, we live in a world filled with all manner of ideas about what is true, including supposed “truths” about the things of God, that are both exceedingly attractive and terribly wrong.
So we’re going to end 2017 as a church by looking in three directions. I want us to look back. I want us to look in. And I want us to look forward. We’re going to look back by spending the next 5 weeks studying the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. The doctrinal legacy of 16th century reformers is aptly summarized in the form of five theological assertions, originally written in Latin – sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli deo gloria (to the glory of God alone).
In looking back on these doctrines, we’re not primarily looking back at church history. We’re looking back at the Bible. Because the five solas are not just the theological heritage of the Reformation. They’re part of the theological foundation of the Word of God. They capture some of the most important Christian doctrines, beliefs that distinguish those who are on the path of life from those who are on the path of destruction.
What you believe is supremely important because you can’t separate how you live from what you believe. What you believe about God in your mind determines how you feel about God in your heart; how you feel about God in your heart determines how you act toward God in your life. And how you act toward God in the choices you make day in and day out, from the smallest to the greatest, determines whether you are walking the narrow path that leads to life or the wide path that leads to destruction. Your mind, heart, and will are inextricably connected.
That’s why we’re not just going to look back in this series. We’re going to look in. We need the Lord to take the truth of his word, truths that were recovered during the Reformation, and use them to search our minds and hearts. We need him to reveal whether we’re loving the truth we claim to believe. And then we’re going to look forward, because we also need the Lord to show us how to live the truth we claim to love. I want 2018 to be a year where we believe what is true, love what is true, and live what is true. That’s the goal of preaching through the Five Solas.