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Romans and the Reformation 5: Sola Scriptura “Scripture Alone”

Romans and the Reformation Day 5 – Sola Scriptura “Scripture Alone”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:19-22, ESV)

In this study, we have spent time reminding our hearts of the truth of the gospel. We are saved by grace, and not our good works; through faith, and not our performance or status; and in Christ, not any other person or system. However, we learn these truths only through the words of Scripture. The fourth of the five solas, sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), is a vital truth for us to meditate on in a world full of noise and confusion.

As we have already discussed, the five solas began to form through the teachings of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. The reformers were primarily standing up to the Catholic church’s misuse of Scripture, rampant corruption, and the addition of church traditions to the plain gospel found in the New Testament. The idea of Scripture alone being the authority in all spiritual matters is now found in the vast majority of evangelical churches’ statements of faith, but throughout history, that clarity was often lacking. Sinful people have tended to place a higher authority on individual opinions and institutional traditions than is warranted and have caused much damage as a result.

In a helpful article on this topic, Michael Kruger notes the importance of understanding Scripture as our ultimate authority for truth:

“How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions? To answer such questions, people need some sort of norm, standard, or criteria to which they can appeal. In other words, we need an ultimate authority. Of course, everyone has some sort of ultimate norm to which they appeal, whether or not they are aware of what their norm happens to be. Some people appeal to reason and logic to adjudicate competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things. Although there is some truth in each of these approaches, Christians have historically rejected all of them as the ultimate standard for knowledge. Instead, God’s people have universally affirmed that there is only one thing that can legitimately function as the supreme standard: God’s Word. There can be no higher authority than God Himself” (Understanding Sola Scriptura).

Followers of Christ must hold onto the same standard for truth that Christ Himself held onto. How many times do we see Jesus say in the gospel accounts, “as it is written”? He always points back to the Law and the Prophets and refers to them as authoritative because the words came directly from God. If we believe that Jesus is God, how could we ever suggest (as many are doing right now) that He relegated the Old Testament to a less important place when He is the very God who authored it? 

Paul’s epistle to the Romans underscores the value of all Scripture over and over again, stressing particularly that it is the Scriptures which reveal the gospel of Christ to us fully. Without the Bible being understood as inerrant, infallible, and authoritative, we cannot trust that grace is available, that faith is sufficient, or that Christ is the only way to reconciliation with God. None of these statements can be affirmed if the Bible is not absolutely true. 

Furthermore, without the context of the Old Testament, we would miss the incredible significance of most aspects of the gospel we hold dear. How would we understand the depth of our sin (Romans 3:9-18; Psalm 14:2-3; 5:9; Isaiah 59:7-8), the wrath of God (Romans 2:5-6; Psalm 62:12), the holiness, power, and glory of God (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19), the centrality of blood sacrifice (Romans 3:23-25; Leviticus 17:11), the nature of true faith (Romans 1:16-17; Habakkuk 2:4), the gift of adoption into God’s family (Romans 9:22-26; Hosea 2:23), or the ultimate defeat of the devil and death itself (Romans 16:20; Genesis 3:15; Zechariah 3:1-4)? These wonderful things are all modeled and explained for us again and again in the pages of the Old Testament, and then perfectly illustrated in the New. 

Ultimately, if we do not view God’s Word as the final authority over our personal lives, our families, and our church communities, we will find it easy to stop viewing God Himself as Lord. Priorities will shift and our understanding of our own identity and purpose will be thrown into confusion. We will start to place more value on reading the teachings of authors we find on our bookshelves and on listening to the teachings of celebrity pastors we hear in video sermons than we place on studying the Bible for ourselves. We will start to make apologies for hard things the text says and skirt around its teachings for the sake of our comfort and convenience. On the other hand, we may get lost in trying to understand every technical detail of the Bible for the sake of mere information. Instead of understanding and applying it personally as the living and active words of God, we may rather begin to see it as a mere literary work to dissect.

If we are to avoid these pitfalls, we must view the Word of God the way Christ and the apostles did—as the ultimate source and arbiter of spiritual truth. We must commit to obeying what it calls us to do and refuse to apologize for what it says. When other voices clamour for our attention and obedience, we must uphold the Scriptures as God’s revealed word to us, and thus, the most important voice in our ears. 

“Thanks to God Whose Word Was Spoken” 

Thanks to God whose word was spoken
in the deed that made the earth.
His the voice that called a nation,
his the fires that tried her worth.
God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.

Thanks to God whose Word Incarnate
glorified the flesh of man;
deeds and words and death and rising
tell the grace in heaven’s plan.
God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.

Thanks to God whose word was written
in the Bible’s sacred page,
record of the revelation
showing God to every age.
God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.

Thanks to God whose word is published
in the tongues of every race.
See its glory undiminished
by the change of time or place.
God has spoken:
praise him for his open word.

Thanks to God whose word is answered
by the Spirit’s voice within.
Here we drink of joy unmeasured,
life redeemed from death and sin.
God is speaking:
praise him for his open word.

–R.T. Brooks (1918-1985)

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