Used at Belhaven University and other places to answer the question: “What do Protestants believe?” It’s not the whole answer, but it’s a start.
In Old Testament times the Lord used King Josiah to launch a great spiritual reformation near 622 BC.1 This reformation was sparked by discovering the book of God’s Law (all or part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) in the Temple of Jerusalem. Somehow the Lord’s people had lost the Scriptures and neglected to live by them, failing to love God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and neighbors. In Josiah’s reform, human-centered worship and wicked living were replaced with God-centered-worship and righteous living by faith in the Lord.
In the year 1517 (500 years ago), the Holy Spirit did a similar work of reformation, renewal, restoration, and revival: the Protestant Reformation. Many in the Roman Church had stopped trusting and obeying the Bible and drifted from “the faith once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3) The Lord raised up Martin Luther as a key player. Other Spirit-led Christians paved the way for Luther and others carried on afterwards to advance God’s work. Like Josiah’s reformation, the Protestant Reformation was a “back to the Bible” movement. Reformers were not just protesting (negatively); they were standing for (positively) God’s truth in the Spirit-breathed Scriptures and seeking to order life according to it.
Some central emphases of the Reformation are called the “Five Solas” and are summarized briefly below. They are still very relevant to us in the 21st century. Sometimes they are ordered differently, but this order makes sense to me and I number them for ease of discussion:
- The Bible Alone Is Our Highest Authority (Sola Scriptura)
- God’s Glory Alone is Our Greatest Goal in Life (Soli Deo Gloria)
- Jesus Christ Alone Is Our Lord, Savior, and King (Solo Christo)
- We Obtain Eternal Salvation by God’s Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)
- We are Justified by Faith in Christ Alone (Sola Fide)
1. The Bible Alone Is Our Highest Authority (Sola Scriptura)
By the Holy Spirit, all the writers of the Holy Scriptures were moved to speak God’s word and to record infallibly the Lord’s revealed mind and will. We believe that God’s written word (consisting of the Old and New Testaments) is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. God’s Bible is over the church and over all of us individually, not the other way around. The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to refresh our souls, to make us wise, to give joy to our hearts and light to our eyes, to warn us, and to help us keep His word and receive His great rewards.
Jesus said: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God’s mouth…I will bow down…and praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word….The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. For the Scriptures never had their origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (Matt 4:4; Psalm 138:2; 2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:21)
2. God’s Glory Alone is Our Greatest Goal in Life (Soli Deo Gloria)
The Reformation reclaimed the Bible’s teaching of God’s sovereignty (kingship) over every aspect of human existence. Every square inch of God’s creation is to be devoted to Christ’s honor and praise and for magnifying His name. The Roman Church divided life into sacred versus secular compartments, but all our words, thoughts, and deeds are to be lived under the Christ’s lordship, loving and gratefully obeying Him.
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven….For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever!…Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God….If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks God’s very words. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus….Christ has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father. To Him be glory and power forever! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen! (Matt 5:16; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31; 1 Pet 4:11; Rev 1:6; 7:12)
3. Jesus Christ Alone Is Our Lord, Savior, and King (Solo Christo)
The church (Roman, Protestant, or other) is not our mediator to God. Jesus Christ (God’s only Son) is the sole Mediator between God and human beings. Christ stepped in, took our punishment upon Himself and bore the judgment we deserved. By His living, dying, rising, ruling, interceding, and returning for us, Jesus reconciled God to His followers and us to Him. We must not depend on ourselves or others; we must rely on Christ alone to receive God’s fatherly love, forgiveness, adoption, fellowship, and help to live God-honoring lives.
If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more….God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the Head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy….There is one God and one Mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all kinds of people. (Job 9:33-34; Col 1:13-18; 1 Tim 2:5-6)
4. We Obtain Eternal Salvation by God’s Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)
Most religions teach that we are saved by a mix of religious rituals and self-merit, yet we deserve nothing but God’s justice and wrath. The Reformation stressed the Bible’s teaching that: “Jesus paid it all, All to Him we owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, Jesus washed us white as snow.”2 Because of God’s great love, grace, and mercy, Christ’s works alone save us, not a combination of Jesus’ efforts and ours. Christ fully satisfied God’s justice and wrath for us and we are forgiven in Him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
The LORD said, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion….The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will–to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ex 33:19; Psalm 116:5; Eph 1:3-8)
5. We are Justified by Faith in Christ Alone (Sola Fide)
“Justification is the act of God’s free grace by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight. He does so only because He counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. Justification is received by faith in Christ alone.”3 Faith is receiving and resting on Jesus alone and that leads to a life of following Christ’s example by the Holy Spirit’s power.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life….God redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit….The law (the Old Testament) was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith….For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (John 3:16; Gal 3:14,24; Eph 2:8-10)
These Reformation truths are God’s Bible truths and have shaped Western Civilization for the past 500 years. Now these truths are being loved and embraced all around the globe. Millions of people are now being freed from their sins and renewed in Christ in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, and the Middle East-North Africa. Please pray with me that the Lord will also advance His kingdom and bring reformation and revival to the Western world again!
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Notes: 1 See 2 Kings chapters 22-23. 2 From the hymn “Jesus Paid It All” by Elvina M. Hall (1865). 3 Westminster Shorter Catechism #33.