THINK|17: Why Does the Reformation Matter?
In this blog series leading up to THINK|17 we’ve covered a lot of ground so far. We’ve looked at the question, “What is the Reformation?” (Part 1, Part 2), and discussed two key players in the Reformation (Martin Luther and John Calvin). In this post, I want to answer the question, “Why does the Reformation matter?” Why does an event that occurred 500 years ago matter to me today? And what we need to see is that studying the Reformation teaches us (at least) these four truths.
God’s Grace is Stunningly Free
Studying the Reformation teaches us that God’s grace is stunningly free. Grace is not something that we can pay for and earn. Instead, God freely lavishes His grace upon sinners. This free gift cuts at the heart of our human idolatry. We love to pay for things because doing so reveals our independence and ability. But the heart-cry of the Reformation is that nothing—not works or money—can earn us a place with God. In fact, both Luther and Calvin taught that God’s free gift is so free that even the faith that we hold in Christ is a result of God’s grace. Faith does not put us in a position to receive grace but is itself a grace from God. We are saved by stunning and sovereign grace.
Jesus is a Complete Savior
Second, the Reformation teaches us that Jesus is a complete Savior. There is nothing that we can do that can add to Christ’s work and we do not need any other saviors in this life. Therefore, when we go to God in prayer we do not go through any earthly priest or any earthly saints, but instead, go through Christ Himself as our perfect and complete Savior. And when Jesus saves us He saves all of us. Just as Calvin saw the implications that Christianity had upon the civil laws of the city of Geneva, so we too need to see that the gospel should come to bear upon every area of our life. Jesus saves both our heart and our habits—both our souls and our striving.
The Spirit-Inspired Word is Powerful
Third, the Reformation teaches us that the Spirit-inspired Word is powerful. In some ways, the Reformation didn’t begin with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, but with John Wycliffe translating the Bible into the common language in the 14th Century (and being killed for it) and the cry of the Humanists of ad fonts (translation: back to the sources) which resulted in Catholic scholars (like Luther) studying the original Greek and Hebrew. Both of these aspects of history allowed for the Word to be unleashed for what it truly was: the Spirit-inspired Words of the living God. The hero of the Reformation is ultimately not Martin Luther or John Calvin, but God wielding the weapon of his Word.
Luther, himself, recognized this. In his mind, the Word did the work of Reformation:
I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and my Amsdorf [Nicholaus von], the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.
God Uses Real Men to Accomplish His Purposes
Finally, less we abdicate our own responsibility in light of the grace-saturated and Word-centered event, the Reformation also teaches us that God uses real men to accomplish his purposes. While they are certainly heroes of the faith, Martin Luther and John Calvin were sinners with real faults. But our sovereign God uses means to accomplish his purposes. Both Luther and Calvin in spite of their weaknesses and their failures played a massive part in the Reformation precisely because they knew that they were dependent upon God’s grace and God’s Word. These men studied diligently, preached vigorously, and fled persecution. And they did so in the power of the Spirit under the authority of the Word of God.
The Reformation, though it was 500 years ago, is incredibly relevant for today. Our beliefs and our worship have been fundamentally shaped by the Reformation. And the reason for this is because we have the same God who speaks through his Spirit by the same Word about the same Savior, Jesus Christ.
 Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers, 53.