“Guard the good deposit entrusted to you,” Paul said to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14). Some things are of such worth that we must hold onto them, no matter the cost. The Reformers of the 16th century rightly understood this. They valued the Word of God to such a degree that many willingly gave their lives for the cause of preserving this truth and passing it on to future generations. In fact, it is no overstatement to say we possess the Bible because our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were willing to die for it.
Why? What makes the Word so essential that they were willing to lose their lives for it? The Reformers used a Latin phrase, Sola Scriptura, to underscore the importance of the Scriptures. In English, the phrase would be translated as Scripture Alone. The Reformers rightly understood that the Scriptures alone provide an authoritative rule for faith and practice. In them is eternal life. If they are lost, we are lost. They alone are God-inspired and the inerrant authority for our lives. If the Church must preserve anything, it is its love for the Word of God and its reliance upon this means of grace.
And here, we must take stock, for temptation approaches every generation with the cry to abandon this truth. In the times of the patriarchs, the people of God gave into the temptation of pagan religion and rites and were led astray. The New Testament Jews bowed the knee to legalism with deathly consequences. In the Middle Ages, the church turned to popes, papal decrees, councils, tradition, and even mysticism instead of the Bible. Hence, the Reformers fought to hold on to the Scriptures, this faith once delivered to the saints. In our day, pop-psychology, marketing techniques, emotionalism, and spiritualism beckon the church to abandon its reliance upon the Scriptures. Every age has its temptations.
And the temptations in our day are great. If our aims are merely earthly, other means provide ample results. Techniques and marketing easily build a local church into a megachurch. Crowds gather and tears fall with the right music and engaging story-telling. Giving increases, applause sounds, buildings and budgets grow, but the “success” is only temporal. Only one weapon advances the Kingdom and accomplishes God’s purposes: The Word.
Our battle in this life, and it is a battle, is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). We do not wage war against mere physical strongholds. If we did, the tools of this world would prove sufficient. Instead, we battle against the spiritual forces of evil. We wade into the darkness and enter combat with pride, unbelief, worldliness, self-righteousness, sensuality, lust, and ultimately, hatred for God. We aim to see hearts of stone turned into hearts of flesh, the unburdening of spiritual guilt and despair, freedom from the reign of sin, and growth in likeness to Christ. We desire His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It will not do to attempt to break down these strongholds with mere earthly weapons. The ways of the world cannot and will not work for Kingdom purposes. As the Church, we stand upon the Word of God (Ephesians 2:20), grow as we apply this Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), reach out to the lost with this Word (Romans 10:17), and assault our Adversary’s dominion with this Word (Ephesians 6:17). May we never forget it! But even more than that, may we treasure this truth, abide in this truth, and preserve this truth.
If this would be the case for the Church, then it must be true in our own personal lives. May we read, study, memorize, meditate upon, and apply this Word. We want to know it because we want to know Him. We desire our lives to be conformed to it because we want to be conformed to Him. This Word is our chief possession because we are possessed by it. It gave us life in Christ. Its truth came to bear upon our soul and set us free. We dare not abandon, neglect, or turn from it. We know it to be our lifeline, our oasis in the desert of this world, food for our soul, and life to our bones. We love this Word because we love Him who gave it to us and revealed Himself to us through it. We would give our very lives for it, or so I would hope. The Church needs every generation marked by this commitment. It needs every saint acknowledging its supreme authority and need for the Christian life. For only in this way will the Church stand upon it. Only in this way will we refuse to turn aside to other means, seeking to preserve it and pass it on to the next generation. A good deposit has been given to us.
My friends, Sola Scriptura is as much a needed rallying cry for the church today as it was at the time of the Reformation. When the Church loses this cry, it will cease to be. May that not be true of our generation.
Jason Helopoulos is the author of These Truths Alone: Why the Reformation Solas Are Essential for Our Faith Today, a Bible study for small groups. Available to pre-order now through Amazon and direct from The Good Book Company.