Summary: For October 2017, as we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we are doing a sermon series on the "solas": Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Scriptura; and 2 others added, Soli Deo Gloria, and Solus Christus. This is the fourth of the series.
Over one billion dollars. That's what insurance companies estimate in covering the damages caused by wildfires in California—and that’s just what was insured! I’m sure you’ve seen it in the news or online. The destruction caused by these flames has been absolutely awful. Over 8,400 structures destroyed in the blazes. Vineyards in ashes. Animals killed. At least 42 people—many of them elderly—lost their life. These have been the most destructive wildfires in that state’s history. And I'm sure the question on many people's minds is, how did it all start? Who’s to blame? One family, I heard, filed a lawsuit against the electrical company near their house, shifting the blame that way. But no one really knows; there's no hard evidence, it seems. Perhaps no one will ever know! But two things we do know: 1) countless people's lives have been affected and changed forever; and 2) it doesn’t take much to set off such a massive, out of control wildfire. As the song goes, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”
If you saw the Luther documentary on PBS or when we hosted a viewing of it at the theater in the mall, you may remember there was a Catholic Cardinal being interviewed--the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. It was interesting to have a Catholic official's comments. Cardinal Dolan seemed, to some degree, sympathetic of Martin Luther and his quest for reform. But then he said this one statement that caught my attention. He said that Luther’s challenges to the Catholic Church of his day “were the strike of a match that set off a bonfire, the flames of which are still burning.” ("Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World")
Now, we could break down Cardinal Dolan’s meaning, looking at the impact of Luther and the Reformation, and all of its positives and negatives that came out of it. We could do that. But I'd like to approach the flames of this bonfire from another angle. Because, as we look at our fourth Sola of this series, this bonfire metaphor is very appropriate. One of the “matches” Luther struck, if you will, is regarding the doctrine of Sola Fide, faith alone. As Luther said, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls. So, we're going to focus our attention, today, on that "Sola Fide-Fire."
Faith is often connected with the imagery of fire or a flame. Whether in the hymnal or in contemporary music, it's not uncommon for us to sing of this faith flame. And why not? It happens in Scripture, occasionally, too. Perhaps this is most evident on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles. There they hid in the upper room, waiting for the promised Comforter to arrive. And then He came! In a mighty rushing wind, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, their faith became vibrant, they were empowered with His gifts, and they went out to proclaim the Gospel. And above their heads, it says, were what appeared to be tongues of fire. So, as on Pentecost, when it comes to igniting the fires of faith, it is the Holy Spirit who sparks faith in our hearts.
Now, certainly, while the Holy Spirit sparks that fire of faith, one can reject it. Turn away from it. Or, “let Satan pfff it out.” As Smoky the Bear says, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” So also, when it comes to our spiritual condition, only you—influenced by the devil, the world, and your sinful nature—only you can prevent the Spirit from igniting that fire of faith in your heart. And many do. Too many, in fact. But when it ignites; when the Spirit sparks—boy, does it take off in a powerful way! That’s how it was on that first Pentecost, when 3,000 were baptized after hearing the Gospel. The apostles went on from there, to all nations was their mission, and they were on fire! There was no stopping this wildfire, though many tried! And soon, the Church's greatest opponent and most violent adversary became its greatest missionary and evangelist. A fire was lit in Paul, and he spread that flame everywhere! All of this was by the work and power of the Holy Spirit.
In time, the Thessalonians became part of this wildfire, too. And their example is even MORE proof of the Spirit's work in fanning the flame. We see in Acts 17 that Paul, Timothy, and Silas (also known as Silvanus) went to Thessalonica. But Paul and the gang had very limited time with the people there before being run out by an angry mob. Acts 17 tells us they were there for three Sabbath days—which, depending on when they arrived was between 2 and 4 weeks. Two to four weeks! That’s all the time they had to preach the Gospel. That’s all the time they had to start a church. That’s all the time they had to teach the faith. Two to four weeks!