Jeremiah 2:13 - “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water."
Every age features God calling forth certain men to lead efforts toward spiritual and moral reform. Over time, those persons that allege themselves as God's people let the message of the Gospel slip. The prevailing spiritual and moral conditions of a given culture rapidly decline. Although there is always a small remnant or number of people that remain, still, the need for spiritual and moral reform is only realized when God's people grow desperate for it. In today's post, we aim to consider how God uses moral and spiritual reformation to call His people back to fidelity to the Gospel. The goal of this post is to demonstrate how the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century fits the pattern of God's desire to reform and renew His church.
Jeremiah, a Prophet and Reformer from the Old Testament
One of the most beloved passages in God's Word is found in Jeremiah 29:11, wherein Jeremiah writes:
"I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope."
What was the context of this incredible passage? You may have noticed the opening passage of today's post, found in Jeremiah 2:13 -
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water."
God spoke through Jeremiah's mouth and pen to a people who were going into exile some 800 miles away from their homeland. Though they had sinned and though they were being disciplined, God's Word to them was to settle in the land of Babylon. The Jews were to build homes and be a blessing where they were. The tone of Jeremiah's prophecy was that of sorrow. The call of God through Jeremiah was that of repentance and reform. Furthermore, God was not done with them.
Jeremiah was a prophet who preached the need for spiritual and moral reform in his nation. God expressed through Jeremiah both warnings and encouragements to turn back to Him. Sadly, not everyone listened. One major opponent of Jeremiah, Shemaiah, attempted to oppose Jeremiah and sabotage the message of the Lord before Zedekiah and the royal officials. Despite those attempts, the Word of the Lord proved true and Shemaiah was shown to be an impostor. Other critics of Jeremiah's ministry, like Hananiah in Jeremiah 28 and Pashhur in Jeremiah 20, accused Jeremiah of treason and other crimes to undercut his ministry.
No matter what age, there are always the Shemaiahs, Hananiahs and the Pashhurs who are attempting to oppose and overturn the proclamation of God's Word.
The Apostle Paul, an Apostle that Called Forth God's People To Remain Faithful to the Gospel
In the Apostle Paul's day, the need for Godly churches with pastors who would proclaim the truth of God's Word to feed the flock of God was ever growing. Paul's earliest letter, the Epistle to the Galatians, is a scathing rebuke of a church that was letting things slip. Paul writes in Galatians 3:1-5 -
"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
One of Paul's later writings, his Epistle to Titus, urges a pastor named Titus to establish Godly leadership on the Island of Crete. Titus 1 was written with the intent to give the characteristics of Godly pastoral leadership. Just as Jeremiah in his day stayed faithful to preaching the word of God without apology, Paul wrote Titus at Crete to be faithful and to establish leadership who could combat the lies and false gospels of his day. Whether we are talking about Jeremiah's day or the 1st century world of the Apostle Paul, the call for reform and renewal to the Gospel is Biblical and needed. These two quick examples set the stage for seeing why the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation continued on this Biblical precedent.
Martin Luther, God's Man For Starting Needed Reforms In Sixteenth Century Europe
On October 31, 1517, God used a man by the name of Martin Luther to spark a a movement that was later called by German Princes in 1529: "protestantism" or what we call today "The Protestant Reformation". Luther's initial motives involved "protesting" ecclesiastical abuses performed by various clerics in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. Luther called for reform.
The Reformation's aim was to bring the Bible and the Gospel back to God's people. For centuries, both were suppressed by man-made traditions. The Bible's unique authority was blurred with the insistence upon the church's traditions standing on equal ground.
The Gospel's central message of faith being necessary and sufficient for receiving the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ (i.e. "justification by faith") was eclipsed by an alternate message of faith's necessity on the one hand, and insufficiency on the other to receive salvation. Justification was expressed by the Roman Catholic Church as "infused" into the sinner by faith plus participation in the Roman Catholic sacramental system.
Martin Luther and other men of God were called:"Reformers" because they believed the Roman Catholic church needed reformed. A particular Latin phrase emerged out of the Protestant Reformation: "reforma semper reformata", meaning "reformed, and always reforming". Practically speaking, any church, no matter it's denominational flag, must reform what it believes and practices by God's word and continue to do so. Every generation of God's people are responsible to practice "reforma semper reformata".
Eventually those who heeded Luther's call to reform were called "Protestants" because they "protested" against the man-made traditions and the works-salvation message of Roman Catholicism. Luther and those like him followed in the line of Paul and Jeremiah, experiencing much opposition as a result of remaining committed to the preaching and teaching of God's Word.
Closing Thoughts And The Continued Need For Spiritual and Moral Reform
In our 21st century world, the call of God on every Christian is to be faithful to the Gospel of justification by faith alone. Just like Jeremiah, Paul and Martin Luther, we are called to proclaim the message that the only way a person can be declared just or right with God (i.e justification) by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. By receiving this truth by faith, the Christian will be then equipped to live the Christian faith that abounds in good works for the glory of God - i.e. sanctification. Though there will be opposition, nonetheless, we must trust in the same God who promised Jeremiah long ago that His plan is to give a future and a hope through the scriptures and by faith in Jesus Christ.