In every age, Christians must guard against the temptation to allow ungodliness to defile our profession of faith. Though our citizenship has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Heaven, none of us are immune to the blind spots caused by our spiritual and secular contexts.
For young Christians in America to be victorious servants of our Lord, we must examine ourselves—both our doctrine and our practice—in the pure light of God’s unchanging standards. This light will reveal that our generation has wholly accepted ignorance, slothfulness, license, and an entire host of vices. In turn, this revelation should drive us ad fontes—to the sources—like the reforming generations that preceded us.
First and foremost, we must return to the Scriptures.
As Paul tells his disciple Timothy, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Many of us recognize this passage to be a foundational text for the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Because the Scriptures are the very words of God—who does not lie and does not change His mind—they are authoritative and sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness.
God repeatedly proclaims the power of His Word to His people. The author of Hebrews describes the Scriptures as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The psalmist sings to the Lord that “the sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (Psalm 119:160). Before He goes to the cross, Jesus prays that His disciples would be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17).
Reformation in redemptive history has always begun with dusting off the Scriptures.
In the Old Testament, King Josiah’s reforms began when Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law in the temple. When Josiah heard the book read aloud, he tore his clothes, saying “our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13). Josiah led the people of Judah in recommitting to their covenant (2 Kings 23:1-3), purging idol worship from the land (2 Kings 23:4-20), and restoring proper worship practices (2 Kings 23:21-25).
Likewise, the Protestant Reformation began after a monk named Martin Luther rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a plain truth of the gospel that had been obscured under the empty ritualism and superstition of Roman Catholicism. His heart was melted by his study of the Scriptures—especially Romans, Galatians, and the Psalms.
Much of American Christians’ ignorance in matters of doctrine and practice can be traced to Scriptural illiteracy. Ligonier Ministries’ most recent State of Theology Survey reveals plummeting rates of belief in the biblical gospel among professing Christians. The survey also indicates that large swaths of so-called evangelicals deny the divinity of Christ, salvation apart from works, and the inspiration of the Scriptures.
Young Christians in particular are plagued by many barriers in our ability to read and understand the Word of God. Virtually all of us are slothful in our pursuit of divine truth; our daily devotional time lasts for fifteen minutes while our daily consumption of media lasts for several hours. Many of us read with no attention to a passage’s historical context, author’s purpose, internal logic, and connections to other portions of the Bible. We treat the Scriptures as bandages for our daily emotional plights rather than a means of grace designed to transform us over a lifetime of careful, intentional, and systematic reflection.
Functionally, we act as if the Old Testament were obsolete. Though we read John, Romans, and Ephesians several times over, we have not the faintest idea of the treasures buried in Ezekiel, 1 Chronicles, and Nehemiah. In stark contrast, speaking of the relation between the old and new covenants, Jesus says that “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). There is profound wisdom in seeking to know the Bible thoroughly from cover to cover.
In order for our walks with the Lord to grow more steadfast and in order for our generation’s faith to turn “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), we must first turn our attention toward biblical literacy. We must put down the video game console and take up the Word of the living God. We must learn to rightly extract wisdom and truth from its pages. And we must possess a comprehensive knowledge of the full counsel of God.
As a secondary source of reformational change, we must reclaim our history.
Americans broadly—and American Christians specifically—are marked by a disconnect from our heritage. In the same way that 93 percent of Americans cannot name the first four Presidents of the United States, most American evangelicals cannot describe the most important developments in Church history or their implications for our walks with Christ today.
In reference to the faithful men and women who have come before us, the Scriptures state that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Christ’s Church is not merely composed of saints alive in the present age; it is also composed of glorified saints who reign with Christ in heaven. As the Church militant, we must uncover the lessons handed down by our forebears—the Church triumphant—until we one day set aside our armaments and join them in glory.
We ought to learn refusal to compromise on plain biblical truth from Augustine and Athanasius, who defended the doctrines of original sin and the Trinity against rising tides of heresy. We ought to learn strength in the face of persecution from John Bunyan and William Tyndale, who were imprisoned and martyred for their faith. We ought to learn ardor for missions from Hudson Taylor and John Eliot, who broke ground for the gospel among the Chinese and the Native Americans. By imitation of the spiritual giants through whom God has worked in pivotal moments of history, we can more faithfully serve Christ today through a more refined conduct, zeal, and devotion to truth.
A cursory reading of the Church fathers, the reformers, the Puritans, and the first evangelicals will similarly reveal that we are ignorant of the truths upon which they dwelled at great length. The doctrines of regeneration, assurance, and practical holiness, for example, are largely lost on our generation, yet they drove the teaching and preaching of generations past. Likewise, we are ignorant of the doctrines that speak directly into the challenges we presently face. The regulative principle of worship, for instance, can address the rampant superficiality in evangelical church services, while the doctrine of interposition can inform our response to unjust governmental decrees.
By imitating our forefathers—the battles they waged, the doctrines they cherished, and the lives they led—as they imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), we can acquire new arsenals of weaponry in our war against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Brothers and sisters, we do not know what we do not know—a reality that inhibits our ability to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. Our generation will fail in conquering new ground for Christ if we do not first reclaim our firm foundation. May we be victorious for Christ by devoting our lives to rediscovering the rock from which we were cut.
Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. — Jeremiah 6:16