Monthly Archives: September 2016

What does it mean to be “Reformed”? part 3

It means, number 1, we are unashamedly Protestant. We believe salvation is absolutely by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. And any quibble over what salvation, grace, faith, Christ, and glory mean– and anything else to do with the Christian faith– must be settled by Scripture alone. Church tradition and church leadership are authoritative. Even our own consciences are authoritative. But Scripture must be the sole final authority. These are some of the great Reformation themes that have helped to make me Reformed.

They have some major– and I believe unavoidable– implications, which will be the basis of these last three posts on the topic. If salvation is 100% by grace alone and 100% for the glory of God alone, then a lot of what John Calvin taught on the doctrine of salvation must be the biblical teaching. To be Reformed, you must have a Calvinist understanding of salvation.

There is much more to being Reformed than being a Calvinist, but you cannot balk at these doctrines and possibly call yourself “Reformed.” Here is a quick summary of “Calvinism,” and how I see these doctrines fitting with the great Reformation themes:

  1. Mankind is dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2.1-3; AKA Total Depravity)- 100% of every man must be redeemed by the blood of Christ, or salvation cannot be by grace alone.
  2. God elects people to salvation not based on anything in them (Romans 9.6-18; AKA Unconditional Election)- God cannot elect a person to salvation based on any kind of foreseen merit, or salvation is not by grace alone and for the glory of God alone.
  3. God sent Jesus to die specifically in the place of those He elects (Ephesians 5.1-2; AKA Limited Atonement; AKA “actual” atonement)- It stands to reason that once God elects, the Son’s mission is to purchase that people for Himself. He even purchased my regeneration for me. We need the Atonement to secure even our regeneration, or else salvation is not in Christ alone. I am not unaware that there are many great “4-Point Calvinists” in the history of the church. All I will say is as long as you preach a very intentional, immense, and particular love that God has for the elect (that He does not have for non-elect), I would still call that a Reformed view of the Atonement
  4. God sent the Spirit to awaken every single person Christ died for (Ezekiel 36.26; AKA Irresistible Grace)- Salvation is so much by grace alone that God’s grace pursues a sinner from eternity past, is secured at the cross, and will not stop until that sinner comes to saving faith and repentance. How else would you be believing right now?
  5. The faith of Christians will be kept by God forever (Philippians 1.6; AKA Perseverance of the Saints)- God begins the work of salvation in eternity past and sees it to completion in eternity future. Salvation is by grace alone through the awakening gift of faith alone in the atoning work of Christ alone for the glory of our gracious, merciful, powerful, loving, holy God alone

J.I. Packer once famously wrote that Calvinism is the gospel. I think many Christians will mis-hear that, so I would be more cautious in saying that. But Calvinism helps us understand the gospel so much better, doesn’t it?

What does it mean to be “Reformed”? part 2

Remember that the term “Reformed” is a humble label. It makes no sense to only say “I am a Christian” or “I believe the Bible” since Mormons and JW’s say the same thing. To use historical labels is a humble way to say “I am not the first person to believe all the things I believe” and “I understand that in God’s providence He has used other believers in history to fight battles that I get to benefit from.”

So when I use that label, what do I mean by it? I mean at least four things. First, I am a Protestant. The word “Reformed” comes down to us mainly from the word “Reformation.” In the 1500’s there were many Christians who looked to reform the Catholic Church. They protested many long-held Catholic teachings. Hence, the Protestant Reformation began.

And let the Bible settle it for you, but I believe all the things the Reformers fought for were correct. And by God’s grace, the true Church was rediscovered during those years, and has been reforming for the good ever since.

Some of the main issues that were battled over during that time: the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of justification (and necessarily related, sanctification), and the authority of the Pope (and necessarily related, the nature of the Church and the Sacraments). Hardly irrelevant issues, to say the least.

And though Protestantism has gone in many different trajectories since then (and I mean many), the one thing that the Fathers of Protestantism agreed on– men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli–they agreed that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And it is all for God’s glory alone. And any debate over any doctrine must be settled, finally, by Scripture alone.

It is probably the “faith alone” and “Scripture alone” parts that help distinguish us from other Christian traditions more than anything else. “Faith alone” means not a single good work (or bad work) has any bearing on your righteous standing before God– it is the work of Christ alone. “Scripture alone” means that every other authority– Pope, pastor, tradition, conscience, common sense, secular psychology– every other authority must submit to, and cannot contradict anything in,  Holy Scripture.

These issues separate us from more than just Catholics, but make no mistake: Protestants and Catholics are not together on the doctrine of justification, among other things. And if I am understanding justification correctly (Galatians 2.16), then the differences are of an eternal nature. So we must not pretend the differences are small. At times, we must be willing to be hated even by our Catholic friends. To be Reformed, first of all, means we are unashamedly Protestant. Lord willing, more to come.