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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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?