What is the Reformed Faith?
What do Reformed Christians believe about doctrine, salvation, the Bible and God’s covenant of Grace?
We are blessed with an accurate and authoritative Bible. Therefore, our appeal is always and ever to the testimony of Scripture, and here we stand or fall. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). What we hold to and what we proclaim is what the Bible says. We and our neighbour (all we come in contact with) need, as the Lord Jesus commands, to “search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). It is there that Christ is to be found, not in all creation, the universe, the world, in man himself or his reason. By what means is God made known to us?
“We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith, (Romans 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 2).
“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:1).
We maintain that God is sovereign, that he has decreed and is the first cause of all things. It is he who has created the universe and all in it (in six literal days) (Genesis 1) and he is the one by whom all things consist, i.e., are upheld (Colossians 1:17). All moral, rational creatures are under his sovereign sway. He has decreed to save some (his elect) (Ephesians 1:4), but that others should be punished in hell for their sins (Romans 9:22). We hold without swerving this great biblical truth of the sovereignty of God. (Recommended reading: The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink).
“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 3:1).
We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness, has elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.
Of the Recovery of Fallen Man:
We believe that our most gracious God, in his admirable wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had thus thrown himself into temporal and eternal death, and made himself wholly miserable, was pleased to seek and comfort him, when he trembling fled from his presence, promising him that he would give his Son, who should be made of a woman, to bruise the head of the serpent, and would make him happy. (Belgic Confession, Articles 16 & 17).
Of Calvinism, as they are known. They are not an exhaustive expression of what is meant either by Calvinism or the Reformed Faith. They express the distinction between the Reformation’s biblical position and that of the heresy of Arminianism. The acrostic TULIP is generally used to denote it.
T is for “Total Depravity.” Man’s condition in sin, as he is both conceived and born (Psalm 51:5; Romans 1:18-32). Wanting for any good whatsoever (Romans 3:10-18). Spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to accomplish any spiritual reformation himself (Romans 5:6).
U is for “Unconditional Election.” Those whom God saves are saved as a result of God’s election of grace (Romans 11:5). This election took place before God created the universe and mankind. We were not present; it was before anyone did anything good or bad. God chose his people, not an arbitrary number, but chose himself a Church. Election is the source and foundation of the covenant of grace. Those whom God has predestinated (elected) to eternal life shall be saved (Ephesians 1:4-5).
L is for “Limited Atonement.” The atoning death of Jesus Christ God’s Son was not for all men, head for head, but only for the elect—those given to Jesus before the foundation of the world (John 17:9). He died for his people (Matthew 1:21), his sheep (John 10:11) only.
I is for “Irresistible Grace.” None come to Christ unless drawn of the Father (John 6:44), but those who are drawn come, irresistibly. They are made willing in a day of Christ’s power (Psalm 110:3). There is a time was they are not willing (John 5:40), but when Christ calls, just as he called dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:43), the dead sinner comes to him willingly.
P is for “Perseverance of the Saints.” Those chosen in Christ, drawn of the Father, regenerated by the Holy Ghost, are also kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5). Preserved in the hand of the Father and the Son (John 10:28-29). The work of God in them can never be undone; they are justified unto all eternity. They shall never perish. They are as safe as safe can be.
The law is not antithetical to grace, as some would have us to believe. “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). It is God’s perfect rule for us, pre-fall and post-fall (James 1:25). It is our infallible guide (Deuteronomy 5:32). In regeneration God renews our wills, giving to them new qualities, so enabling us to walk in his statutes (Ezekiel 36:25-27). He writes the law upon our hearts (Hebrews 10:16). The law is not given to save us; it cannot give us life, love or liberty, only the gospel can do that. The law is our schoolmaster, to teach us the sinfulness of our sin, the absolute holiness of God and it directs us to Christ for salvation (Galatians 3:24). Salvation is in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 8:3). The ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.
“God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.”
“This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 9:1-2).
The Reformed faith follows the practice of the baptism of believers. This has consistently been the practice of Reformed believers from the day of John Calvin. This baptism is based upon the truth of God's covenant, established in the line of the generations of believers. Not all those baptised are saved (Esau who received the sign of circumcision was not saved (Romans 9:13). But because God establishes his covenant in the line of generations (Genesis 17:7; Acts 2:39), these also receive the sign of that covenant and of the righteousness which is by faith. This is consistent also with the practices of the apostles who baptised believers and their households (Acts 16:15; 1Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:31).
To worship God, to glorify and enjoy him, is the very purpose for which we were made and for which we are saved. Thankfully God has not left us to wonder how this is to be accomplished. He has given us his revelation, his Word, the Bible, to that end. Worship is to be according to God’s revealed Word. If it is not commanded it is not permitted; if it is declared unacceptable then it is forbidden. True worship of God is opposed to the free for all we see in many so-called churches today. The commandments of men do not dictate Christian worship (Matthew 15:9). God does not desire our smart modern ideas of what constitutes worship (Act 17:25). He is to be worshipped as he commands, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). God is God, utterly holy, all he does is holy, and we are to be actuated by both his commandment and his promise: to fear him (Jeremiah 10:7); to love him (Psalm 31:23); and to trust and serve him with integrity and loyalty (Psalm 62:8; Joshua 24:14).
“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith 21:1).
In accordance with the express command of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20), we go, into all the world, preaching Christ indiscriminately to all men who will hear. The preaching of God’s Word is the especial means appointed by God for this task: “For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). God only knows those who are his. The preaching of the gospel is ever a two-edged sword, “for we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
“Q. 155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 155).
The Serious Call Not Offer of the Gospel:
That God is serious in the external call to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect, does not mean, or even imply, that he wishes all to be saved, but rather means that he commands all to believe in Christ and that his command is in dead earnest, Coming to God by believing in Jesus is the solemn obligation of every man who hears the gospel. This pleases God. All those called to the marriage in Matthew 22 ought to have come. Those who refuse, bring down on themselves the wrath of God for their refusal. Unbelief displeases God. God can be serious in commanding someone to do his duty even though God has willed that he not obey the command and even though God uses the command itself to harden him in his disobedience. Think only of Jehovah's dealings with Pharaoh in Exodus 4-14, as explained by Paul in Romans 9:17-23.
But what is the gospel if it is not a well-meant offer? The answer is plain. The gospel comes with a command or call, which is sovereign and powerfully irresistible to awaken those dead sinners whom the Son wishes to quicken (John 5:21), thus accomplishing what God eternally and unchangeably willed, and applying the redemption that Christ achieved for them on the cross. The gospel is also a means of hardening, according to which the good pleasure of God is sovereignly accomplished with respect to those who refuse to repent and are punished for their sins (John 12:309-41; 2Corinthians 2:16).
Death is not a state of non-being. Death is sin’s wages (Romans 6:23). It has been appointed for all: “As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The righteous await redemption, the wicked and unbelieving are reserved for judgment. The misery of the lost is portrayed by the Lord Jesus in his account of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar (Luke 16:20-31). The Bible, Holy Scripture makes no mention of a place called purgatory as an in-between state after death, The only two destinations are heaven and hell. Surely we are to take heed, be warned. And surely if we have any love in our hearts for our neighbour we will clearly and sharply warn him of such awaiting danger.
“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies: and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 32:1).
The day has been appointed, and the Judge has been appointed (Acts 17:31). Judge Jesus has already been given the power of judgment (John 5:22, 27). Therefore, it is appropriate that he should be the one who carries out the final tribunal. The justice will be like no human court or judiciary. It will be perfectly righteous. God hates and abhors all sin. He is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). In that day men will become either an object of God’s wrath for all eternity or an object God’s admiration for all eternity. For you, which will it be? Will Christ be your Advocate in that courtroom? Will he say, “Depart from me,” or will he say, “Come?”
“God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons, that have lived upon earth, shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 33:1).
This is the truth, albeit but a summary, of the Reformed Faith. Much, much more could be said. This is the truth that refutes all other ways to God (Acts 4:12). It declares the God of Scripture to be the only true and living God. The gods of the world religions are vain idols. The Reformed Faith refutes the false man-made religions of an apostate world: of Roman Catholicism, of apostate Christianity, the god of free-will, of Arminianism, of Pentecostalism, and of the Charismatics. The Reformed Faith is just another way of saying what the Bible, God’s Word, says. It declares the God we are called and sent to proclaim faithfully to all men without distinction. As with all else about our salvation, we must continue as instructed by God’s Word. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Study, dig deep and learn as Scripture itself urges us to do, and pray for God to “open your eyes, that you may behold wondrous things out of his word” (Psalm 119:18).