What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 5 of 10 - The Glory of God Alone

[Editor's Note: Read part 1part 2part 3, and part 4 of this series.]

We believe that God is holy and sovereign over all!

Reformed Christians believe that God is holy. This has four really important implications. First, God is unlike anything else. Second, God works all things for his own glory. Third, God is Lord over all. And fourth, all forms of work are good and should be carried out for God's glory.

The Holiness of God

God is unique and therefore precious. God is uncreated, and so he is a qualitatively different being than everything else that exists. God created all things, and everything depends upon God for its existence. God depends on nothing. Everything God has made can be broken down into parts and exists in time, but God is spirit. Even though mankind bears God’s image and was made to reflect him, we always do so as creatures. We can only reflect or image God analogically, that is, in a similar though different way.

The Glory of God Alone

Because God is holy, because God is precious and unique, God alone is worthy of worship, of our displaying and making known his beauty.  In fact God himself works ultimately for his own glory. Reformed Christians believe that God is three persons and that each person has always acted out of love for the other persons of the Trinity. Each person has given himself to the others in order to display the beauty and goodness of the others. Creation itself is a drama that is intended to show the beauty of God, with each person working in their own way to display the beauty of the others. So Reformed Christians believe that the ultimate purpose of creation is the glory of God.

The Sovereignty of God

One of the ways that God differs from us is that he is Lord over everything, over creation and salvation. As creatures we are finite, limited, dependent. But God stands over all things, directing, controlling, and bringing them to pass in a certain way according to his will and purpose to bring glory to himself.

This rule includes the decision to save specific sinners among fallen sinful humanity from his wrath against sin.  Before God created all things, he determined to create a world to display his glorious love, grace, goodness, and justice. So he determined that there would be a rebellion among his creatures invoking his wrath, but that he would save sinners by grace. So God chose out of a fallen humanity a group of people to rescue through his Son. We call this election. God chose which sinners would receive his grace in Jesus Christ, and he destined or determined, before the world began and before any person had done anything, that the Holy Spirit would irresistibly call them, make them alive, bring repentance, and preserve them in faith throughout their lives.

This disturbs some people because it can appear that we are just pawns in a game of fate. It contradicts our understanding of human freedom. God’s freedom is unique. It is an unconstrained freedom. Our choices are always constrained by outside forces and by our finiteness. God’s freedom gives us the type of freedom that we do have, the freedom to do what we want. But we must remember that as sinners, we are not free to want the right things. We are slaves to sin. We can only sin, and so God rescues sinners by making them new so that they can believe in Jesus and be saved. And anyone who is made new and who believes in Jesus Christ can know that God has set his love upon them.

Everything Belongs to God

Because God is sovereign over all things, we are obligated to work for his glory in every aspect of life. This reality destroys any division of life into spiritual and secular activities or into sacred and profane spaces. Each person is given a different calling in God's good creation, and every lawful calling is a valid and wonderful way to pursue glorifying God. Reformed Christians deny any claim that pastors or missionaries have a higher or more spiritual calling than farmers, engineers, or artists. God is Lord over all these forms of work, and each must be done to glorify him. 

Reformed Christians believe that God is holy, that he works all things for his glory, that he is sovereign over all creation, even over matters of salvation, and that all work should be done to God’s glory.

[Editor's Note: Read part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]

When What God Says Isn't What We Want to Hear

One of the advantages of preaching through an entire book of the Bible in corporate worship is that it invites God to challenge us with his word. When we walk passage by passage through a book like the Gospel of Luke, the church will inevitably find herself face to face with a teaching that she would never have volunteered to study, let alone publicly proclaim. But we can’t ignore what we find in Scripture as we hear the whole counsel of God. Rather, we must humbly receive the word of the Lord as creatures, children, and citizens who are in need of his gracious and guiding truth. We must recognize that even when his word makes us squirm or seems unreasonable or leads to discomfort, it’s the word of the King to his people, and it is exactly what we need for faith and faithfulness. 

The last few weeks have been an exercise in just this sort of tension. Luke 9:18-10:24 has a lot to say about uncomfortable things like suffering, self-denial, shame, rejection, failure, and death.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (9:22-26)

And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. (9:43-45)

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (9:46-48)

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (9:57-62)

Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. (10:3) 

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (10:17-20) 

After a week of hearing about the cost of discipleship, most of us are ready to move on to sunnier skies and happier passages, to balance things out a bit, to get out from underneath the dark shadow of the cross. Sure, we reason, it’s helpful to be reminded that the life of following after Jesus is characterized by dying to self, bearing the rejection of the world, and repenting of sin as we trust the gospel, but three weeks in a row? Somebody might get the wrong idea! Somebody might mistakenly believe that Trinity Church is a rather glum group of folks! Personally, I don’t think I would ever choose to preach for three weeks in a row on such sobering matters, but as we hear the whole Gospel of Luke, that’s exactly what Scripture gives us. 

And you know what? We need to be sobered by what Jesus has to say. So often our instincts drive us to emphasize the joys of salvation, the blessings of redemption, and the glories of life in God’s church and to gloss over the costly parts of discipleship—the daily dying to sin and self, the suffering with Christ that comes before the glory of heaven, the repenting of idolatries that are so hard to give up, the rejection at the hands of a world that hates authority a lot and hates grace even more.

Particularly in the American church where it’s so easy to be lulled into believing that the best measures of success and faithfulness are our cultural power, social acceptability, and glorious prominence, we need Jesus to remind us again and again that he is a dying and rising king who calls his people to follow him in humility and meekness as they persevere in suffering with the hope that they are eternally his. We need Jesus to set the tone of our life together so that we remember what it means to be a church of the cross instead of a church of glory. We need Jesus to challenge our idols of greatness and popularity with the good news that we are sinners who’ve been accepted by God because Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem and walk the way of the cross. We need Jesus to show us how his gospel equips us to respond in peace to opposition rather than in violence, how his gospel strengthens us to count the cost of discipleship and joyfully persevere in faith. And perhaps the fact that we get so uncomfortable with these sorts of ideas is simply evidence that we need these texts of Scripture all the more.

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (10:23-24)

May God continue to shape us with his word and equip us for faithfulness with the blessing of the gospel.