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.]

What do we mean when we say we are a “Reformed” Church? Part 2 of 10 - Salvation in Christ Alone

[Editor's Note: Read part 1 of this series.]

We believe that salvation from sin to God is in Christ alone!

The Cross of Christ

Reformed Christians confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He stands at the center of all things, and it is only through his mediatorial and substitutionary work on the cross and the victory of his resurrection that sinners are saved. Jesus stands between God and mankind, representing God to man and man to God, bearing God’s judgment and presenting us innocent and righteous to God. He gave his life as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners by bearing the penalty for their sin, God’s wrath in the judgment of death. Only through his substitutionary work of atonement can sinners be saved.

The Story of the World

This good news sits at the climax of God’s plan for the world. The plotline of this plan is marked by four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Everyone, religious or irreligious, narrates the history of the world and their own life in some way, but Christians receive the story of the world from God through His word. God’s story becomes our story. The Triune God is king over all created all things, and he made mankind as his image bearers to live in his kingdom in covenant fellowship with him.  Mankind rebelled, broke covenant, and fell from innocence before God in an attempt to establish our own kingdoms. God redeemed sinners, sending his Son to be king and to overthrow the kingdoms of this world by dying for sin and rising again in victory to bring forgiveness. When the Son, Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, he will bring a new creation as the consummation of God’s redemption. Christians repent of the false stories we have adopted to narrate and shape our lives, and we trust in God’s story and his saving work in Jesus Christ.

There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. This storyline (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) provides the foundation from which Reformed theology draws its doctrines and its understanding of the gospel.

The gospel is not the same as the storyline of Scripture. It isn’t everything God has done. The gospel is the good news concerning Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and the bringing of new creation. The gospel is the climax of God’s dramatic story of the world.

Christ the Only Savior

While it might seem obvious to Christians that Jesus is the savior, the Reformed tradition has been especially aware of our tendency as sinners to replace Jesus as savior or to incorporate other powers, people, or things into the saving work of Christ. Reformed Christians insist that we must not add to or take away from Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Therefore, we reject any false savior.

We maintain that we cannot save ourselves and that Christ alone has the power to save. We cannot merit, earn, or secure our salvation through our efforts and good deeds. We cannot achieve salvation through self-denial, discipline, or abstaining from bodily pleasure. We cannot reason our way to salvation or educate ourselves to enlightenment.

We maintain that no other person, whether a Christian leader, saint, or martyr, can achieve our salvation but that Christ alone redeems us from sin. We naturally drift from trusting in Christ alone for salvation to putting our confidence in pastors or priests who lead us and pray for us. We naturally seek some other power, apart from the Holy Spirit given by Christ, to intervene on our own behalf so that we are saved. Some even pray to Apostles, to Mary the mother of Jesus, and to other saints. But no one has the power to forgive sin or help us grow in Christ-likeness except God.

We maintain that no created thing can save us. We naturally trust in all sorts of created things (money, power, status, comfort, security, love,  approval, etc.) to save us from our problems. But our ultimate problem is our sinful rebellion against God, and only Jesus can take away our sin.

Jesus Christ is the only savior, and we must flee from accepting any powerless rivals. So Reformed Christians believe that salvation is in Christ alone.

[Editor's Note: Read part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]