Category Archives: Basic Reformed Theology

Creeds and Christianity

Creeds and Christianity[1]

An important question needs to be entertained here. Why bother with man made confessions and creeds? Are not the words of Scripture sufficient? Shouldn’t we simply keep with the very words of Scripture to be safe?[2] Isn’t the making of Creeds an arrogant expression of dissatisfaction with God’s revelation?

At first blush, this sort of reasoning seems altogether pious and reverent, if not convincing. But were we to follow this line of thinking, will we be safer and will all controversies disappear? Will this make everything simpler? I do not think so.

First of all, the NT church had to contend against the Galatian heresy (see Galatians). Jude speaks about those who “crept in unnoticed…who pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (v.4). John tells us of those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh (2Jn. 7) or deny that Jesus is the Messiah (1 Jn. 2:22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?). We could list more. Error existed in the first century so Paul anathematizes those who preach a gospel that is different to the one he preaches (Gal. 1:6-9). Jude contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This faith that was once for all delivered to the saints is the same as the “good deposit” entrusted to Timothy (2Tim. 1:14).[3] Paul exhorted Timothy to “guard” it. What exactly was he to guard? Is it the truths that Jehovah Witnesses teach? Roman Catholics? Oneness Pentecostals? Mormons?

Each person must clarify what the Bible teaches because many pervert the true sense of the Bible by using the words of Scripture. One writer correctly stated that the “Bible is not its own interpretation.”[4] As Shedd has noted, “An Arian could assent to the Scripture phraseology of the Apostolic Symbol [Creed] as he understood it, but not as it was interpreted by the Nicene Council, as teaching that the Son is ‘very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.'”[5]  For example, a JW member could affirm that Jesus is the Son of God as well as a Mormon. Even some non-Christian religions could affirm the same thing, like the Hindus. Yet, each one imports a different meaning to the phrase. By this one phrase of Scripture wrongly interpreted, the heretic supplants the overall sense of Scripture, its full systematic teaching. To believe that we only need to state scripture is naive biblicism. Not too long after the Reformation, Socinians rose up to argue for a “biblical” theology. They ended up denying the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, Incarnation, etc. on the basis of their literalist hermeneutic.[6]

Warfield has gone so far as to say (he who believed in plenary verbal inspiration) that “[t]he sense of Scripture, not its words, is Scripture.” Meaning, what the Bible teaches is more important than the mere words of Scripture; in other words, the words of Scripture, without the true sense of its meaning can be used deceptively. “It is not simply what the Bible says that is crucial but also what it means, and the only effective way to give public expression to that meaning is by the use of extra-biblical vocabulary and concepts.”[7]  We must not assume a biblical phrase or statement has been rightly understood because it has been affirmed.  Scripture could easily be used to advance heresy. “No ambiguous meanings should be permitted to hide behind a mere repetition of the simple word of Scripture, but all that the Scripture teaches shall be clearly and without equivocation brought out and given expression in the least indeterminate language.”[8]  Naive superficial biblicism seems orthodox and humble. But a call to use only Scripture words has been the cry of the heretics for centuries.[9]

We can offer another example. Everyone would confess that the Bible teaches that we must have faith in order to be saved. But faith in what? Does this faith itself justify?   What is the object of this faith? Does it include Christ? What about Jesus’ work and person? We could go on asking these questions. Some have actually believed that the power of faith itself is saving. Liberal theologians like Paul Tillich defined faith as being ultimately concerned.[10] Is that good enough? Bultmann would strongly argue that we are justified by faith. Yet his understanding of this matter radically differed from historic Protestantism and even from Catholicism, and more importantly, from the true teaching of the Bible.

J. G. Machen’s assessment of Creeds is relevant here.  In his generation, he fought against anti-doctrinalism and fervent experientialism.  His concerns and battles mirror our own struggles. He observed that we are not a creed making generation because of our intellectual and moral indolence.[11] What he said some 70-80 years ago applies even more to our generation. We might not be a creed making generation but we should be a confessional generation.

So, what actually is the purpose of a creed, a confession? Why do we need them? Let me list ten points to answer these questions. These points will also offer some of the positive benefits of having them.

1. They are summary statements of the Bible

They are not expressions of Christian experience. Once again, Machen’s timeless statement helps us here:

The creeds of Christendom are not expressions of Christian experience. They are summary statements of what God has told us in His Word. Far from the subject-matter of the creeds being derived from Christian experience, it is Christian experience which is based upon the truth contained in the creeds; and the truth contained in the creeds is derived from the Bible, which is the Word of God.[12]

Most of us think that the creeds are mere thoughts of men bereft of Biblical support. They view them as mere opinions of dead white men (and I happen to be an American who is half Asian).  It is true they are the convictions of men but are they also biblical? Because they said Jesus was fully God and fully man — do I reject it because they said it or do I accept it because it is biblical? Unfortunately, creedal statements are suspect simply because they are creedal.  Creedal statements, if they are worth anything, are summary statements of the Bible on various theological topics. We accept creedal and confessional statements only because they faithfully summarize the Bible’s teaching. We voluntarily adopt them because we believe they accurately represent what the Bible teaches.

2. They are intended to affirm biblical truths in a precise and discriminating way

The Confessions state precisely what the church believes the Bible says about certain doctrines (teachings). A confessional church voluntarily enters into an association stating that they all believe that the Bible teaches certain truths regarding various theological matters.

Each generation must, by its own study of Scripture, embrace the contents of the Confession. We do not slavishly receive them without reflection, deep study, or prayer. Many times we are forced to say, “I haven’t thought about that issue.” Or, “I thought it was such and such!” only to find out that our opinion was not as thoroughly worked out as the Confession’s.  Just studying the Confession (WCF) and its catechisms (LC and SC) forces us to articulate our own convictions more precisely (whether we accept the Confessional teaching or not).

Let’s use the doctrine of predestination as an example. Many decry this doctrine saying that we cannot know these deep things or they scream, “What about free will?” But, we assert that we are only stating what the Bible has revealed on this matter.  The Bible does teach this doctrine; it is in fact a biblical word. If the person denies predestination while at the same time professing that he only accepts the Bible, then what are we to make of his affirmation of the Bible?  Is he denying what the Bible teaches about the doctrine? Everyone has to believe in the doctrine of predestination (however conceived) because the Bible teaches something about that doctrine. Are we at fault for holding to a view we believe is biblical? Is the other person’s ignorance and lack of reflection on this doctrine more credible simply because he hasn’t given it much attention? One must have a belief in the doctrine because the Bible teaches it. All confessions state something about this doctrine because they sought to affirm the Bible’s truths in a precise way. We should not be denounced for thinking clearly about a doctrine by adopting our Confessional view (after prayer, study, and meditation coram deo).

3. They are purposefully stated to refute and combat errors

In having a Confession, we arm the church and protect her from errors and destructive heresies. Are JWs wrong? What about Mormons? Yes, the Confession clearly sets forth a biblical doctrine of Christology and salvation. We can quickly state the Bible’s teaching on Christ: “who, being the eternal son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.” (SC, 21)  Modern thinkers make non-committal theological statements (e.g., “As long as we love and believe in Jesus…”). They compose positions that are inclusive and not exclusive.[13]  A Roman Catholic can affirm that we are saved by grace through faith and a JW and a Mormon can affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. However, the moment we demand that the theological statements be more focused and precise (“by faith alone” or “fully God and fully man”) is the moment we expose the heretic.[14] 

The Confessional statement takes the entire teaching of Scripture to heart (e.g., fully God and fully man) and not merely an isolated phrase from Scripture (“Son of Man”). Heretics have hidden under the cover of a biblical phrase (wrongly interpreted) but exposed and routed through the clear and precise biblical teaching of the Confession, Creed, or Catechism.

4. A Christian cannot be a Christian without making some creedal statement (credo [I believe…])

A Christian must always give a summary statement of what the Bible teaches on various subjects whenever he conveys his thoughts while witnessing, while instructing, while praying, etc.  It is impossible to not have a doctrinal position. A Confession firmly states what he [more precisely the church] believes. A Christian must believe something. Did you know a JW could confess clearly that he believes everything the Bible teaches? He just interprets the Bible incorrectly (heretically)! So, making a creedal statement will help a believer to distinguish himself from a Jehovah’s Witness!

On the other hand, the one who denies creeds simply has not fleshed out his thoughts on various topics or simply has not thought through any thing.  What does the Bible teach about the natures of Christ? What does the Bible teach about creation, sex, the State, Lord’s Supper, atonement, the Trinity, etc.? He or she may not have a written creed but he or she still embraces a subjective/ internal/ unspecified creed of his/ her own making.  This becomes apparent when they say, “I don’t think those who never heard the gospel will go to hell.” In stating such a position, they have unwittingly conveyed their thoughts on General Revelation, Atonement, Providence, Original Sin, etc. They deny the Scriptural (and Confessional) teaching but also end up affirming the ancient old error of Pelagianism. Everyone has a creed; some understand their creed clearly while the rest remain confused and ambiguous.

5.Those who deny creeds and confessions are often lazy Christians

Those who decry Confessions and affirm the Bible many times hide their laziness. They have not worked through what the Bible has taught on various issues. How do the testaments relate? What role do works play in the OT and the NT in our justification? How does Abraham’s covenant impact the new covenant? Is there an overarching principle pertaining to both covenants? All these are hard questions and most of them have been answered in our Confession. However, most people in our generation have not even considered them. I believe Trueman’s poignant words cannot be refuted.

Some evangelical church members, and even some ministers, decry ‘systematic theology’ as if it were some alien construct imposed on the text only to distort the Bible’s own teaching; but such talk is arrant [downright errant] nonsense.

The Reformers were biblical exegetes par excellence, and yet they constantly brought 1500 years of doctrinal formulation to bear upon their exegesis. If systematic theology has been abused to produce exegetical distortion, that is the fault of the practitioners not the discipline. What I suspect the pulpit critics of systematic theology more often mean is that the theological problem they face in the text is beyond their mental powers, and they are hoping to excuse their lack of hard-headed theological thinking in a manner which makes them appear more, not less, biblical. Better, apparently, to offer the congregation incoherence and confusion than draw upon the theological heritage of the church. Such superficiality has no place in an evangelical pulpit. [15]

I have known very few anti-confessional people who have pondered the numerous and weighty doctrines in the light of Scripture. They decry “systematic theology” and creeds but how have they answered some of the important theological questions of Christ’s two natures? How have they explained the Trinity? Once they convey their thoughts on these questions, they are stating a position either for or against a creed’s teaching. In studying the catechisms, confessions, creeds, etc. we are forced to ponder them, search the Scriptures, ask questions, read, think, pray, meditate, etc. It demands study! It is not for fainthearted or lazy professing Christians. It requires mental energy, constant study, prayerfulness, careful attention to the entire Bible, and a great depth of reflection. Some of us have lost sleep over these issues!

I assume that the person who adopts or embraces a Confessional view has given it serious study and prayer. Lazy is the man or woman who only adopts it because it is convenient. The person may not understand everything thoroughly but he has faithfully given conscientious attention to everything in the Confession or Creed before he adopted it.

6. Aren’t confessional people often spiritually dead (dead orthodoxy)?

Technically, this is a misnomer. A truly orthodox person cannot be spiritually dead (part of being truly orthodox is to be regenerate). However, we recognize that there is an intellectual show of orthodoxy without its power in the person. Nonetheless, we must also notice that we cannot progress unless we have a firm doctrinal position. Our spiritual life depends on faithful adherence to what the Bible teaches. Machen shows a true believer stands on true doctrine. Orthodoxy doesn’t kill; it is the sine qua non of spiritual life.

The subject matter of Christian doctrine, it must be remembered, is fixed. It is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to which nothing can be added.

Let no one say that the recognition of that fact brings with it a static condition of the human mind or is inimical to progress. On the contrary, it removes the shackles from the human mind and opens up untold avenues of progress.

The truth is, there can be no real progress unless there is something that is fixed. Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.’ Well, Christian doctrine provides that place to stand. Unless there be such a place to stand, all progress is an illusion. The very idea of progress implies something fixed. There is no progress in a kaleidoscope.[16]

Remember, confessional and non-confessional people can both be “dead” or lifeless. That doesn’t mean confessing certain things makes you dead. In fact, a careful study of these doctrines most often challenges, encourages, nourishes, and enlivens believers. However, there is always the danger of assuming that our experience is the same as our confession. One’s expressed love for his spouse may be far from how he actually treats and loves her. Mark Johnston says the following:

Perhaps the greatest threat of all to the church and the teachings on which she stands in every generation is that of sliding into nominalism. Paul warns Timothy that the Last Days will be characterised by those (in the church) who have a ‘form of godliness’ but who deny its power (2Ti 3.5). He warns against them in the strongest possible terms.

It’s a danger that lurks most subtly in the Reformed community where we are inclined to lay great store on scholarship and precision. It can be paradise for the kind of people who Paul is warning about – especially those who delight in controversy.  The essence of Christianity that is authentically Reformed is its concern for authentic experience. The experiential Calvinism of the Reformation and Puritan eras was driven by the conviction that all truth leads to godliness. The study of theology can never be merely academic.[17]

The fault is not the confession but our sinful souls. The confession does not lead us to death; it is our unbelieving hearts that lead us astray. We must always examine our hearts as we study and confess.

7. Our fallible Confession can be revised

We affirm that the Confession is not infallible and that it can be revised.  The Confession must always be subject to the authority and teaching of Scripture.  We can only receive and adopt the Confession if we believe it is a faithful teaching of Bible. In principle, changes could be made to the Confession (as the American Presbyterian church has done already in the areas of church/state relationship, Pope as being the Antichrist, and its teaching regarding marrying sisters of one’s deceased wife). However, we wonder if our generation is really in a position to offer wise changes. It humbles us when we compare our generation to the piety and theological understanding of the past. 

We think our situation is like a medical student who became a doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Smith).  He finds that six of his peers from his medical school are offering a new method of surgery to the medical community.  These six peers were considered the worst students in his class.  Yet they offer their novel approach right after graduation.  Would we not say that Dr. Smith’s hesitation and reservation are warranted? That does not make the new procedure wrong per se but it does make it suspect because of these doctors’ own ineptitude. We think our church is in a similar situation—all of us are too weak.  Most of our pastors have stopped reading theology and most of them have forgotten to use their biblical original languages. Yes, technically speaking, we could offer corrections. Realistically, we remain ill equipped.

So, when we embrace a Confessional viewpoint it does not mean we have jettisoned the Bible as our sole authority. Embracing a creed or confession means we have concluded that the confession or creed faithfully teaches what the Bible teaches. If everyone in the denomination or a particular church believes the confession is wrong, then they should seek to have it changed.

8. There is a body of doctrine to be believed

Paul speaks of the “good deposit entrusted to you” and the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13-14); he writes about how the Roman Christians were thrust on to a body of doctrine — “the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). Jude writes about “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  Paul did not shrink from declaring “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27. In these passages, we are taught that a body of teaching has been received by the church and deviation from it meant a departure from the Gospel. So there is nothing wrong with making that body of doctrine in the Scriptures explicit! Our confessions and creeds do just that! They make the “body of doctrine” explicit and clear!

9. Our generation desperately needs creeds and confessions

Most true evangelicals believe that modern Christians lack theological depth. With all the confusion surrounding our culture (gender issues, theological confusion, weird and odd and heretical perspectives on every doctrine (atonement, Trinity, God’s attributes, Christology, the Holy Spirit, demonology, angels, doctrine of man, etc.)), we need clearer biblical and theological statements and not less.

Pluralism has forced Christians to minimize their convictions but we need to affirm bold biblical theological statements, not to be contrarian but to affirm God’s unique revelation! The world wants to squeeze us into her mold but we need to be transformed by God’s truth. One of the best ways to counter that influence is to clearly know and affirm our theological convictions by way of creeds and confessions.

What modern Christians believe differ from our earlier Protestant forefathers. J. I. Packer once wrote in his introduction to Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, “Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned or even recognized by the pioneer Reformers.”[18] Packer could not have been more correct. We verge on confessing a form of Christianity that has no connection with the historic church because of our therapeutic view of theology. Contemporary Christianity needs to be different from the world and our creeds and confessions will anchor us in the Bible’s teaching far better than what now passes as Christianity.

10. Creeds and Confessions connect us to the Faith confessed by true believers in the past!

Many non-confessional evangelicals now embrace ressourcement theology (a theology of retrieval).[19] They seek to better understand theology by mining the riches of the early church, Medieval divines, and perhaps the Reformers.[20] This movement is refreshing (though not without dangers) because it compels our generation to interact with deep and godly thinkers from the past. The same effect could be gleaned from studying and working through the confessions of the church as well as the older creeds. Surely we can learn from the past!

When we embrace and confess the same doctrines of the early church and the Reformation, we end up standing with the saints of old. We don’t confess in solitary isolation from our brothers and sisters of the past but actually stand with them in the present by our common confession and creed.[21]

[1] The first version of this study was presented in April of 2008. I have reworked the original study and added to it for today’s study (2020).

[2]Anglicans like William Chillingworth argued for this. See B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 217. Even Philip Doddridge did the same; see D. Macleod, Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today  (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 100.  “The biblical terms, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, were freely used by the Sabellian and Arian of early times, because they put a Monarchian or Arian construction upon them” (Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:436). “After all, there is not a heretic in the history of the church who has not claimed to be simply believing what the Bible says, or who has not quoted biblical texts by the score to justify his position. When meaning is at stake, it is not enough simply to quote Bible verses; the overall theological context of those verses is also necessary, as is the deployment of extra-biblical vocabulary” (C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism [Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004], 76-77).

[3] This is “the pattern of sound words that he heard” from Paul (1:13; cf. 2:2).

[4] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[5]Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:437.

[6] See C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004), 24-25. Trueman equates our modern creed “No creed but the Bible” with “neo-Socinianism.” He is spot on. Socinians were sophisticated liberals holding to some presuppositions held by our modern Evangelicals.

[7] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[8]B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 218.

[9]R. Letham, “Review of A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Robert Reymond,”WTJ 62:2 (2000): “This has been the cry of heretics down the centuries. In the fourth century, the Arians and Eunomians appealed to Scripture, against the Homoousion party’s use of extra-biblical terminology. See the rebuttals of Gregory Nazianzen Fifth Theological Oration, 3, 3; Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, 25; Athanasius, De Decretis, 21. Calvin faced the same problem himself, Institutes 1:13:3. It was because of heresy that the church had to think in this way to defend the faith” (315).

[10]See P. Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957).

[11]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent and Other Selected Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 152.

[12]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent, 145.

[13]Machen, God Transcendent, 147.

[14]Cf. Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, 36.

[15]C. R. Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow  (Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2000), 72-73.

[16]Machen, God Transcendent, 152.


[18] Packer and Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 59.

[19] Cf. I offer two examples, some twenty years apart, to show how long this trend has been gaining steam, see Gavin Ortlund, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019) and Daniel H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999). Numerous other books and essays have been published in the last few decades on this topic.

[20] Many of them criticize Evangelicals for not going beyond the Reformers. I think their criticism lacks weight but that will have to wait for a different time.

[21] Sadly, many evangelicals lack this and in reflecting on these doctrines, they have capitulated to Papism.

Basic Reformed Theology 7

Basic Reformed Theology 7

Reformed Theology (RT) must translate into real life! As those who have been humbly affected by what the Bible teaches, they seek to apply those wonderful truths to their lives. Too many seek to master the doctrines of grace and RT rather than to be mastered by them. Knowing these truths without being thoroughly changed and affected by them is a waste and places us in a guilty (culpable) state. These are some of the ways RT becomes concrete.

Means of Grace: Individual and Family Piety

People rightly taught and deeply influenced by RT give themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word regularly since they cannot live without it (Mt. 4:4). We hear God through His Word (1Thess. 1:5). We do not seek to find God in our feelings, reason, culture, emotions, etc. Since RT is “word centered” (see BRT 1), each believer attempts to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). We believe God meets us as we prayerfully read and study His Word. Furthermore, since we are called to constantly pray (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; 1Thess. 5:17, etc.), each believer gives himself to earnest prayer because he knows God hears him through Christ Jesus. If the believer has a family, then he seeks to instruct the members in the things of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) knowing God uses His Word to bring salvation to his children (2Tim. 3:15). To faithfully maintain this, he seeks to daily lead family worship.

Reading the Word of God privately, listening to sermons, praying regularly, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper during public worship are the primary “means of grace” – the channels through which God meets His people and conveys grace to them. He does not seek “extraordinary” means though he knows God often acts in extraordinary ways through the ordinary means. He believes God rewards “those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). He seeks God through God’s appointed means and attempts “to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1Tim. 2:2). He aims at personal godliness and not personal fame — all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Reverent Public Worship

Since believers must not forsake assembling with God’s people (Heb. 10:25) and must worship God (Luke 4:8; Acts 13:2, etc.), we must worship Him according to His Word and not according to our desires. The Reformed believer takes worshipping God seriously and obediently; it is not an option. Knowing God to be infinitely Holy and majestic, humble believers do not approach Him in a cavalier manner as if He were a “buddy”. If fact, we are called to worship Him with reverence and awe: “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28, 29). The manner is with “reverence and awe”. This does not mean in a gloomy fashion but with gladness; not somberly but soberly; not haphazardly but humbly; etc. We read that the 24 elders “fell down and worshiped” (Rev. 5:14), worship sometimes included fasting (e.g. Acts 13:2), worship can lead to serious conviction of sin (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-25), etc. Worship in the NT is never glib, trite, comical, etc. but always serious and reverent.

The Word of God remains central to NT worship and prominent in RT. Therefore the public reading of Scripture (1Tim. 4:13; cf. Col. 4:16) and the preaching of God’s Word dominate Reformed churches. The believer listens to God from His Word. We must also recognize that OT worship does not regulate NT worship because we do not have the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, divinely ordained choirs, instruments, regulations, sacrifices, etc. The first four commandments always apply but worship robed in OT regulations fit the Old Testament (the old economy, the shadow of things to come). Because of the covenantal progression, we worship in accordance with the New Covenant requirements in Spirit and Truth (Jn. 4:24).

Submissive to God’s Providence

We see RT in its best practical form in the area of God’s providence. Since God is absolutely sovereign and is our good wise tender heavenly Father, the child of God recognizes that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” (Rom. 8:28 NASB). He knows that nothing happens to Him “apart the will of your Father” (Mt. 10:29, NIV). Nothing “accidentally” happens to him, whether good or bad. For that reason, he humbly submits to what God brings into his life: “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). At times, like David he will say, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you [God] who have done it” (Ps. 39:9). David took it as the Lord’s doing in allowing Shimei to curse him by saying, “the Lord has told him to” curse (2Sam. 16:11).

Being fully convinced of God’s absolute sovereignty, he does not murmur but knows that the difficulties are God’s loving ways of disciplining or sanctifying him (Heb. 12:4-11). Though some events and circumstances may defy simple explanations, the Reformed believer knows that God brought this upon him out of His goodness, love, and wisdom. God’s sovereignty does not threaten him but it sweetens the way he experiences the difficulties. When wonderful and good things befall his life, He knows it came from God and acknowledges it! He knows how he responds to circumstances reveal his deepest convictions about God, therefore he humbly submits to God in all conditions and glorifies Him by his responses. 

Confidence in Evangelism

Many of the most ardent and effective evangelists were Reformed (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennant, Asahel Nettleton, etc.). In obedience, he declares the good news being confident (not in himself or abilities) that God will sovereignly convert His people. God will not fail to bring His children into the fold and Reformed believers know God uses their feeble efforts and stammering lips to call the sheep into fellowship with His Son (1Cor. 1:9). RT encourages evangelism and emboldens the preacher because God and not the preacher converts sinners through the free offer of the gospel.

World and Lifeviews

Finally, RT teaches that the child of God must look at everything in biblical terms. He attempts to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor. 10:5). God’s Word regulates his view of purpose, ambition, sexuality, identity, money, relationships, family, marriage, politics, arts, education, etc. That does not mean a “distinct Christian” view emerges over everything but his commitment to Christ influences everything he does and pursues. In all things, God’s glory and will constrain him and not his own personal peace, prosperity, comfort, glory, etc. So the world is “surprised when you do not join them” in their same passions and goals (1 Pet. 4:4). RT affects the person’s private and public life comprehensively; Christ’s lordship touches every inch of the individual’s life!

Basic Reformed Theology 6

Basic Reformed Theology 6

Non-Reformed believers embrace a doctrine called “once saved always saved.” Strangely, many Christians embrace this doctrine without having a firm biblical and theological foundation for it. Wesleyans and Nazarenes deny this doctrine because of their insistence on man’s sovereign free will. To their credit, they fear a doctrine that encourages disobedience and they believe a true believer can turn to a life of sin and disobedience and deny Christ. That disobedient person will perish in hell and lose his salvation. RT does not believe the person was a real born again child of God and his apostasy only revealed his true unregenerate state.


The “P” in TULIP is the “perseverance of the saints.” All true believers will persevere to the end. Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt. 10:22; Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:19) All professing believers are called upon to persevere through persecutions, afflictions, and difficulties. Paul encouraged the believers “to continue in the faith” saying to them “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that tribulation or persecution will cause some to fall away (Mt. 13:21). The point is, the Bible calls believers to persevere but we know that not all who profess faith will. The parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1-23) teaches us what kind of circumstances will reveal the temporary faith of many. But we can be sure that the “elect” will persevere. Mt. 24:22 says that there will be a “great tribulation” (24:21) and had that time not been cut short “no human being would be saved.” Then Jesus adds, “But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (24:22) The elect will endure through the tribulation and God will ensure it.


Undergirding the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is God’s perseveration of His children. Jeremiah 32:40 (in reference to God’s new everlasting covenant) says this of God, “that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer. 32:40) God will make sure His people will not turn from Him! Jesus said He will give eternal life to His sheep “and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (Jn. 10:28, 29) Jesus’ people will never perish or be snatched away by another power! Jesus and the Father would have failed if His sheep perish! Remember, nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

If believers receive the “eternal life” promised to them (Jn. 3:16; 6:47; 10:27, etc.), then they could not lose it because it is “eternal life.” God did not promise them a temporary life, conditional life, etc. If a person truly believes, he has eternal life. He cannot have eternal life after he believes and then lose it. If he had it at the beginning then he’ll have it eternally. Not everyone who says they believe truly and savingly believed and therefore they did not receive eternal life. Since they believed temporarily, they never had eternal life to start off with.

Jesus prayed that believers would be kept in His name and that they would be kept from the evil one (Jn. 17:11, 12, 15). God the Father heard the Son’s high priestly prayer and therefore believers are kept so as to persevere. That is, “by God’s power “ we “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). His power guards us, keeps us (Jn. 17), and ensures that we are not separated from Him (Rom. 8:39). God “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). The “stumbling” does not refer to occasional falling into sins but a stumbling away from the faith — He will keep us and we’ll be “kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1).

Believers really do persevere and God uses the warning passages from Scripture to preserve them (like the exhortations in Hebrews). God’s true children heed the warnings and persevere. John makes a startling claim about those who end up departing from the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1Jn. 2:19) That is, their leaving and not continuing in the apostolic faith meant “they all are not of us”. Not persevering revealed that they were not truly God’s people. God requires perseverance in the faith, gospel holiness, remaining in Christ’s name, etc.  He preserves His people so that they can persevere unto the end!

God’s Children

The child of God is born again (Jn. 3:5), has God’s seed remaining in him (1Jn. 3:9), declared to be a new creation (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), has been adopted (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7) and “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Can this doctrine of regeneration be reversed? Will God send His Spirit into our hearts (Rom 8:14, 15) and make us His children and then fail to bring us to Him? Will God disinherit us, orphan us again, and re-make us into children of Satan? Most good earthly father would not do that and yet some believe our heavenly Father is capable of doing that! Can the hearts that truly cried “Abba, Father” cease to be God’s children? The very nature of new birth prohibits such a conclusion. We are born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3) and as God’s children, He will keep us unto the end: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35) The answer is NOTHING!

Implications and Questions

• “I’ve seen genuine believers fall away from the faith.” Actually, the person saw how deceptive man can be and how deluded some professing believers are — their departure revealed that they were not truly part of God’s people (1Jn. 2:19).

• “If this is true, then we can do whatever we want – once saved always saved!” No, God’s children will act like His children. The Holy Spirit leads them unto holiness and they dare not grieve the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30).

• “Doesn’t this encourage sloth, ungodliness, etc.?” True believers are humbled by this truth and feel compelled to live for Christ that much more (Gal. 2:20).

• Remember, there is difference between falling into sin, temporarily falling away, backsliding and apostatizing! All believers struggle with the first part but only those who are not true believers will fully fall away.

Basic Reformed Theology 5

Basic Reformed Theology 5

The Holy Spirit enables a sinner to believe. He is efficacious in His work and we call that “Irresistible Grace.” The Father elects, the Son redeems and the Spirit applies the work of Christ’s redemption. Each person of the Trinity effectually works in our salvation.

The External and Internal Call

Through the preaching of the gospel, all men are called to repent and believe (Mt. 28:18-20; cf. Mk. 16:15(?)). The external preaching reaches all who are within the earshot of the message. Yet we know not all who hear the preaching of the Word believe. When the gospel is faithfully preached, God uses the message to externally call all who hear to repent and believe. God commands repentance and faith through His preached Word; He calls them through the Word to believe. If they do not repent and believe then they will perish in their sins. The gospel imparts “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” but the unbeliever “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor. 2:6, 14). The preaching reaches the ear but does not touch the heart; the sinner cannot or is not able understand it.

Some do believe. Why? We learn from the Bible that through the preaching, some are effectually called (the internal call). God who predestines calls them (Rom. 8:30). An efficacious call enables them to respond. The call is invested with the power to enable the person to enter into fellowship with Christ: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Rom. 1:6, 7) He “called” us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pet. 2:9). God does not call in vain: “who saved us and called us to a holy calling…” (2Tim. 1:9). These “call” passages all mean something like a summons. The call is more than a mere invitation (though it includes that) since it comes from God to those whom He predestined: “And those whom he predestined he also called…” (Rom. 8:30). An example of how that worked can be found in 1 Thess. 1:5, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” That internal call came through the external call of the gospel (not apart from it). God cannot fail to draw the sinner whom He predestined and called — the two (predestination and calling) remain inseparable. Paul says of himself and the Jews (as well as the Gentiles): “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:24)!

Regeneration and Faith

Spiritually dead men cannot heed the call unless the sovereign Holy Spirit enables them.  Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” (Jn. 6:63) The Spirit must give life and this “life” denotes new birth, rebirth or regeneration (1Pet. 1:3, 23). This new birth is by the Spirit and from above (Jn. 3:5, 6). The Spirit’s work of rebirth is mysterious like the coming and going of the wind: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8) Just as we cannot control the wind so we cannot determine the work of the Sovereign Spirit. We cannot see or enter heaven without being born “of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-7). The “water” in Jn. 3 is another way of referring to the work of the Spirit as in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (not referring to baptism) — a cleansing or washing by the Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5).

Paul said that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3) but God made us alive (Eph. 2:5). That life is none other than the new birth Jesus spoke about. Jesus says we must be “born again” (Jn. 3:7) or “born of God” (1Jn. 3:9; 5:14; cf. Jn. 1:12, 13)! The Spirit changes us by making us alive and in turn we see and understand the things of God. The Spirit enables us to “understand the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Because we have been born again by the Spirit, we can see and enter the kingdom God (Jn. 3:3, 5)! For that reason we call all believers a “new creation” (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). This new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and man does not cooperate in his new birth!

So faith and repentance must be viewed as divine gifts. God gives repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2Tim. 2:25, 26) and faith (Acts 13:48, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”; Eph. 2:8-10). Luke says Paul helped those “who through grace believed” (Acts 18:27). Paul says this of the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (1:29). It has been granted to them to believe!


Man will always resist the Gospel. The external call makes man more culpable. If he refuses the invitation and command to repent and believe, he only has himself to blame! The Spirit is not at fault for not converting the sinner — He has mercy on whom He has mercy.

Man is obstinate as well as dead in his sins. But man cannot be viewed as being omnipotent against God. That is, man’s utter rejection and refusal can be overturned. God can make a man alive in Christ Jesus. As God can change the king’s heart (Prov. 21:1), give sight to the blind and make the lame walk (Mt. 11:5), so the Lord opens the heart to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul”).

The Spirit will never fail to regenerate whom the Father calls into fellowship of His Son! If God is faithful by whom we were called into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9), then would He fail to affect His purpose? At His time, God will call specific sinners to enter into a living fellowship with His Son to be forgiven, cleansed, justified, sanctified and glorified. That is, no person will enter into Hell because the Spirit was not able to regenerate him.

We do not know how the sinner will respond. We only know that we must earnestly plead with the person to repent and believe. The Spirit can will convert when and where He pleases.

The Spirit’s work may go far and never truly convert (as in Heb. 6). They could have a taste of spiritual things and yet come short of new birth. Many have been convicted and affected by the preached word and in either short or long time, they grow cold and indifferent to the gospel they seemingly warmed up to.

No person is impossible for God to convert and save. Since the Spirit is sovereign, at the appointed time, the sinner whom the Father elected will be converted. Therefore, we can never say that the person’s opportunity has closed or that his obstinance is too great to overcome. There is not a sinner that cannot be powerfully converted when God wills it.

Basic Reformed Theology 4

Basic Reformed Theology 4

No part of Reformed Theology (RT) is as much rejected as the doctrine of Limited Atonement in TULIP (sometimes called “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”). Yet this biblical doctrine coheres well with the rest of RT and to deny it would put disharmony into the Trinity. Limited Atonement means that Christ died only for those whom the Father gave to Him (Jn. 10:28, 29). Jesus paid the full penalty for the sins of those chosen by God the Father. Remember, His name is Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

The Nature of Atonement

In the OT, God provided animals to make atonement for the people’s sins. Since life is in the blood, they were forbidden to eat blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev. 17:10) The shedding of blood meant death and without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Yet the blood of “bulls and goats” could never “take away sins.” (Heb. 10:4) Those provisional sacrifices were always limited to God’s people and for specific offenses.  The priests never offered the atoning sacrifices for everyone without exception. For example, only God’s people benefited from the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32). If a specific individual did not comply with the requirements of the atonement, he would be “cut off from his people” (v. 29). That provisional and definite atoning sacrifice washed away the sins for whom it was offered.

Design and Accomplishment

Those chosen by God the Father had to be redeemed by God the Son. Particular election requires a definite atonement. God gave a people to His Son and He was to raise them up on the last day: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raiseit up on the last day.” (Jn. 6:39) God’s design was for the elect and Christ accomplished his redemption by dying for them.

If Christ died for everyone without exception then Christ labored in vain for those who would perish. The Son always pleases the Father (Jn. 8:29) and the Father is well pleased with Him (Mt. 3:17). Jesus said He accomplished the work given to Him (Jn. 17:4; cf. 5:36). If Jesus paid the penalty for everyone, then why doesn’t the Father forgive everyone? Isn’t the Father pleased with the Son’s work given to Him? The Father is pleased with the Son and will lose none for whom the Son gave eternal life (Jn. 10:28-30). No discord exists between the Father and the Son. For that reason, Jesus only prays for the ones the Father gave Him: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (Jn. 17:9)


All theories of atonement limit either their effectiveness or extent. Universal atonement limits its effectiveness because it secures no one’s redemption. It makes all men “salvable” and technically Christ’s death could have secured no one’s salvation (only made salvation “possible” for all upon the condition of faith). It is like a very wide bridge that never makes it across the river though everyone could go on it. Limited atonement limits the extent. Christ’s atoning sacrifice fully atoned the sins of God’s elect and it is effective for them alone. Using the same bridge analogy, this narrow bridge goes fully across to the other side but only for the numerous elect of God. The Son came to seek and save (Lk. 19:10; 1Tim. 1:15), to deliver us (Gal. 1:3, 4). Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us… to purify for himself a people” (Titus 2:14). He did not come to make sinners salvable, deliverable, redeemable, purifiable, etc. Jesus “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). He died to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18) and gave himself for the church (Eph. 5:25).

Christ’s death secured everything for the specified sinners (full atonement, full forgiveness, full work of the Spirit as a gift, full acceptance with the Father, etc.). The sinner does not “add” his faith to secure the benefits of Christ’s death but his own faith is the gift because Christ removed all the righteous legal barriers (his guilt, sin, judgment, etc.). He has secured all the spiritual blessings for the elect (Eph. 1:3, 4).


We don’t know for whom Christ has died so we can’t say Christ died for you. It doesn’t matter. We can unreservedly declare that Christ died for sinners and that He will save all who believe in Him. God will draw the elect and enable them to believe.

All and World? What about Jn. 3:16 and the other passages that refer to “all” (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9) and “world” (Jn. 1:9, 29; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Jn. 2:1, 2; 4:14)? The word “world” in Jn. 3:16 refers to the wicked world of sinners — he loves them and whoever would believe will be saved. God’s general love for all does not mean He loves everyone the same way. We are all required to love everyone but we do not love them all the way we love our family, close friends, parents, etc. Usually the word “all” denotes all men without distinction but not all men without exception. God does desire the salvation of all people (1 Tim. 2:4) but it does not mean He will surely save all. Jesus’ ransom for all (“who gave himself as a ransom for all” 1 Tim. 2:6) perfectly illustrates all without distinction. If it was “all without exception”, that means all have been ransomed (not all have been “ransom-able”). If it was for everyone without exception then everyone has been truly ransomed, bought or purchased — that cannot be correct since not everyone is saved.

Efficacious or efficient for the elect but sufficient for all! Some have carefully noted that Christ’s death was sufficient (of such worth and value) that it could have technically saved everyone without exception. Limited atonement no way diminishes the value of Christ’s work on the cross. The design or intent behind Christ’s death was only for His people. The benefits of His death would be applied only to God’s chosen people; it is efficacious to them alone.

How do I know if he died for me? Remember, that is not the question you should be concerned about. He died for sinners and if you would repent and believe you will be forgiven, justified, and sanctified. Then you’ll be able to say that Jesus “loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Basic Reformed Theology 3

Basic Reformed Theology 3

Most people recognize this part of Reformed Theology (RT). In TULIP, the “U” (for ‘Unconditional Election’) stands out to many as the distinctive feature of RT. The Bible’s teaching on election should not be overlooked, understated, or denied. We would not say this doctrine is the “heart” of RT but it remains a very important part of it.

From Eternity

Paul says that God “chose (elected) us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s people’s names were written in the Book of Life “before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2Tim. 1:9). God’s elect are “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:23). We know that God works all things “according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) and we can conclude from the context that part of His eternal counsel included the election of His people (v. 4). That means God chose certain individuals before He created the world and before individuals came into being. Though a mystery surrounds this mind blowing doctrine (which means we cannot understand everything about this doctrine) we can nonetheless conclude from Scripture God certainly elected some to eternal life before creation.


Most people assume God only elected those who would choose Christ. He saw from eternity if an individual chose Christ. On that basis or condition, God chose the individual. That means God reacted in response to our choice. He had to choose because we chose! This would make God’s choice dependent and conditional and therefore secondary and not primary. The word “unconditional” in unconditional election means that man’s actions and behavior did not condition or influence God’s choice. God did not choose His people because they chose Christ first or because they deserved it, were wiser, smarter, prettier, more promising, influential, powerful, etc. (1 Cor. 1:26-31).  He chose to love us because He loved us (Deut. 7:8). Jesus’ statement to his disciples applies to the Bible’s teaching on election, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (Jn. 15:16).

Regarding Jacob and Esau, the Bible says “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls…” (Rom. 9:11), that is, God’s electing purpose and not Jacob’s choice (before either of them did anything) determined the final destiny of the two individuals. God’s choice denotes God’s mercy: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). Man’s will does not determine God’s election: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:16) “Human will or exertion” simply means “man’s desire or effort” (NIV). Man’s desire or effort does not influence or control God’s mercy/election. We choose Christ because God chose us: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

Some Implications and Objections

That means that God’s children were chosen before the foundation of the world and that each person converted has been elected from eternity. We don’t know who or how many have been elected (a fixed number, cf. WCF 3.4) but God does. The doctrine is a source of consolation for God’s people; it should not be the concern of the unconverted because his duty is to repent and believe in Christ.

Why evangelize? Because Christ commanded us to preach the gospel. Through the free offer of the gospel God gathers His sheep (cf. Jn. 10:16, 27). We preach to everyone without exception and those appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).

It’s not fair! If we want absolute fairness, then we would all receive what we all deserve, namely, eternal damnation. We rightly merited damnation. Eternal life is God’s gift of mercy and He can give it to whomever He wishes (Rom. 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy…”). He could give it to all; to none; or to some. God chose to give it to many.

What about foreknowledge? Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speak of God’s foreknowledge. Doesn’t that mean God elected those whom He foreknew would choose him? Romans 8:29 says “whom he foreknew” — not “what he foreknew” (a masculine and not neuter relative pronoun) — a foreknowledge of persons. God knew them beforehand and predestined them — it does not say he knew what they would choose and then he chose them! 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speaks of the same personal foreknowledge, they are “those who are elect… according to God’s foreknowledge”. As the person Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20) to redeem or ransom (vv. 18-19) so the elect were foreknown by God the Father whom the Son would redeem. It simply means God chose whom He loved beforehand (cf. Amos 3:2) because God foreknew everyone and everything. In these passages, God’s fore-knowledge connotes an intimate knowledge (like “fore-loved”).

It doesn’t matter what I do! Paul takes on that exact question in Romans 9. After teaching that God can show mercy to anyone He wills, Paul answers the question that often arises from such a teaching: “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Rom. 9:19) That is, “How can I be held guilty? I can’t resist or control whatever God does!” In short, Paul says God can do what He wishes with fallen man. Some will become vessels of mercy (v. 23) and other will receive what we all deserve, become “vessels of wrath” (v. 22). Man is still responsible for his actions and will be condemned because of their sin and for refusing to repent and believe!

Why? So no one can boast! “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31) God gets all the glory!!

Basic Reformed Theology 2

Basic Reformed Theology 2

The Bible teaches that man is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) and therefore man is spiritually dead and resistant to the things of God. RT calls this “total depravity.” The origin of many theological errors can be found in one’s understanding of man’s fallen condition.  

Original Sin

Adam, who served as the representative (by God’s appointment our “federal head”) for all of humanity, sinned (Rom. 5:12-21).  Adam’s sin (the Fall) led to what we call “original sin” (the effects of the Fall in our nature). All of us have been affected by the Fall and we all inherited “original sin.” This sin brought death (Rom. 5:12) and pervaded our nature. 

None of us come into the world with a clean untainted nature; we are born in sin, “estranged from the womb” and we “go astray from birth” (Ps. 58:3). David says he was “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5). That means babies are not born innocent but tainted with sin.  Everybody sins because everyone was born in sin: “for there is no man who does not sin” (2 Chron. 6:36) because “no man living is righteous before” God (Ps. 143:2). 

Pervasive Sinfulness

Man is not simply morally crippled but pervasively sinful. All his faculties have been affected by sin. Rom. 3:9-18 poignantly proves this. The passage simply states that we are “all under sin” (v. 9). Sin dominates man. Verse 10 teaches forthrightly that “none is righteous, no, not one.” Verse 11 states that “no one” really understands God. In fact, he does not seek Him (v. 11b). Man does not know God rightly and therefore does not understand Him (cf. 1:21, 22). Man has turned aside and refused to do good before God (v. 12; cf. 1:23, 25). 

Verses 13-18 depict man’s pervasive evil. It is a poetic way of saying that from head to toe, he is full of sin. Man uses his throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, and eyes against God’s way: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Paul did not go and show how every inch is covered with sin but has demonstrated by the language of the text that man is pervasively and resolutely “under sin.”

Ecc. 9:3 states that “the hearts of men are full of evil” while Jeremiah declares that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jer. 17:9). Early in man’s history, God saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). 

We tend towards evil and not the good. There is a futility or vanity in our minds (Eph. 4:17) since we have a “darkened” understanding and a “hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Man is “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In fact, we are slaves to sin: “every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). 

Opposed to God and the Gospel

Man suppresses the truth about God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff.) and are in fact spiritually “dead in our trespasses” (Col. 2:13; Eph. 1:1, 5).  We are “by nature children of [God’s] wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Man actually follows “the prince of the power the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2; cf. Jn. 8:44; 2Tim. 2:26). We are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18) and our minds remain “hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7). 

That means when it comes to spiritual truth, we won’t accept it and are unable to: “The natural person does not acceptthe things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them…” (1 Cor. 2:14). Man, whose mind is set on the flesh, “does not submit to God’s law” and is unable to submit to it (Rom. 8:7).  The gospel is “folly” to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 1:18). 

The god of this world, the devil prevents people from understanding the gospel: “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2Cor. 4:4). He steals the Word from people’s hearts: “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in the heart” (Mt. 13:19). 

Gospel preaching is to “open” the eyes of unbelievers “so that they many turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). 

Some Implications

Everything that a man does is tainted by sin. Though we are not all equally sinful, all of us have been affected by sin in every aspect of our persons. Nothing we do escapes the taint of sin. We can never please God in and of ourselves. 

Man may perform some “civil” good and may be restrained from sinning as he would (like Abimelech in Gen. 20:6) but he cannot escape the fact he continues under the power of sin.

Man is spiritually dead. Dead people cannot respond to the gospel. Unless the Lord works in the heart, the unbeliever will reject the gospel every single time (100%).

Man is spiritually blind (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:9,14). He cannot appreciate, love, believe, and accept the gospel. He sees nothing in it. The god of this world has blinded him.

Man’s will is not free. Man being enslaved to sin (Jn. 8:34) can freely act only according to his nature. His will expresses his nature and therefore, being dead in sin and hostile towards God, it will always oppose and refuse God: “being captured by him [the devil] to do his will” (2Tim. 2:26).

Man does not seek God (Rom. 3:11), is not able to submit to Him (Rom. 8:7), and is considered a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3)— man is a rebel. If a million years were added to us and a million opportunities offered to us to turn from our sins and to believe in Christ, we would never repent and believe because of our sinful condition.

Basic Reformed Theology 1

Basic Reformed Theology I[1]

Doctrine simply means the setting forth of what the Bible teaches on a certain topic. Paul said to Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1) “Doctrine” here means teaching (e.g., 1Tim. 4:16 uses the same Grk word, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”). A set of doctrines convey a particular “theology” that no one can evade or avoid. Reformed Theology simply refers to teachings or doctrines that have been taught by the Reformers (especially Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Zwingli, Luther, etc.) and by the various confessional denominations that profess a similar theology (like the Presbyterians). This theology faithfully presents the Bible’s teaching. The Reformers did not “invent” its theology but carefully and clearly set forth what the Bible teaches. Seven key ideas make up Reformed Theology (RT). Most evangelicals would generally embrace the first one but only RT gives a prominent place to the other six ideas.  

Word Centered

RT teaches that the Bible is inerrant (without error) and fully authoritative (1Tim. 3:16, 17). Since the Bible reveals what we are to believe concerning God as well as what duties He requires of us, its teaching takes precedence (when rightly interpreted and understood) over man’s reason, experience, and culture. Fallen sinful man cannot think of God correctly (Rom. 1:18ff.) and must depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit to enable him to understand the truths of the Bible savingly and correctly. 

God Centered

This is God’s world which He created and sustains for His own glory. The Bible starts off with “In the beginning God…” RT believes the Bible’s story is about God’s redemptive acts and purposes. God created, God speaks, reveals, promises, redeems, protects, etc. The Bible is God centered and man was created to know, worship, and have fellowship with Him. We were created for Him: “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16); “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Rom. 11:36) That means we exist for God’s purpose — that is why we were created.

The Sovereignty of God

RT unapologetically proclaims that God is absolutely sovereign. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God (Mt. 10:29) and He has numbered the hairs of our head (Mt. 10:30). “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” (Rom. 8:28 NASB). No purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2) and “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Dan. 4:35) That means God governs everything and nothing happens in creation without God’s will and purpose: “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). That is why when we plan, we humbly say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Covenant Theology

RT looks at the Bible in terms of “covenants.” God enters into covenants with His people in the Bible (Adam, Hos. 6:7; Noah, Gen. 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 15, 17; Moses & Israel, Ex. 6:4; 19:5; 24:7, etc.; David, 2 Sam. 7; New Covenant, Jer. 31; Mt. 26:28, etc.) and in Christ, we entered into the New Covenant. The covenant with Adam was considered a “Covenant of Works” in which God required perfect obedience (which he failed). After that, God established a Covenant of Grace expressed differently in redemptive history. Covenants help us to interpret God’s dealings with man since man can only have a relationship with Him by way of a covenant.


Since RT is God centered, everything should be for God’s glory, to His praise. Our ambitions, our lives, all that we do, etc. should be for the glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be glory!). “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). We welcome one another “for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7)! “To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36; cf. Gal. 1:5). Eph. 1 punctuates the rhythm of the long sentence with “to the praise of his glory.” RT gives all the glory to God in our salvation (He gets all the credit), in our worship (God centered worship), in our lives, and in our theology. In any discussion of theology (Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), we should ask, “Who gets the glory?” Many theological formulations end up glorifying or crediting man (Arminian) or the church (Roman Catholicism) but God’s glory remains central in RT.

God’s Commandments

Though not under the law for our justification and life, we are not “outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). What counts is “keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). RT recognizes the importance of the God’s law in the life of a believer not as a means of life but as a “rule of life informing” believers “of the will of God” (WCF 19.6). Believers have a duty to obey the Ten Commandments and the Spirit enables them to obey God’s Word (Jn. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1Jn. 2:3-4; Rev. 12:17; 14:12).

The Creeds and the Reformation

RT is Calvinistic in its doctrine of salvation (“soteriology”). But not all “Calvinists” are actually “Reformed” because their teaching is Reformed only in the area of “salvation” and not in other areas. RT is expressed in its various confessions and creeds. The well known ones include The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms (Larger and Shorter); the Heidelberg CatechismThe Canons of Dort, and The Belgic Confession. These more or less offer comprehensive statements regarding all the major doctrines of the Bible (Loci Theologici). 

[1] Much much more could be said than what we are about to cover in this study. This very brief overview seeks to introduce some of the basic points of Reformed Theology. Note: “We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from Calvinism to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel that is too weak to sustain itself. … Where the God centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man centered naturalism or secularism.” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Faith)