The Reformed Faith (the truth of Scripture as set forth in the Reformed Creeds, especially the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dordrecht) proclaims the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God. God is the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth and all that they contain. In six days, by His almighty and efficacious word God created all things (Gen. 1, 2). The Christian confesses with the Psalmist: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: He layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6-9). All things belong to the Sovereign God Who says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 50:12). God is God, the Lord of lords, the King of kings (cf. I Tim. 6:15, 16).
As the sovereign Creator, God is the sovereign Redeemer of His people in Jesus Christ. For this very reason God created all things. God’s eternal purpose is to reveal His glory in Christ and in His body, the church. Of this the inspired apostle Paul wrote: “For by Him (Christ) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:16-20).
The sovereign God, ‘”To the praise of the glory of His grace,” elected His people in Christ, “before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-12). These elect God gave to Christ, and for these sheep Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life. These sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him. To them the Good Shepherd gives eternal life and no one is able to pluck them out of His hand because “My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:25-30). By His irresistible grace the sovereign God draws these sheep to Jesus, and all whom God gives to Christ come unto Him and Christ promises: “. . .Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out…and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37-44).
There is only one conclusion to all of this: It is God “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Timothy 1:9). Salvation is all of grace from beginning to end. Salvation is not founded upon our works (Eph. 2:8-10). Nor does salvation depend on the will of man. It is true the Christian is called to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He can do that, however, only because it is God Who works in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12, 13). God Himself says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.. . .therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:15-18). God is God!
This truth, the truth of irresistible grace of the Sovereign God, has been courageously proclaimed and zealously defended by the church of Jesus Christ all through the ages. This “faith of our fathers” is living still in the Reformed tradition. It is a truth which has been and still is fiercely opposed and much maligned. The Heidelberg Catechism deals with this opposition. Having established the truth that our good works cannot be the whole or even the part of our righteousness before God, the Catechism asks: “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?” The Catechism answers: “By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness” (Question and Answer 64). The argument of those who oppose this truth runs something like this. If one is justified by faith alone and not of works, if one is saved by irresistible grace and his works have nothing to do with his salvation, they neither merit God’s favor nor detract from it. If that be true, it does not matter how one lives. The doctrine of irresistible grace is an immoral doctrine which allows people to sin as much as they wish. A person is either saved or he’s not. It is all by grace so it makes no difference how he lives. Whether he walks in sin or holiness he is certain of eternal life. This doctrine of irresistible grace makes people careless and profane. It makes people careless about their walk of life. No matter how much sin a person commits he is saved. Preach this doctrine, the opponent says, and the church will lose its sensitivity toward sin. People will become profane.
It ought to be noted that this objection invariably comes from those who hate the truth of sovereign grace. The objection does not come from those who are sincerely searching the Scriptures for the truth, but from those who hate the truth but cannot oppose the truth on biblical grounds. That this truth makes men careless and profane the Catechism correctly calls an impossibility. Those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith will surely bring forth fruits of thankfulness. Those implanted into Christ reveal Christ. They are one with Christ by faith so that Christ lives in them and they live out of Christ. The fruit is always there!
But this objection is much older than the Catechism. When Jesus proclaimed the truth of sovereign, irresistible grace He was bitterly opposed by the Pharisees with their false doctrine of work-righteousness. When our Lord made plain that salvation is by grace alone, “Many therefore of His disciples when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” and they “went back, and walked no more with Him” (John 6:60, 66). The Apostles faced the same opposition. In the first five chapters of his Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul develops the truth of justification by faith and not by works. In chapter six he asks: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (verses 1-4). To speak of a careless and profane Christian is a contradiction in terms. There are no careless and profane Christians! He who is justified before God, righteous in Christ, has no joy in sin. He who is careless and profane has never tasted the wonderful grace of God.
The Christian, the forgiven sinner, is according to Scripture DEAD to sin. This simply is not true of the ungodly. The ungodly is not dead to sin but alive to sin. Sin is his lord and master; its power is enthroned in his heart. He is dead in sin. His mind is darkened, his will is perverse, his heart is corrupt and full of deceit. The ungodly agrees with his sin. He does not long to be delivered from sin. Willingly he yields his members the servants of unrighteousness. He finds his pleasure in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life. He goes from sin to sin until finally he is ripe for judgment. Romans 1:18-32 describes the entire terrible process. Outside of Jesus Christ and apart from the mercy of God’s grace “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10ff.). The ungodly is careless and profane!
But not the Christian! He is bound to Christ by faith. He is righteous in Christ and Christ lives in him. The Christian is dead to sin. His heart is reborn, his mind is renewed, his will is turned. The fruit is that he no longer agrees with sin. He no longer has his conversation in the sinful world. Saved by grace, through faith, God’s gift, he is the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained that he should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). The Christian hates his sin and opposes evil at every turn. He is not careless and profane; the Christian cares very much!
This does not mean that sin is dead in him. Sin remains very much alive in him. The Christian is always tempted. He still retains what Scripture calls the old man of sin or the flesh. And he sins. But his attitude toward sin is changed. On account of his sin and sinful flesh he repents daily in godly sorrow. He confesses with the Apostle: I am wretched, lost, prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor. The good that I would I do not, the evil which I would not, that I do. I thank God, I am righteous in Christ by grace alone (Cf. Rom. 7:14-25). Daily the Christian prays, Father forgive my sins, grant me strength to fight and oppose my sin and to walk in those good works which Thou hast ordained that I should walk in them. His life is characterized by that constant tension, that fight against sin. That is the experience of every child of God. Where the irresistible grace of God in Jesus Christ is at work in the heart of the Christian there is that fruit of thankfulness to the praise of the glory of God’s grace. Once more let it be said: there are no careless and profane Christians.