We call ourselves Calvinists. By this we mean not that we are followers of a man who lived many years ago in the 16th century whose name was John Calvin. But rather we mean that we believe and follow the doctrine of the Word of God as that doctrine was by the grace and Spirit of God reiterated by the great reformer John Calvin, after that doctrine had been completely denied by the apostate Roman Catholic Church. This doctrine is also commonly known as the Reformed Faith. This doctrine is a glorious and wonderful doctrine. We believe that this doctrine is truly the doctrine of the Word of God.
From our great and glorious doctrine must follow great implications for the practical godliness of the Christian. Correct doctrine is surely very important. It is the very basis of our faith. Without doctrine faith has no substance and it will finally reveal itself to be false. We must always insist upon the great importance of doctrine, we must preach doctrine faithfully in our church and we as individual Christians must always be earnest and zealous to learn sound doctrine. The scriptures are full of doctrine. The scriptures themselves urge us again and again to maintain sound doctrine. But it is equally important that proper and distinctive Christian living flow from our doctrine. Always the church has to be warned against the danger of dead orthodoxy in her midst. Never must we hold to doctrine for mere doctrine’s sake. We must have nothing of cold abstract doctrine held to merely by the intellect and not with the heart spiritually. All our doctrine will do us no good if we do not live out our doctrine in our daily lives as Christians. How wonderfully the apostle Paul in his epistles demonstrates the proper relationship between doctrine and life. Consider how many of his epistles begin with a lengthy doctrinal section and then conclude with a section where the apostle by the Spirit of God draws out the practical implications of that doctrine.
When we speak of the practical implications of Calvinism or of the Reformed Faith it is necessary of course to limit ourselves. Our doctrine is rightly the basis of all of our life. We could therefore go on and on into every single area of our life to show how our practical Christian walk is related to our doctrine. But if we were to do that we would need a lot more time than just one message. We shall concentrate especially on the distinctive features of the Calvinistic and Reformed Faith and consider a few of the practical implications especially of these distinctive features. The doctrine of the true Reformed Faith is very definitely distinctive from all others. There are some outstanding features of that doctrine that shine through the whole system of Reformed doctrine. These distinctive features can be immediately heard in every sermon of the truly Reformed believer. It must also be the case that these distinctive features shine through our lives as Reformed Christians. When people witness our lives, when they have contact with us and associate with us they must immediately be struck by the fact that there is something very different about our lives that distinguishes us not only from the natural men of the world who do not have the grace of God in their hearts, but also from many others who go by the name Christian. Putting this very simply, all men must know that we are Reformed Christians because of the reflection of this in our daily lives.
Let us begin by reviewing briefly some of the most distinctive features of the Reformed Faith. We by no means intend by doing this to give a summary of the Reformed Faith. That too would take much more than one speech. The absolutely most distinctive feature of the system of doctrine called the Reformed Faith is the emphasis on the centrality of God. The Reformed Faith like no other faith emphasizes that God is the center of all things. The Reformed Faith begins and ends with God. All that it ever speaks about is God and never about the glory and achievements of men. The Reformed Faith emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God. The Reformed Faith testifies of the infinite greatness, almighty power, and perfect holiness and righteousness of God. The Reformed Faith recognizes that God’s glory is the highest purpose of all things. The motto of the Reformed Faith is “Soli Deo Gloria.” As Reformed Christians we believe that God is the sovereign Creator of the universe and all that it contains. God also made man in His own image. God made man for the sole purpose that he might worship, serve, obey, and glorify God his Creator and Lord. We confess that this sovereign God rules all things. He executes His eternal counsel. He sits in the heavens and does whatsoever He pleases and none can resist Him. He gives life and breath and all things to all. Without Him we cannot as much as move. In Him we live and move and have our being. All the thoughts and all the works of the Lord are altogether just and true and perfect. The central truth of the Reformed Faith is beautifully set forth in Romans 11:36: “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
Concerning man the Reformed Faith believes that after the fall he is by nature totally depraved. This means that he is by nature wholly incapable of dong any good and prone to all evil. The natural man therefore does absolutely nothing pleasing in the sight of God. The sin of man is far more dreadful than merely his wicked deeds. The very nature of man is totally corrupt, his heart is desperately wicked so that no man can know it; all his thoughts and imaginations are only evil continually. Man and his world stand under that wrath and judgment of God. The day will come when the Lord will destroy wicked man and all of his achievements in His holy and perfect wrath. There is nothing redeemable in man himself or in anything that he does. Daily, sinful man increases his guilt and makes himself more and more worthy of eternal hell and damnation. The Reformed Faith understands the awful depths of man’s sin and the dreadful consequences of that sin before the holy and righteous God of heaven and earth.
Concerning salvation the Reformed Faith emphasizes that it is entirely of sovereign grace alone. As Reformed Christians we believe that our salvation has its ground and beginning in God’s sovereign, gracious, eternal, and unchangeable purpose of election. The Reformed Faith believes that also reprobation is according to the sovereign purpose of God and serves His glory. From beginning to end salvation is of the Lord alone. The Reformed Faith strongly repudiates all notions that ascribe salvation to the will and decision of man or to any good works that he himself performs. The Reformed Faith emphasizes that even faith itself is not first of all the work of man, as though it is man’s work in response to God’s work, but that faith too is God’s work and God’s gift of salvation to those whom He in sovereign grace has chosen as His own. The Reformed Faith believes that man can do no good works of himself. It is only the Spirit and grace of God that enables the Christian to walk in the way of sanctification and good works.The Reformed Faith believes that salvation is truly of Christ alone. God sent His only beloved Son into the world to be the Savior of His people. Jesus came to die on the cross for those whom the Father had given to Him. The death of Jesus on the cross was a definite and real and perfect atonement for all the sins of His own. The finished work of Jesus on the cross is the only basis for our salvation. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has merited righteousness and eternal life for all of His own so that none will be lost.
Concerning the working of salvation spiritually within the Christian, the Reformed Faith is distinctive in what it believes. We believe that regeneration, the new birth, is absolutely essential to salvation. This regeneration we believe to involve the radical change of the whole nature of man. In the new birth the Christian becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus created after God in righteousness and holiness. Through Christ Jesus the old man in the Christian has been crucified and he had become a new man. We believe as Calvinist Reformed Christians that the final and perfect sanctification and salvation of every child of God is absolutely certain. The God Who began a good work in us will surely perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.
Though the Christian has been principally made a new creature in Christ Jesus, his old nature has not yet been fully put off. He needs daily to strive to put off the old man and his deeds and to put on the new man. The Reformed Christian finds that there are in him yet many sins and weaknesses. Even the most holy of men have but a small beginning of the new obedience. The Reformed Christian sees the great urgency of fighting against his remaining sins all the days of his life. The Reformed Faith believes that the Christian still often falls in this life, but though he falls the Lord will surely restore him and preserve him for the final salvation that He in His eternal counsel has prepared for all of His elect. The Reformed Christian believes that all the days of His life he is totally dependent upon God and His grace in Christ Jesus to save and keep him. Even as a Christian he knows that he cannot stand even for one moment except by the gracious help of God.
We could say much more about the wonderful and blessed doctrines of the Calvinist and Reformed Faith and about its distinctive features. But our real purpose is especially to speak of the great practical implications of this doctrine so we must move on to this.
What does it imply for the life of the Reformed Christian that God is absolutely central in his doctrine? The Reformed Christian is above all a God-fearing Christian. He knows the infinite greatness of God, His absolute sovereignty and perfect holiness and righteousness. Every thought of this should cause the Christian to fear and tremble before his God. The whole life of the Reformed Christian ought to be controlled by a deep and abiding fear of God. For the Reformed Christian God is His all. God is his hope, his joy, his life, his salvation, and all his glorying. The Reformed Christian knows that the chief end and purpose of his life is to glorify God, his Creator and the sovereign Lord of his salvation. The Reformed Christian must be one who seeks the glory of God in every sphere and department of his life. With fear and trembling he should dishonor God in anything and always earnestly striving to obey God in anything and always earnestly striving to obey God, to serve Him completely and to exalt His name and glory in all things.
It follows practically that the Reformed Christian is one who frequents the house of God to worship Him there. His chief purpose in doing this is there to praise and exalt the name of his great and glorious God. The Reformed Christian knows that the Word of God is declared in the house of God. He ever desires to know more of the greatness and glory of God. The Reformed Christian knows also that through the preaching of the Word he is built up in his faith. He knows that the preaching of the Word is God’s chief means of grace to him; the grace upon which he is so absolutely dependent for all his strength and salvation.
It follows practically that the Reformed Christian must be one who is constantly magnifying and praising God in his life. A true Reformed Christian is constantly speaking of the greatness and glory of his God. He cannot remain silent about this. Wherever he goes he feels constrained by his love of God to tell of His wonderful works of salvation, of His almighty power and greatness, of His sovereign love and mercy, of His truth and faithfulness, and His perfect righteousness. He speaks of this in his own home to his own family. He speaks of this to all of his neighbors. He speaks of this wherever he goes. A Reformed Christian who does not do this is living wholly inconsistent with his glorious confession of God.
The Reformed Christian is one therefore who ought to be zealous for the work of missions in the church and for the work of personal evangelism in his own life. It is an awful shame when a Reformed Christian cares not about this. If on the one hand we have a great doctrine of God and on the other hand we refuse to speak of this doctrine to others also outside of our own churches then what profit is all of our great and glorious doctrine of God? As Reformed Christians we must see that the chief way we glorify the name of our God is to tell of His praises in the preaching of the word and in our own personal witnessing.
(to be continued)
* The substance of this article was given as a speech on a special occasion for the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore where the author is presently a missionary pastor. The subject was suggested by the members of the church.