Reformed Theology

Created to Know God

What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jeremiah 9:23). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives him most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. “I desire … the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hosea 6:6).… Once you have become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.

– J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 29.

Concerning the Nature of Scripture

bible
We must avoid the one-sidedness of intellectualism and that of mysticism, for they are both a denial of the riches of revelation. Since both head and heart, the whole person in being and consciousness, must be renewed, revelation in this dispensation is continued jointly in Scripture and in the church. In this context, the two are most intimately connected. Scripture is the light of the church, and the church the life of Scripture. Apart from the church, Scripture is an enigma and an offense. Without rebirth no one can know it. Those who do not participate in its life cannot understand its meaning and its point of view.
Conversely, the life of the church is a complete mystery unless Scripture sheds its life upon it. Scripture explains the church; the church understands Scripture. In the church Scripture confirms and seals its revelation, and in Scripture the Christian—and the church—learn to understand themselves in relation to God and the world, in their past, present, and future.
Scripture, accordingly, does not stand by itself. It may not be construed deistically. It is rooted in a centuries-long history and is the fruit of God’s revelation among the people of Israel and in Christ. Still, it is not a book of times long past, which only links us with persons and events of the past. Holy Scripture is not an arid story or ancient chronicle but the ever-living, eternally youthful Word, which God, now and always, issues to his people. It is the eternally ongoing speech of God to us. It does not just serve to give us historical information; it does not even have the intent to furnish us a historical story by the standard of reliability demanded in other realms of knowledge. Holy Scripture is tendentious; whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by encouragement of the Scriptures we may have hope [Rom. 15:4].
Scripture was written by the Holy Spirit that it might serve him in guiding the church, in the perfecting of the saints, in the building up of the body of Christ.In it God daily comes to his people. In it he speaks to his people, not from afar, but from nearby. In it he reveals himself, from day to day, to believers in the fullness of his truth and grace. Through it he works his miracles of compassion and faithfulness.
Scripture is the ongoing rapport between heaven and earth, between Christ and his church, between God and his children. It does not just tie us to the past; it binds us to the living Lord in the heavens. It is the living voice of God, the letter of the omnipotent God to his creature. God once created the world by the word, and by that word he also upholds it [Heb. 1:2,3]; but he also re-creates it by the word and prepares it to be his dwelling. Divine inspiration, accordingly, is a permanent attribute of Holy Scripture. It was not only “God-breathed” at the time it was written; it is “God-breathing.” “It was divinely inspired, not merely while it was written, God breathing through the writers; but also, whilst it is being read, God breathing through the Scripture, and the Scripture breathing Him [He being their very breath].” Having come forth from revelation, it is kept alive by divine inspiration and made efficacious. It is the Holy Spirit who maintains both prophecy and miracle, Scripture and church, joining them together, thus preparing the parousia.
Some day when being and consciousness are completely renewed, revelation will end and Scripture will no longer be necessary. Divine inspiration will then be the portion of all God’s children. They will all be taught by the Lord and serve him in his temple. Prophecy and miracle have then become “nature,” for God dwells among his people.
– Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (HT: AB)

Five Marks of True Faith

  1. Faith is a Christ-prizing grace, it puts a high valuation on Christ. ‘To you that believe he is precious.’ 1 Peter 2:7. Paul best knew Christ. ‘Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?’ 1 Corinthians 9:1. He saw Christ with his bodily eyes in a vision, when we was caught up into the third heaven; and with the eye of his faith in the Holy Supper; therefore he best knew Christ. And see how he styles all things in comparison of him. ‘I count all things but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Philippians 3:8. Do we set a high estimate upon Christ? Could we be willing to part with the wedge of gold for the pearl of price? Gregory Nazianzen blessed God he had anything to lose for Christ’s sake.

  2. Faith is a refining grace. ‘Mystery of faith in a pure conscience.’ 1 Timothy 3:9. Faith is in the soul as fire among metals; it refines and purifies. Morality may wash the outside, faith washes the inside. ‘Having purified their hearts by faith.’ Acts 15:9. Faith makes the heart a sacristy or holy of holies. Faith is a virgin-grace: though it does not take away the life of sin, yet it takes away the love of sin. Examine if your hearts be an unclean fountain, sending out the mud and dirt of pride and envy. If there be legions of lusts in thy soul, there is no faith. Faith is a heavenly plant, which will not grow in an impure soil.

  3. Faith is an obediential grace. ‘The obedience of faith.’ Romans 16:26. Faith melts our will into God’s. It runs at God’s call. If God commands duty (though cross to flesh and blood) faith obeys. ‘By faith Abraham obeyed.’ Hebrews 11:8. Faith is not an idle grace; as it has an eye to see Christ, so it has a hand to work for him. It not only believes God’s promise, but obeys his command. It is not having knowledge that will evidence you to be believers; the devil has knowledge, but wants obedience, and that makes him a devil. The true obedience of faith is a cheerful obedience. God’s commands do not seem grievous. Have you obedience, and obey cheerfully? Do you look upon God’s command as your burden, or privilege; as an iron fetter about your leg, or as a gold chain about your neck.

  4. Faith is an assimilating grace. It changes the soul into the image of the object; it makes it like Christ. Never did any look upon Christ with a believing eye, but he was made like Christ. A deformed person may look on a beautiful object, and not be made beautiful; but faith looking on Christ transforms a man, and turns him into his similitude. Looking on a bleeding Christ causes a soft bleeding heart; looking on a holy Christ causes sanctity of heart; looking on a humble Christ makes the soul humble. As the chameleon is changed into the color of that which it looks upon, so faith, looking on Christ, changes the Christian into the similitude of Christ.

  5. True faith grows. All living things grow. ‘From faith to faith.’ Romans 1:17.

– Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, pp. 218-219.

Willingness a Mark of God’s People

A people in covenant with God are a willing people; though they cannot serve God perfectly, they serve him willingly. They do not grudge God a little time spent in his worship; they do not hesitate or murmur at sufferings; they will go through a sea and a wilderness, if God call. ‘Thy people shall be a willing people:’ Psalm 110:3: ‘a people of willingness.’ Heb. This spontaneity and willingness is from the attractive power of God’s Spirit: the Spirit does not impellere, force, but trahere, sweetly draws the will; and this willingness in religion makes all our services accepted. God does sometimes accept of willingness without the work, but never the work without willingness.

– Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 157.

Works & Grace

But are not works required in the covenant of grace?

Yes. ‘This is a faithful saying, that they which believe in God, be careful to maintain good works.’ Titus 3:8. But the covenant of grace does not require works in the same manner as the covenant of works did. In the first covenant, works were required as the condition of life; in the second, they are required only as the signs of life. In the first covenant, works were required as grounds of salvation; in the new covenant, they are required as evidences of our love to God. In the first, they were required to the justification of our persons; in the new, to the manifestation of our grace.

– Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, pp. 155-156.

Words of Wisdom for When a Christian Leaves the Faith

It is grievous to hear of declensions, especially in those whom we love, [and] there are many reasons why we ought to be affected, but we must not be cast down. If your friend ever truly knew the Lord, wait and pray and you will see him restored, and when backsliders are well healed, the remembrance of past falls, is sanctified, to make them more humble and circumspect, more sensible of the evil of their hearts, more dependent upon the Lord, and more hearty in ascribing the whole of their salvation to him alone….But should you live to be an old man, you may count upon meeting many disappointments of this kind. Experience will teach you not to expect that ever blossom will prove fruit. We must learn to acquiesce in the Lord’s sovereignty. He knows them that are his and none of the changes they are liable to shall separate them from his love. But there will be too many who make a hopeful appearance for a time and yet come to nothing. When we hear that others fall it should make us thankful and watchful for ourselves. Thankful, for it is grace alone [that] makes us differ. Watchful, for our hearts are equally deceitful and Satan is continually plotting and practicing against us likewise. The Lord permits some to fall woefully, for a warning to the rest, that we learn not to be high-minded but fear, and cry continually to him, who alone is able to hold us up, and preserve us in safety.

– John Newton, Wise Counsel, pp. 47-48.

Concerning the Subtlety of Our Idolatry

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, is so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God toward itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain those gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.

[…]

By the same steps [of idolatry] people even today arrive at a spiritual and more subtle idolatry, which is now quite common, by which God is worshiped, not as he is, but as he is imagined and reckoned to be. For ingratitude and love of vanity (that is, one’s sense of oneself and of one’s own righteousness, or, as they say, one’s good intention) violently blind people, so that they are incorrigible, and unable to believe otherwise than that they are acting splendidly and pleasing God. And in this way they form a God favorable to themselves, even though he really is not so. And so they more truly worship their fantasy than the true God, whom they believe to be like that fantasy.

– Martin Luther, as quoted in The End of Protestantism, p. 44.