What Is the Reformed Faith?
Five Basic Beliefs
Our church belief flows out of God’s great work in the Reformation, a historical movement in the 1500s and 1600s in Europe. It accompanied the Renaissance, a rediscovery of ancient learning (from the Romans and Greeks) in Europe. Scholars turned this new-found interest to studying the Bible in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and realized that the Christianity of their day had become “deformed” by the unwarranted additions of the Roman Catholic church. Accordingly, many Bible scholars were driven by a commitment to Christ to see Christianity “reformed” according to the Bible. This work will not be entirely done until Christ returns; there will always be more light to break out of God’s inspired Word, and our sin will ever push back to compromise and obscure his truth. To say we embrace “reformed” Christianity also means that we must be “always reforming,” continually looking back to God speaking in the Bible to test ourselves. From those difficult days of the Reformation, five slogans took shape to summarize these rediscovered emphases from the Bible that had been suppressed. They answer the question, “How can I be right with God and have a relationship with him?”
1 Scripture Alone
We recognize the Bible as God’s Word, I which he speaks with divine and ultimate authority. The Bible is absolutely necessary and entirely sufficient, because in it God reveals to us all that we need to know for faith, life, and salvation. It is infallible and inerrant because, even though God used numerous human authors, “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21-22). The Bible is the final test of all the statements of church councils, human teachings, or personal inclinations. Whatever is contrary or not founded on the Bible is to be rejected. In the time of the Reformation, this new realization flatly contradicted Roman Catholic teaching, which said the declarations of the pope and the council of bishops spoke with an authority equal to the Bible. However, we do listen carefully to what the church has taught about the Bible through the ages, for it would be pride to think that God did not bless Christians in other times with profound understanding of Scripture by his Holy Spirit.
2 Christ Alone
The Bible tells us there is only Savior of the world—the Lord Jesus Christ (Jhn 4:14), in whom we must place our whole trust in order to be saved (Acts 4:12). At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church had instituted a system of human priests whose work was declared to be necessary for anyone craving a relationship with God. In their renewed study of the Bible, the reformers at that time saw that God has appointed only one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). He invites all people to come directly to himself, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am humble and gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28). He promises, “whoever comes to me, I will never cast out” (Jhn. 6:37). Furthermore, what Jesus accomplished for us in history is absolutely necessary—he lived sinlessly before God and then suffered for our sins on the cross. When we put our trust in him, his sinless life is credited to us, our sin is taken away, and we stand accepted by God forever. Our hope is in Christ alone, because our deeds could never accomplish this.
3 Grace Alone
Our entire salvation is based only on God’s unmerited, undeserved love, and can in no way be attributed to our own efforts or anything we have contributed. We were by nature fallen into sin and deserving his wrath, dead in sin and unable to help ourselves (Eph.2:1-3). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:4-9). In the centuries before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church had instituted beliefs and practices that made our own religious works a cause for our salvation. But the Bible says 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” (2 Tim. 1:9).
4 Faith Alone
The Bible’s message is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Php. 16:31). Salvation is offered to us by God’s grace alone, undeservedly, and so we must receive it by faith alone, without any personal effort to pay the cost or earn it, in part or in whole. The Bible says, “we are justified by his grace as a gift….to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). It is crucial to remember that Jesus is the object of this faith—you must “believe in the Lord Jesus.” No one simply receives salvation by faith; they receive Jesus Christ, the Savior. Faith is also described in the Bible as “receiving” and “coming to” and “looking to” and “calling upon” Jesus. This is faith—it looks directly to Jesus as willing and able to save us from our sins and give us eternal life. Faith accepts Jesus as the one who lived a sinless life for us and died for our sins on the cross—what more could be done but to accept what he has done?
5 God’s Glory Alone
What is our ultimate purpose in life? We should live to glorify the one true God who exists in three persons forever, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who lovingly created us and graciously saved us. To glorify means that in our thoughts, words, and deeds we seek to show how magnificent and worthy of our love he is. We cannot add to his splendor, but we can become living billboards splashed with his majesty for all the world to see. As we live humble and faithful lives, worshiping him and serving others in love, forgetful of ourselves, we show what he is like. He is the God who became a servant and died the death of a slave on the cross—and all this for his enemies! When Jesus returns and he resurrects our bodies, we will then, inside and out, finally glow with the glory of God before all the universe. How we live now should be a convincing preview, as we seek to glorify and enjoy him, now and forever. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).