Discovering the Doctrines of Grace

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.(Eph 2:8-9)

This site is primarily about three things – Reformed Theology, Creationism, and the return of Jesus Christ. First, let’s consider what makes the Reformed Church different from today’s typical Evangelical Church. Here are some ways in which the Reformed Church differs from the today’s typical Evangelical Church:

First, the Reformed Church is different in its preaching.
Reformed preachers don’t preach topical sermons. They preach through the Bible, passage by passage, line upon line, precept upon precept, one verse at a time. They use what is called the “grammatical-historical” approach to interpret the text. That is, they delve deep into the grammar of the original language and the historical context of the writer to try to understand what he is saying to his readers. Moving from passage to passage in this way keeps the preacher from straying from the original intent of the author. This also keeps him from reading his own biases into the text. The result is that the word that is preached is the Word of God in the truest sense, i.e. a genuine word from God and not the preacher.

Second, the Reformed Church is Different in its Application of the Word of God.
Evangelical churches often work backwards from application to exposition. They start with their conclusion and then back it up with texts from the Bible. This is called “proof texting.” As with any argument, starting with the conclusion means you exclude whatever texts don’t support your thesis. That leaves scripture wide open to misinterpretation. But if you start with the text and draw out the application through the exposition, you are far more likely to come up with the meaning God intended to convey. Often, the application has become so obvious by the time the exposition is done that it requires no additional explanation.

Third, Reformed Preachers Avoid Personal Anecdotes.
Very rarely will you hear a Reformed preacher tell some interesting or amusing tale. While doing so might perk up the interest of the audience, it limits the significance of the lesson to only those who can relate to the preacher’s experience. Leaving out personal anecdotes makes the message more relevant to people of different cultures, times and places. For instance, a Charles Swindoll message may strike a chord with a modern, affluent, suburban American, but it would seem alien to an Indonesian Christian who lives in a primitive Muslim culture. However, the message, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” preached by Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century still grips the heart today.

Fourth, Personal Spiritual Growth is Not the Main Focus of Reformed Preaching.
It would perhaps be more accurate to say that Reformed Theology draws no distinction between salvation and sanctification. Reformed theology focuses like a laser on the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is forever fascinated with the grace of God in providing salvation for a fallen humanity. It doesn’t ever “move on” from salvation, because salvation is a continuing process that is not dependent on a one-time decision but a constant renewal by the Holy Spirit. It never stops exploring the depths of God’s grace and mercy in redeeming creatures who were  fit only for destruction.

As an evangelical, I had lost my sense of wonder at God’s saving grace as I pushed forward with my “spiritual growth.” As a Reformed Christian, I was re-captivated by the unfathomable riches of God’s grace in saving me.  Salvation and sanctification are part of a continuum on the spectrum from salvation to glorification as described by “the golden chain” in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Fifth, Reformed Theology Teaches That Salvation Necessarily Produces Obedience.
Absent spiritual fruit, there is no reason to believe there ever was salvation in the first place. The evangelical church, on the other hand, often distinguishes between “salvation” and “Lordship“. If you “accepted Christ as your Savior,” disobedience might result in loss of rewards, but never make you forfeit your salvation. That is why so much disgraceful behavior is tolerated in the evangelical church. It is also why there is little or no church discipline and why the outside world often views the church as a bunch of hypocrites.

Sixth, Reformed Worship Tends to be More Reverent.
Church is a place that is set apart for the express purpose of worshiping God. It looks different from the typical places people go for work or school or play. It sounds different. Sometimes it even smells different. Like the Jewish temple of old, it is a place designed especially for worshiping God. Seeker-Friendly evangelical services, on the other hand, tend to be casual and friendly to appeal to the tastes of a culture accustomed to comfort, convenience and entertainment. Even their sanctuaries with their auditorium-style seating, big stages, contemporary music, sophisticated sound systems, professional musicians and polished speakers resemble the playhouses, movie theaters, and auditoriums where seekers go for entertainment. So people who live their lives to fulfill their own desires feel very comfortable in a seeker-friendly service.

Seventh, Evangelism is Not a Matter of Human Persuasion, But the Natural Outcome of Teaching and Preaching.
Reformed believers do not share their personal testimony or use an abbreviated gospel presentation to win people to Christ. They just take every opportunity to bear witness to the truth and leave the results to the Holy Spirit. Pastors don’t do altar calls and believers don’t seal the deal with a prayer of salvation so they can take credit for the eternal destiny of some soul. Since the natural man cannot comprehend the things of the Spirit, human persuasion is of no value in producing conversions. Only if the listener is moved by the Holy Spirit, will he respond in faith. If he doesn’t, there is nothing anyone can do but pray for him. This relegates the one who shares the gospel to the role of an ambassador who is delivering a message on behalf of his Lord, not a salesman who is trying to make a quota.

Eighth, Reformed Theology Produces Continual Joy.
I am sure you have witnessed the joy of a newborn Christian when he first comes to faith and then seen how it wanes as the years go by. He loses the sense of wonder at God’s grace and the thrill of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Reformed believer never loses that initial sense of wonder and awe. It just keeps on growing. Like the Apostle Paul he can comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:14-19). Why? Because he understands how utterly lost he really was without Christ and how hopeless he was to do anything about it. If one believes that salvation is a matter of exercising his own free will to choose Christ, then once that choice is made, it’s on to the next thing. But when you realize that you would be on your way to hell if God had not chosen you before the foundation of the world and that you could do absolutely nothing to influence that choice, then you are forever grateful that God chose you. 

Ninth, Reformed Theology Produces Confidence in Our Position in Christ.
If, as the apostle Paul says in Ephesian 2:1, God chose us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, then, now that we belong to Him, what could we possibly do to drive Him away? As he so eloquently says in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” On the other hand, if you believe it was your choice to follow Christ in the first place, then there is no guarantee that you will not abandon him at some point.

Tenth, Reformed Theology Produces Strength for Trials.
Nothing can tear us out of God’s grip. He began a good work in us and he will finish it (Phil 1:6). If Jesus is advocating for us at the right hand of God, who will bring a charge against us (Rom 8:33)? So no matter what trouble comes our way, we know that we will be able to come out with our faith in tact at the other end. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:37). Why is Paul so sure? Because “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8). If he died for us while we were sinners, why would he abandon us now that we have been reconciled to him? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph 1:3) Our position is secure. We have already received every spiritual blessing that will be ours in heaven. It’s just waiting there for us.

Eleventh, Reformed Theology Produces Holiness.
Once you understand that Christ allowed himself to be separated  from the Father He so deeply loved to suffer the awful rejection that we so richly deserve, you will think long and hard before doing anything that would hurt Him. “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4-6).

Twelfth, Reformed Theology Crushes Pride and Exalts God.
Romans 1:28-32 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” You can lead what you think is a perfectly moral and upright life, but if you do not acknowledge God, then as far as He is concerned you are no better than those who are “…gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom 1:29-31). Why? Because the fact that God sent his Son to die for you when you were in such a debased state should produce a deep sense of gratitude and humility. If it does not, then you have real reason to doubt your salvation.

Thirteenth, Reformed Theology Emphasizes Discipleship Rather Than Works.
Evangelicals say they believe in salvation by grace and not by works but the very act of “making a decision for Christ” is a good work. Jesus made it clear to Nicodemas that new life comes from above like a blowing wind. It is imperceptible. No one knows where it came from or where it will go (Jn 3:8). He told Peter that it was the Father Who revealed the Son of God to him. (Mt 16:17) And He Himself said, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (Jn 6:65).

Those who believe they can make some contribution to their own salvation by choosing Christ inevitably rely on their own efforts to assure their salvation. They constantly strive to validate that faith by doing good deeds. That is why the Evangelical church is filled with programs called “ministries.”

Reformed believers, on the other hand,  emphasize long-term spiritual growth through ongoing discipleship based on the ministry of the word of God and prayer. Problems, whatever they may be, are dealt with in the context of these relationships, not some shared issue.  The objective is growth in Christian character, i.e. sanctification, not overcoming some common problem.

God was faithful to me by showing me the riches of his grace through Reformed Theology.
I might have turned my back on God when the church turned its back on me, but instead God brought me to the Reformed Faith through men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Allistair Begg, Steve Lawson and Sinclair Ferguson. You see, I never blamed God for turning His back on me. Through all my hard times, my name was always written in His book of life. For as the apostle Paul says, “He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Eph 1:4).

About craigolson001

Follower of Jesus Christ. Devoted husband. Avid student of the Bible. Former missionary to northern Japan for eight years. Retired. Author of The Lukewarm Church. Pickleball enthusiast. Biker, golfer. Member of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL.
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