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5 Things All Christians Should Understand about Reformed Theology

  • Stephanie Englehart stephaniemenglehart.com
  • 2020 5 Feb
5 Things All Christians Should Understand about Reformed Theology

Reformed theology is a beast of a topic. Men have devoted their very lives to the expansion of it, as it’s one of the most well-known movements — played out over decades — in church history. Seminaries and churches are named after the great reformation, and the memory of some of the men who started the reformation still lives on today through consistent republished writings.

I personally do not claim to be an expert on the reformation, or on reformed theology. There are men and women much, much wiser than I, that know a great deal more than I do (John Piper, Jen Wilkin, Timothy Keller, and R.C. Sproul just to name a few). With that being said, I hope this article points you to a deeper understanding of the glory of God. As R.C. Sproul says: “the study of theology is the study of God himself”, so let us not neglect the study of theology — as it’s purpose is to point us to a greater knowledge and love of God. 

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    Reformed theology first and foremost comes from the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a movement that spanned decades, beginning during the 16th century amongst a multitude of men. The first well known reformer was an Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther. He’s known for starting the Reformation against the Roman Catholic Church by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. 

    Although Luther (1483–1546) is one of the most well-known reformers, and often attributed to the start of the Reformation, God was at work within others. Zwingli (1484–1531), Latimer (1487–1555), Bucer (1491–1551), Tyndale (ca. 1494–1536), Melanchthon (1497–1560), Rogers (1500–1555), Bullinger (1504–1575), and Calvin (1509–1564) all followed suit. 

    Each of these men saw the spiritual deadness and lack of commitment to God’s Word in the Roman Catholic Church, and began protesting the current climate of darkness. God used the reformers in their own unique way to uncover and renew the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which had been trampled on by man-made religion and tradition. In an article by Stephen Lawson on The Reformation and The Men Behind It, he explains the Reformation as such: 

    “The Reformation was essentially a crisis over which authority should have primacy. Rome claimed the church’s authority lay with Scripture and tradition, Scripture and the pope, Scripture and church councils. But the Reformers believed that the authority belonged to Scripture alone.” 

    The reformers’ main goal was to bring God’s Holy Word back to the forefront of Christianity. And now, because of God’s work through these men, the church has been reformed, and is continually being transformed by the Word of God. Keeping this in mind, let’s look at 5 things all Christians should understand about Reformed theology.

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    5 Things All Christians Should Understand about Reformed Theology:

    1. Reformed Theology Clings to the Five Solas

    When looking at their teaching and preaching, the reformers main points of emphasis were captured into five core phrases or slogans known as the Five Solas. The Five Solas gets their name from the Latin word “alone” - as it points to the core tenets of our faith. Reformed Christians believe that God’s Word alone is the highest authority, and states that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.

    1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”)

    God’s Word is the greatest and highest authority (Proverbs 30:5). It is through the lens of scripture that we view the world (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and meet the God who created it (John 1:1). All answers to our questions, all wisdom for life should first and foremost be found in the Word (Hebrews 4:12). All of the four other Solas come out of this first point, Sola Scriptura, it is the start and foundation of everything we know about God and His glory. 

    2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”)

    It is by faith alone that we are saved. It is not of our own doing, but an act and work of God in us (Galatians 2:20). We cannot earn salvation by means of good works, and we do not lose our righteousness in Christ when we mess up and sin (Titus 3:5). By faith alone, we are granted salvation through the work of Jesus Christ and providence of God the Father (2 Timothy 1:9). Ultimately Paul says it best in Galatians 2:16:

    “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”)

    We are saved by the grace of God alone (Romans 6:23). Grace can more simply be defined as unmerited kindness (1 John 4:10). There is nothing good in us, we are sinful beings at the core, children of wrath, but through God’s great grace — His unmerited kindness towards us — He gave us the opportunity to become children of God (Ephesians 2:1-10). It is a gift, one that cannot be earned, and is so very scandalous in nature, as it is so undeserved (1 Timothy 1:15). 

    4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”)

    Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King. God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Jesus alone is the bridge that allows us to walk across, freed from sin, into the loving arms of the Father. We see the theology of Christ Alone in Colossians 1:15-20:

    “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

    5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”)

    We live for the glory of God alone. Our chief purpose is to know God and make Him known (Philippians 2:9-11). Although a byproduct of salvation is exceeding joy, growing in godliness, and a new identity, it is not the central motivation of salvation, it is God’s glory. He did not choose to save us for our own benefit, but rather, that His own glory would be magnified through us (Ephesians 1:17-21). As John Piper so beautifully puts it in the book Desiring God, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” So, let us do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and let us rejoice and ever sing for joy in Him (Psalm 5:11).

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    2. Reformed Theology Is More Than Just the 5 Points of Calvinism

    Often people will first think of predestination or the five points of Calvinism when they hear of Reformed Theology. However, Reformed Theology stems far beyond predestination, the five points of Calvinism, the Five Solas, and generally speaking beyond the doctrine of salvation.

    Reformed theology is the study of and exaltation of God and His glory. When thinking about Reformed Theology, we must remember it is first and foremost a theology, therefore the whole Word of God should be taken into account, considering the attributes of God, creation, mankind, the fall, government, redemption, incarnation, and the end times. Beeke and Smalley, in their article 10 Things You Should Know About Reformed Theology say it this way:

    “Reformed theology is a proclamation of ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27) insofar as God has revealed it for us to know (Deut. 29:29).”

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    3. Reformed Theology Does Not Promote Lazy Disciples

    I have been witness to both lukewarm, lackadaisical Christians who do not believe in reformed theology, and Reformed Christians who do not believe it’s their responsibility to reach the nations. However, Reformed theology does not promote lazy disciples, nor does it promote an unbearable weight of mission. In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus calls all of His followers to the discipleship and evangelism of new believers. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that the church is called and equipped through the Holy Spirit to proclaim the excellencies of God.

    In the Reformed belief, God chose us before the foundation of the world (Romans 8), and this doesn’t mean we get to negate the commands of Jesus to make new disciples. Rather, it means we have greater freedom and urgency in the discipleship of others, as we do not know who God is calling towards Himself, and the pressure of conversion is not based upon what we say and do. Ultimately, God calls us to make disciples in obedience to His word for our joy and His glory (Matthew 5:16). 

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    4. Reformed Theology Calls Us to Practical Godliness

    Reformed theology is not simply an intellectual belief system that puffs up the mind (as some may think), but rather, it is a study of God that leads us to greater love and intimacy with Him, and in return brings about a desire for practical godliness. When we cling to God’s Word alone, God’s Word permeates all of life, thus creating in us the desire and knowledge to obey God’s commands and grow in godliness.

    It is out of the understanding of faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, that we have the ability to sink into the acceptance of the gospel and obey God’s Word, rather than drag through religious mandates. Therefore, the study of Reformed theology gives way to the transformational effect of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:17), and to the study of the Word, which produces a renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). 

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  • What Is Reformed Theology and Where Did it Come From?

    5. Reformed Theology Presents a Larger View of God and Smaller View of Self

    Reformed Theology presents a larger view of God and smaller view of self as the magnitude and power of the sovereign King is taught (1 Chronicles 29:11). In our sinful nature, we as humans often want to add and take away from the Word of God. Reformed Theology, on the other hand, teaches that a full understanding of God clearly displayed in His word, provides great joy for sinners, as we take refuge in Him (Psalm 2:11-12). God ultimately works all things according to the counsel of His will, for His glory (Ephesians 1:11-12). We are humbled, and God is exalted, as we come to understand that God chose us, not because there is anything great or mighty in us, but that we might boast in the Lord because of Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

    In closing, consider this quote by Jason Helopoulos in his guest post for The Gospel Coalition on What Is The Heartbeat of Reformed Theology

    “What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? I wouldn’t feel the need to argue with someone who would suggest it is the Doctrines of Grace, union with Christ, or even the Solas of the Reformation. Yet, I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after.”

    For more information regarding Reformed theology review the resources below: 

    Ligonier Ministries - Reformed Theology Resources

    The Gospel Coalition - The Five Solas

    Desiring God - Calvinism

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    Stephanie Englehartis a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.