What It Means to Be Reformed (15) The Reformed Christian Life
The Christian life is the fifth of the five “C”s we have used to summarize what it means to be Reformed. To be Reformed has to do with life as well as with faith, how we conduct ourselves in everyday affairs as well as what we confess to believe. Reformed is a “walk” as well as a “talk.”
There is a good word that liberals have misused to pursue their agenda of downplaying doctrine by emphasizing conduct, but the word should not go unused because of that. The word is orthopraxy. Orthopraxy refers to correct conduct, just as orthodoxy refers to correct teaching or, more literally, “straight doctrine” (“ortho” means “straight” as in orthodontist—one who straightens teeth). So orthopraxy refers to straight or correct conduct, biblical practice, living uprightly. To be a Reformed Christian is to confess truth; but it is also to “deal truly” (see Prov. 12:22; Ezek. 18:9).
Last time I said that eight biblical truths can serve as eight satellites, guiding Reformed believers to “live truly,” as GPS satellites direct a driver in a car. We treated two of them. The eight satellites are:
1. THE NORTH STAR: Union with Christ—the Covenant
2. The Law of God as Standard
3. The Glory of God as Goal
4. A Spiritual Attitude: Humility, Willingness, Gratitude
5. An Awareness of Space: Existence in both Church and World
6. A Sense of Time: Knowledge of both Past and Future
7. An “all things” Reach
8. A Desire for “more and more”
The “North Star” of these satellites is our union with Christ and covenant fellowship with God in Him. If a believer knows that he is not his own but belongs to Christ, he will “live unto Him” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1). Second, the Law of God is the standard for Christian living. It is also a perfect description of what covenant life with God actually is. A proper, positive, and deep understanding of obedience to the Law of God gives understanding of what life with God is. For this reason Jesus said that He came not to destroy the law, and David could say, “O, how love I thy law!” We can, too.
3. The Goal of God’s Glory
The third Reformed principle to guide the believer’s walk is that all his actions must aim at the glory of God. The Reformation “sola” we discussed earlier appears here as well: Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be the glory.” Since we already described this sola carefully, here we may be brief, applying it especially to our Christian life and walk.
This third guiding principle also connects with the first. Because we belong to our covenant Friend and are not our own—our “North Star”—we are to live always for Him, for the glory of Him who bought and owns us. This connection between our first and third principles Scripture itself makes: “Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God….” Because He owns and possesses me both in body and soul, I am called to “glorify God in [my] body, and in [my] spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). God’s glory is the Christian’s aim in even the most humdrum aspects of the Christian life—eating and drinking: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).
But the Christian life is not a humdrum existence. “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Jesus asked (Matt. 6:25). The life of the Christian is the most profound existence in the world, and Reformed believers want to exert themselves, using all their God-given gifts, for God’s glory. Although it is not works but faith through which we are saved (Eph. 2:8), God’s eternal plan was that His covenant friends would walk in all good works, for His praise (Eph. 2:10). For God’s glory He elected us: “…to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph 1:6). For God’s glory He created us: “unto good works.” Jesus taught: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
God’s glory drives a Reformed Christian to defend truth, because God’s reputation is at stake when truth is confessed or denied. God’s glory also drives a Reformed man to keep his own reputation pure, maintaining a good name, because what Christians do reflects on their Father, as even children in earthly families know.
Our Reformed creed defines a good work in terms of God’s glory. A work is simply not a good work—not in God’s eyes—unless it is pointed “to His glory” (HC, Q&A 91), contrary to those who teach common grace. And when Lord’s Day 32 asks why good works are a “must” in the Christian life, the Reformed Christian responds, “That [God] may be praised by us.”
This is the beauty, and the unique delight, of the Christian life: the more we stand in the presence of God, our Friend, the more we will radiate His glory, as Moses did when he returned from the Mount (Ex. 19). If you have seen God’s glory, no one needs to tell you too often to devote your life to making sure others see it too.
4. A Spiritual Attitude: Humility, Willingness, Gratitude
For a Christian to live a “straight” life, a right spirit is required; a proper attitude of heart must reign. Without a proper attitude, a life cannot truly be called Christian. And the Reformed faith emphasizes especially three graces that bring glory to God.
First, humility. We want to live in such a way that we do not receive praise, but our Maker. John the Baptist’s attitude must be mine: “He must increase; I must decrease.” Do not pay attention to me, but to the One who made me. This is tail of the coin whose head is Soli Deo Gloria: “To God alone be the glory.” If glory belongs to God alone, glory is “not unto us!”
When we understand who God is, and who we are by nature, we cannot praise ourselves. When we understand what grace it was that sent Christ “cross-ward” to pay for our sin and cleanse our filth, we grow quiet. On the other hand, if we find ourselves talking too much, putting ourselves in the front of every picture, at the center of every story, and the subject of all the news, well then, we must conclude that we have not been spending time in God’s presence, allowing the light of His holiness to expose the corruption of our old man.
The Reformed confessions excel in this regard. That is, they masterfully call attention to the goodness and grace of God to undeserving sinners. They leave no room for pride. A few examples will give their sense. What am I, but “prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor” (HC, Q&A 5), “wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (HC, Q&A 8). Which explains why fellowship with God in prayer requires “that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery, that so we may deeply humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty” (HC, Q&A 117). According to the Belgic Confession, the proper response to the doctrine of providence is that with “greatest humility and reverence [we] adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us” (Art. 13). The Canons of Dordt teach that the “certainty of perseverance…so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride…is the real source of humility” (V:12). The grace of God, “piously taught,” serves “to His glory, and the abasement of all pride” (III/IV:17).
This is another reminder why Reformed churches sing the Psalms in worship—to teach humility and foster a spirit that fights natural pride. “O who can his errors discern?” we sing. “From hidden faults, Lord, keep me free; Let pride never reign in my heart, and clear of great sin I shall be” (Ps. #40, st. 5). “No human power delights Him, No earthly pomp or pride; He loves the meek who fear Him and in His love confide” (Ps. #402, st. 4). “Not unto us, O Lord of heaven, but unto Thee be glory given” (Ps. #308, st. 1).
The Reformed believer gives thanks for grace—favor for the undeserving—praying that he may never be proud of his humility, but fully aware of that danger.
Second, the Reformed faith teaches that gratitude drives the Christian life. Gratitude is the mainspring of the Christian life. What motivates Christians? Gratitude for grace.
I am not motivated by terror to live uprightly. The fuel that runs obedience in me is not a mercenary spirit looking for a fat paycheck. It is this: “I cried to Him in deep distress, and now His wondrous grace I bless, for He has set me free!” (Ps. #175).
Such is the Reformed faith. How many things must I know, asks the Heidelberg, for me to live and die happily? “…the third, how I shall express my gratitude for such deliverance” (LD 1). Why must we do good works? asks the same Catechism. “…That we may testify…our gratitude to God….” (LD 32). What do we, who have become subjects of God’s grace, owe to God? The fathers at Dordt said, “eternal gratitude” (III/IV:15). The genius of the Reformed faith is its placement of works and obedience after the reality of God’s gracious salvation. Thankfulness drives obedience.
These Reformed creedal expressions indicate the fathers had a clear understanding of Scripture. Only “by the mercies of God,” already received (as Rom. 1-11 describe), can we be urged to present our bodies a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1). Only then our offering ourselves to God is a “reasonable” service (Rom. 12:1). Anything else is not logical (to use the Greek word translated in Romans 12 as “reasonable). “The great things” of mercy and grace that God does through Jesus are what draws men to Jesus—crowds of men (Mark 3:8; see also Ps. 126:2, 3). Those same “great things,” now experienced personally, motivate the believer to devote his life to praising Jesus (Mark 5:19, 20). Gratitude makes the adulterous woman “go and sin no more” (John 5:14; 8:11). Thankfulness for deliverance from the bondage of Egypt’s sin—so great a misery—stimulates believers to have no other gods before God, but have Him alone as their dear Friend and Lord. That is, to obey. Also, to pray.
Third, the attitude of a truly Chris tian life is willingness. Gratitude, humility, also willingness. The Christian’s spirit is one of “willingness in the day of His power” (see Ps. 110:3).
Indeed, our weakness as sinners makes us painfully aware that “the will” is not always present with us. There are times in our lives when we must obey merely because we know we must and not because we want to. Our flesh is weak, to be sure; but at times our spirits are also very weak.
But by the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ in us, we indeed are willing to serve God. According to our new man we want to live as Christians. No mere “must” may drive us to put away gods and serve the living and true God. Our will, set free and renewed in regeneration—our “free will,” that is—desires what is good and right.
So the Canons of Dordt describe the will of the Christian with all these terms: Alive, good, obedient, pliable, actuated and strengthened, fruitful, renewed, healed, corrected, bent, restored, and (yes!) free! (III/IV:11-16). The result of all that? “A ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign” in us (III/ IV:16). We are “sincerely willing to live unto him” (HC, Q&A 1). “With love and delight” we live “in all good works” (HC, Q&A 90). “Without murmuring” we obey God’s will. The Catechism becomes so bold as to say that the Christian asks for grace—and expects to receive it—to “perform the duties of his station and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven” (Q&A 124).
Ah, what a wonderful Christian life we are able to live!