What is it to be Reformed in Faith

You young people profess to be Reformed Christians. You are members of a Reformed church, a Reformed church that is part of a Reformed denomi­nation, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.

Most of you have been Reformed Christians all your life. You have not been anything else but Reformed Christians. You were born into a Reformed family, to parents who are Reformed Christians. You were brought up from day-one in the Reformed church, sent to a Reformed Christian school attended catechism classes in the Reformed church, associated with other Reformed children and young people. Many of you have made confession of faith in that Reformed church in which you have been brought up, in your confession of faith acknowledging her to be a true church of Jesus Christ and promising to submit to her discipline.

But what really is it to be a Reformed Christian? What is it that distinguishes the Reformed Christian, not only from the children of this world, but also from others who call themselves Christians? What right do you have to consider yourself to be a Reformed Chris­tian, a Reformed Christian not just in name, but in actual fact?

Historically, the Reformed churches trace their roots back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. This is not to say that the Reformed faith began with the Reformation, for the Reformation was only the recovery and the rediscovery of the faith of the church that from centuries had been buried and concealed by the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformed faith was not something new, discovered for the first time by the Reformers. But it was the setting forth once again of the age-old Christian faith, the faith of the apostles.

There were three main branches of the churches of the Reformation, the churches that repudiated and separated from Rome.

There were, first, the Anabaptist churches. The Anabaptist movement is sometimes referred to as the “Radical Reformation.” The Anabaptists are the ances­tors of the modern-day Baptists.

There was, secondly, the Lutheran branch of the Reformation, those churches who took as their spiri­tual leader the great reformer, Martin Luther, and who were greatly influenced in their later history sadly by Luther’s colleague and successor, the compromising Philip Melanchthon.

And there was the Reformed branch of the Protes­tant Reformation. These churches were known as “Reformed” in Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. In England, Scotland, and the north of Ireland, they were called “Presbyterian.” It is this latter branch that we are a part of historically and with which we identify ourselves theologically.

But what do these churches stand for? What is it to be Reformed? There are two aspects to the answer to this question, the subjects of the two speeches at this Retreat. To be Reformed is to be Reformed in faith, that is, in respect to what one believes. There is a Reformed doctrine. It is the “form of sound words” to which the Apostle refers in II Tim. 1:13. It is that aspect of the question that I will attempt to answer tonight. To be Reformed is also to be Reformed in life, or in practice. It is that aspect of the question that Rev. Terpstra will deal with tomorrow night.


One truth distinguishes what is known as the Reformed faith; that truth is the sovereignty of God. Many people suppose that the heart of the Reformed faith is its teaching of predestination. When they hear of the Reformed faith or that someone is a Reformed Christian, they immediately think of election and reprobation. And certainly, it is true that the doctrine of predestination has an important place in the teach­ing of the Reformed faith.

Nevertheless, predestination is not the central truth of the Reformed faith. The heart of the Reformed faith is not election and reprobation, or, for that mat­ter, any other single doctrine. The central truth of the Reformed faith is the absolute sovereignty of God. God is God!

Calvin saw the essential place that the confession of the sovereignty of God has in relation to the whole body of Biblical truth: “Unless we fully believe this (i.e., God’s sovereignty) the very beginning of our faith is periled, by which we profess to believe in God Almighty.” (The Eternal Predestination Qf God, p. 43).

The distinguishing feature of the Reformed faith is unquestionably its conception of God. What we believe about God matters most. Everything else that we believe stands connected to and is affected by what we believe about God. The most important question that any man faces is the question, “Who is God?” Or, to put it personally, “Who is your God?” This is the great issue that divides true religion and false religion! This is the great issue that separates the true church of Jesus Christ in the world from the false and apostate church! This is the issue that distinguishes faith from unbelief. This is the distinctive feature of the Reformed faith – its conception of God.

This is the explanation for the great wickedness in the world, not only, but for the falling away in the churches today: They have forgotten who God is! Noted historian, Joseph Haroutunian, laments:

“Before, religion was God-centered. Before whatever was not conducive to the glory of God was infinitely evil; now that which is not conducive to the happiness of man is evil, unjust, and impossible to attribute to the deity. Before, the good of man consisted ultimately in glorifying God; now the glory of God consists in the good of man. Before, man lived to glorify God; now God lives to serve man.”


Beloved young people, who is your God? If your God is not the sovereign God of heaven and earth, the God Who does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and if you do not see that the main, really the only purpose of your life is the glory of God, you have no reason to consider yourself to be a Reformed Christian.


This God reveals Himself in Holy Scripture. The second distinguishing doctrine of the Reformed faith is the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture.

To be Reformed is to subscribe to the Scripture’s divine inspiration and absolute authority. The doctrine of Scripture is at the very foundation of the Reformed faith. The Reformed faith has a high view, in the end, the only right view of Scripture. It is impossible to think of the Reformed faith apart from its confession concerning Scripture.

The Bible is the only authority in and over the church. In the end, the Bible is the only authority before which a Reformed Christian will bow. The rea­son for that is that the authority of the Bible is the authority of God. And the reason for that is that the Bible is inspired of God.

This is the Apostle’s teaching in II Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is prof­itable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Reformed Christian does not ignore, question, or subject to criticism the Scriptures. But he receives them, believes them, and obeys them.

This is vital! For the Reformed faith teaches many things about which man complains and against which human nature rebels. Many respond to the teachings of the Reformed faith, “These are hard sayings, who can hear them?” For the Reformed Christian, the question is not, “What do 20th century men and women think about these things? How will people receive these things?” But the question is: “Does the Word of God say so?” That is the only question.

Beloved young people, I ask you, what is your attitude towards the Bible? Do you honor it as the sole authority in your life? Do you receive its teachings and obey its commandments? Do you turn to it for the solutions to the problems that you face? If you do not, you have no right to consider yourself to be a Reformed Christian.


There are many fundamental doctrines taught in Holy Scripture and maintained by Reformed Christians. Among these funda­mental doctrines are what we often refer to as the doctrines of grace, or the Five Points of Calvinism. The Reformed faith is distinguished for being Calvinistic.

You are all familiar, I trust, with the Five Points of Calvinism, commonly remembered by the acronym “TULIP.” A Reformed Christian believes the doctrine of total depravity. He believes that all men are dead in sins and trespasses, unable and unwilling to do the good. Man’s sinful­ness is not only the sinfulness of the deeds that he commits, but is the sinfulness of his very nature. And man’s sinfulness is not only his actual sins, but in the first place his original sin, his sin in father Adam.

A Reformed Christian believes the doctrine of unconditional election. He believes that those who are saved are saved, not because of a decision of their will, but because of the eternal will and decision of God. From eternity, God has chosen some men unto salva­tion. Implied is the truth of reprobation, the truth that God has decreed to leave other men in the guilt of their sin, decreeing their condemnation in the way of their own sin.

A Reformed Christian believes the doctrine of lim­ited atonement, the truth that Christ died for some men only and that all for whom He died are actually saved by His substitutionary death for them.

A Reformed Christian believes the doctrine of irre­sistible grace. This is the teaching that God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit cannot ultimately be frustrated by the will of man. When God determines to save a man, that man will be saved.

A Reformed Christian believes the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. All those chosen by God in eternity and in whom the Spirit begins to work in time, will be saved to the uttermost. They will be pre­served in their faith so that they do not finally and fatally fall from grace.

Are these the fundamental tenets of your faith? Do you subscribe to these truths as the clear teaching of Holy Scripture? If you do not, you have no right to consider yourself a Reformed Christian.


In the fourth place, the Reformed faith is marked by a high view of the church, the instituted church.

That church it views as the gathering of the elect people of God and their seed, or children. The Reformed faith considers membership in the church crucial. This is not to say that all who are outwardly and formally church members are saved. But it is to say that ordinarily outside of the church there is no salvation.

You consider yourself a Reformed Christian. What is your attitude towards the church? Do you take your church membership seriously? Are you determined for no earthly or selfish reason to forsake your member­ship in the church? If not, you have no right to con­sider yourself to be a Reformed Christian.


In the fifth place, the Reformed faith is covenantal. To be Reformed is to confess the covenant of God. The church, we said, is the gathering of the elect people of God AND their seed, their children. The seed of believ­ers ARE members of the church. And they are mem­bers of the church by virtue of the covenant of God.

By the covenant, we simply mean that God’s decree, as well as His actual work of salvation in time and history, runs in the generations of believers. The passage that we read together tonight illustrates this truth. For II Tim. 1:5 speaks of the salvation of three successive generations, Timothy’s grand-mother, Tim­othy’s mother, and Timothy himself. What is the explanation for that? The explanation is the covenant of God.

That covenant is a unilateral and unconditional covenant. That belongs to the Reformed conception of the covenant.

Included in the Reformed conception of the covenant is also the calling of the covenant, our part in the covenant. That covenant calling is the calling to live a new and holy life to the praise of the covenant God.

You consider yourself a Reformed Christian. Do you confess the truth of the covenant of God? Are you thankful for His grace that caused you to be born in the covenant? Are you living faithfully as a member of the covenant? If not, you have no right whatsoever to consider yourself to be a Reformed Christian.


It belongs, yet, to the distinguishing features of the Reformed faith that it emphasizes the important place of preaching.

It is not enough that we have the Scriptures: we must have the Scriptures preached. This is the chief task of the Reformed church. This is the chief means of grace in the life of the Reformed Christian. Apart from the preaching there is no Reformed faith and there is no living the Reformed life.

You confess that you are a Reformed Christian. What is your attitude towards the preaching of God’s Word? If you have little or no use for the preaching, can only be critical of the preaching, neglect the preaching services of the church, you have no right to consider yourself to be a Reformed Christian.


This is the Reformed faith. A glorious faith! The faith of our fathers! Your faith and my faith!

Maintain it! Defend it! Share it! Adorn it with a godly life! “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us,” II Tim. 1:13, 14.