What does it mean to be a Reformed Christian? (Part II)

20 12 2011

A good friend in Charleston recently asked the question “What does it mean to be Reformed?” That question sparked this most recent series on AwakeningGrace which I suspect will go on for several weeks if not months.

Access Part I by clicking here

In the first post I noted that the Reformed faith is not nearly as much a way about thinking through the faith as it is a way of living life. I noted that the life of the Reformed Christian is lived out in a theocentric manner. Theocentric simply means God-centered. I noted that this is not merely an intellectual commitment, though it is certainly that. More than that however, this commitment to theocentricity is a matter of the heart, a matter of worship. In the last post I reflected on the desire of the Reformed Christian for God alone to have the glory in all things. In this post I would like to focus on what creates this desire in the first place.

We might begin this discussion using a simple metaphor. Picture a magnetic compass. If you were to shake the compass or spin it around the needles would spin as well. However, once you quit shaking the compass and the needle settled it would undoubtedly be drawn to the strong magnetic field of the North Pole. In the same way that the needle on a compass is drawn by a strong magnetic field, to be theocentric means that your heart has been drawn to God. But what draws a heart to God?

The fact that God is powerful is certainly a drawing force. Powerful people are used to others being drawn to them like moths to a flame. The wealthy, the influential, and the famous all know what its like to have groupies. Power itself and powerful people can be intoxicating. But just as power can draw, so too can power drive away. It was at the foot of Mt. Sinai, after the redemption of Israel that the people of Israel were confronted with an all powerful God. It was of course nice to know that this super powerful deity was on their side, nevertheless being in such close proximity to something so powerful was also unimaginably terrifying. We read in Exodus:

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19 ESV)

If the only thing to God was his mighty power, this would be a hard case for leading a theocentric life for a theocentric life demands that one not only love God but also draws near to God. But as the reading from Exodus illustrates, it is hard to draw near raw power. The sun is nice to look at from a distance but no one wants to travel to its surface! You would be destroyed.

So the Reformed Christian recognizes that God is powerful, but the Reformed Christians knows more of God than his power. The Reformed Christian also recognizes that God is gracious. Shortly after the raw power of God was revealed at Sinai another glimpse of God was given to Moses. Moses begged God “Show me your glory!” To which God replied “I will cause all my goodness to pass before you.” And here’s what happened next:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:5-6 ESV)

God is power. There is no denying that. But his “goodness” is not merely his power, but his mercy. Charles Spurgeon combines the two describing God as powerfully merciful, or to use Spurgeon’s own language “Sovereignly Gracious.” Rather than try and describe it myself, I’ll let Spurgeon speak with his own pen.

Put the two together, goodness and sovereignty, and you see God’s glory. If you take sovereignty alone, you will not understand God. Some people only have an idea of God’s sovereignty, and not of his goodness; such are usually gloomy, harsh, and ill-humored. You must put the two together; that God is good, and that God is a sovereign. You must speak of sovereign grace. God is not grace alone, he is sovereign grace. He is not sovereign alone, but he is graciously sovereign. That is the best idea of God. When Moses said, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory,” God made him see that he was glorious, and that his glory was his sovereign goodness.

Thus it is the sovereign goodness of God that trains the heart of the Reformed Christian to desire to live in a theocentric way.  When the Reformed Christian speaks of God’s “sovereign goodness,” or “sovereign grace” this can be a term that can be applied exhaustively. Because the Reformed Christian views all of life through the lens of the glory of God, the Reformed Christian sees God’s sovereign goodness exhibited in just about everything. For example, it is God’s sovereign grace that causes the rain to fall and water the crops for the food we eat. It is God’s sovereign grace that has equipped humans with creativity to produce art, film and theatre to delight and inspire us. It is God’s sovereign grace that granted biological organisms the ability to reproduce life, which most recently has been cause for thanksgiving in my own family. However, there is a way to speak more specifically about God’s sovereign grace if we wish and that is by speaking of the person of Jesus Christ.

On a clear day if you look up into the sky you will be overwhelmed by the light of the sun. There is a tool however that can break the light of the sun down into its particulars, or spectral colors so that it can be examined more clearly. This tool is called a prism. Light in all its glory goes into the prism and then is neatly broken down and represented in the spectral colors of the rainbow. Jesus Christ is the prism of God’s sovereign grace. All of God’s goodness passes through the prism of Jesus Christ where it is made small enough, or accommodated to our senses so that we can see God’s grace clearly, understand it well, and apply it to our lives.

For example, we know that God’s provision is part of his sovereign mercy. But when we consider the provision of God, it can be quite overwhelming? What happens when the provision of God passes through the prism of Jesus Christ? In the passage below excerpted from Mark’s Gospel we’re presented with a father whose son is demon possessed. Many have tried to cure the boy, even some of Jesus’ disciples and failed. Finally, the boy is brought to Jesus. Here’s what happened next.

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-24 ESV)

Now where is God’s provision required in this story? First, both the father and the boy need a healer to come into their life to restore the health of the boy and free him from bondage. Second, the father lacks faith. “Help my unbelief!” is his cry to Jesus. The sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ is recognized. He could heal the boy, he could grant faith to the father. But, and oh what cause for great rejoicing! The grace of God in Jesus Christ is demonstrated as well! Not only can he heal the boy. Not only can he grant faith to the father. Not only can he do all these things but he wants to! Here’s how the story ends.

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.  (Mark 9:25-27 ESV)

Thus sovereignty and grace come together in the prism of Jesus Christ, applied personally to a father and his son. Those who have had the sovereign grace of God refracted upon them through the prism of Jesus Christ are changed people. They have experienced the sovereign goodness of God. Now out of a heart irresistibly changed by this experience of sovereign grace, they will seek the glory of God first in all things, but they will seek it through the prism of Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of their experience of sovereign grace. When they need righteousness, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them righteousness and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ. When they need mercy, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them mercy and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ. When they need to cultivate a loving heart, they recognize God is sovereign and gracious. He can give them a loving heart and he wants to, but he will do it through the prism of Jesus Christ.

So we find that the Reformed Christian not only lives Soli Deo Gloria, that is, to the glory of God alone. But the Reformed Christian lives this way solus Christus, that is through the prism of Christ alone.

Read Part III here


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