What is Reformed Theology? Part 4: A Doctrinal Look

In my last post, I set out to explain the Reformed understanding of the biblical doctrine of sin.  I concluded that the bible teaches that each individual is pervasively corrupted such that we are enslaved to sin, unable to choose, trust, seek, or love God, and thus each person is under God’s holy wrath.

This is the condition in which humanity finds itself.  If this is the case, how than can a person be saved?  Reformed theology argues that salvation is by God’s initiative from start to finish.  Man cannot work to God, freeing himself of his debt, not only because the debt is too great to pay, but because in this sinful condition, no person will even truly seek God.

Therefore, God in his mercy chose, before the foundation of the world, to save for Himself a people from fallen humanity.  To understand this free choice of God, we must understand God’s governance over creation first.

We must understand that God has already ordained or decreed how history will play out from the moment of creation through eternity future.  Everything that takes place happens because God has willed it.

Isaiah 46:8-11  8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,  10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’  11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Most people have no problem with that until they think about the implications this has when we consider that the Fall of Adam and all subsequent sin is ordained by God.  This is the biggest tension in Reformed Theology: if God controls, ordains, or predetermines history, then how is it that God is not guilty of committing sin?  Reformed theologians admit that no one fully understands God and his ways.  There is mystery in our study of Scripture.  The key is to make sure that we understand where the mystery is and where it isn’t.  For the best quick explanation of this issue, I encourage you to read John Frame’s four part explanation here, here, here, and here.  Simply put, the bible teaches that God is good and cannot do evil, but that he has ordained all things such that nothing happens apart from his ultimate direction.

Non-Reformed theologians also believe that we cannot fully understand God’s ways, but they wrongly believe that the mystery we cannot understand is how free-will and God’s sovereignty fit together.  I have already shown in my last post that free-will does not exist.  We are not able to freely choose God because we are slaves to sin.  Plus, as I have briefly mentioned here, God ordains everything in history, including human decisions.  For instance, Proverbs 21:1  says, ‘The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.’  The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart would be another example of God’s control over human decisions.  A supreme example can be found in John 12 where John summarizes Jesus ministry as a ministry where Jesus had largely been rejected by the Jews.  John explains in terms of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry that God had hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes so that the could not and would not believe and be healed.  Thus, the popular notion of ‘free-will’ is not a biblical idea, and thus not the proper place to argue that there is mystery.

So, my point thus far is simply to affirm that God ordains history, the end from the beginning to display his own glory.  God’s main purpose, the end which he serves, is to enjoy himself through the display of his own glory.  Thus, he ordained that he would create the universe with mankind as its head.  He ordained that mankind would fall, and he set his love upon some of that fallen humanity in order to save them.  This final statement brings us to the issue of predestination.

In John 3, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that he must be born again.  In the Gospel of John, this is said a few different ways: born again, born from above, or born of God.  Jesus’ point to Nicodemus was that he is corrupted to his very core and God will not allow corruption into renewed creation.  So, Nicodemus needs to be changed at his very core, in his heart, to be a new creation.  Jesus then explained this statement in Old Testament terms from Ezekiel 36: ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’  Ezekiel 36 is one of the places where the prophets spoke of a future greater covenant where God would wash Israel from her iniquity and put his Spirit in their hearts.  Jesus explained that this is what Nicodemus needs.  However, in an odd turn of events, Jesus proceeded to tell Nicodemus that he cannot make himself be born again.  He explained that being born of the Spirit is out of his control, for the Spirit is like the wind, which moves as it wishes.  You cannot tell where it is going and where it comes from.  Jesus’ point: the Spirit who brings new life works on us as he determines, not as we determine.

This means that we do not believe in Jesus and then become born again, rather, we are born again that we may believe.  Again, because we are slaves of sin and corrupted, we won’t ever believe in Jesus in our flesh.  Unless we are born of God, by his initiative, we cannot trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  So then, if we cannot choose to be born again, how is it that so many have come to believe in Jesus?  The answer is that God has chosen in eternity past to save some by uniting us to Christ:

Ephesians 1:4  he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Everything we have in salvation, we have because God unites us to Christ through faith.  Regeneration (being born again), justification, adoption, and sanctification all come to us because we are in Christ through faith.  God initiates salvation from start to finish.  He applies salvation to us through the Spirit beginning with the new birth which gives us faith, and ending with glorification on the last day.

How does God choose who he will save?  He chooses according to his own perfect plan in all wisdom, not because of anything we have done or would do, so that no one can boast, but for his own glory.  Romans 9.1-24 argues this very clearly.  I am not going to put the whole text in the post, so follow along as I walk through it in your own bible. Paul writes Romans 9-11 to answer an objection that he sees coming.  He has spent 8 chapters explaining justification by faith alone and the benefits we have in Christ once we have believed.  He ends chapter 8 with a long celebration that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  The objection Paul sees coming is this: didn’t God make a bunch of promises to Israel?  And didn’t most of the Jews reject Jesus?  How can we trust what you have said Paul, if God seems to have changed his promises?

Paul answers by explaining, 1) that God is free to choose people from within Israel and outside of Israel, 2) that Israel is guilty for rejecting God’s word, and 3) that God will and has used the rejection of Jesus by Israel to save Gentiles who will then in turn lead many Jews to saving faith in Jesus.  We will focus in on the first response found in Romans 9 because it is here that Paul most clearly outlines the doctrine of election or predestination.

Paul argues that not everyone who belonged to ethnic Israel belonged to the true Israel (v.6-7).  In other words, not everyone who is a Jew is a recipient of the promises.  He uses Abraham’s offspring as an example.  Ishmael was a son of Abraham, but only those in Isaac’s line were to receive the promise (v.8-10).  Some might object to this and argue that the reason Ishmael didn’t receive the promises was because he had a different mother than Isaac.  So, Paul uses another example, Jacob and Esau.  In this case, not only do they have the same mother, but they were twins born right next to one another.  However, God showed his freedom in election by choosing Jacob the younger over Esau the older.  Not only this, but Paul shows that God chose Jacob before they were even born and had the ability to do good or bad so that his purposes in election might stand (v.11-12).  The point is clear: God is free to narrow his election to some within Israel and free to extend election beyond Israel to the Gentiles.  This freedom to choose who will receive the promised blessings of God does not depend on human will or behavior but on God’s free choice.

Paul anticipates another concern in verse 14: ‘Is there injustice on God’s part?’  This is our natural response to the doctrine of election.  We immediately believe this to be unfair.  Paul simply responds to this by arguing that God is free to show mercy on whomever he desires (v.15).  Election does not depend on the will of man, but on God’s free choice (v.16).  The very character of mercy is that it is freely given.  It makes no sense to talk about everyone deserving mercy.  Mercy is undeserved, and so God can show it to whomever he wills, and he has chosen to show it to some and to enforce what is just on others.  This is a key point.  It is not as if God chooses from eternity some to be saved and others to be condemned.  His choice to show mercy is not the same as his choice to overlook others.  In other words, justice is by definition, something that is universal and even handed.  All humanity deserves God’s just wrath.  All humanity stands under God’s wrath, and it is only because he has chosen to show mercy that any are saved at all.  Thus, when he hardens some, like Pharaoh or the many Jews who did not believe him during his ministry (John 12.36-43), he is merely furthering or confirming what is already true about the sinner (v.17-18).  This is why Paul can argue that we have no right to question God for finding fault with those who do not believe (v.19).  God is the creator, and he has the right to create a universe where things play out this way so that he might display his glory in both mercy and justice (v.21-24).

Some people say they believe in God’s sovereignty and in election but do not mean the same thing the bible means when it talks about these concepts.  It is common today for people to think of election as God’s action of looking into the future to see who would choose him with their own free-will, and thus, because he is powerful, he sovereignly and mysteriously works out history in a certain way to ensure those who would have chose him do choose him without overriding people’s free-will.  This understanding of election makes God’s choice dependent upon  man’s decision, which Paul explicitly states is not the reason he elects (Romans 9.16).  Furthermore, as I have shown, no one would ever choose God because we are enslaved to sin.

To summarize, Reformed Theology argues that the bible teaches that we must be born of God in order to be saved, that we cannot believe in Jesus unless we are born of God, that God determines who will be born of God, and that this determination occurred apart from any human decision or work.  God chooses who he will save in Christ, and he applies this salvation by his Spirit beginning with regeneration and ending with glorification, all of which comes by his initiative and sovereign work.  My next post will attempt to explain the effectiveness of God’s grace, or, the irresistability of God’s grace.


What is Reformed Theology? Part 3: A Doctrinal Look

Whenever Christians talk about doctrine, methodology always plays a factor in how we support our understanding of biblical teaching.  It has been common for Christians to pull out verses from a part of Scripture, to abstract the verses from their context by applying the verses universally without considering the flow of the argument in which the verses preside, and to create a logical system of doctrine based on these propositions.  I hope to avoid this approach as I believe the Reformers did.

Our methodology needs to be a redemptive historical approach, or as many call it today, a Biblical Theology approach.  Biblical Theology is the method that seeks to allow Scripture to dictate the organization of theology and the concerns we raise by following the redemptive and historic progression of the unified biblical story centered on Christ.  This methodology is primary whenever we study doctrine because it ensures that when we quote verses in an attempt to understand a specific biblical teaching, we are less likely to pull verses out of context to fit our logical system.  So, while we are engaging in systematic theology here (that is, we are asking the bible a question about a certain topic), I want to be careful to first ensure that I am reading the bible in such a way that I submit to Scripture’s own development and concern.

The Effects of Sin on Mankind:

The bible teaches that when Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin and death entered the world.  As the representative head of mankind, Adam brought corruption and guilt upon mankind.  Every person, save Jesus, has been born into the state of sin such that all mankind shares a sin nature and therefore guilt before God deserving his judgment.  Along with the whole Old Testament, Paul makes this point clear in Romans 5.12-21, which can be summarized by verse 12:

Romans 5:12 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-

We learn more about what this means from some other passages.  First, we learn that we are spiritually dead, that is, we can do nothing spiritual, nothing that God delights in, nothing that brings us into good favor with God, and nothing that even seeks God.  Second, we learn that we are under God’s judgment.

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Here, Paul explains that we are spiritually dead, and yet we are able to walk around and make decisions every day, but that these decisions always are towards evil, following the devil, acting like a child of disobedience, and living by the passions of the flesh (the flesh being the sinful corrupted nature that always rebels against God and seeks pleasure in idols rather than in God).  Paul’s final statement, ‘[you] were by nature children of wrath,’ describes humans before regeneration as those who are under the wrath of God.  So far, I doubt any Christian has any concern with what I have just pointed out.  Jesus’ words are a bit more shocking in John 8.34:

John 8:34 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

Jesus uses a metaphor to explain the effects of sin on us.  If we commit a sin, this indicates that we are enslaved by sin, only able to sin because we must obey our master.  We are not free to do good in our sinful flesh.  We are constrained/enslaved by sin.  We do not have the power in us to, at any point, choose good or evil, faith or unbelief.  We can however, do what we want, and what we want is evil.  Paul says this in another way in Romans 8.7-8:

Romans 8:7-8 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Paul consistently contrasts the flesh (again, the sinful corrupted nature that rebels against God and seeks pleasure in idols rather than God) with the Spirit.  Every person is either living according to the desires of the flesh or by the Spirit.  The Spirit always drives us to love and serve God while the flesh drives us to live self-righteously attempting to justify ourselves through our works.  Paul is very clear in this passage that those who live in the flesh, that is, those who have not been born again and do not have the Spirit, never submit to God and cannot ever please God.

Let me flush out the implications of these verses.  People who hold to Reformed Theology believe that the bible teaches that before a person is born again, they are not able to love, choose, commit themselves to, seek, or obey God.  This is the doctrine of Total Inability.  Paul says this also in Romans 3.10-12:

Romans 3:10-12 “None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

And Jesus says in John 6.44:

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

We will talk about John 6.44 more later, but notice that these verses argue that no one seeks God, not even one, and that no one is able to repent and believe in Christ to come to God unless God draws them.  This might seem untrue to many at first glance because it appears that many people do seek God.  We must interpret our experience by Scripture, and so these verses teach us that people who seem to seek God are either not really seeking God but some sort of religious experience apart from submission to God or they are seeking God because the Spirit of God is working in their life to draw them to God.  The point is, in our flesh, no one chooses, understands, seeks, loves, or submits to God.

The second implication of these verses is that sin has affected us pervasively.  The doctrine of Pervasive Depravity says that sin has not just affected our minds (‘no one understands’), bodies, and desires, but also the will.  The will is a tricky concept.  Many think of the will as some independent faculty that can at any time assert freedom to choose between options.  However, the bible teaches otherwise.  The bible clearly teaches that we are slaves to sin such that we can only choose sin all the time.  This does not mean that non-believers can never do good, but that even when they do good, they do so not out of love for God or as a response to grace, but for some evil motive.  The will is nothing more than our always doing what we think is best, but we never think it best to submit to God in the flesh.  Thus, we are free to do what we want, but what we want is never to love and honor God, apart from the new birth.  We are pervasively corrupted.

Martin Luther taught these doctrines because he believed the Roman Catholic Church had lost sight of the effects of sin.  Catholics had come to have an elevated sense of man’s ability to choose God and to lovingly serve him, and thus they developed a theory of justification that required sinful people to cooperate with God rather than being totally dependent upon God.  Luther wrote in The Bondage of the Will:

[A] man without the Spirit of God does not do evil against his will, under pressure, as though he were taken by the scruff of his neck and dragged into it, like a thief…being dragged off against his will to punishment; but he does it spontaneously and voluntarily.  And this willingness of volition is something which he cannot in his own strength eliminate, restrain or alter.  He goes on willing and desiring to do evil; and if external pressure forces him to act otherwise, nevertheless his will within remains averse to so doing and chafes under such constraint and opposition.

Now, if you understand what I have been saying, then you will see that if this is the case, there is no hope for mankind.  Apart from God’s gracious work in us on his own initiative, we are stuck in hatred for God, unable to repent and trust in him.  We cannot choose to follow God one day for even our will is bent and corrupted to choose rebellion all the time.

Now, early on in the church, a British monk named Pelagius disagreed with the Church’s teaching on this doctrine, and he argued that Adam did in fact sin, but that this had no impact on us other than serving as a bad example to follow.  He argued that we do not inherit a sinful corrupt nature from Adam’s transgression and we definitely do not share in his guilt.  The great theologian Augustine of Hippo refuted this teaching and argued convincingly from Scripture that fallen man is “not able not to sin.”  The Church condemned Pelagius’ teaching, but it continued to be held throughout the history of the Church.

Today, many people unknowingly believe this false teaching.  Those who argue that ‘God cannot hold me responsible for my sin if I can only sin,’ unknowingly hold to the same theology Pelagius did.  To argue that we can only be held guilty before God if we have the ability to do good and to choose and love God is to forget that God owes salvation to no one.  Salvation is a merciful work of God.  God is not required by justice to show mercy and forgive.  He is required by his holy character which is just to punish sin.  Therefore, he is completely just in punishing sinners and never working to save them.  We are responsible for sin because we do what we want to do, which is rebel against God.

Today, many who disagree with Reformed Theology do not agree with Pelagius’ exact theology, but they do essentially argue that mankind was not as bad off as the Reformers had made it sound.  While agreeing with Total Inability and Pervasive Depravity, they have invented a new solution to the problem that ensures humans the ability to transcend the flesh and to choose God.  Many have called this Prevenient Grace.  They argue that it is true that mankind cannot choose God because of sin, but that God has graciously given each individual person the ability to transcend their sinful corruption.  Essentially, this position holds to Pelagius’ view of human freedom (we are not in bondage so that we cannot choose God) with the qualifier that this ability is a gift of God’s grace, but the position rejects Pelagius’ unbiblical view that we do not have a sinful nature.

While Prevenient Grace is a nice slide of hand, there is no solid biblical support for this view.  This doctrine is invented by philosophical necessity to complete a logical system imposed on the biblical text.  I do not have space to treat the defenses offered for the false doctrine of Prevenient Grace, but if anyone would like to lend support to it in a comment, I would be happy to interact on that issue.

So, to summarize, Reformed Theology teaches that each individual is enslaved to sin, unable to choose, trust, or love God.  Those in the flesh are under God’s wrath, dead in their trespasses, and pervasively corrupted by sin.  I will post again soon with some better news.

What is Reformed Theology? Part 2: Another Historical Look

My last post discussed the origins of Reformed Theology, but we also need to understand the historical backdrop for dominant articulation of Reformed Theology today.  That is what I hope to briefly discuss in this post.

The Reformation spread as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) became famous for their writings.  Calvin became especially famous for his theology when he began publishing The Institutes of Christian Religion (1559 in Latin & 1560 in French) which was a sort of biblical and pastoral theology handbook.  Even before the publication of the Institutes, the brilliance of Calvin along with his pastoral reputation led many people to flock to Geneva, Switzerland to be trained as pastors under his teaching.  His influence spread all over Europe as these men left Geneva to pastor in their own countries.  Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland, and England were all permeated with church planting pastors trained by the great Reformer.

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) led the Geneva Academy started by Calvin once Calvin became ill and then died in 1564.  Beza and Calvin worked together in Geneva while Calvin was pastoring there, and Beza had traveled Europe to spread and defend the Evangelical cause.  However, once he settled in Geneva as Calvin’s successor, his theological method, which differed from Calvin’s, took hold and gave way to a much more philosophical approach, a return to the Scholasticism which Luther and Calvin had rejected.  Calvin had always remained a pastoral and biblical theologian, meaning he allowed the biblical text to shape the questions he asked and the answers he felt able to give.  Beza’s philosophical approach tended to indulge in speculations far beyond what is clearly taught from Scripture, and this led to opposition.

A professor at the University of Leyden in Holland named Jacob (Jacobus) Arminius (1560-1609) began to challenge the theology of those who had followed in Calvin’s steps, particularly Theodore Beza.  By 1610, after Arminius had died, his followers raised 5 objections to the Dutch confessions adopted by the state (for the state and church were united at this time) which were influenced heavily by Calvin and Beza.  These objections were called The 5 Articles of Remonstrance.  An international team of theologians were gathered to consider these objections, and in 1618-1619, the Synod of Dort (also Dordt) took place.  It is here that the famous 5 Points of Calvinism were articulated to respond to the Remonstrants.

Now, all of this is important because many people take issue with the 5 points of Calvinism because it appears to be a rather stunted theology.  No one thinks a Christian’s theology should be summarized in these simple 5 points.  But, this objection fails to understand the historical backdrop of this articulation of the theology.  The 5 points are not meant to summarize Calvin’s theology or the theology of the bible but to respond specifically to the 5 objections raised by Arminuis’ followers on those 5 aspects of Calvin’s theology.

It must be noted that all the men involved in the debate were very bright and intelligent men.  The Arminians (those who followed Arminuis’ teaching) aptly and succinctly honed in on the main issues of disagreement which history has shown are in fact significant disagreements about the character and purposes of God.

To summarize their objections, the Arminians argued that the sovereignty of God’s grace was in some way limited by the freedom of human choice because of God’s universal love.  In some ways, this objection was a return to the Roman Catholic view that God and man participate in salvation, even though salvation is by grace alone.

Therefore, the Arminians argued these 5 points, which I have summarized:

  1. The will is not enslaved to sin to such a degree that it is not capable of believing in Christ prior to regeneration.  However, this capability to choose God is not entirely apart from God’s grace.
  2. The ultimate reason a person believes in God is because of their choice not God’s.
  3. Christ’s work on the cross made salvation possible for all people but not actual for anyone in particular.
  4. God graciously works through the Holy Spirit on every human heart, but each person can resist this work so that the Holy Spirit cannot impart new life unless the sinner willingly receives it.
  5. It is not abundantly clear whether or not a person who believes in Christ can ever fall away from God’s grace by ceasing to believe.

As I begin to explain Reformed Theology doctrinally in my next several posts, I will attempt to address these objections.  As you hopefully can tell, these questions are not peripheral, but deal with the very character of God, the work of Christ, and the application of salvation to us.  These issues have extreme importance in the life of the believer and in the life of the local church.

What is Reformed Theology? Part 1: A Historical Look

Today I am beginning a series of posts on Reformed Theology.  To some of you, this may be unfamiliar language.  To others, you may begin to roll your eyes because you are so familiar with this discussion, you don’t want to hear one more argument over what might appear to be futile and pointless discussion about obscure doctrines.  Many see doctrinal debates as pointless, unnecessary, and irrelevant to the Christian life, but I hope to show that this is not the case and that this sort of thinking is actually a symptom of the very theology I am hoping to show is unbiblical.  So, I beg you to bear with me as I attempt to outline what Reformed Theology is and why it is important, even vital, to the health of the individual Christian and the Church.

I hope to explain Reformed Theology in three ways: historically, doctrinally, and practically.  That is, first I hope to show where Reformed theology comes from historically, then I hope to explain what the theology actually is, and finally, I hope to explain the practical implications Reformed Theology has on us individually and on local churches that embrace and preach it.

A Historical Look:

Reformed Theology is the theological tradition of biblical understanding rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century.  While some would limit the term to describe only pastor/theologians like Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, I use the term to describe the theological tradition that was based on the writings and ministries of Luther and Calvin with respect to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, humanity, the work of Christ, and the application of salvation.  I think this is the way the term is widely used.

The doctrines central to Reformed Theology are central to Christianity because they deal with the very message of Christianity itself, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, it is because the Reformers believed the gospel had been lost by the Roman Catholic Church that they articulated the theology which we are going to discuss.  So, it is important from the outset that we recognize that this discussion is not a discussion about some fringe issue like what the time-line of Christ’s return will be or whether or not the gifts of prophesy and tongues exist today.  This discussion is about the heart of the Christian faith: our need for Christ, the work of Christ, and how the work of Christ is applied to us.

Although Luther and Calvin lived in the 1500’s, it would be wrong to assume that Reformed Theology did not exist until they lived.  What I mean is, it would be a mistake to assume that because the label ‘Reformed Theology’ did not exist until the Reformation, the Church never believed this theology before then.  This mistake is made time and time again by those who make the unsophisticated argument that since the Church did not articulate a doctrine exactly as we do now with the terms we use now, the doctrine is a late development of thought and not core to Christianity.  For instance, some argue that since the Church did not articulate that the Son of God was fully God and of the same substance as the Father until 325 A.D., this was not the original or only teaching of the church before that.  In every age, the Church has had to defend and clarify its doctrines against heretical theology relating to the issues of the day.  In the early church, Greek philosophy brought many challenges and influences into the Church related to the issues of ontology (being).  This led the church to focus on clarifying issues like the nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.  In recent years, the Church has responded to higher criticism with a clearer articulation of the doctrine of Scripture.  At the time of the Reformation, many in the Church like Luther and Calvin began to notice that the Roman Catholic Church had lost the historic understanding of the gospel and thus the proper understanding of what constitutes a church, and so it was in this context that they began to restate and clarify what the bible teaches about these issues.

The theology that developed in the Roman Catholic Church during the Scholastic and Renaissance periods leading up to the Reformation must be understood for us to understand why Luther in particular gave attention to the doctrine of justification as he did.  The great theologian Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) and others before him relied heavily on Aristotelian categories and presuppositions.  Aquinas and others sought to ground biblical doctrines in reason and thus used Aristotelian logic to justify or to show the reasonableness of Christianity to doubters.  This overconfidence in human reason led the Roman Catholic Church to begin to talk about justification as something in which both man and God participate.  This view is called Sacramentalism.  Sacramentalism, which the Roman Catholic Church still holds to today since these views have been made permanent through the council of Trent in 1545, is the belief that Jesus purchased salvation through his blood and gave salvation to the Roman Catholic Church to distribute through the sacraments (which include but are not limited to baptism and the Eucharist).  Thus, a person is justified before God through faith initially, but then must continue to do the works Christ has instituted in order to continue receiving righteousness.  They argued, and still do, that a person is justified by faith, but not by faith alone, for we must do the works of God in order to merit the grace of infused righteousness.

There are many implications of this theology, but I will only highlight a few.  First, this view of justification confuses the legal declaration of God (justification) with the ongoing work of the Spirit to conform a person into the image of Christ (sanctification).  The two are blended into one thing rather than seeing them as distinct and yet inseparable works of God.  Second, this view contains an overconfident view of man’s capability to turn to God.  Despite’s Augustine’s refutation of Pelagianism (which taught that man had free-will since Adam’s sin only served as a bad example to us and did not bring guilt and corruption into the world), the Roman Catholic Church still failed to account for the power of sin over us which enslaves us and prevents us from turning to God in faith.  Third, this view is nothing but a disguised ‘earn your salvation’ theology.  Of course, Roman Catholics argued, and still do, that they believe in salvation by grace alone, but they cannot deny that a person can fall away from grace if they fail to do what they are supposed to do to merit access to the storehouse of salvation Christ purchased.  They argued that a person could begin justification through faith and grow in actual righteousness but then cease to continue and thus not achieve enough grace to be finally righteous in the end.

It is in this context that Luther and Calvin challenged the Roman Catholic Church.  They saw throughout Europe corruption and legalism as priests used their power as holders of divine grace to manipulate and control the lives of peasant and king alike.  As a result, Luther and Calvin wrote and preached grace from beginning to end.  They studied and showed the church again the ancient belief from Scripture that salvation begins and ends with God and is received through faith alone, which is itself a gift of grace.


I just read a good little article on loneliness.  I encourage you to check it out whether you are lonely or not.  There are lonely people everywhere, and this might help those of you who are not lonely to help those that are.