What is the Reformed Faith?





The term Reformed is a historical term that goes back almost five centuries. It refers to a period when the church underwent a Reformation in attempting to return Christianity to the authority of Scripture. The desire of the Reformation was not to change God's word but rather to bring the church back into accord with it. Led by Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, the Reformation churches split off from the errors of the medieval Roman church and began what we know today as Protestantism.


Martin Luther spent a great deal of time attempting to convince the church that man was saved by God's grace alone through faith alone. He believed that all teachings and doctrines should be based upon Scripture alone. Coupled with the works of Calvin, these theologians recognized the clear teaching of Scripture that God is a sovereign God.

They believed that God was not an idle viewer but was active in all of nature and the affairs of man and that "He who keeps you will not slumber." (Psalm 121:3). They taught, as did the apostle Paul, that "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). They were sure that God ruled over his creation sovereignly and that all events came to pass by God's design, for everything is "according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).


Does the Creator of all have the right to do whatever he wants with the peoples of the earth? The Reformers believed not only that he had that right but that he exercised his will righteously and that this principle was clear in Scripture. "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?" (Daniel 4:35) His sovereignty was especially realized in the salvation of the elect. The teaching of the French reformer John Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God and his work is often summarized in the "Five Points of Calvinism." The simple acronym "TULIP" explains these five points.


Early Protestant leaders found that they had to defend the scriptural teachings of the sovereignty of God against those who denied God these rights. Many felt that salvation was at least in part by their own hands and were aggravated that anyone would bring this pride under the authority of Scripture. Church leaders valiantly proclaimed the biblical answer to this attack on God's rightful place as Lord over his creation.

Total Depravity: Man in his fallen, sinful state, "does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1Cor. 2:14). God's own assessment of the descendents of Adam's fallen race was "that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). All the "good" that man thinks he does throughout his life is but "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). What was true of King David is also true of us all that we must realize that we were, "brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5). Natural man is not sick, not terminally ill, but DEAD. The Apostle Paul reminds those who are Christians of their past when he graphically says, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Unconditional Election: God has chosen "us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). This means that those who will be saved are those who have been chosen to be saved by the sovereign Lord - "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy" (Romans 9:15). He does not base his election on any condition within man, "lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).

Limited Atonement: Christ's atonement is specifically for his people - "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). He did not shed his blood for those who would not come to him. He has not paid the price for their sin - this they must do on their own. "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours." (John 17:9).

Irresistible Grace: Those whom he has chosen will surely come to him. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27). "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, . ." (John 6:37) God sends his Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of his elect; "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you" (Ezekiel 36:26). "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;" (John 6:44). "For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).

Perseverance of the Saints: "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:29). "and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21). Salvation was not merited by any, nor is the election of his true sheep ever purchased by the believer, for "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phillipians 1:6).


Much of what Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and other reformers taught has been challenged by those who believe that God can be sovereign but has chosen to give up some of his control so that man's freedom is not limited. These challenges are often based upon the beliefs of James Arminius, a Dutch seminary professor. His followers are called Arminians and deny the teaching of Reformed theology, especially as it considers man's individual worth. They do not believe that man is spiritually dead, but that he is only sick with sin.

While Calvinism holds that man is saved by unconditional grace, Arminians teach that man is saved by grace based upon a condition. The condition is that each person must develop in themselves a belief in God and reach out for God's grace. The Reformers taught that man has no power to save himself and it is solely God's Spirit that gives believers new life and faith. The challengers taught that man has at least enough worth to be able to meet the conditions of God's grace.


The Reformers four centuries ago sought to humble man and exalt God. This objective has been carried on from the beginning of time until now by those who desire to know the Lord of hosts. Reformed churches believe that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). They want to teach and share the word of God in and out of season so that Christ's church may benefit from sound doctrine that exhorts a believer to a deeper appreciation of the God whom is to be served.

The Reformed Faith is so important today because many "Christian" churches do not teach nor believe in the Bible. It's frightening to realize that many modern churches question such basic truths as the divinity of Christ and his resurrection.

One cannot merely say, "well, it doesn't matter what you believe - it's just important to believe something." No matter what the world would have us believe, doctrine is important. What we believe is critically important. In the Book of Acts, the Bereans "received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

It is certainly true that there are many churches which clearly teach the entire Word of God. It is not the intention here to imply that one can not be saved unless one is a member of a Reformed church. That is not true. The intention here is to point to a system of faith and theology which most closely follows the Word of God.

Adapted from "Why Are We Reformed?" Christ Covenant Reformed, PCA.

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