Reformed Theology


The word theology comes from two Greek words that combined mean the study of God. Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible. No theology will ever fully explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. Therefore, any attempt to describe Him will fall short (Romans 11:33-36).

However, God does want us to know Him insofar as we are able, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner. Some people try to avoid theology because they believe it is divisive. Properly understood, though, theology is uniting. Proper, biblical theology is a good thing; it is the teaching of God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When it comes to evangelical Christianity, its roots are found in the soil of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Just as the Reformers protested the corrupt teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, so today evangelicalism itself is in need of a modern reformation. Simply put, it is the Reformed theology of the Protestant Reformers that is the heart of historical evangelicalism. C.H. Spurgeon said 'Reformed theology is nothing other than biblical Christianity.'

The early church. Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed. What about Dispensational, Pentecostal, Charismatic? So many different theologies. There are distinctive aspects of Reformed Theology which set it apart from theologies that have developed before and after the Protestant Reformation.

How do you define sovereignty and how do you apply that to your theology? The answer to that question will determine all else about what you think of God and how He relates to His creatures. Consider this and how it applies to biblical theology.

Christians ought to submit to the authority given them by Christ but what happens when those in authority teach things contrary to the Word of God, is there a higher court to which we can appeal? The answer is yes. The appeal was made in the 16th century and the motion still carries. Reformers call this Sola Scriptura. That’s the Latin slogan for Scripture alone.

Regarding salvation what is the fundamental difference between true Christianity and all the other religions of the world? Consider the question of salvation from the historical and theological framework of the Protestant Reformation. The book of Romans says that we are altogether unrighteous; therefore, the grave awaits us. So what can we do, is there a way to righteousness? How can someone be declared righteous by God?

Are we as Christians saved by works or by faith alone? The key to understanding what part works and faith play in the drama of redemption is to understand the biblical structure and role of covenants. Without a proper understanding of covenants we fail to grasp the grandeur of Christ’s life and work.

Original sin has marred our nature. We are depraved. But how depraved are we? Are we simply less than perfect? What kind of improvements can we make within ourselves to change sin’s effect?

We are all sinful. But how sinful are we? Other than our shortened life spans and bad habits, what real effect did the Fall have on the average everyday sinner? What effect does sin have on our decision making process? With what power did you use to choose the gospel?

Upon what condition did God elect sinners to salvation? Was your positive choice for the gospel the basis for your election before the foundation of the world? Was God’s choice based on your foreseen choice? Simply put, did God choose you because you first chose Him? Would God be unfair if He chose some to salvation and not others?

The most common view of the atonement of Jesus is that Jesus died for everyone, that is, all people from all places in all times, every single human being that ever existed. But in order to take advantage of the benefits of the cross, one must first believe to be saved. Such a view is attractive, until we take a closer look at it. How is it that you who hated God so much now love him so much?

What did you do to change your heart so radically? Do you remember resisting grace? Do you remember when you received it? Was it before or after you had faith in Jesus Christ for your salvation? Can people who are saved lose their salvation? If not, then how do we explain those people who have fallen away?

Reformers traced their doctrine to Scripture, as indicated by the credo of Sola Scriptura so Reformed theology is not a new belief system but one that seeks to continue apostolic doctrine.

Reformed theology holds to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace through Christ, and the necessity of evangelism. It is sometimes called Covenant theology because of its emphases on the covenant God made with Adam and the new covenant which came through Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20).

Authority of Scripture. Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, sufficient in all matters of faith and practice.

Sovereignty of God. Reformed theology teaches that God rules with absolute control over all creation. He has foreordained all events and is therefore never frustrated by circumstances. This does not limit the will of the creature, nor does it make God the author of sin.

Salvation by grace. Reformed theology teaches that God in His grace and mercy has chosen to redeem a people to Himself, delivering them from sin and death. The Reformed doctrine of salvation is commonly represented by the acrostic TULIP also known as the five points of Calvinism:

T: Total Depravity

Man is completely helpless in his sinful state, is under the wrath of God, and can in no way please God. Total depravity also means that man will not naturally seek to know God, until God graciously prompts him to do so (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18).

U: Unconditional Election

God, from eternity past, has chosen to save a great multitude of sinners, which no man can number (Romans 8:29-30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6,11-12).

L: Limited Atonement

Also called a particular redemption. Christ took the judgment for the sin of the elect upon Himself and thereby paid for their lives with His death. In other words, He did not simply make salvation possible, He actually obtained it for those whom He had chosen (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).

I: Irresistible Grace

In his fallen state, man resists God’s love, but the grace of God working in his heart makes him desire what he had previously resisted. That is, God’s grace will not fail to accomplish its saving work in the elect (John 6:37,44; 10:16).

P: Perseverance of the Saints

God protects His saints from falling away; thus, salvation is eternal (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-14).

The necessity of evangelism. Reformed theology teaches that Christians are in the world to make a difference, spiritually through evangelism and socially through holy living and humanitarianism.

Distinctives of Reformed theology generally include the observance of two sacraments called baptism and communion, a cessationist view of the spiritual gifts, the gifts are no longer extended to the church, and a non-dispensational view of Scripture.

Five solas are Latin phrases popularized during the Protestant Reformation that emphasized the distinctions between the early Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. The word sola is the Latin word for only and was used in relation to five key teachings that defined the biblical pleas of Protestants.

Sola Scriptura
Scripture Alone

Sola Fide
Faith Alone

Sola Gratia
Grace Alone

Solo Christo
Christ Alone

Soli Deo Gloria
God Alone

Each of these solas can be seen both as a corrective to the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church at the start of the Reformation and as a positive biblical declaration.

Sola Scriptura emphasizes the Bible alone as the source of authority for Christians. By saying, Scripture alone, the Reformers rejected both the divine authority of the Roman Catholic Pope and confidence in sacred tradition. Only the Bible was inspired by God (2 Peter 1:20-21) and God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Anything taught by the Pope or in tradition that contradicted the Bible was to be rejected. Sola Scriptura also fueled the translation of the Bible into German, French, English, and other languages, and prompted Bible teaching in the common languages of the day, rather than in Latin.

Sola Fide emphasizes salvation as a free gift. The Roman Catholic Church of the time emphasized the use of indulgences, donating money, to buy status with God. Good works, including baptism, were seen as required for salvation. Sola fide stated that salvation is a free gift to all who accept it by faith (John 3:16). Salvation is not based on human effort or good deeds (Ephesians 2:9).

Sola Gratia emphasizes grace as the reason for our salvation. In other words, salvation comes from what God has done rather than what we do. Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Solo Christo, sometimes listed as Solus Christus, through Christ alone, emphasizes the role of Jesus in salvation. The Roman Catholic tradition had placed church leaders such as priests in the role of intercessor between the laity and God. Reformers emphasized Jesus’ role as our high priest who intercedes on our behalf before the Father. Hebrews 4:15 teaches For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus is the One who offers access to God, not a human spiritual leader.

Soli Deo Gloria emphasizes the glory of God as the goal of life. Rather than striving to please church leaders, keep a list of rules, or guard our own interests, our goal is to glorify the Lord. The idea of Soli Deo Gloria is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

The five solas of the Protestant Reformation offered a strong corrective to the faulty practices and beliefs of the time, and they remain relevant today. We are called to focus on Scripture, accept salvation by grace through faith, magnify Christ, and live for God’s glory.

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