1. God Alone is Worthy of Our Worship
Central to our identity as human beings is worship. Everyone worships something because God created us to worship. What we value most in our lives (which is worship) determines the way we live.
The most important question we need to ask ourselves throughout our lives is, “What do I value more than anything else?” Every moment of every day the first commandment confronts us, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3).
As we become increasingly God-centered people, his church is strengthened (discipleship) and extended (evangelism). Worship is the engine that drives discipleship and evangelism.
2. God Rules the World
John Calvin loved to describe the world as a great theater in which the glory of God is displayed for all to see and appreciate. The Bible teaches that nothing happens by chance (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). Rather, everything is organized by the Great Designer of the universe (Gen 1:1; Isa 40:12, 22, 26, 28).
God is a great King who rules over all creation (Col 1:15-17; 1 Tim 6:16; Rev 4). This is what we call the “sovereignty” of God.
God is a gracious father to those who willingly bow to his kingship. “This is my Father’s world,” wrote the hymn writer. Because he is a king he can provide for all our needs. Because he is a Father to his children he will provide for all their needs (Matt 6:9, 11, 25-33).
3. God is the God who Speaks
We could know nothing about God if he did not choose to reveal himself to us.
All people, whether they acknowledge it or not, know their Creator (Rom 1:18-23). But we need the Bible to understand and make sense of God’s purposes for his creation apart from the Bible.
If the world is God’s theater, then the Bible is the set of glasses that enables us to see the stage clearly. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the supreme revelation of God and his purposes.
This is why the teaching, preaching, and study of the Bible are central in the life of our church. All that God requires us to believe and do is revealed in his word.
The central focus of all that God has spoken in his word is found in the revelation of his Son Jesus Christ. The whole Bible is unified by the great story of God sending his own Son to rescue people from sin and restore them to friendship with him.
4. God is the God who Saves Sinners
Someone once asked the Scottish Presbyterian minister Horatius Bonar, “How do we go to God?” The minister wisely replied, “It is with our sins that we go to God, for we have nothing else that we can truly call our own.”
We often think of our sin only as actions: isolated incidents of doing a bad thing. But sin, according to the Bible, causes our sinful actions (Rom 5:12-14).
In other words, you may have heard it said “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.”
Reformed theology takes sin seriously. The apostle Paul says that believers were “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:10; Rom 3:9-18). This means that it is impossible for us to cooperate with God in our own salvation.
We cannot earn forgiveness from God by trying harder and harder to “do the right thing.” What every sinner needs is not just moral reform; we need a resurrection. Only Christ can give this to us.
The Reformed doctrine of salvation is often summarized by means of an acrostic, TULIP:
God created Adam and Eve as morally responsible persons. But they fell into sin (Gen 3). Since Adam was the representative of the human race, and since we all descended from him, his sin affected the whole human race (Rom 5:12-19). Human nature is corrupted by sin, and every human being except Jesus Christ has inherited original sin (Ps 51:5; Rom 3). Thus we are born with an evil nature (Eph 2:3).
If sinners are as helpless in their depravity as the Bible says they are—unable to know and unwilling to seek God—then the only way they could possibly be saved is if God takes the initiative to change and save them (Rom 9:10-13).
God chose some sinners to save. This did not make them saved at that time; it only guaranteed that they certainly would be saved in the end. Jesus went to the cross to secure the salvation of specific sinners, not just to make salvation possible.
God chose the elect and Christ died for them, but this redemption must be applied to them in order for them to be saved. It is applied to them by the work of the Holy Spirit: God causes the elect to come to him (Ps 65:9), drawing us to Christ (John 6:44) and compelling us by divine omnipotence to come (Luke 14:23). The elect come willingly, not under coercion. Yet all the elect will come to Christ.
Perseverance of the Saints
God has promised to keep the elect forever, and never to forsake them. He also has promised to work within them so that they will never fall away from him. Hence, all who are truly saved will never lose their salvation.
5. God is the God who Changes Sinners
When we come to faith in Christ, God does not merely hand us a ticket to heaven. We are united to Christ by faith and through that union we share all things in common with him. We are not left on our own to try and figure out how to live the Christian life. The Scriptures provide us with very clear directions for how we are to grow in his grace.
The ordinary way God grows us and gives us all the blessings of the Christ are (a) his Word, (b) the sacraments, (c) prayer, and (d) Christian fellowship (Acts 2:42).
(a) The Word of God is the means to: our salvation (Acts 2:46-47; 1 Tim 4:15, 16; 2 Tim 3:15-17); personal growth (Ps 1; Acts 20:32; 1 Peter 2:2; Col 3:16; Matt 28:18-20; Jer 15:16; Ps 19:7-11); holiness (Heb 4:12; 5:11-14; Ps 119:9, 11); and spiritual protection (Acts 20:28; 2 Tim 4:1-5). Thus, all are encouraged to read, study, memorize and meditate on the Scriptures.
(b) The sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism represent and apply to us the saving work of Christ. In baptism we are given the external sign of our identification with God’s people (Col 1:11, 12; 1 Cor 12:13), our cleansing from sin (Mark 1:4; Rev 1:5), and our union with Christ (Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 10:16).
In the Lord ’s Supper we regularly remember and proclaim his death and resurrection (1 Cor 11:23-26), and we share together a preview of the heavenly banquet which we can anticipate as God’s family (Rev 19:6-10).
(c) Prayer uncovers our deepest beliefs about God. It is by prayer that all the other means of grace are made effective in our lives. We must pray for the understanding and application of God’s word. It is by prayer that we embrace the inner spiritual realities outwardly displayed in the physical signs of the sacraments. We must pray for one another continually (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16).
(d) Fellowship is not merely a potluck dinner after church. It includes the whole community life of God’s people. God manifests himself to us concretely in and through his people. The Spirit builds up the church to maturity through the variety of gifts given by Christ to his church (Eph 4:7-16). These gifts are exercised as the members of the church love and serve one another by prayer, instruction, exhortation, encouragement, and sharing in material needs (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10; Acts 2:42-47; Eph 4:16).
6. God Alone Rules His Church
Christ alone is the head of the church. Its government rests upon his shoulders (Isa 9:6-7). The Father has given him all power and authority, and made him head over all things for the church (Eph 4:10-13).
God rules and teaches his church by his Word and Spirit through the ministry of his appointed officers: elders and deacons. These leaders guide and direct the church by prayer, preaching and teaching God’s Word, administering the sacraments, and church discipline (Acts 6:4; 13:2; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2-4; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
Elders also need oversight because they, along with all believers, have a tendency toward sin. Elders of a particular church (the Session) are accountable to one another. The Session is accountable to a regional body of elders called a Presbytery. The Presbytery is accountable to the national governing body called the General Assembly.
This structure is the visible way Christ rules his church until he comes again.
The officers in the church have no power in and of themselves. They do not make laws, but declare what Christ has said through the Scriptures.
7. God is the God Who Changes His World
God’s plan includes families and communities. The church is salt and light in the world (Mathew 5:12-13). All of God’s created world is good and we are called to serve in it under his watchful care.
Thus, every Christian has a calling, or vocation, not just clergy. Every legitimate vocation is in reality a calling from God. This includes contractors, engineers, doctors, homemakers and everything in between.
Work of all kinds is a gift of God and has inherent value before God. The fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath regulates not only what we do on Sunday, but also what we do with the other six days of the week. We are commanded to work six days. Christians are to do their work (whatever it may be) before the face of God and to the glory of God. This is the means by which God often shapes and changes his world.