Westminster Seminary California
 

Reformed Life

W. Robert Godfrey, Resident Faculty  |   March 4, 1993   |  Type: Articles
 

The following lecture was delivered by Dr. Godfrey to a conference in South Korea in 1993.

It is a very great honor and pleasure for me to be able to participate in this conference.  This is my first visit to Korea and I am very much looking forward to learning more about what the Lord is doing in this land.

I am especially pleased to join in a conference that honors the memory of Dr. Yun Sun Park for his great service to the Lord as preacher and scholar. I was privileged to meet Dr. Park in 1979. I was serving on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia then and participated in the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the seminary. An important part of those celebrations was the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Dr. Park for his outstanding work in advancing the Reformed faith in the world. I was honored to meet Dr. and Mrs. Park on that occasion. I also remember that occasion because Korean people put on a lovely reception for Dr. and Mrs. Park and that was my first introduction to Korean food - which I enjoyed very much.

As I thought of that meeting thirteen years ago and of my visit to Korea now, I was reminded of some words of Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Reformed thinker. Almost a century ago in 1898 he traveled from Europe to America to deliver some lectures. They were his Lectures on Calvinism given at Princeton Theological Seminary. He spoke of his hopes that the Reformed faith would prosper through the united efforts of what he called the Old World and the New World (Europe and America.) But near the end of his last lecture “Calvinism and the Future,” he made an intriguing, almost prophetic, remark. He said, “The problem of the world took its rise in Asia, and in Asia it will find its final solution...” [1] At the time Kuyper's eye was on Japan as a rising world power, but today he would marvel and greatly rejoice in the goodness of the Lord in bringing a great Calvinistic revival in Korea. My prayer is that this conference may contribute to the advance of Reformed Christianity in this strategic land and that Korea will be used by the Lord to carry the Gospel throughout the world. It is good to see the Occident and Orient cooperating today to advance the cause of God's Christ.

Our topic today is “Reformed Life” - a topic of great importance, breadth and depth. What does it mean to live Reformed Christianity? We cannot cover everything in such a large topic so I will concentrate on some specific areas. (And even in the specific areas I discuss I will have to be very brief.) I hope, however, that this overview will help us understand and practice Reformed living. I will be using Reformed living and Christian living interchangeably since Reformed living seeks in every way to be faithful to the Bible which is the essence of Christian living.

I would like to speak to you on the foundation, the disciplines and the pattern of Reformed life.
To focus our thoughts let us read together from the Word of God:  Hebrews 10: 19-25.

FOUNDATION

Hebrews 10:23 calls to us: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering . . .”
In the immediate context of this verse our confession is that Jesus is our high priest, that His blood opens the way to heaven and cleanses us from sin, that the promises of God are completely reliable. This confession reminds us that the Gospel is the foundation of Reformed life. Truth is foundational to life. Christian life originates in Christian truth. And that life must be molded and evaluated by the standard of the truth. It is the Word that creates life.

That conviction is where we must begin.

Truth Challenged and Defended

Already in the time of the Reformation that issue was central in the debate over authority between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Roman Catholics said that the church created the Word. Protestants said that the Word created the church. Interestingly both appealed to Matthew 16 in support of their position. Rome used Matthew 16: 18 insisting that Peter was the head of the church and the source of authority and life in the earthly church. The Reformers argued that the rock of the church was Peter's confession (Matt. 16: 16): “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They noted that Peter could make that confession only because the Father in heaven had revealed it to him (Matt. 16:17). Truth was the foundation of Peter's life.

The Reformers are surely correct here. From the Garden of Eden to the covenant with Abraham, from the law at Sinai through the ministry of the prophets, from the New Covenant established by Jesus to the foundation of the church in the work of the apostles and prophets, the Word precedes and determines the life of God's people.

In more modern times the issue of the priority of truth in the Christian life has taken a new form. The rise of theological liberalism especially in nineteenth century Europe seriously challenged the importance of doctrinal truth. Friedrich Schleiermacher developed an approach to Christianity that made the feeling of dependence the ultimate reality and basis of religion. Immanuel Kant and Albrecht Ritschl argued that the essence of Christianity was the practical life of service. Liberalism saw doctrine as only a fallible human effort to describe those feelings or activities.  “Truth” was at best approximate and always changing.

One of the most effective voices against this liberalism in the nineteenth century was Abraham Kuyper. He recognized the fundamental challenge that liberalism posed to true Christianity and championed the cause of truth as foundational. Kuyper wrote, “. . . although I rejoice in the revival of both the practical and mystical tendencies, both will result in loss instead of gain, if they are expected to compensate for the abandonment of the Truth of Salvation.” [2] For Kuyper, Protestant liberalism represented relativism, agnosticism and ultimately idolatry. The battle against liberalism was another aspect of age-long war: “Do not forget that the fundamental contrast has always been, is still, and will be until the end: Christianity and Paganism, the idols or the living God.” [3] God used Kuyper to promote a major revival of Calvinism in the Netherlands.

A great twentieth-century voice for truth was J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary. He saw the importance of this foundation in his great book, Christianity and Liberalism. Machen wrote, “. . . the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.” [4] In another place he wrote that “Christian life is the fruit of Christian doctrine, not its root, and Christian experience must be tested by the Bible, not the Bible by Christian experience.” [5] Machen was a key opponent of modernism in the 1920's and 1930’s. The decline of Christian ethics in America in the last 50 years substantiates Machen's teaching. Where Christian doctrine withers, there Christian living will die.

Both Machen and Kuyper recognized the assault on truth in their day. If anything that assault is more virulent today. The rising tide of relativism and so called toleration finds the truth claims of Christianity ever more offensive. But we must stand for the truth and on the truth. Our life and our Reformed living flow out of the truth which is the Jesus of the Bible.

The truth that we must know is the truth of the Scriptures. We must recognize our dependence on God to reveal His truth to us. We do not know or seek that truth naturally. Only by God's revelation and by the Spirit's illumination of our blind eyes can we come to the truth. As the Bible itself reminds us, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Because of this basic importance of the Bible, so much of the effort of Christians in the twentieth century has been devoted to the defense and study of the Bible. Although many have claimed that the Bible· is wrong, or a myth, or uncertain and unreliable, we have insisted that it is true and sufficient and clear. For that reason faithful Christian teachers from Luther and Calvin to Dr. J. Gresham Machen and Dr. Yun Sun Park have devoted so much of their lives to upholding and expounding the Word of God.

Truth - the only source of hope

Kuyper brilliantly painted to our complete dependence on the Scripture for truth in his distinction between what is normal and what is abnormal. The world believes that what we see and experience in our lives is normal and therefore we can by reflection properly interpret it. The Christian believes that all in this fallen world is abnormal – including human reasoning – so that the fundamental truth of God and salvation can only be known by revelation. The foundation of our living must be the truth of God's Word. It alone in this world is truly normal.

The center of the Scripture and the center of Christian truth is Jesus - not Jesus as some vague example or feeling, but the Jesus of the Bible; the Jesus who really lived and taught as recorded in the Scriptures; the Jesus who died and rose again, according to the Scriptures; the Jesus whose saving work is explained and applied to us in the Scriptures. We cannot invent a Jesus to suit ourselves, but we must bow before the real Jesus of the Bible.

Hebrews 10 provides us with one of the Biblical summaries of the work of Jesus for us. It reminds us that Jesus is our great priest. He works for us as mediator and representative. He offers the sacrifice for our sins that we could never offer for ourselves. Indeed He offers Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. He becomes our substitute. He stands in our place. As John Calvin put it, “The death of Christ is our life.” [6] His blood is our entrance to life and to heaven.

This truth about the work of Jesus for us, the truth about His great love for us, is the confession of hope of the people of God. This confession is the truth that sets us free (John 8: 32) because it presents the real, Biblical Jesus to us. He alone gives life.

Truth received by faith

From this perspective on the truth we can see that faith is the crucial connection between doctrine and the Christian life. Faith is not primarily feeling or action. Faith is in the first place knowledge. Faith knows the truth of God. Such knowledge is not bare information for the mind. Faith is knowing, grasping, accepting, relying on, trusting the truth of God. John Calvin's favorite verse of Scripture - John 17:3 - shows us faith as knowledge in the full Biblical sense: “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Faith connects us to the whole revelation of God in Scripture and to the saving work of Jesus. As the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 21) says, “True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.” Faith unites us to the promise and gives us great confidence (Heb. 10: 19) and full assurance (Heb. 10:22). Our faith must not waver, because we know God is faithful (Heb. 10:23). Faith unwaveringly clings to the Biblical promises of God knowing that what God tells us is absolutely true and absolutely reliable.

This faith is the source of every element of the Christian life. At every point we live by faith. Faith looks beyond the sin, frustration and weakness of this world and even of ourselves to Christ who forgives, comforts and strengthens. Faith teaches us that the unseen is more real than the seen. Faith gives us the perspective and strength by which we live. True faith is life changing. Hebrews 10 speaks of the Christian having a true heart, a heart sprinkled clean. The new heart produces a new life, a life that even the world should be able to recognize as different. That life is built on the foundation of truth and faith. Apart from that foundation there can be no Christian living.

DISCIPLINES

If truth and faith are the foundation of reformed living what are the disciplines that support and sustain that life? Paul certainly calls us to the disciplined life of godliness. In I Timothy 4:7,8 he wrote, “. . . discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”  Godliness - Christian living - comes only through spiritual disciplines. No doubt many disciplines could and should be mentioned. But Hebrews 10:24 encourages us to recognize “love and good works” as the key disciplines of Christian living.

Love

We may begin by asking, is love a discipline? Perhaps we usually think of love as a fruit of the Holy Spirit and assume that love grows automatically and spontaneously in the Christian experience. But too often those who are very orthodox seem lacking in love and humility. The charge is often made that those who are concerned about truth become arrogant and divisive. And too often this charge is true. If we are faithful representatives of the truth, we must do so in love. Paul reminds us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4: 15).

This love must be cultivated. You notice how our text speaks of stimulating one another to love. Hebrews is here perpetuating the teaching of Jesus. Jesus gave the great command to love, indeed summarizing all the commands of the law in terms of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). We must strive to be obedient to the Lord's command.

Some may fail to cultivate love by confusing it with passivity or weakness. Is love compatible with vigorous activity for the Lord? Can a strong leader also show love and humility? To ask these questions is really to answer them. Certainly our Lord Jesus was a strong and vigorous leader, yet His life abounded in love.

The essence of love is in denying the self for the sake of God and others. It is so easy for us to identify our ideas, our methods and our desires with the will of God. Love requires that we examine our lives to ask for whom we are really living. If we fail to cultivate love, then all of the other activities of our lives may well be undermined.  Paul solemnly warns us in I Corinthians 13 how love must be shown in the Christian community and is really the best way of living. Love is the greatest fruit of faith and will even outlast faith. One day faith will become sight, but we shall live eternally in love. Jesus says that love is the badge by which Christians should be recognized:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples. if you love one another” (John 13:34.35). We must live a life of love that is visible to the world. Cultivating love will take hard work. It will require self-examination, meditation, confession and prayer. It will take help from brothers and sisters in Christ. But the Lord will richly bless us and our work for Him as we cultivate the discipline of love.

Good works

Love is not the only discipline that must be cultivated. Our text also speaks of “good works.” When we think of good works, we think in the first place of service to others. We serve in our families, in our churches and in our society.  In our families we most intimately show the love of Christ and His transforming power. Luther called the family the school of character and there we should all be growing in grace. The family is also the key institution by which the covenant is preserved from one generation to another. We must treasure our families and work at making them strong and faithful. In our churches we are called to many kinds of good works. We need to make our churches a spiritual family of support and care. We must try to meet spiritual and material needs. We must cultivate worship and teaching. We must be involved in the great work of evangelism and missions.

In our society we must do good works as we are able. We need to show love and compassion for the helpless. We need to do what we can to change society as a whole to a place of greater justice.  Kuyper saw this obligation as an essential part of a Calvinistic world-view. Kuyper himself left the ministry to enter politics because he felt it was God's will for his life. His career was a most remarkable one. He was not only a powerful theologian, but was also the editor of two periodicals, the founder of a university and the organizer of a popular political party. He was elected to the Parliament and eventually became prime minister of the Netherlands. He stands as a remarkable example of the breadth of service a Christian may offer to the Lord. He was motivated by this conviction: “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine.’” [7]

Service to others does not exhaust the good works to which we are called. Our good works must include personal disciplines in our individual lives. We must cultivate study and prayer in our lives. We must study the Bible and our catechism so that our minds may be equipped to do the work of the Lord. We must also pray both individually and corporately for the advancement of Christ's cause. Our Lord showed us that we must learn to pray when He taught us the Lord's Prayer as a model for our praying. The Book of Acts especially encourages us to prayer by the many examples of the power of God unleashed through the prayers of His people. Acts 2:42 reminds us that the early church devoted itself to prayer. In America some suggest that Reformed Christians will never learn to pray because of their belief in the sovereignty of God. The Korean Reformed Christians have shown that this is not true. You have been a remarkable witness and encouragement to the rest of the Reformed world through your great commitment to prayer.

In all of these disciplines we must work for balance. No one person can do all the good works mentioned above. Each of us must weigh the unique gifts and opportunities that the Lord has given to us and decide where we are most needed to serve. We will achieve this balance through the Reformed idea of calling. We each have a unique calling from the Lord. That calling may take several forms at once. We may be called to be husband, father and minister, for example. As each of those responsibilities is part of our calling we must be faithful in each. We cannot neglect one part of our calling for another. We must seek a godly balance so that as much as is possible we faithfully serve the Lord in every area of our lives.

You no doubt can think of other crucial disciplines for Reformed living that should be mentioned. One example would be the discipline of Christian giving. But I believe that under the heading of “love and good works” most Christian disciplines can be ordered. If we add to the foundation of truth and faith, the disciplines of love and good works, we will have made much progress in the Reformed life.

PATTERN

There is still a third area that we must explore that is essential to Reformed life. I believe that God has shown us that there needs to be a pattern in our living. This pattern is the structure that supports the godly life.

At the center this pattern is regular worship. Again our text directs us: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another: and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10: 24, 25).

God requires us to gather together with the covenant people of God for worship. No doubt various informal activities of worship are encouraged by this text. But I believe that it is principally the official worship under the supervision of the minister and elders that is in mind here. The root of the Greek word for assembling is the word synagogue. We are to come to the synagogue, the official place of worship, to pray and hear God's Word together. We encourage one another as we enter into the elements of worship as a group, showing our faith in praise and reverent listening to God.

Reformed life must be supported by the pattern of Reformed worship. Reformed worship itself would be an appropriate subject for several lectures. Let me limit myself to three points about Reformed worship.

Biblical Worship

First our worship must be Biblical. That means of course that the Bible must be read and preached. But it means more than that. It means that all that we do in worship must be guided by the Bible. Reformed people believe in the regulative principle which states that the Bible must regulate all our worship. Only what the Bible commands should be part of our worship. In America today there is great experimentation in worship. Worship is in danger of becoming entertainment. As Reformed people we must insist on staying with only those elements of worship endorsed by the Bible.

Heavenly Worship

Second our worship must be heavenly. Notice in our text that by faith we are “to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). The holy place is not an earthly temple, but as the Book of Hebrews makes clear, the holy place is heaven itself. As we worship, we are lifted by the power of the Spirit into heaven itself to fellowship with God. This heavenly dimension to worship is not something that we can see or feel. We know it only by faith. But the Spirit does so link us to Christ that as we worship we are truly with Him in heaven. For this reason Reformed Christians have always insisted on places of worship that are simple. We want no images or decorations that would bind us to earth. We want no earthly temple that pretends to bring God down to earth. We want to be lifted into heaven by the Spirit as we worship. We believe that our participation in the worship of the heavenly temple must be marked by profound joy and deep reverence (Psalm 2: 11 and Hebrews 12:28).

Psalms in Worship

Third, we should sing the Psalms as we worship. The New Testament encourages us to treasure and use the Old Testament Psalms by its frequent quotation of the Psalms. In the Book of Hebrews alone thirteen different Psalms [8] are quoted over 25 times.

We should sing the Psalms because they are the very Word of God. What better praise could we offer to the Lord than the very words that He inspired? What better way is there to learn God's Word, to hide it in our hearts, than to sing it regularly? We should sing the Psalms because they contain and summarize all Christian truth. Martin Luther wrote that the Psalter “should be precious and dear to us if only because it most clearly promises the death and resurrection of Christ, and describes His kingdom, and the nature and standing of all Christian people.  It could well be called a 'little Bible' since it contains, set out in the briefest and most beautiful form, all that is to be found in the whole Bible . . ..” [9] 

We should sing the Psalms because they will establish a pattern in our thinking about God and the spiritual life. That pattern of the Psalms is what Kuyper called the antithesis. The antithesis reminds us that the great spiritual issue of human history is the conflict between righteousness and wickedness, between God and His rebellious creatures, between the people of God and the world. That conflict is seldom mentioned in our hymns. But it is mentioned in almost every Psalm.  I believe that in only two Psalms is there no explicit mention of the contrast between the good and the evil. And in the Psalms evil is not an abstraction: it is presented as very personal.

This pattern of Reformed worship itself is part of a larger pattern: the pattern of one day of rest and worship each week. From the creation God set aside one day a week as a holy and blessed day. On that day the people of God rest as God rested and seek to fellowship with their Lord. This pattern is settled in the center of the Ten Commandments - the moral law of God which guides not only the Old Testament saints but also the saints of the New Covenant.

There is of course a change in the New Testament. The day of rest is no longer the seventh day which symbolically looked forward to a rest yet to come. Now the day of rest is the first day of the week recognizing that rest has already come to us in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Revelation 1: 10 tells us that this day of resurrection is the Lord's Day. That day is as uniquely set aside from all other days as the Lord's Supper is set aside from all other suppers. (The Greek adjective translated “Lord's” is the same in Rev. 1:10 and I Cor. 11:20 and these are the only two places where the word is used in the New Testament.) We must protect that day and use it to pattern our life for the Lord.

When we put worship at the center of our rest on the Lord's Day, then we will have a pattern set in our Reformed living that will preserve our foundation of truth and faith and encourage our disciplines of love and good works. When we have the foundation, disciplines and pattern of Reformed living, then we will know the blessedness of the life in Christ.

If we pursue Reformed living, the Lord will bless us. Our lives and our churches will be stronger. It may be that the Lord will send great revival in the midst of our Reformed living, but we cannot be sure of that. As Kuyper said, “The quickening of life comes not from men: it is the prerogative of God, and it is due to his sovereign will alone, whether or not the tide of religious life rise high in one century, and run to a low ebb in the next.” [10] But if we are faithful in our living, we will be ready for whatever the Lord does among us. We will be useful in His hand. We will show forth the glories of His grace. Let us live faithfully for Him.


1. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, Grand Rapids, Michigan (Eerdmans), 1931, p. 198.
2. Kuyper, Lectures, p. 189.
3. Kuyper, Lectures, p. 198.
4. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Grand Rapids, Michigan (Eerdmans), 1923, p. 21.
5. Westminster Theological Seminary Catalogue, 1929-1930, p. 17.
6. John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, xvii, 37.
7. Quoted in Frank Vanden Berg, Abraham Kuyper, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (Paedeia), 1978, p. 255.
8. The following Psalms are quoted in the Book of Hebrews: Psalms 2, 8, 22, 40, 45, 68, 95, 97 102, 104, 110, 118, 135.
9. Martin Luther, “Preface to the Psalms” Martin Luther, Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger, New York (Doubleday), 1961, p. 38.
10. Kuyper, Lectures, p. 199.

Originally published in The Outlook, March 1993 by Reformed Fellowship, Inc. www.reformedfellowship.net.  Used with permission.

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