God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area.
God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely God’s. The execution was entirely His. There was no metaphysical “necessity” to create; it was a free action of God.
When the New Testament addresses spiritual maturity, it uses the common Greek word teleios, which means “perfect” or “complete.” When it is applied to Christian growth, it indicates spiritual maturity in contrast to childlike immaturity as, for example, in this command from Paul: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (teleioi).” (1 Cor. 14:20; see also Heb.5:13–6:1). Sometimes it indicates perfection, as in Jesus’ summary command in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt.5:48). Spiritually, it always references solid, biblically informed understanding and conduct in Christ—spiritual adulthood.
Soli Deo gloria is the motto that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and was used on every composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. He affixed the initials SDG at the bottom of each manuscript to communicate the idea that it is God and God alone who is to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption. At the heart of the sixteenth-century controversy over salvation was the issue of grace.
It was not a question of man’s need for grace. It was a question as to the extent of that need. The church had already condemned Pelagius, who had taught that grace facilitates salvation but is not absolutely necessary for it. Semi-Pelagianism since that time has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain.
I can still recall the conversation although it took place more than three decades ago. A shocked friend asked, “Have you heard that Sarah is no longer a Christian?” What was so alarming to my friend was that Sarah had been one of the most influential, and apparently fruitful, members of her Inter-Varsity group. What would those who had been influenced by her witness to Christ say, or do? Would they be shaken to the core and now doubt their own Christian faith? After all, the person who had pointed them to Christ no longer trusted Him.
On occasion, we wonder if an individual really has been converted. And sometimes we have an inexplicable, ill-defined sense that something is missing. But we cannot read the heart. Even so, we hear of friends—whose faith we never doubted—turning away from Christ.
Apostasy is the old, vigorous word to describe this abandonment of Christ.
Obeying authority is hard. We bristle anytime we hear someone say: “You must do this. You ought to do that.” We want to be able to say: “Don’t tell me what to do. I want to do what I want to do.” We want people to empower and entitle us. We hate receiving mandates. That’s our nature. In light of this, I like to talk about a Christian worldview and how it differs from a pagan worldview. One way to differentiate the two would be to consider each worldview’s understanding of responsibility toward authority. If I were not a Christian, I certainly wouldn’t embrace submission to authority. But being a Christian makes me hesitate before I live in active disobedience to those whom God has put in authority over me. To understand why, we must look at the New Testament’s explanation of the origin and function of government under God. This issue is clearly dealt with by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.
“First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.” Martin Luther always returned to the foundational importance of the Scriptures and the gospel in his approach to any doctrinal question. The church must have and cherish the revelation of God. “And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word.”
“Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.” The church possessed and administered the sacrament of baptism as taught in the Bible, a visible expression of the gospel.
The Lord’s Supper
“Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and baptism.” Again, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must be treasured by the church as Christ has taught it in the Bible. Read More »
In the early fifth century, a theological controversy occurred that would forever shape the thinking of the church. In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo wrote in the form of a prayer the words, “Give what Thou commandest and command what Thou will.” The British monk Pelagius was upset by these words, believing that they would give Christians an excuse for not obeying God. Pelagius believed that if God commanded something, man was naturally (apart from grace) able to do it. He believed that this was possible because he also believed that Adam’s sin had only affected Adam. All human beings are born in the same state in which Adam was born, capable of either obeying God or disobeying Him. If they obey, their good works merit salvation. If not, they deserve God’s punishment.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to spend some time retracing our path in order to look briefly at some foundational doctrines—the five solas of the Reformation (sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria). When the medieval church lost her way, the rediscovery of these fundamental doctrines helped the church regain her footing. In the past, I have written a series of blogs recommending the best commentaries on each book of the Bible. My goal in this series of blog posts is to do the same with each of the five solas. If we are going to regain our footing, it will require effort. Christians will have to become biblically and theologically literate once again. This will take time, but it will take less time if we have some idea where to start. My goal is to suggest a place to start on these particular doctrines.