Original Opinion Piece for September 4 (’14)
What a question. How would a Baptist or Anglican or Catholic answer such a central question regarding their faith? There are many places from which to start, and those within the Reformed camp typically begin with a view of God or a historical identifying mark: “Being Reformed means you view God as Sovereign,” or “‘Reformed’ means you agree with certain beliefs traced back to the Protestant Reformation (circa 1519 and beyond), especially the ‘Five Solas‘.” These are not bad descriptions. The second has the advantage of rooting faith in something larger than one’s local time and concerns. Perhaps you’ve never heard of the “Reformed,” or think it has something more to do with prisoners and ex-cons than parishioners and Christianity, but it is a good question. There are excellent books and pamphlets, websites and articles, that answer this question in theological and historical detail (you can see some of them here and here), but we’re going to approach it differently than most. This starting place is simply our opinion, but hey: it’s Thursday. That’s what we do here. Moreover, while this starting point is not distinctly Reformed, being Reformed must necessarily include this as a starting place. J. C. Ryle once wrote, “The heart is the main thing in religion.” Indeed, the Scripture presents the heart not first as a blood-pumping mechanism, but as the central hub of all that it means to be human in our intellects, emotions, and wills, and it does so upwards of 900 times. So, for today, we answer the question with a starting point of the heart.
What does it mean to be “Reformed”? The Reformed faith starts with a particular position of humility.
Far too often, we approach God first from the heights of Mt. Calvin instead of from the Valley of Dry Bones. The Reformed Faith sees that a single posture encapsulates a great deal of intellectual theological doctrine. That posture is humility.
Men boast of themselves often (even with religious words), but a man who knows God, and is known by God—at the end of the day—doesn’t pray, “Dear God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or other sinners. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. Amen.” Instead, the Reformed Faith begins with men who have trouble even lifting their eyes to heaven and pray, “Dear God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
One of these former men believes himself exceptional and shows it in his casual disregard for those whom God has placed around him on the bus, the classroom, the sports team, church, and by his disregard for God himself. The latter is a man who believes himself exceptionally ordinary, common, and desperate. The former may say he has need of God, but his need is only one of intellectual agreement that he has any need and is not one of true dependence, thanksgiving, and humility. He is like a teenager that disrespects his parents (who provide and care for him) and fails to realize he does not even know how to care for himself. He does not know how much car insurance costs, or how much gas costs to run his car, or how much milk costs to put in his cereal bowl in the morning: he boasts of great things against his parents, but he can barely care for himself. If his disrespected parents treat him the way he pretends he can function (like a self-congratulatory and self-sufficient individual), he would be sick without insurance, hungry without groceries, and unable to go anywhere in a car out of gas. Which type of person are you?
The latter man—the kind of man genuine Reformed faith should describe—knows his need of God’s revolutionary, perpetual, and permanent grace. He humbly comes to God to receive the mercy and grace held out to rebellious people and receives what he longs for most. This Reformed Christian comes for God and not some sense of inner validation and self-esteem booster. He cares more for God than his own sin and self-worth, and gets God and his grace through Jesus Christ. God is everything to him; he is nothing. By forgetting himself, he remembers God. By losing himself, he finds God and his soul restored.
The Reformed faith begins with the posture of humility because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble—grace to receive God as the believer’s truest, ultimate reward. Without humility, God cannot be seen, worshiped, or loved as he presents himself in the Scriptures. Where pride towers, God is buried. When pride resides, God is abandoned. As the world began with God’s presence in Genesis 1, and as it ends with God’s presence in Revelation 22, so humility is the only posture that allows for God in his fullness, revealed in Jesus Christ, to be enjoyed by the man who desires to know, and be known by, God.
Are you willing to forget yourself and your own importance? Do you genuinely believe yourself to be dead in the Valley of Dry Bones and in need of holy resurrection? Does the thought of God’s grace in saving you from your sin and misery bring you joy, or is it as casual a thought as picking a restaurant or movie on Friday night? Are your thoughts of God mere intellectual agreement, or do you also feel your need of Him, and his incalculable worth? A man doesn’t simply agree that a diamond is valuable. He wishes it to be his. He wants to possess great treasure. Our problem is, we devalue God, overvalue ourselves, and attach the wrong value to all other created objects and persons. Faith must be more than intellectual agreement; it must have the foundation of a humble heart that values God well beyond itself.
Is God’s presence reward enough, or do you bring him down low and lift yourself high by believing God-plus-something-else is where the action really is? Whoever would enjoy God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him”, and if you are arrogant, you have God’s promise that he stands against you, for he must be great and we must recognize his greatness over us. So, come to God in humbleness. This is the posture that begins to answer what it means to be a Reformed Christian, for Reformed theology begins with a humble heart embracing a great God who is the answer to the needy estate of his people.