The Joy of Being Reformed
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV)
The word “joy” is not a word that typically gets associated with “Calvinism” (another name for Reformed Christianity and the biblically-based faith and practice associated with that branch of historic Christianity). Indeed, Reformed Christians seem to have a reputation in the broader Christian world of being “the frozen chosen.” If heaven were to have a sourpuss section, I am guessing the general consensus among our non-Reformed brethren would be that that’s where you would find the Calvinists hanging out. But whether or not Reformed Christians deserve to be characterized as sourpusses and as “the frozen chosen” (in some cases they do; in many cases they don’t), the Reformed Christian Faith itself is something that ought to bring deep, satisfying joy to the soul of the Reformed believer in Christ, at least when it is intelligently understood and embraced from the heart. In this short post I want to reflect upon four areas of Reformed faith and practice that should bring Reformed believers joy: Reformed Doctrine, Reformed Worship, Reformed Church Life, and Reformed Cultural Engagement.
The Joy of Reformed Doctrine
We who are Reformed Christians believe that the Reformed Faith is the most biblically and logically consistent expression of historic Christianity. We believe Reformed doctrine is the most consistent expression of the biblical gospel and of catholic (“universal”) Christianity. It is biblical Christianity come to its historically mature, consistent, confessional expression. We don’t hold this perspective from a standpoint of pride or a feeling of superiority to other believers and other non-Reformed Christian churches (at least we shouldn’t be proud or arrogant about our faith!). Rather, we are (or should be) profoundly grateful, humbled, and joy-filled, for our Reformed Faith, like the sovereign grace salvation in Christ it proclaims, is a totally unmerited, undeserved gift that we have received. Biblically Reformed doctrine is a priceless treasure, a deep, rich gold mine of Divine truth that nourishes the soul and motivates grateful discipleship. It is a source of profound joy to the believer who comes to understand and embrace it.
But potential objections might arise to the above claims. For example, someone might protest, “How can the Reformed doctrine of predestination result in deep, soul-satisfying joy!?” Or, “What on earth does Reformed covenant theology have to do with joy!?” Well, as an example of Reformed doctrine, let’s take the so-called “doctrines of grace” (or “five points of Calvinism” as they are popularly called). These biblical doctrines are summarized by the TULIP acrostic (T = “Total Depravity”; U = “Unconditional Election”; L = “Limited Atonement”; I = “Irresistible Grace”; and P = “Perseverance of the Saints”). Obviously the doctrine of predestination would fall under the “U” of the TULIP. How can the Reformed doctrine of predestination give me joy? It gives me joy because it underscores that I have been loved with an everlasting, omnipotent, saving love of God! (In the Bible the doctrines of election and predestination are revealed to bring comfort and assurance to the true believer in Christ, not to terrorize the convicted sinner who has yet to come to Christ or to fuel speculations about the secret purposes of God.) It teaches me that I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3); that I have been chosen in Christ even from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and predestined in His love to be an adopted son through Jesus Christ, according to His purpose and will (Eph. 1:5), and all “…to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:6, ESV) If I have been elected in Christ and predestined to glory, then I can live in the confidence of the promise we read of in Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV) If this biblical truth doesn’t bring joy to the believer’s heart, I don’t know what will. Again, I would assert that Reformed doctrine, when biblically-formulated and properly grasped, brings joy — true, lasting, soul-satisfying joy — to the soul of the true believer in Christ! So, if you claim to embrace Reformed doctrine, wipe that scowl off your face (if there be one there), and don’t be a sourpuss. The Reformed doctrine you profess to embrace should cause you to rejoice with joy inexpressible, and filled with glory!
The Joy of Reformed Worship
Historic Reformed worship and liturgy is simple, spiritual, and limited to those worship elements that are commanded by God’s Word. On the one hand, with its “regulative principle of worship” (i.e., the principle that all elements of Divine worship must have either direct or implied biblical warrant), it avoids both the ceremonial excesses of ritualistic worship (such as one finds in the Roman “Mass” and other “high church” liturgies) and the mystical excesses of revivalistic fervor (such as “speaking in tongues” and other hyped up worship that one finds in certain Pentecostal sects). To those unfamiliar with Reformed liturgy the worship one finds in Reformed churches might at first seem rather bare, devoid of “pomp and circumstance,” (in the case of those who are used to more ceremonial worship practice); or perhaps even somewhat “boring” (in the case of those who are used to the high-pitched revivalist fervor such as one finds in charismatic and Pentecostal worship practice). But to those who are searching for worship which is biblically pure, historically-rooted, and reverent, the “reverence and awe” of Reformed Worship should bring joy to their souls.
Reformed worship emphasizes the centrality of God’s Word. Faith comes from hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17); therefore the reading and especially the preaching of the Word are given a prominent and central place in Reformed worship. Reformed liturgy consists basically of the biblical worship elements of the reading and preaching of God’s Word, the administration and receiving of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the offering up of prayer, and the singing of praise. This simple but spiritual (“Spirit and truth”) liturgy reflects the simple and spiritual worship as practiced by the early Christians in the New Testament church. Those of us who have received God’s mercy in Christ have a heartfelt desire that our worship be pleasing to our loving heavenly Father who redeemed us. Reformed worship is biblical worship that (when practiced consistently and with faith) is pleasing to our Father in heaven. Thus, Reformed worship, while lacking the “bells and whistles” and hype of much that passes for “worship” in the contemporary churches, and while unadorned in its simplicity, is nevertheless a cause for joy in the heart of the believer.
The Joy of Reformed Church Life
Life in the church is not always a joy. Sin remains in the hearts of God’s children, and sin continues to remain an issue within the church. But confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches, when they practice their ecclesiology consistently and biblically, seek to conduct their corporate life together in a manner that is faithful to the commands of Scripture, and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God is a God of order, not chaos; and He desires that all things in His church should be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). (This, by the way, requires “organized religion” and an organized visible church.) Confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches seek to order their church government and discipline in accord with the principles and commands of Holy Scripture. This too should give the Reformed believer joy, because built into the orderly practice of Reformed church life is a system of church government and discipline that seeks to provide and promote accountability and mutual love, as well as justice for those who have been wronged. When Reformed church life is conducted faithfully, according to the Word and the biblically-based standards of the church, the unity, purity and peace of the church are maintained; God’s people are protected from heresy and schism; and all things are conducted in obedience to God’s Word. This too should be a source of joy to the Reformed Christian.
The Joy of Reformed Cultural Engagement
By “cultural engagement” I am not referring to a “cultural warrior” or “transformationist” mindset that seeks to “win the culture for Christ.” Rather, I am speaking of how the Reformed Faith instructs believers to conduct themselves outside of the holy realm of worship in the common realm of their daily vocations. While Reformed believers recognize that Christ governs His church with a special providence, they also recognize that He is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” even in the common grace realm of human “culture.” Every believer has a calling – a “vocation” – in the world. Christ’s saving sovereignty is exercised in His church, but Reformed believers recognize that He is also sovereign in His general providence over all creation, and over every legitimate human endeavor. This Reformed “world and life view” should give us joy, because it teaches us that we serve our God not just on Sunday at worship (though that has a special importance as a holy activity); but we live our entire life “before the face of God” (coram deo), and thus we can be assured that He is with us as we pursue our daily vocations for His glory.
It is (or at least, it should be) a joy to be Reformed. If you profess to be Reformed, are you joyful about your faith? By the grace of God, let us as Reformed believers exude the joy of Christ in our daily lives. May our joy in Christ be contagious, and may we show others the joy of being Reformed!