This post is the first of five posts thinking through crucial themes of central importance to the Reformation.
It was pastor and author A.W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Unfortunately, in many religious circles (even those professing to be Christian), there is not a lot of thinking going on and definitely not a lot of God-centred thinking. Whether it is theological liberalism on one end or more emotionally driven, sensual approaches to Christianity, what we think about God is often not treated as the most important thing about us.
More often than not, what we think about ourselves is treated as central to us.
One of the most powerful realities that came out of the revival that was the Protestant Reformation was the centrality of right thinking about God. In the opening chapter of his Institutes, John Calvin wrote:
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.1.
Calvin goes on to say:
On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white.2
In an age where self-identity is considered the most important thing, perhaps one of the greatest legacies the Reformation leaves for us is the reality that before we can know ourselves for who we truly are, we must understand God for who He truly is.
But we cannot be content just knowing facts about God. We must move from knowing about God and who He is to also knowing who He is for us.
The Heidelberg Catechism, in its inimitably pastoral style, preaches the wonderful truth of God, not just out there, but also for us:
That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father. ((Heidelberg Catechism, Q26))
God is not a God out there for the benefit of others – God is our God! He is for us as His children because He is first and foremost for His Son and that reality truly changes everything!
Why does the Reformation matter? Because God matters!