The gospel is meant to encourage believers and give them hope in Jesus Christ. Regrettably, there are doctrinal errors which do the opposite. Holding on to these wrong teachings inserts a measure of melancholy into your Christian life. It’s relatively easy to identify unbiblical teachings coming from outside our Reformed circles that will do this. But what about wrong teachings circulating in Reformed churches that can rob you of the joy God intends for every Christian? Let’s look at three.
The Bible teaches that justification is a declaration from God as judge that an individual believing in Christ is righteous. If this Judge has issued his verdict, how can it ever possibly be reversed or overturned? If you have once been declared righteous on account of what Christ has done in his life and death, nothing can change that.
Sadly, there are some who teach that we must be justified daily before God’s throne. They teach that your justification has to be renewed each day. Some might even go so far as to describe justification as an ongoing process in the life of a Christian, a process which is finally finished with the believer’s death. That sounds Roman Catholic, but I’ve read it in books by Reformed authors.
Talk about depressing! Imagine that you wake up each morning with uncertainty about where you stand with God. Is he your Judge or is he your Father? Are you right with him or not? Imagine that each day you must face God in the courtroom to relive the case against you. No, the Bible offers this encouragement to everyone who has taken hold of Christ through true faith: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). If we trust in the Saviour, our justification is an accomplished, once-for-all fact.
Losing the Benefits of Christ
There’s sometimes been confusion about baptism and the benefits of Christ. The confusion results in a failure to appreciate the difference between receiving a promise and receiving what is promised. All the benefits of Christ are promised to everyone who receives baptism. However, in order to receive what is promised, i.e. to receive all the benefits of Christ, baptism calls for faith on the part of the one baptized.
In contrast, some have said that baptism confers all the benefits of Christ. Every baptized child actually receives every saving benefit Christ has obtained. Then, if that child grows older and rejects God and the gospel, he or she then loses the saving benefits of Christ which were conferred in baptism.
This error, often associated with proponents of Federal Vision theology, says you can possess the saving benefits of Christ and then lose them. Let that sink in for a moment. In other words, you have salvation in Christ through your baptism, and then you can lose it through unbelief. This leads to presumptuousness with some and despair with others. True, there are warnings in Scripture about covenant-breaking and those must be heard. Moreover, all those who’ve been baptized must be called to faith in Christ and repentance. But when you’ve repented and taken hold of Christ by Spirit-worked faith, then you should also be comforted that you’ve received the promised benefits of Christ and these will NEVER be taken away from you. The Holy Spirit says that the God of peace will keep you: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
No Prayer to Jesus
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus famously taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” Some believe that with these words our Lord was teaching us to pray only to the first person of the Trinity, to God the Father. Despite the fact that Paul prayed to Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22, 2 Cor.12:8), as well as Stephen (Acts 7:59), they’d have you believe that prayer must only be to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What a miserable unbiblical teaching! You’re blocked from having a real, meaningful relationship with your Saviour. After all, you’re not allowed to communicate with him – the bride isn’t permitted to speak with the bridegroom. You’re forbidden from expressing your love to him or your gratitude to him for what he’s done for you. Instead, this teaching puts Jesus at a distance from his people and even runs the risk of turning him into an impersonal concept. That would not only be sad, but dishonouring to our beloved Saviour.
When our Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven,” he wasn’t saying that they should pray to the first person of the Trinity. Rather, he was teaching us that we ought to pray to the one true God as our Father. In other words, “Father” isn’t a Trinitarian name in the Lord’s Prayer, but rather simply a Divine name. When we think about prayer, we have to think about the broad scope of what Scripture teaches. Doing that, we find there’s liberty to speak to our Lord Jesus in prayer just as the apostles did. Our compassionate and loving High Priest stands ready to hear us.
Now please don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that anyone who teaches all or any of those errors is necessarily a wolf in sheep’s clothing. All of us have glorious inconsistencies in our theology. Nevertheless, it’s our responsibility to be discerning and, especially when it comes to soul-comforting doctrines, we want to be sure we’re getting them right. When we get them right, the encouragement and joy we receive aren’t ends in themselves – rather, they bring us to our knees in worship. Our comfort leads to praise for God.