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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

Why so many denominations? Are these differences important? Shouldn’t

Christians be united in love and work as one in preaching the gospel? What’s the
use of theology?

Classify essentials (deity of Christ, the gospel), important (infant baptism, end times) and
trivial issues (how much water in baptism? Should wear tie when preaching? Should I
wear jeans to worship?)

Augustine: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity”

Do you know Stephen Tong or Samuel Ling or Lee Ken Ang? These are some Christian
leaders who teach reformed theology in Asia. What is your impression on their ministry?
What are the strengths and weaknesses? (based on your experience)

Mission and church planting (evangelistic rally), Apologetics (Q&A), Stress on

truth/doctrine (seminary), emphasis on cultural mandate (music, art, architecture,
director, composer, economics, politics), life of the mind (philosophy and world events),
expository preaching (bible), perception of charismatics, worship styles,

Some historical background about 2000 years of Church story: Why know about
history? God’s providence is also our story. Two ways to teach: doctrine & example

1-100 AD: Jesus, Apostles and New Testament church

100 AD onwards: Church Fathers like Clement, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Origen,
Tertullian, Athananasius, Augustine etc
312 AD - Constantine the Roman emperor embraced Christianity.
325 AD – Council of Nicea (Jesus Christ is of the same essence as God the Father)
451 AD – Council of Chalcedon: (Jesus has fully divine and fully human natures)
1054 AD – East and West Church split due to papal supremacy and filioque debate
1517 AD – Luther’s 95 theses (the practice of indulgences “when the coin on the coffer
rings, a soul from purgatory springs!), translated the German Bible, Here I stand so help
me God, priesthood of all believers (clergy are not the only ones called)
Switzerland - Zwingli and John Calvin (model of Geneva, Institutes of Christian
Religion, Presbyterian government of churches, commentaries/sermons)

England – William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, the Anglican Church
emerged, King James Bible, John Knox in Scotland,
Arminius (1560-1609 AD) rejected Calvinism of his teacher Beza, successor of Calvin

The Puritans (escaping persecution founded America, Westminster Confession)

Enlightenment – autonomy of reason and scientific revolution
Great Awakening Revival – George Whitefield (Methodist), Wesley brothers and
Jonathan Edwards (preach gospel in the open, emotions and social activism)
William Carey - missionary to India, Charles Spurgeon (Baptist), George Mueller
(Brethren), Abraham Kuyper (Dutch prime minister, journalist, Free University etc),
Wilberforce (abolish slavery in UK)

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

19th & 20th century: Rise of liberalism (social gospel). J.G. Machen & Cornelius Van Til
– Westminster Seminary came out of Princeton (Presbyterian universities)

Carl Henry (Christianity Today), JI Packer (Anglican who revived interest in Puritans
like John Owen) & Martyn Lloyd Jones (preacher), Francis Schaeffer (L’Abri)

Chinese churches: John Sung (Wesley), Watchman Nee, Wang Ming Tao and Stephen
Tong (Reformed)

Reasons for the Reformation: Who’s Who? What are they reforming?

Political reasons – German princes, England king versus Italian powers

Technological reasons – the printer, return to sources (humanists)
Theological reasons – Sola fide (how can we be saved?) and Sola Scriptura (what is our
ultimate authority in matters of faith/practice?)

The gospel: We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone on the
basis of Scripture alone to the glory of God alone.

Authority: Roman Catholics believe that Scripture can only be correctly interpreted by
the Church officials (papal infallibility) and justification is conferred by baptism, through
faith and grace-infused works.

Bible (interpretation by allegory or literal meaning, in Latin read by priests only or in the
language of people read by everyone? The Good Samaritan parable allegorized)
What is faith? Knowledge, Assent, Trust
Imputed Righteousness versus Infused Righteousness
Justification– declaring the sinner as righteous or making the sinner righteous?
What is Sanctification?
What does the cross accomplish? Propitiation and Expiation
Faith and Good works (Ephesians and James)

Practical implications: What is the gospel? Do all religions teach you to do good? What
should be our response to this gospel? Defending and proclaiming the truth? Gratefulness
for we cannot save ourselves but salvation is all of Christ. If Bible alone is God’s word,
how should we consider if someone claims to be a prophet today? Does the gospel of
grace promote sin? What is our motivation for good works? A rich legacy to follow…

Reformed Church Planting movements

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

Reformed Theology (TULIP)

Why are you a Christian while others are not? What makes all the difference?
Our salvation is due to God’s sovereign grace.

All of us are sinners by nature. If left to our own ability, we will never submit to God.

Practical Application: What benefit does it produce in our lives to believe that God’s
sovereignty decides whom to save?

1. It gives humility for the best of saints. 3. It gives hope for the worst of sinners.
2. It honors the God of glory. 4. It gives help for the cause of missions.

5. It encourages us to pray since God can save whomever He wants too. No hearts are too hard
for God.

6. It gives us a proper understanding of God's amazing grace and love. His love does not
merely make our salvation possible, but works to make it actual. God doesn't barter with people;
He doesn't just offer salvation to those He deeply loves; He makes the offer effectual--He saves

7. It gives us deep, confident security and trust that God will fully accomplish His plan for each
of us. If you are a child of God, you will not fall away but will overcome the world (1 John 5:4).
This frees us to confidently obey and press on through trials!

ONE: A man must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved.
TWO: Every one who repents and believes the gospel will be saved.
THREE: Repentance and faith are the free acts of men.
FOUR: The same Bible that states man must repent and believe in order to be saved also emphatically
states that man, because of his sinful nature, is totally unable to repent and believe.
FIVE: The new birth, or regeneration, is God giving us the spiritual life that enables us to do what we
must do (repent and believe), but CANNOT DO because of our bondage to sin.

Acts 16:14 “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyati'ra, a seller of
purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said
by Paul”. God must open Lydia's heart (or give her spiritual life) so she will be able to believe. Her
natural mind is blind, her natural heart is opposed to God, and her will is bound by sin and spiritual
death. Only the power of God can free her from this graveyard of spiritual depravity. The giving of
this life and power is solely the work of God.

Total Depravity: Of course totally depraved men can be very religious and very philanthropic.
They can pray and give alms and fast but their very religion is rebellion against the Creator, if it
does not come from a childlike heart of trust in the free grace of God. Religion is a way that man
hides his unwillingness to turn from self-reliance and put all his hopes on the unmerited mercy of

The totality of our rebellion is seen in Romans 3:9-10 and 18. "I have already charged that all
men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no not
one; no one seeks for God....There is no fear of God before their eyes." It is a myth that man in
his natural state is genuinely seeking God. Men do seek God. But they do not seek him for who

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

he is. They seek him when in need as one who might preserve them from death or enhance their
worldly enjoyments. Apart from conversion, no one comes to the light of God.

Irresistible Grace: The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the
Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make
his influence irresistible. In John 6:44 Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who
sent me draws him." This drawing is the sovereign work of grace without which no one can be
saved from their rebellion against God. Some may say, "He draws all men, not just some." But
this simply evades the clear implication of the context that the Father's "drawing" is why some
believe and not others.

Specifically, John 6:64-65 says, "'But there are some of you that do not believe.' For Jesus knew
from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. And he
said, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'"
Notice two things: First, notice that coming to Jesus is called a gift. It is not just an opportunity.
Coming to Jesus is "given" to some and not to others. Second, notice that the reason Jesus says
this, is to explain why "there are some who do not believe."

Definite Atonement: The atonement is the work of God in Christ on the cross whereby he
canceled the debt of our sin, appeased his holy wrath against us, and won for us all the benefits of
salvation. The death of Christ was necessary because God would not show a just regard for his
glory if he swept sins under the rug with no recompense.

Romans 3:25-26 says that God "put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood...This was to
demonstrate God's righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former
sins. It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies those who
have faith in Jesus."

We do not deny that all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy
4:10 says that Christ is "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." What we deny is
that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way. All of God's
mercy toward unbelievers—from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the
gospel (John 3:16)—is made possible because of the cross.

This is the implication of Romans 3:25 where the cross is presented as the basis of God's
righteousness in passing over sins. Every breath that an unbeliever takes is an act of God's mercy
withholding judgment (Romans 2:4). Every time the gospel is preached to unbelievers it is the
mercy of God that gives this opportunity for salvation.

Whence does this mercy flow to sinners? How is God just to withhold judgment from sinners
who deserve to be immediately cast into hell? The answer is that Christ's death so clearly
demonstrates God's just abhorrence of sin that he is free to treat the world with mercy without
compromising his righteousness. In this sense Christ is the savior of all men. But he is especially
the Savior of those who believe. He did not die for all men in the same sense. The intention of the
death of Christ for the children of God was that it purchase far more than the rising sun and the

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

opportunity to be saved. The death of Christ actually saves from ALL evil those for whom Christ
died "especially."

There are many Scriptures which say that the death of Christ was designed for the salvation of
God's people, not for every individual. For example: John 10:15, "I lay down my life for the
sheep." The sheep of Christ are those whom the Father draws to the Son. "You do not believe,
because you do not belong to my sheep." Notice: being a sheep enables you to become a believer,
not vice versa. So the sheep for whom Christ dies are the ones chosen by the Father to give to the

Unconditional Election refers to God's choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there
is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and
sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.

We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of
faith in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the
reverse. Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the
world that he purchases our redemption at the cross and quickens us with irresistible grace and
brings us to faith.

Acts 13:48 reports how the Gentiles responded to the preaching of the gospel in Antioch of
Pisidia. "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as
many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Notice, it does not say that as many believed
were chosen to be ordained to eternal life. The prior election of God is the reason some believed
while others did not. Also read Romans 8:28-33.

Perseverance of the saints: The foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called
are justified, and the justified are glorified. No one is lost from this group. To belong to this
people is to be eternally secure.

Our faith must endure to the end if we are to be saved. 2 Timothy 2: ll-l2, "The saying is
sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with
him." Mark 13:13, "But he who endures to the end will be saved."

Obedience, evidencing inner renewal from God, is necessary for final salvation.

God's elect cannot be lost. John 10:26-30, "You do not believe, because you do not belong to
my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them
eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's
hand. I and the Father are one." (See also Ephesians 1:4-5.)

There is a falling away of some believers, but if it persists, it shows that their faith was not
genuine and they were not born of God. (l John 2:l9, "They went out from us, but they were
not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it
might be made plain that they all are not of us." )

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Excerpts taken from

The Sovereignty of God (by Matt Perman)

God's purposes are unstoppable. They cannot Lamentations 3:37, 38
be thwarted and God can do whatever He Amos 3:6
pleases: Acts 17:26-27
Isaiah 46:10; 43:13; 55:11 Daniel 2:21; 4:35
Psalm 33:10, 11; 135:6-10; 115:3 Psalm 139:16
Proverbs 19:21 Ephesians 1:11
Job 42:2 Romans 11:36
Romans 9:19 John 3:27
Hebrews 6:17 Job 12:9-10; 14:5

God is in complete control of everything: God is sovereign over (controls) evil, sin, and
Daniel 1:9; 4:17, 35 calamity without ever being guilty of wrong:
Exodus 11:3 Isaiah 44:18; 45:7; 19:2; 63:17
Proverbs 21:1 Job chapters 1 and 2; see especially Job 1:11-12,
Ezra 1:1 21-22; 2:3, 10 and Job 12:9-10; 42:11
2 Chronicles 20:6 Psalm 105:25
Acts 1:7 Exodus 4:11, 21; 7:2-4, 13, 22; 10:27
Exodus 34:24 Romans 9:17, 18-23
1 Kings 8:57-58 1 Kings 22:19-23
1 Chronicles 29:18-19 1 Chronicles 21:1 with 2 Samuel 24:1
2 Corinthians 8:16 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12
Jeremiah 10:13 Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20
Revelation 17:17; 13:5; 13:7
God determines whatsoever comes to pass: Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27, 28
Proverbs 16:1, 4, 7, 9, 33; 20:24; 21:1 Luke 22:22
Jeremiah 10:23 John 13:27-31; 19:11

"God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and
unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of
sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second
causes taken away, but rather established" -- Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1.

Practical Applications: What benefit does it produce in our lives to believe that God, in His
providence, controls all things?

1. It gives us deep gratitude to God for all good things are from God (Romans 11:36).

2. It keeps us from despair and instead gives us patience and comfort, strength and hope

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

through suffering and adversity. "God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20, NASB) and the worship
of Job: "...and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, `...The Lord gave and the Lord
has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord'" (Job 1:20-21).

3. It causes us to marvel at God's great wisdom because He works all things together for His
glory and His people's good (Romans 8:28)--not just in spite of the opposition but by means of
the opposition. He makes evil backfire and makes satan continually shoot himself in the foot
because when satan intends something for the harm of God's saints, God's intention is to
ultimately benefit them. This is amazing wisdom to praise God for!

4. It gives us joyful trust in God for the future.

5. It frees us to obey with confidence and security--even when obedience appears risky or
"foolish" by the world's standards. Thus, God's providence encourages us into risk-taking
obedience for God's great glory.

6. It gives us deeper trust in God because He will accomplish all of His purposes. None can fail
(see Job 42:2 and Isaiah 46:10).

7. It gives us encouragement and confidence in prayer. For God can do what we ask.

8. It glorifies God. A small view of God lessens the supremacy of God in our hearts.

Objection: “If God is sovereign and He has already decided what will happen, why do anything?
So we can just sit back and do nothing”.

“First we need to understand the difference between fatalism and what is called compatibilism.
Compatibilism is the view that God is absolutely sovereign (as explained above) and yet our
choices have real meaning and we are responsible for them. It is what I believe the Bible teaches,
and is often called "Calvinism." Fatalism, on the other hand, teaches that no matter what you
choose or do, things will turn out the same. For example, if it is determined that Bill will get an
"F" on his test tomorrow, then no mater how hard he studies or how well he knows the material,
he will fail. His choices do not really affect what will happen.

Compatibilism, in contrast to fatalism, says that our choices really do affect the future, and that if
different choices had been made, the future would have been different. On this view, if Bill
doesn't study, he will fail. But if he does study hard, then his studying will be the means that
brings about a good grade. In regards to God's sovereignty, this means that God does not just
ordain the ends (for example, a good grade for Bill) and then say "this will happen no matter
what." No, God also ordains the means to His planned end (for example, God ordains that Bill
will study as the means to the good grade that He decreed). Our decisions are each links in the
chain of means ordained by God to bring about His planned ends. If different decisions had been
made, the consequences would have been different. But God works to ensure that the means He
has ordained will most certainly occur so that none of His purposes can fail. This makes human
decisions truly significant and vital…

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But what if a person tries to use God's sovereignty as an excuse to remain in sin? One could take
God's sovereignty and (mis)apply it this way. That would be sin. But just because a teaching can
be misapplied does not make it false. See Romans 6:1-2 for how Paul would respond to such a
misapplication of truths. A person could decide to not seek God or not obey Him because
"everything is up to Him anyway." But does that make indifference and passivity the logical
outcome of believing in God's sovereignty? Couldn't belief in God's sovereignty be taken just as
easily in the other direction and be properly applied to encourage zealous obedience instead of
indifferent fatalism? Since we must make a choice either to live righteously or live sinfully, on
what basis can one say that God's sovereignty leads logically to a choice of human
laziness/sinfulness instead of a choice for human godliness?

Instead of saying "God is sovereign, therefore I will not bother to seek Him and do righteousness"
one could with equal logical consistency say "God is sovereign, therefore I will zealously obey
Him at all times because I know He will most certainly bless my obedience with great fruit. And I
know that He will victoriously uphold me with His strength and perseverance since He is not only
in control but also a holy, merciful God who loves righteousness." One path or the other will be
chosen. We cannot not choose.”

What is The Cultural Mandate?

Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: "Be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." The first phrase, "be fruitful and multiply"
means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments,
laws. The second phrase, "subdue the earth," means to harness the natural world: plant
crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called
the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures,
build civilizations-nothing less. (Nancey Pearcey, Total Truth)

Abraham Kuyper, Dutch PM: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our
human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,does not cry: 'Mine!'"

A graphic designer friend of mine was once told by well-meaning folks in church that he
should not be involved in three types of jobs: an artist (due to widespread worldly
temptation), a politician (because it’s ‘dirty’) or a lawyer (to avoid the lure of wealth).

Sometimes it seems like there is a caste system of spiritual work with missionaries and
pastors at the top, followed by people-helping professionals (like doctors, teachers,
nurses) and, in descending order, “barely-religious” jobs (such as lawyers, politicians and
jazz musicians) close to the bottom! Although my friend enjoys doing creative special
effects for movies, he can’t shake off the guilt that it is something unspiritual, if not
explicitly sinful. He lives in two separate “worlds”, shifting from an ordinary life as an
“artist” on weekdays to a religious life as a Christian on Sundays. He feels like having a
“split personality”.

We often talk about work being valuable only as a platform that opens up opportunities to
share the gospel. Indeed witness should take place naturally in the context of

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relationships in offices, factories and cafeteria. However, our labor itself has intrinsic
God-honoring significance and dignity. It is not just a material necessity to put food on
the table.

CREATION: At the very beginning, God Himself rolled up His sleeves and worked
creatively to get the universe up and running. (Genesis 1:1) Then He graciously gave
Adam and Eve their first job description as His partners in eco-management - ruling,
caring and stewarding the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). As Marvin Wrong wrote, “Without a
human cultivator, every field and garden degenerates into wilderness. In other words, it’s
only Eden if you have a gardener. Without one, what you have is the Amazon”. Work
itself is designed as part of God’s good gift of creation, not a curse.

FALL: But due to sin, work is not always fulfilling or rewarding (Genesis 3:18). It is
often characterized by abuses like overwork, shirk, bribery, office politics and
exploitation of others. In this fallen world, we often struggle to maintain our ethical
convictions and personal integrity in the face of evil. Yet when Christ came to redeem us
from sin, He did not abandon the creation for otherworldly pursuits. His kingdom extends
not only to a private corner called ‘religion’ but to every facet of public life as well.
Instead, we will have resurrected bodies in the new heaven and new earth where
everything is more real than before. We won’t “lepak” around playing harps in floating
clouds, but would enjoy sanctified work as meaningful expression of who God made us
to be. Therefore, as His followers, the rhythm of work and rest in our lives today ought to
give out hints of what that future redeemed world looks like.

REDEMPTION: Perhaps, we could start with the conviction that all Christians are
gifted and called to be “full-time workers” for the Kingdom in the world. That doesn’t
mean that all Christians should escape “secular” work to join “sacred” ministry. But it
does mean that if you are a software designer, you are an “ordained software designer”.
You have been summoned by God to serve Him in that specific sphere of activity. Or, if
you are an “ordained lawyer”, you are called to prayerfully explore how your discipline
shows signs of rebellion against or submission to Christ’s Lordship. An “ordained
environmentalist” ought to read the Scripture not just devotionally, but actively apply the
biblical mandate for creation care in his work.

Whatever our vocation, we need to learn to think and live “Christianly” in areas specific
to what we are called to do – media, education, politics, business or the arts. In humility
and boldness, we should creatively integrate the biblical worldview with our occupations.
It is not easy in practice. Ultimately, every single job (even missionaries!) has its unique
challenges in the form of temptations, ‘dirty’ politics and/or money. That’s why we are
“in but not of the world”. With God’s grace and other Christ-disciples, we could embrace
a congruent, integrated and holistic “faith that works” (James 2:22). Don’t settle for a
fragmented existence torn between the secular and sacred “worlds”.

Reformation: Prior to Luther, vocation/calling typically referred to a special calling to

religious life, as a priest or as a member of a vowed order. Such a vocation was
understood as a higher calling, set over against life in the household and in civil society.

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Luther’s understanding of the gospel as God’s free gift led him to reject monastic life as
an expression of a higher and more meritorious calling. He also rejected the division
between sacred and secular spheres in the medieval church’s understanding of calling. In
so doing, Luther broadened the concept of vocation from a narrow ecclesiastical focus to
describe the life and work of all Christians in response to God’s call. Luther insisted that
“every occupation has its own honor before God, as well as its own requirements and
duties.” “Just as individuals are different, so their duties are different; and in accordance
with the diversity of their callings, God demands diverse works of them.” (by Kathryn

Application: How do we compete for people’s time to do ‘church work’? How do we

equip people to go out there and do God’s work? How do you apply Creation-Fall-
Redemption to your work or passions or hobbies? For more resources, check out

The Glory of God in the Problem of Evil

Atheists often argue against God's existence from the problem of evil. Their argument goes as follows: If
God is all loving, He would have prevented evil from entering the universe; if God is all powerful, He
could have prevented evil; evil exists, therefore there is no such God.

On the contrary, I will argue as follows: If God is all loving, He would allow evil to enter the universe; If
God is all powerful, He could allow evil without being guilty of evil Himself, and He could make evil work
for the greatest good; therefore we have great reason to praise the God who exists!

Clarifying the issue

There are two errors that must be avoided concerning the problem of evil. The first error would be to
believe that God is the source of evil. This terrible error would blame God for evil and hold that evil was
produced by God out of His own nature. The second error would be to believe that evil occurred apart from
God's sovereign plan. This position would hold that evil entered the universe because God was helpless to
prevent it, and thus it overthrew the purposes of God. The position the Scriptures seem to teach is that
mankind is to be blamed for and is the source of evil, while nonetheless the entrance of evil into the
universe was ordained by God as part of God's plan from the beginning. God could have prevented evil
from entering into the universe had He desired to, but chose not to prevent it for wise and holy reasons.

Let's probe this issue a little further. God is not the author of evil because He created the universe good. In
its original state, there was nothing evil or sinful in the universe. Evil first entered God's creation as a result
of the disobedience of the angels who rebelled. Evil then entered the physical universe and human race as a
result of mankind's sin in Adam. God is not the source of evil or sin; evil is a result of the disobedience of
God's creatures. For these reasons, God cannot be blamed for the existence of evil--all responsibility for the
presence of sin and evil in the human race falls upon mankind. All responsibility for the presence of evil in
the spiritual realm falls upon the angels who rebelled.

But in order to have the full picture, we cannot stop here and conclude that God was powerless to prevent
evil. Since God is sovereign and He "works out everything in conformity with the counsel of His will"
(Ephesians 1:11), none of His purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Therefore we must conclude that evil
did not occur apart from the purpose and plan of God. The ultimate reason that evil occurred is because
God planned it, not because His creatures are able to overthrow His plans. These two truths we must hold

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together even if we cannot fully understand how they fit: man is responsible, yet God is absolutely
sovereign and controls all things.

Last of all it is necessary to understand that evil is not permanent. It was defeated at the cross and will be
quarantined in hell for eternity at the final judgement. Then God will create a new heavens and new earth
where only righteousness and purity will dwell forever.

A loving God would allow evil

We are now in a position to ask the question, Why did God willingly choose to allow evil into the universe?
How is this consistent with His love? Without claiming to exhaust the mystery here, I offer this answer:
God allowed evil because the temporary presence of evil in the universe would result in the greatest glory
to His name. And since God's glory is what most benefits His people, it is loving for God to seek His glory
to the highest extent in all that He does. Therefore it is loving for God to allow the temporary presence of
evil in the universe. Let's examine these points more closely.

Those whom God has chosen for mercy He loves to the fullest possible extent (John 13:1). Thus, God seeks
to fully reveal the greatness of His glory upon them. The glory of God is the shining forth of the splendor
and greatness and infinite value of His perfect character. When God glorifies Himself, He is not making
Himself more glorious (that is impossible), but calling attention to and displaying His infinite greatness.
How does evil seem to fit into God's plan to glorify Himself? Part of the answer seems to be this: many of
God's attributes can be more clearly and brightly displayed to us if there is sin and therefore evil in the

Mercy revealed
For example, God's mercy is His goodness and help shown to those who are in a miserable plight. But God
could not show mercy if there was no sin and evil in the universe, because then there would be no one in a
miserable plight to need mercy.

Mercy highlighted
In addition, the greatness of God's mercy is highlighted by the fact that those whom God chooses for His
saving mercy are saved out from the most awful and terrifying situation possible--being under the almighty
wrath of God. Dr. Daniel Fuller asks us this question: "How could God's mercy appear fully as his great
mercy unless it was extended to people who were under his wrath and therefore could only ask for
mercy?"[1] God's mercy is magnified by delivering us from under His wrath.

Mercy eternally magnified by being set in contrast to wrath

Furthermore, "It would be impossible for them to share with God the delight He has in his mercy unless
they saw clearly the awfulness of the almighty wrath from which his mercy delivers them."[2] Therefore,
God prepares not only vessels of mercy, but also vessels of wrath so that the vessels of mercy can fully see
and understand the awfulness of the wrath they have been rescued from. For all eternity, God's mercy will
be placed against the backdrop of His wrath in order to fully magnify and display the greatness of His
mercy. Through this those who are chosen for mercy can fully share with God the delight He has in His
mercy and fully praise Him for what He has done for them.

God's justice, wrath, power, and holiness more fully displayed

So we see that in the just punishment of sinners, God's mercy is fully highlighted to those whom He
chooses to save. The punishment of sinners (which could not have happened if God had not allowed evil) is
also an occasion for God to glorify Himself through the vindication of His justice, demonstration of His
wrath, display of His power, and purity of His holiness which will not tolerate sin. This also works to
reveal the riches of God's glory to the vessels of mercy: "What if God, in order to demonstrate His wrath
and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And
He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He
prepared beforehand for glory..." (Romans 9:22, 23, RSV. cf. Proverbs 16:4, "The Lord has made
everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil").

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God's wrath and holiness are related. The wrath of God is the righteous assertion of His holiness against
sin. If we could not see that God is so holy that He hates sin and thus reacts against it with His wrath, we
would not know as fully the purity and zeal of God's holiness. For only in contrast to sin (and thus His
holiness reacting against this sin as wrath to vindicate His righteousness) is the purity of God's holiness
most intensely highlighted. If there were no sin upon which God could pour His wrath eternally, He could
not assert the full range of His holiness because He could not show that, in His holiness, He hates and
despises all that is unholy.

Hell makes the infinite value of God's glory crystal clear

God's judging of sin and reacting in wrath to punish it eternally in hell demonstrates the infinite value of
His perfections. Why? Because the infinite penalty of attacking God's glory--eternal punishment in hell--
reveals the infinite value of the glory that was attacked. Thus, hell is ultimately an eternal display of the
infinite value of God's glory. While this certainly does not mean that God delights in the sinner's suffering
in and of itself, He does delight in it in the sense that it is a vindication of His righteousness and display of
His power. This is how Ezekiel 33:11 ("I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked") fits with
Deuteronomy 28:63 (where God tells Israel that if they disobey He "will delight over you to make you
perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it").

A loving and righteous God would most magnify His worth

Having seen that God's decision to allow sin was for the purpose of fully displaying the greatness of His
perfections to an extent that He could not otherwise have done, we are led to look at the next question in
greater detail: Why must God display the full range of His character?

This is because doing so most magnifies His worth. If God did not display, for example, His mercy, then He
would not be fully magnifying His character because there would be some of His character that is not
expressed. And if God did not magnify His character to the fullest possible extent, God would not be acting
in perfect righteousness. Why is this? It is because God is the most precious, valuable being in the universe.
Therefore, He must delight in and value Himself above anything else. From this it follows that if God did
not seek to display His honor and perfections above all else, He would not be placing infinite worth on
what is infinitely valuable. He would be putting something before Himself, which would mean putting
something less valuable before the more valuable, which would be unrighteous.

Why it is loving for God to magnify His worth

In fully displaying His glory (which, we have seen, requires sin), God is being most loving. Why? First, if
He did not do this, we would not know Him "fully, just as I also have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13). Put
simply, we wouldn't know God as well if He did not display who He is to the fullest possible extent. And it
seems that it would be most loving for God let us know as much of Himself as He can.

Also, it is truly loving of God to seek His praise to the highest possible extent (which, as we have seen,
would require the brilliance of His mercy highlighted by demonstrating His wrath). Why is this? In our
lives, there is a pattern that we see: We tend to praise what we prize. Enjoyment of something overflows
into praise. Go to a great movie sometime, and when you leave the theater, what are you usually talking
with your friends about? How great the movie is! You are praising it. It also seems as if our enjoyment of
something is not complete unless we are able to praise it. If your friends said, "Be quiet, I don't want to hear
about it," your enjoyment of the movie would not be complete. So praise is necessary for full, complete

If God did not seek His praise from us then our enjoyment of Him would not be made full -- it would be
incomplete since it wouldn't overflow into praise. The way for God to win the most praise from us is to
fully display His character. So if God wants us to fully enjoy Him and prize Him, He must seek His own
praise through us so that our enjoyment of Him will overflow into praise and complete our joy. John Piper
summarizes these truths well: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." So even in
our enjoyment (and resulting praise) God is glorified. Thus, God seeking our good and God seeking His
praise are really one and the same pursuit, since our good/joy yields praise to His name.

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The sovereign freedom of God

Further, in order for us to truly value God's great mercy and gift of eternal life, it is good for Him to
highlight the unconditional freedom He has in bestowing mercy. His unconditional freedom makes it
absolutely clear that He owes mercy to no one. If everyone got saved, He could not show His unconditional
freedom in showing mercy and it might seem as if we were entitled to salvation. If you think you are
entitled to something, it is hard to see it as a free, undeserved gift. And it is hard to be grateful and thankful
for it if you think it is owed to you. God's freedom in mercy rebukes our sense of entitlement and thus
evokes gratitude.

Exodus 33 declares the sovereign freedom of God in showing mercy. In this chapter, Moses asks to see
God's glory. God says (among other things) that He will show His glory and that "I will have mercy on
whom I will have mercy." This is a Hebrew expression called idem per idem which stresses the absolute
freedom of the agent in doing the action--He can do it however He wants, constrained by nothing outside of
himself.[3] Thus, God is saying that one aspect of His glory is absolute freedom to grant mercy constrained
by no reason that is outside of His own will. He will give mercy in whatever way He wants. Then God says
that He will pass by Moses and proclaim His "name." To the Hebrews, one's name was who they were. It
was your very identity. When God proclaimed His name, He said that He was "abounding in
lovingkindness and mercy." So one aspect of God's character, His glory, is that He is merciful. But this also
draws us back to 33:19--where it says that God is absolutely free in His bestowal of this mercy. Thus, it is
God's glory and essence to be absolutely free in His giving us mercy by not being constrained by anything
outside of His own will. His will alone determines who gets mercy, and therefore His mercy is

If God gave mercy to all, it seems that He would not be displaying that His essence is to be absolutely free
in giving mercy. And as we've said, God's freedom in giving mercy rebukes our entitlement and evokes
gratitude, thus causing us to value heaven as a true gift of grace. Lastly, as we saw earlier, in order for there
to be mercy, there must be people in a miserable plight to need it, which requires sin.


Thus, we have seen how God's love and goodness would cause Him to allow evil into the universe, for in
due time this will lead to truly the best of all possible worlds where God's attributes are most displayed,
God is most glorified, and eternity is truly valued. Perhaps some may be troubled by the fact that even evil,
in the long range, results in glory to God. It may be troubling to think that such a terrible thing as evil was
permitted by God for His glory. But look at the other option--that evil ultimately worked to defeat the glory
of God. Wouldn't evil truly have the upper hand if God was unable to overrule it for His greatest glory and
His people's greatest good?

Free Book: Suffering And The Sovereignty of God

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

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An Introduction: What Is Reformed Theology?

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err

And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain. (Hymn by William Cowper)

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