The Bible doesn't picture the church as a church building that is put up somewhere. Rather, the church is portrayed as a community of people who assemble to worship God in holy love and godly fear, with singing, calling upon and confessing His name, reading and listening to Scripture, preaching and administering the sacraments. The Old Testament term for the church, the congregation of the Lord, expresses the idea of community.
The church is not merely a community of people who happen to think alike on matters of religious experience. But the church is a community of people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! They are people who believe all that the Bible says concerning His Person and work and who trust in Him as their Saviour and Lord.
The New Testament word for church is ecclesia, which literally means "called out." The church is a community of people whom the Lord has called out, meaning that in a certain sense He has called them out of the world. They are living in the world, but they have been set apart from the godless life of the world to live as God's people in the world. The church belongs to Christ. Its life revolves around Him. It exists because of Him and for Him. Everything it is and does has its focus and object in Him.
The Bible does not picture the church as a human institution, but as a divine institution. The Bible describes the church from three points of view:
(i) the people of God - fruit of His election and everlasting love [1 Peter 2:10];(ii) the body of Christ - fruit of His atoning sacrifice on the cross [Ephesians 4:12]; and(iii) the temple of the!Holy Spirit - guided by His teaching [Ephesians 2:22].
The church consists of men, women and children called by God the Father into the fellowship of His Son and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
The church is not a voluntary society that a person may join and leave again at his pleasure. Rather, the church is one of the works of the Lord. The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ purchased the church with His blood. It is being built upon this rock (Matthew 16:18) and the church is one of the provisions of the Lord with respect to our salvation. The church is not simply a voluntary gathering of believers, but it is the Lord Who is gathering His people. In Hebrews 10:25 He explicitly forbids "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together". He commands His covenant people to assemble in order to come to know and grow in the knowledge of Him and His salvation.
We believe that the Bible teaches that the children of believers are members of the church. That was the case in the Old Testament, it is also the case in the New Testament. At the beginning of the New Testament church, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:39), we find that the title-deeds of its covenant life ensure a covenant status for children of New Testament believers. Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 7:14 the Apostle Paul writes that children of believers are holy. The primary meaning of the word holy is "to be set apart to God." It was used, for example, of Israel, in the sense of their being a people set apart for Him. They were a "holy" people, not because every individual among them was regenerated in heart, but because they were set apart by the covenant of grace for a holy purpose among the nations of the earth.
Paul writes that if even only one of the parents is a believer, the children are "set apart to God" by virtue of the faith of the believing parent. Paul is not teaching that the children of such a marriage are "saved," but he says that by the faith and church membership of one parent they are set apart. Think also of the place the apostle Paul gives to children in Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20. The children of believing parents, by virtue of belonging to the believing community and given the sign and seal of the covenant, are to be taught their covenant obligations of faith and repentance. 'This occurs through their covenant privileges such as receiving a Christian upbringing and parental instruction and further education through faithful preaching of the Word, Sunday school, catechism classes, youth bible study groups, all teaching them that the Lord is seeking and calling them. It is for this reason that we make provision for their instruction in the promises and the demands of the covenant of grace.
Our Form for Baptism states that baptism teaches:
(i) the necessity of being born again, since without it we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven;
(ii) the possibility of being born again, since that which is impossible with men, is possible with God; and
(iii) the promise of being born again (Ezekiel 36:26,27), on which we may and must plead for its fulfilment.
The Lord has given the church a vital task to perform in connection with man's salvation. He calls the church to the work of evangelism in the community where it is located and beyond. Moved, therefore, by the misery of the lost people around us and the glory and command of the Gospel, we wish to bring the message of the Gospel to people in our community and to those on mission fields. We desire to invite outsiders, such as our neighbours and other unbelievers, to assemble with us to hear the Gospel. We desire that in this way men and women, young people and children, may come to know and believe in the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent.
The members of the church need to come to know and believe in the triune God. This applies to those who are nominal believers, as well as to the children of the believers who must yet come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once they have come to that saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, there must be further ministry of the Word. In Ephesians 4:11f. Paul writes that the Lord gave pastors and teachers to the church "for the perfecting of the saints, ... for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a Perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
The growth and edification of those who have come to a saving union with the Lord Jesus Christ takes place in the fellowship of the church. We do not grow in isolation. We depend on what is supplied by every part of the body when it works effectually. We desire to be a living, Biblically-conformed and organized Christian church in which the redeemed members may thrive and flourish and rejoice in what the Lord has done for them.
We hold to a high view of the Bible. The Scriptures do not merely contain the Word of God; they are the Word of God.
We regard the Scriptures as the revelation of God and His infallible Word. "All scripture," every text of Scripture, has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, "and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Spirit kept the Bible writers from error and ensured they wrote precisely what God wanted them to write. The Bible is totally true and trustworthy. God gave the Bible to the church to give clear direction on all matters of faith and life for every period of time. Our ears must therefore always be open to the Bible's summons to repentance, faith, worship, obedience, and perseverance. Therefore, the church can be recognized by its faithful declaration and obedient receiving of the Scriptures as the Word of God.
The true church is distinguished, first of all, by the pure preaching of God's Word. Preaching is to proclaim the whole Word of God, the character of God triune, the Creator, His creation, man's fall into sin and the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. True preaching proclaims the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. It declares the whole counsel of God. The cross lies at the heart of the Gospel, but the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit are an integral part. Preaching should contain the following truths:
(1) God is the Creator, man His creature, and the world His creation. God as Creator has an absolute claim on us (Genesis 1,2; Isaiah 40:12ff.). We believe that the days in the creation account in Genesis 1, are twenty-four hour days.
(2) The fall into sin and the plight of man must be proclaimed. Man's plight is that he is under the guilt of sin (Romans 5:12, 15-19), is polluted by sin (Mark 7:18ff), and is in bondage to sin (John 8:34) and to Satan (John 8:44). Moreover, man's plight is that as a result of sin he is in the state of death (Ephesians 2:1), and his heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9; Hebrews 3:13). He also is subject to God's wrath (Romans 1:18ff) and condemnation (Ezekiel 18:20). Furthermore, his plight is that he is unable to improve himself in God's sight (Romans 8:7ff).We believe that the preaching of the Gospel involves proclamation of the judgment of God upon sin. It means to preach with power, earnestness, and passion the demands and sanctions of the law of God. Before the fall into sin, in the garden of Eden, there also was a covenant relationship of God with man, usually called the covenant of works. Before the fall into sin, God tested Adam and Eve. He had commanded Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Adam was the head, the representative of the human race (Romans 5:12ff). If Adam had obeyed the command of the Lord perfectly, he and in him the whole human race, would have lived forever. The devil, speaking through a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve. They willfully disobeyed and fell under the penal sanctions of the covenant of works: temporal and eternal death.
(3) God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wicked way and live (Ezekiel 33:11). For that purpose He has condescended to conic to fallen man by way of a covenant, the covenant of grace.
In this covenant the Lord God committed Himself to the believers and their seed in a way in which He does not commit Himself to others. The covenant promise is: I will be your God and the God of your seed (Genesis 17:7). This God-given covenant of grace carries the obligations of faith and repentance, and new obedience to which faith leads. In Hebrews 8:6 Jesus Christ is called the Mediator of this covenant relationship. The Gospel promises offer Christ and His benefits to sinners and oblige them to embrace the covenant by faith in Jesus Christ.
Holy baptism (corresponding to circumcision in the Old Testament) and the Lord's Supper (corresponding to the Passover in the Old Testament) are signs and seals of the promises of this covenant.
(4) After the fall into sin God immediately was pleased to seek and comfort man with the Gospel promise of a covering for sin through the victory of the woman's seed, His Son (Article 17, Belgic Confession of Faith), over the serpent and his evil.God's Son became incarnate for us and obtained our salvation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered, bled and died on the cross for the sins of His people and satisfied the demands of God's justice in our stead. He rose again on the third (lay according to the Scriptures. We believe that He is coming again in glory at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. We believe the future physical resurrection of the dead
(5) Forgiveness of sins and new life are ours by the grace of God through faith in the risen Saviour. We are justified by faith alone. The faith and repentance to which the Gospel summons is not a meritorious work. On the contrary, true faith does not look to works, but rests in Christ alone. True faith stretches out empty hands to lay hold of the Saviour and His salvation. We must embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in His whole mediatorial office, as Prophet (to teach us the way of salvation), Priest (to wash us in His blood), and King (to govern us by His Word and Spirit). The Lord summons us to "mortify" (put to death) our sins through the Spirit (Romans 8:13) and to consecrate ourselves to Him and His service. We can only do this by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All our strength for mortification and holiness must be drawn from Him by faith and prayer, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5ff).
(6) Faith and repentance, justification and sanctification are results of divine election. If we are saved, we owe it to the election of God. Election flows from the love of God (Ephesians 1:4,5); it is not the result of divine wrath but of divine compassion. Election is unto salvation (Romans 8:29-30), and it is unconditional. It is not based upon foreseen faith and repentance of the sinner, but is grounded in God's sovereign, good pleasure. Election is in Christ (chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4). That does not mean that we are elected because we are in Christ. We are in Christ only by faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God according to His electing purpose. Neither does it mean that in Christ all men are elect. The Bible does not teach universal salvation. Every true believer will be saved, but not everybody is a believer and not everyone was chosen for salvation.The elect were chosen sovereignty, but the non-elect are not condemned sovereignty. They are condemned for their sin. In the Bible reprobation is a passing by. God is the Author of the faith, repentance, holiness and perseverance of the elect. But He is not the cause or Author of unbelief, sin and corruption in those who perish. There is an effectual calling to faith and repentance; there is no effectual calling to unbelief and impenitence.
(7) God's purpose in saving believers is their sanctification to His glory. The high and holy vocation with which believers are called (Ephesians 4:1) is to be transformed more and more in mind, heart and life, into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:2). Preaching is to stress that the goal of grace is the glory and praise of God, and that our salvation is a means to that end. We are to live in the presence of God and enjoy His fellowship, displaying a character and behaviour which corresponds in a responsive way to the holiness of God Himself. God's Word speaks about a transformation in us with the result that we will love God our Saviour, His law and His ways.We may not separate God's law from God Himself. In the Ten Commandments God tells us what actions He hates and what behaviour He requires and desires to see. The actions God hates are unfaithfulness and irreverence against Him and the dishonouring and harming of our neighbour. God requires us to flee these evils, to actively love Him Who made and redeemed us, and to love our neighbours whom He also made, as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).We are to realize that God made us to live in society; in the communities of family, church, state, business, and culture. In the Ten Commandments the Lord God shows His purpose for society-a God-fearing community, marked by true worship and an unqualified respect for marriage, family, human life, property and private ownership, and for truth and honesty in all relationships.
(8) In the preaching we must regard the congregation as it is in reality, namely, as covenant congregation of the Lord. The Lord addresses the congregation as "My son, My daughter", "My people", "My sheep", "children of the kingdom", "branches on the vine". The Lord has brought about this relationship through His Word, and He claims the congregation with His promises and demands. The preaching addresses the congregation in this relationship but makes clear that being a member of the covenant of grace is not yet being a believer. The preaching precisely declares that this relationship should not be taken for granted but rather that "except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The preaching seeks to bring the members of the covenant of grace to realize that we must and may and can be radically renewed in accordance with the covenant. As this preaching is applied to the heart it makes room for Christ as Surety of the covenant. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith makes reference to "hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it." It also makes reference to "the marks of Christians; namely...faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Saviour, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof." To be sure, there "remain in them great infirmities, but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge on the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ..."
The true church is also distinguished by the fact that it administers the sacraments according to the institution of Christ. Christ instituted two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. He instituted the Lord's Supper in the night in which He was betrayed (Luke 22:19, 20). He instituted baptism on the eve of His ascension (Matthew 28:19, 20).
The New Testament portrays the church as administering these two sacraments. Men and women were admitted to the Christian congregation upon confession of faith followed by the sacrament of baptism, and they were nourished by the Lord's Supper. We desire to be of the same mind. To us the sacraments are means of grace having a real although not an automatic efficacy.
In baptism God makes visible that He deals with us by way of His promises. How are we saved? We are saved by receiving God's promises. By nature we are sinners. We are saved by God coming to us with His promises and teaching us to embrace the promises of God. That is what we read in Hebrews 11. The patriarchs saw God's promises and embraced them (verse 13). That is the way of salvation! God says to sinners: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
We must learn to embrace that promise. That promise is not only for individuals or parents, but also for our children. God says to believing parents: I will be a God to you and to your children after you. (Genesis 17:7). As we embrace that promise by faith we are also strengthened by the sign and seal of the promise being administered to our children.
To be sure, baptism does not wash away sins, but it is a sign and a seal of the promise of the washing away of our sins. Baptism does not bring about union with Christ, but baptism is a sign and a seal of the promise of union with Christ (Romans 6:3-6). We can also say that baptism does not only signify and seal the promise of God's saving work for us, through Jesus' death and resurrection, but also the promise of our becoming partakers of it through repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). In baptism the Lord promises and requires conversion.
(2) The Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper is also a means of grace. That is, it is a means ordained by God, signifying, sealing, and conveying to believers the promise of Christ and the benefits of His redemption.
The Lord's Supper derives effectiveness from Christ. It is only by His power that the Lord's Supper sanctifies and edifies. We may also say that it: derives effectiveness through the Holy Spirit. Apart from the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord's Supper remains but a bare sign. The Lord's Supper is effective only through faith. That is, it is by faith that we appropriate and embrace Christ as He is represented in the Supper. Only in and through faith are we edified. It is effective only there where there is a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness.
In the Lord's Supper the Lord assures us of His love. In the death of Christ He exhibits and proclaims to us the boundless love of Him Who did not spare "His own Son but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). Moreover, in the Lord's Supper He ministers peace to our conscience. He declares that the blood of Christ has been shed for the remission of sins, that. our iniquity has been covered and God has been reconciled.
Through the Lord's Supper as a means of grace, He nourishes and supports our spiritual and heavenly life (Article 35 Belgic Confession). By presenting the fundamentals of the Gospel, the Lord draws out our faith, hope and love to greater expression and active exercise. He imparts joy. We rejoice in communion with the Redeemer Who was dead but is now alive forever more. With this blessing of God, through faith, the remembrance of the death of the Son of God helps us to die to sin, to mortify our flesh, to destroy the works of the devil, and enables us to live to righteousness and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices in response to His divine mercy.
We do not say that the sacraments are indispensable either to the initiation or the maintenance of spiritual life. The preaching of the Word is indispensable for both these ends (Romans 10:17). Nevertheless, we are not at liberty to neglect the sacraments. No believer may take the liberty to live without them. With regard to the Lord's Supper, every believer is under the obligation of Luke 22:19b: "This do in remembrance of Me."
Thirdly, a true church administers discipline. In accordance with the Word of God, the church regulates admission to the ministry of the church. It regulates who is to be baptized and who has admission to the Lord's table. We consider church discipline to be remedial and medicinal, intended to restore offenders and produce a sound, healthy church life. But it can also be punitive and surgical. The honour of God is at stake, as is the health of the church. The church admonishes members when they fall into sin, censures them when they continue in sin. The church excommunicates those guilty of scandalous violations of Biblical teaching and Christian principles of conduct when they do not show the least token of true repentance.
We may not censure simply because individuals have done something of which we or our traditions disapprove. We must be sure that there is a clear violation of the Word of God. Our prayer and hope is that by means of discipline the offending brother or sister may be brought to repentance and restored to a right relation to God and his neighbour.
We realize that there are Christians who are opposed to the very idea of a creed. For them, "the Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of a Christian!" Such an assertion, however, is in itself already a creedal affirmation. The thing to remember is that a creed is always to be subordinate to Scripture. For us Scripture is the supreme standard and our creeds insist on this very emphatically.
Article V of the Belgic Confession of Faith states that "we receive ... only the books of the Bible as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith." The creeds are not intended to take the place of Scriptures. Neither are they intended to revise or improve what Scripture says.
As Free Reformed Churches we fully subscribe to the three creeds of the early church:
(i) the Apostles' Creed (+-150 A.D.);
(ii) the Nicene Creed (381 A.D.); and
(iii) the Athanasian Creed (500 A.D.).
We also fully subscribe to three of the historic Reformed creeds:
(i) the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561);
(ii) the Heidelberg Catechism (1563); and
(ii) the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).
We believe that these latter three, called the Three Forms of Unity, in all respects agree with the Word of God.
Why do we subscribe to them and why do we regard them as necessary to a well-ordered church?
(i)A creedal statement is of great usefulness as an instrument in the work of instruction. The Heidelberg Catechism has been the means by which the young have been instructed in the truth of God's Word.(ii)A creed is necessary because it acts as a symbol of unity for those who are joined together by a common faith. We are united, not merely by a vague respect for Scripture, but by a deep-rooted commitment to a common understanding of its message.Our creeds are a declaration of the doctrines which we hold in common.(iii)We wish to support one another in confessing, defending and maintaining these doctrines.(iv)We repudiate the distortions of truth for which some claim the support of Scripture.
In our creeds we affirm the sovereignty of our God and the deity and real and perfect humanity of Christ. We assert the total depravity of man, the sacrificial death of Christ as substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, sovereign election, and sovereign grace. We confess the consubstantial deity and authentic personalness of the Holy Spirit who makes us partakers of the righteousness and holiness of Christ. (LD 20 Heidelberg Catechism) We believe what the Bible says about heaven and hell. Scripture requires that on these doctrines we may not tolerate ambiguity nor compromise.
In our creeds we express our firm conviction that the church is to administer the sacraments of Christ's own appointment - namely, baptism and the Lord's Supper-and to do so in the manner He commanded.
We realize that our creeds contain doctrines about which the universal church of Christ is deeply divided, for example, the question of infant baptism. We believe that Scripture requires the believers and their infants to be baptized. We wish to take our allegiance to the Scriptures very seriously at this point. We therefore confess this in our creeds. We do not wish to say about those who disagree with us on this that they are not true believers, but we do believe that the Lord in His Word teaches that believers and their children ought to be baptized.
We desire to have unity with all those who distinctly declare that in all things they wish to be gathered as churches in accordance with God's Word and the Reformed Confessions. Christ prayed for the unity of the church (John 17) and we are enjoined to be concerned about and actively interested in it. The one thing that is more important than the unity of the church is the truth itself for which the church exists, so that where there is a conflict of interests, truth takes precedence over unity.
We consider the local congregation to be a manifestation of the body of Christ. Christ Himself is present there with the fullness of His grace and power, as is expressed in Matt. 18:20. It is there, under the preaching of the Gospel, that sins are forgiven and sinners comforted and guided. It is there, that God's people grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, we do not wish to practice local independence. The New Testament sometimes uses the word "church" for a local congregation. At other times the New Testament uses the word "church" to point to the unity which there is among various local churches, for example, in a certain area. We believe it is right for Christian congregations to associate and unite under a common government.
This has been the conviction of our fathers in the past. For example, in 1571, during a time of persecution, delegates of a large number of Reformed churches scattered in Germany and the Netherlands came together in a Synod at Emden (Germany). They strove for the greatest possible unity among the churches for the maintenance and growth of the churches in general or also some in particular, and that they may especially warn one another concerning heretics, schismatics ... and other such dangerous people so that the churches can be on guard against such. They expressed unity in faith and in doctrine.
Thus we as Free Reformed Churches have come together in a form of ecclesiastical co-operation. We have expressed unity in the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and in doctrine.
We also have agreed on a curriculum for the training of ministers. We have agreed on principles in regard to admission to the ministry and the meaning and mode of ordination.
Each local congregation is engaged in the work of evangelism, but as federation we also are engaged in concerted evangelism and common foreign mission work.
Furthermore, we have provided for redress for individual members who are or feel they are wronged by injustices in a local congregation.
We desire to be church in a church-orderly way, in which we acknowledge Christ as the only Head of His church and desire to honour the apostolic injunction that in the churches all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Our Church Order has been drafted for a church that desires to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church Order is pastoral. It wishes to work in a spiritual way. Hence our Church Order calls for gathering together on the Lord's Day (Sunday) for "at least" two worship services, in which the Word of God shall be preached.
Our Church Order insists that spiritual guidance be provided by the preaching, but also by the labours of the consistory or church council (minister, elders, deacons), and synod. The elders are to oversee the preaching: that it be done fully in accordance with the Word of God. They also are to visit regularly the families of the church to inquire into the spiritual wellbeing and growth of the members, to speak about the right use of the sacrament of baptism, to solemnly guard the Lord's table against an unfaithful and careless life, and to rebuke those members who live in open sin.
Synod delegates two ministers to visit every congregation annually to ascertain that the minister, elders and deacons faithfully perform the duties of their offices, adhere to sound doctrine, observe all things according to our Church Order, and promote as much as possible the upbuilding of the congregation in a proper way.
In regard to Premillennialism and Dispensationalism, our Church Order states (sub article 52) that it is not Reformed to teach that Christ shall visibly and bodily reign for a thousand years on earth, since this is contrary to God's Word.
We have prescribed forms for Baptism, Marriage, Public Confession of Faith, the Lord's Supper, Excommunication, Ordination and Installation of office bearers, and so on. We commemorate the great facts of salvation, such as the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in special worship services.
We have the custom on each Lords Day to preach in one of the services the points of doctrine treated successively in the fifty-two Lord's Days of the Heidelberg Catechism. This practice was introduced in the sixteenth century and made mandatory by the Synod of Dordt, 1618/19.
The well-known experiential character of the Heidelberg Catechism has made it a fit instrument for this purpose.
We wish to emphasize in our worship that worship is addressed to God and not to people. We believe that our worship services are not for entertainment. God is to be the focus of all true worship. We are called into His presence to exalt, honour and please Him. We come before Him as His people, filled with awe by His glory and majesty, humbled by His grace, joyful for His mercy. We join together in singing the Psalms, hearing His Word read and preached, casting ourselves upon Him in prayer with supplication and thanksgiving. In our worship services we use the King James Version of the Bible.
We make use of the Psalter for our public praise. The Psalms are part of God's revelation, inspired by the Holy Spirit. They display the whole range of the emotions, aspirations, and struggles of faith which become formative for our experience of spiritual life.
We desire to be a living church of the Lord. The Old Testament speaks a great deal about the fear of the Lord (for example, Psalm 111:10).The New Testament speaks about the triad of faith, hope and love (for example, 1 Thessalonians 1:3). The New Testament also speaks about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) and the gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14 Scripture uses, it denotes the living union with Christ. The deepest secret lies in the heart of God: His election from before the foundation of the world.
That secret comes to us in union with Christ. Romans 6 speaks about becoming one plant with Christ (verse 5). Lord's Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks about being ingrafted into Christ by a living faith. 2 Peter 3:18 speaks about growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This living union is something we may never take for granted. If we are to enjoy the assurance and peace of salvation, it is by examining and proving the grounds of our faith and hope. This self-examination is not merely to find out what the condition of our hearts is, but we need to examine ourselves to the end that we may prove ourselves and know ourselves as the blood- bought possession of Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). Each of us needs this union personally, yet it may never be separated from the fellowship of the Church.
We believe that the believer's living union with Christ can and will never be broken. All believers will be with their Lord in glory, even though they may experience trials, tribulations and backsliding in their life on earth. The Lord remains faithful. This doctrine, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, is found in 1 Cor. 10: 13; John 10:28,29; and is also outlined in the Canons of Dort (Fifth head of doctrine).
The Bible directs us to expect our Lord Jesus Christ to come again (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will come with the clouds of heaven. He will come as the One risen and ascended and exalted in majesty. Jesus' Second Coming will be in marked contrast to His first coming, which was in humiliation. The majesty of His divinity will no longer be laid aside. We shall see Him as He is, majestic, glorious and adorable.
Christ's Second Coming is to be followed directly by the final judgment. For many the Day of the Lord will be darkness and not light (Amos 5:18). Only those who by a true faith have become righteous in Christ can and may face the great white throne without terror.
The sacrifice of Christ is the object of our faith. The Second Coming of Christ is the object of our longing. We look back in faith to the crucified Saviour; we look upwards in love to the living Saviour; we look forward in hope to the glorious Redeemer.
This looking forward in hope is not of minor importance. Without this expectation we are not believers. We are saved by hope (Romans 8:24). In looking forward we look not only to the Second Coming itself, but also to the events associated with it - the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment and the acquittal and acknowledgment of the believers. Above all, we look forward to the day when "at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow ... and ... every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (see Philippians 2:10,11). "Maranatha" (1 Corinthians 16:22).