Basic Reformed Stuff 2: Religion is Doctrine AND Practice

Open Book!

In our LAST POST we argued that religion is not only not a bad word, but is implanted into the very nature of man, God having revealed Himself in man and all of His creation. The Scripture teaches that this leaves men without excuse before God, but also that fallen mankind is nevertheless unable by natural light alone to truly know and worship God as He truly is. True religion is revealed religions—it is the mystery of Jesus Christ as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments (see Col. 1:24-28; Acts 4:12; Jn. 1:18). All men worship; the only question is whether they worship the creature or the Creator (Rom. 1:19-25).

Here, we will briefly address whether true religion is primarily intellectual, or primarily practical, allowing us to offer a proper definition of “religion” in the Biblical sense, and also justify our claim that the proper object of this series ought to be religion, not doctrine simpliciter.

So, is religion primarily intellectual? It seems that it might be, given passages like John 17:3:

[T]his is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Chris whom You have sent.

True religion is knowing the true God, the only God, and Jesus Christ the mediator. But what of passages like James 1:27?

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Here, James even uses the word “religion.” Certainly religion is therefore practical. Fortunately, no choice needs to be made here. The Reformed tradition (and of course other historic traditions as well) have never divided the two—at least not intentionally. As Francis Turretin wrote a few centuries ago,

When life eternal is said to consist in the knowledge of God (Jn. 17:3) and happiness in his vision, this indeed shows that theology is speculative, as having many theoretical objects. But we cannot from this infer that it is merely speculative because this knowledge itself is not only theoretical but practical (1 Jn. 2:5). Vision denotes not only knowledge but also enjoyment (according to Scripture usage). (Elenctic Theology, 1:23)

That is, there is an intimate and inseparable connection between knowing the true God and loving and serving Him. To “see” God is also to be internally changed and functionally affected by His visage. This is easy to show. Let’s take a look at a series of Biblical proposition that lead us to this same conclusion.

  1. To know God is to know Him as He has revealed Himself. Again, the most religious of men in Athens needed to have the “UNKNOWN GOD” revealed to them, though He was never far from them (see the last post).
  2. The true God has revealed Himself only in Jesus (both in Old and New Testaments). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18); “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the oneto whom the Son wills to reveal Him” ( 11:27).
  3. In Jesus, the love of God is displayed. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16); “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8).
  4. To know Jesus is to have believed the Gospel of Jesus, by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. To believe the Gospel of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit is to see God’s love displayed—for me.
  6. To know God’s love for me redounds in love for Him. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
  7. Therefore, to truly know God as He truly is, as revealed in Jesus, is to love God.
  8. To love God is to keep His commandments. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn. 5:3).
  9. And conversely, if you do not keep His commandments, you do not know Him. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:3-4).

In short, there is no knowing God without loving Him and vise versa.  True Religion is inseparably intellectual and practical.

This fact is easily accounted for once we recognize that the heart is the seat of religion, and all that flows from man flows form the heart; “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). That is, the heart is the seat of emotions:

A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. (Prov. 15:13)

the seat of wisdom:

When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you. (Prov. 2:10)

Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding. (Prov. 14:33)

the seat of planning:

For their heart devises violence, and their lips talk of troublemaking. (Prov. 24:2)

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Prov. 16:9)

the seat of belief:

[W]ith the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom. 10:10)

the seat of trust:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. (Prov. 3:5)

the seat of love:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. (Lk. 10:27)

and from the heart flows all speaking and acting:

[O]ut of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. (Matt. 12:34-35)

Again, out of the heart spring all the issues of life. The heart is the very center of man’s being. The heart is therefore the seat of true religion. And if the heart is the seat of true religion, then religion has its seat not only in the ideas, beliefs, and confessions of men, but also in the loves, words, and actions of men. Religion is properly both doctrine and practice—it is doctrine in action.

So how might we define “religion,” the proposed object of our study? Our English word “religion” is said to come from the Greek verb religare, “to bind”; “We are tied to God and bound to Him [religati] by the bond of piety” (Lactantius 240-320 AD). Given this and the above, I believe each of the following three definitions/statements are useful for our ends:

[Religion] is the virtue which prompts man to render to God the worship and reverence that is His by right. (Thomas Aquinas)

Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear — fear, which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed by the law. (John Calvin)

It may be defined as a conscious and voluntary relationship to God, which expresses itself in grateful worship and loving service. (Louis Berkhof)

In our NEXT POST, we will begin to consider how this revealed religion of the triune God has been given to mankind, viz., the doctrine of revelation.

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