The heart of Reformed theology is Christian comfort as the chief fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel — literally “good news” — brings us a message of what God has done to deliver us from our greatest enemies, sin and death.
This message is not instructions for how to save ourselves: “Do such and such and everything will be OK.” It is an announcement of what God had done. The Gospel is not about what we must do, but what has been done. This is why Christ’s dying cry on the cross is so profound: “It is finished!” That is, his work to save fallen humanity is complete.
“Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures”1 Corinthians 15:3
Often, well-meaning Christians get this wrong, and the message of the Bible is reduced to an instruction book for how we should live. Christians too often present themselves to the world as holier-than-thou, as those who follow the instructions. This message not only harms our witness, but it harms lives and steals away our comfort in Christ. The Reformed faith keeps our focus on Christ, and our Gospel message reminds us that we are all sinners saved by grace.
Does this message also change lives? Absolutely. But the transformation of our lives is a fruit of God’s salvation in us and the comfort it gives, not the other way around. We don’t comfort ourselves, we don’t save ourselves, by changing our lives.
The Gospel is summed up beautifully by the teaching of our Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most widely-adopted summaries of our Reformed (and biblical) faith:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood…
How many things must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a faithful summary of the Bible, and Reformed theology, because it takes comfort as its theme, and explains that the source of this comfort is the message of Jesus Christ. This message includes the verdict of God’s law — how great my sin and misery are — as well as the good news of the gospel — how I am delivered from that sin and misery.
But it doesn’t stop there. It includes the whole message of redemption, that God is saving us for glory, freeing us from the bondage of sin today, and transforming us to live with him in the glorious kingdom to come.
This message is the only true source of comfort, both in life and in death. This is the only foundation upon which we may live. And it is the heart of the scriptures and our Reformed faith.