Key Biblical/Theological Distinctions for Thinking Clearly About Theology

Over the years, I have come to realize that people can be talking past each other in theology. One reason is that they do not distinguish the ways that words are used. This is not always easy to figure out. The Church spent several hundred years learning how to talk about who Jesus is and how that fits in with our understanding of God. Over the years the church has sought to clarify these matters. If we listen carefully, we might be able to avoid some of these pitfalls ourselves. Our church has a lengthy document that explains what we are understanding in the Bible called the Westminster Confession of Faith. You can ready it here. For me, I have come to realize that the key to this lengthy document is understanding about 20 theological distinctions. Here is my list.

  1. Being & Persons: God is one being, but He exists in three persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.
  2. Primary & Secondary Causes: God is the primary cause of all things, but man is a real, though secondary, cause.
  3. Decree & Providence: Both refer to God’s government of everything that happens, but the decree is God’s planning of everything while providence is when He actually brings it about.
  4. Guilt & Corruption of Sin: When we sin, we become guilty, i.e., liable to punishment, but sin also corrupts us, i.e., makes us worse people.
  5. Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace: The covenants are the terms of our relationship with God. The covenant of works required perfect obedience to have a life with God. The covenant of grace requires faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect work in order to have life with God. It is “do this and live” over against “believe, and you will be saved.”
  6. Old Testament/New Testament: These are two different ways in which the covenant of grace was administered. Before Christ came, people had life by believing in the Messiah to come; after Christ came, they had life by believing in the Messiah who had come.
  7. Christ is One Person in Two Natures: Jesus is the Son of God, the second person in the Trinity. He became a human being and thus has two natures, divine and human, but He remains only one person.
  8. First Act of Regeneration/Second Act of Regeneration: In the first act of regeneration, man is wholly passive as when the dead are raised. In the second act, we are active. God gives us the power to have faith, a new heart in the first act, but in the second act, we by that power actually do believe.
  9. Internal/External Call: God offers salvation to all through the gospel externally and audibly, but people will only respond if God changes the heart inwardly to enable them to accept that offer.
  10. Justification & Sanctification: Justification acquits us of all guilt before God, dealing with the guilt of sin, but sanctification changes us inwardly and progressively removes the corruption of sin.
  11. Faith & Repentance: Faith is receiving and resting on Jesus alone for salvation; repentance is turning away from a life of sin and desiring to live a new life by the power of Jesus Christ.
  12. Good works in the covenant of works/grace: In the covenant of works, good works/obedience were the means for obtaining life. In the covenant of grace, good works are the result of having life.
  13. Punishment/Chastisements: God does not punish believers for their sins, but He does send them chastisements in order to teach believers not to sin.
  14. Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Law: The moral law is the law of God that all humans must obey and is summarized in the Ten Commandments. The ceremonial & judicial laws were specific laws given in the Old Testament that governed the state and worship of Israel and are only applicable to them.
  15. The Law Used for Conviction and as a Rule: The moral law of God is used to bring sinners to a sense of their sin, but it is also the rule of life for believers.
  16. The Visible & Invisible Church: The church of God to whom all the promises of salvation are made consists only of believers, but the church as it appears or the visible church consists of all who profess the true faith and their children.
  17. Ceremonies & Circumstances in Worship: The ceremonies that we are to use in worship are only those that are specifically stated by God Himself in His Word. The circumstances in which those circumstances are carried out is left to human prudence and judgment.
  18. Confirming & Converting Ordinances: The preaching and teaching of the Word of God is the means God uses to create faith and thus bring sinners to conversion. The sacraments are given to confirm the faith of those who already believe.
  19. Primary & Secondary Doctrines: The primary doctrines are those that are necessary to be believed in order to become a Christian. The secondary doctrines are those that are necessary to require of teachers.
  20. True & False Church: A true church is any church that maintains the word, sacraments, and ministry sufficient to the salvation of souls. A false church is any gathering that claims to be a church of Christ but preaches a message that if followed will not lead to salvation.
  21. State of Believers at Death & the Resurrection: When believers die, their souls will go to heaven to be with Jesus, and their bodies will be raised up (resurrection) when Christ comes again at the end of the world in order to judge it.

What have I missed? What would you add? Thanks for your feedback and taking time to read through this. If you would like to subscribe, click below (mobile) or on the right (laptop). May God bless you as you seek to think clearly about His amazing revelation to us.


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