Friday, March 12, 2010

There Is None Righteous, No, Not One

What is it about the book of Romans and Reformed theologians?  Luther was profoundly changed when reading Romans.  As a catholic monk, he really struggled with Romans 1:17 which eventually became a big part of his doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Karl Barth also was focused on the book of Romans and his commentary on Romans signified his break from liberal theology.  Calvin, too, spent significant time in the book of Romans and today is a good illustration of that.

In today's reading, Calvin focused heavily on Romans 3.  One section from today's reading is Calvin exegeting this chapter from Romans.  Calvin reminds us over and over that the flesh is sinful.  He shows examples of the difference between flesh and spirit from Scripture: "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:6-7 NKJV) and "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6 NKJV).  Another passage that Calvin highlights is Ephesians 4:17-23 which speaks to the difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate man.  The mind of man is unable to think clearly because of sin.  Calvin writes, "Man's understanding is pierced by a heavy spear when all the thoughts that proceed from him are mocked as stupid, frivolous, insane, and perverse."

Man's heart is "deceitful and corrupt above all else" (Jeremiah 17:9).  Paul really harps on this in Romans 3 and Calvin spends some time focused on Paul's writings, especially where Paul is quoting the Psalms.  We are reminded by Calvin that, "Except out of the Lord's mercy there is no salvation for man, for in himself he is lost and forsaken."

God is at work not only in the elect, but he also restrains evil in the reprobate.  He restrains evil in them, but he does not remove it entirely.  God uses all sorts of means to accomplish his work in them.  According to Calvin, God uses shame, fear of the law, the desire for an honest manner, political aspirations, and more to keep those outside of his special grace in check.  "Thus God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within."

Finally, even though God grants virtue to man, man's nature is still corrupted by sin.  Man can, through the grace of God, accomplish great things.  Calvin uses the example that they can be heroic leaders, but if they do not have the zeal to glorify God, then their heroic acts are worthless.  "As for the virtues that deceive us with their vain show, they shall have their praise in the political assembly and in common renown among men: but before the heavenly judgment seat they shall be of no value to acquire righteousness."

I encourage you to take a minute to read Romans 3 today.  It is a great reminder of our sinfulness and our need for the Spirit to work in our hearts to change us.  It should make us thankful for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.3.5-2.3.8

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