Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Faith, the Word, and the Spirit

The kids in my youth group all know (or should know) how important it is to me that we are reading Scripture regularly.  I encourage them to read Scripture and I try to set a good example by always having my Bible close by when at church - either at worship, youth fellowship, or (obviously) Bible study.  Most of them have heard me quote passages such as Joshua 1:8 or Psalm 1:1-2.  God does instruct us to meditate on His Word with good reason.  Calvin uses a wonderful simile, "faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of a tree."  In order for our faith to strengthen to its full capacity, we need the foundation of God's Word.  David also saw the relation between God's Word and faith, but also its consequence, salvation.  Psalm 119:41 reads, "Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD— Your salvation according to Your word."  We need the Word for our faith to become a reality and grow.  This is how God reveals Himself to us.  Calvin writes, "But because whatever we conceive concerning God's might and works is fleeting without the Word, we declare with good reason that there is no faith until God illumines it by the testimony of his grace."

God's promises to us are made with love, "...for if God promises anything, by it he witnesses his benevolence, so that there is no promise of his which is not a testimony of his love."  His promises and benefits are given both to the elect and to the reprobate.  But, "...while the wicked are plied with the huge and repeated benefits of God's bounty, they bring upon themselves a heavier judgment."  This is because they do not recognize and praise the hand that has given them everything.  Calvin says that they are no more than "brute animals."  The Lord through is promises offers to His people not only the "fruits of His kindness" but an invitation to think about Him.  "Any promise whatsoever is a testimony of God's love toward us."  Calvin goes on to highlight passages in the New Testament that show no one is loved by God apart from Christ.  Even examples from the Old Testament are shown to reflect the coming of Christ through the symbols of the sacrificial system.

We are hopelessly sinful and unable to understand God's truths for us.  Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to instruct us in His ways.  Calvin writes, "But our mind has such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God; and it has such a dullness that it is always blind to the light of God's truth.  Accordingly, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Word can do nothing...And it will not be enough for the mind to be illuminated by the Spirit of God unless the heart is also strengthened and supported by his power."  In this section, Calvin makes an interesting observation.  He says that "faith is much higher than human understanding."  We do believe in Christ even when we are unable to fully understand what He did for us.  Later he calls faith "a singular gift of God."  It is truly a gift that we are privileged to receive. 

We are lead to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit only.  We do not seek Christ on our own.  The entire next section consists of a number of Scripture passages which show this.  One of the most powerful passages Calvin uses is John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."  Jesus clearly states here that no one has the ability to believe in Him unless God turns our hearts and grants us faith.  Jesus then confirms that everyone who is called by God then believes when in John 6:45b He says, "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me."  Calvin writes, "Therefore, as we cannot come to Christ unless we be drawn by the Spirit of God, so when we are drawn we are lifted up in mind and heart above our understanding."  Later Calvin compares the Word of God to the sun which shines on everyone, but the blind are unable to see it.  We are all blind, but the Spirit working in our hearts gives us illumination which allows us to see.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.35-3.2.39

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