Monday, May 17, 2010

God's Word and Our Faith

Today, Calvin discusses the gospel and its effect on our faith.  He tells his readers that we would be unable to have a right understanding of Christ and the work He did if it were not for the gospel.  He puts it beautifully this way, "For just as he (Christ) has been appointed as the goal of our faith, so we cannot take the right road to him unless the gospel goes before us."  He is quick to clarify that faith is not restricted to only those who have the gospel, because the writings of Moses and the prophets were sufficient for building up God's people.  The gospels is a "fuller manifestation of Christ."  Christ himself was our teacher, showing forth the mercy of God.  He also testified to our salvation.

"There is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word."  Calvin tells us, "'To hear' is generally understood as to believe."  I think that the message that we hear must come from the Holy Spirit, and that is probably what he is implying here.  Without the Word, we would be gullible and believe whatever we are told.  Fortunately, we have the Word as our guide and it will teach us the truth.  Calvin compares the Word to a mirror in which our faith may contemplate God.  "Whether, therefore, God makes use of man's help in this or works by his own power alone, he always represents himself through his Word to those whom he wills to draw himself."  Faith is also not just knowledge of God, but also obedience to Him and His Word.  Interestingly, Calvin reminds us here that we must already have a conviction of God's truth before we can comprehend God's will for us revealed in His Word. 

God's words of vengeance that are recorded in Scripture do not establish faith, but shake it.  It is God's words of mercy which lead us to faith.  In order to truly understand and appreciate God's mercy, we must also understand His goodness and our departure from that goodness.  It is like the televangelist I have spoken of before who does not use the word "sinner" in his church.  He thinks that word is bad and has negative connotations.  Well, duh!  But if we do not understand how far we have separated ourselves from God, then we have no knowledge of our need for reconciliation.

Calvin wraps up section 7 with a definition of faith.  He writes that faith is, "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit."

The next section is the first of 5 which discuss various misunderstandings of the term "faith".  This one deals with the concept of "formed" faith versus "unformed" faith.  This was "worthless distinction" being "tossed about in the schools."  There were those people who believed (and there are certainly those today as well) that someone who does not have a fear of God can still possess a saving knowledge of Christ.  But if you have no respect for God's justice, why would you have a true knowledge of what Christ did for us?  This is a false notion that some have had which others called "unformed" faith.  Faith does not come by man's own effort, but he must first be called by the Holy Spirit.  Calvin writes, " rests upon the knowledge of Christ.  And Christ cannot be known apart from the sanctification of his Spirit.  It follows that faith can in no wise be separated from a devout disposition."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.9-3.2.12

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