Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Repentance and Sin

So far I am not crazy about the title I gave to this post.  I would prefer "Sin and Repentance" which is a much better order.  However, because of how Calvin laid out this chapter, repentance comes before the sin he discusses here.

We pick up with the third part of the sections dealing with repentance, specifically the mortification of the flesh and the vivification of the spirit.  Calvin looks back at Old Testament passages which also reflect this idea such as Isaiah 1:16-17: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow."  The Old and New Testaments are in agreement: repentance requires first the destruction of the flesh, then the renewal of our souls can come from the Spirit.  Calvin states that "we are not conformed to the fear of God and do not learn the rudiments of piety, unless we are violently slain by the sword of the Spirit and brought to nought.  As if God had declared that for us to be reckoned among his children our common nature must die!"

Once we are dead to our old selves, regeneration may occur.  Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  We are regenerated in Christ.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam's transgression."  This is not an instantaneous event.  God does not hit us with a bolt of lightning where all of a sudden we are restored to a perfect image of Him.  Calvin says it doesn't even happen in a day or even a year, "but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself  as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death."  He calls this process a "race of repentance" reminding me of Paul's references to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 2 Timothy 4:7.

Even though the believer is free from the bondage of sin, there is still a life-long struggle against sin.  It is interesting that Calvin differs from Augustine here, and Calvin points it out.  Augustine apparently believed that believers had certain "weaknesses," but he stopped short of calling these weaknesses "sin."  But as Calvin explores what Augustine wrote, it is apparent that it is a small difference because overall the effect is the same. 

Like I said before, as believers we are no longer under the bondage of sin, but sin still dwells in us.  It is a constant struggle.  Calvin writes that baptism purges of the guilt of sin, but not of the substance of sin.  Traces of sin still exist in us.  We are commanded to "love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37).  Therefore, Calvin argues that if we still love ourselves, we are failing to love God the way we are commanded and then we are sinning against God.  Loving ourselves is vanity and not pleasing to Him.  This is transgressing the law, therefore it is sin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.12-3.3.15

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