Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Christian Life

In this chapter of The Institutes, Calvin attempts to explain the Christian life in a nutshell.  The biggest chuckle I got out of today's reading was when he wrote, "By nature I love brevity".  I think he was brief in the discussion about regeneration, but that seems to be a rare thing for Calvin.

Calvin writes, "The object of to manifest in the life of believers a harmony and agreement between God's righteousness and their obedience, and thus to confirm the adoption that they have received as sons."  God gave us His law that we would have a guide to renew our lost image.  We desperately need God's help in this endeavor because of what Calvin calls our "slowness".  Scripture teaches us a pattern of living that we might regain this lost image.  Calvin speaks of virtues, but suggests that the reader examine the writings of the church fathers for more detailed discussions about them. 

There are two main aspects of the moral teachings of Scripture.  "The first is that the love of righteousness...may be instilled and established in our hearts; the second, that a rule be set forth for us that does not let us wander about in our zeal for righteousness."  God calls us to be holy, though we cannot be holy apart from Him.  It is His holiness that is manifested in us when we cleave ourselves to Him.  Calvin writes, "...there will be a place in God's Tabernacle for those who walk without blemish and strive after righteousness.  For it is highly unfitting that the sanctuary in which he dwells should like a stable be crammed with filth." 

As Christians, we are called to live a life of high moral character.  This is not possible for us to achieve on our own, but through the grace of God we are able to pursue this life.  God gave us the pattern for this life in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.  "For we have been adopted as sons by the Lord with this one condition: that our life express Christ, the bond of our adoption.  Accordingly, unless we give and devote ourselves to righteousness, we not only revolt from our Creator with wicked perfidy but we also abjure our Savior himself."  Calvin also reminds us to be constantly grateful to God for the gift of Christ to us. 

We have all known those who have confessed with their tongues that they are Christian, but seem to live a life which is completely opposite of that confession.  Calvin tells us that being a Christian is not a matter of the tongue, but a matter of the inmost heart.  He writes, "For it is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life.  It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart."  He later goes on, "But it must enter our heart and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us."  Yes, we must confess that we our Christians, but the evidence should be clear to those around us through our daily lives.

Being Christian does not mean that we are perfect.  Oftentimes outsiders believe that Christians think that they are perfect.  We know that we are not perfect, just forgiven.  Calvin writes, "I do not insist that the moral life of a Christian man breathe nothing but the very gospel, yet this ought to be desired, and we must strive toward it."  Calvin tells us that we must live a life of integrity.  "For in the first place, he everywhere commends integrity as the chief part of worshiping him [Genesis 17:1, Psalm 41:12, and more].  By this word he means a sincere simplicity of mind, free from guile and feigning, the opposite of a double heart."  We are called to aspire to a goal of goodness.  This goodness comes from God, not from ourselves.  Our goal is to "surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain goodness itself...But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.7.1-3.7.3

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