Friday, July 30, 2010

Rewards, Part II

Yesterday we looked at some passages that dealt with rewards. Today we will look at a few more that Calvin's opponents use to try to make salvation a reward for good works and other misinterpretations. We understand through Scripture that good works are "likened to the riches we shall enjoy in the blessedness of eternal life." God is so loving and merciful to us. He forgives all of our shortcomings. He overlooks our faults and the faults of our good works. Calvin writes, "...the services we offer him are unworthy even of his glance, he permits none of them to be lost."

In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul is speaking to the church about the tribulations they are suffering. He teaches that "such tribulations are sent to them in order that they may be counted worthy of God's Kingdom, for which they suffer." We are assured by God that the trouble we experience for His sake in this life will not be in vain. "Let us always remember that this promise, like all others, would not bear fruit for us if the free covenant of his mercy had not gone before, upon which the whole assurance of our salvation depended." God is not unjust, but keeps all the promises that He makes. Calvin quotes an interesting line from Augustine's commentary on the Psalms. He quotes, "The Lord is faithful, who made himself our debtor - not by accepting anything from us, but by promising us all things." I never thought of God being in debt to us. I am going to have to ponder this some more.

We have gone over and over that we are justified by what? By faith alone! The main competing thought to this is that we are justified by faith and works. Well, there is yet another camp that emerged and Calvin shoots down. They misunderstand at 1 Corinthians 13:2, 13, and Colossians 3:14. "From these two passages (the two passages from 1 Corinthians) our Pharisees contend that we are justified by love rather than faith, doubtless by a stronger power, as they say." We agree with Paul that love is greater than faith, but it is not more meritorious. Calvin tells us that love extends farther than faith, plus it lasts forever, but faith only for a time. He writes, "The power of justifying, which faith possesses, does not lie in any worth of works. Our justification rests upon God's mercy alone and Christ's merit, and faith, when it lays hold of justification, is said to justify." Always the master of metaphors, Calvin writes about the relationship of faith to love: "It is as if someone argued that a king is more capable of making a shoe than a shoemaker is because he is infinitely more eminent." The third passage above is misunderstood by the Scholastics because they think that love perfects them. Calvin argues that we will never attain this perfection "unless we fulfill all the duties of love. From this I shall conclude that, since all men are very far away from fulfilling love, all hope of perfection is cut off from them."

Calvin deals next with arguments over how to understand the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22. In Matthew 19:17 Jesus tells the ruler that if he wants eternal life, he must follow all the commandments. The ruler had asked what he could do, in other words what works he must perform, in order to earn eternal life. As Calvin writes, "if we seek salvation in works, we must keep the commandments by which we are instructed unto perfect righteousness. But we must not stop here unless we wish to fail mid-course, for none of us is capable of keeping the commandments...We must betake ourselves to another help, to faith in Christ."

Some, in an attempt to derail the doctrine of justification by faith, foolishly claim that faith itself is a work. They point to John 6:29, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" Calvin responds to these people, "As if faith, in so far as it is obedience to the divine will, obtains righteousness for us on its own merits - and not , rather, in embracing God's mercy, seals upon our hearts Christ's righteousness, by that mercy offered to us in the preaching of the gospel." I would also point out that in our English translation of John 6:29, it reads that this is the work of God - not some work that we accomplish. God is the one acting, not us. Calvin wraps up the section, "But you would be a foolish reasoner if you concluded, on the contrary, that man can be reconciled to God by a single good work when by his many sins he deserves God's wrath."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.19.1-3.19.6

Thursday, July 29, 2010


This is an interesting topic for people of the Reformed tradition, and frankly, one I do not completely understand through Scripture. The first section of chapter 18 is the hardest. It deals with the meaning of "recompense according to works". We are told in Scripture that God will repay men according to their works (Matthew 16:27). Calvin cites a number of similar passages to this. The last is Romans 2:6, "who 'will render to each one according to his deeds'". Calvin's contention here is that the works and deeds that these passages are referring to are not our good works, but God's good works through us. He writes, "...he receives his own into life by his mercy alone. Yet. since he leads them in possession of it through the race of good works in order to fulfill his own work in them according to the order that he has laid down, it is no wonder if they are said to be crowned according to their own works..." Later Calvin says that the meaning of what is translated "to work" is not opposed to grace, but actually means "to endeavor".

Our reward that we receive, Ephesians 1:18 tells us is an inheritance as opposed to a servant's wages. Once again, this demonstrates that our reward is great, but it has nothing to do with our own labors instead it has everything to do with the love of God. Something I had never observed that Calvin highlighted in this section was in the story of Abraham. In Genesis 15:5, God promises Abraham that is descendants will be numerous like the stars in the heavens. In the beginning of Genesis 22, Abraham obeys God and almost sacrifices Isaac. But then in Genesis 22:16-18 God told Abraham that He will bless Abraham with descendants like the stars again, but this time it is because Abraham had not withheld his only son. Calvin says about this, "the Lord rewards the works of believers with the same benefits as he had given them before they contemplated any works, as he does not yet have any reason to benefit them except his own mercy."

Referring back to the previous section, Calvin opens with these words, "Still, the Lord does not trick or mock us when he says that he will reward works with what he had given free before works." God trains us through good works so that we may meditate upon the things He has promised to us in heaven. Calvin refers to a commentary written by Ambrose on the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. This is the parable in which Jesus is telling the story of a vineyard owner who hires multiple groups of workers throughout the course of a day to work in a field. At the end of the day, all the laborers received the same wage whether they had worked a full day or just a short time. Ambrose wrote in his interpretation, "For he does not pay the price of their labor but showers the riches of his goodness upon those whom he has chosen apart from works."

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke some of rewards. These come not from our own labors, but as a compensation for sufferings. Look at Matthew 5:11-12. If we are persecuted for His name, we will be greatly rewarded in heaven, which is eternal life. Calvin writes that the Lord turns "toil into repose, from affliction into a prosperous and desirable state, from sorrow into joy, from poverty into affluence, from disgrace into glory. To sum up, he changes into greater goods all the evil things they have suffered."

Like we have discussed before, our works are only acceptable to God after we have been forgiven of our sins, and the works presented with their flaws covered by Christ. In his analysis of Calvin, Battles changes a couple of questions (one by Augustine and one by Calvin) into statements: "Righteousness exists because grace justifies the ungodly. Similarly, righteousness is imputed to our works, covering over that which is unrighteousness in them." Calvin concludes, "the righteousness of good works depends upon the fact that God by pardon approves them."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.18.6-3.18.10

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scripture About Justification to Works, Part II

Many people have trouble reconciling James' words with Paul's.  They believe that James is speaking of a works-based righteousness and Paul is speaking of a faith-based righteousness.  Their conclusion is either these two writers are in conflict with one another or that salvation is based on a combination of faith and works.  Neither is the correct understanding of what James is saying.  James is trying to call out those who think that just believing that there is a God is not true faith.  It is only when we are compelled to react to this knowledge of God that we have faith.  Works are evidence of our faith, not a means by which we are justified.  James 2:17 reads, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."  We are not justified by our works, but we demonstrate our faith through them.  If we claim to have faith but we are not changed, then it is not true faith but dead faith.  Calvin concludes that faith "justifies not because it grasps a knowledge of God's essence but because it rests upon the assurance of his mercy."

Paul and James both use the word "justify" but in difference senses of the word.  When Paul uses the term "justify" he is speaking of "when the memory of our righteousness has been wiped out and we are accounted righteous."  James wrote, "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:23-24, NKJV).  James is not speaking of the imputation of righteousness, instead he is speaking of the declaration of righteousness.  Calvin writes, "he is not discussing in what manner we are justified but demanding of believers a righteousness fruitful in good works."  In Battles analysis of this section he writes, "James is fighting an empty show of faith which cannot justify, and says that a justified person declares his righteousness by good works."

Romans 2:13 reads, "for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified."  Some use this passage to try to defend their concept of a works-based righteousness.  Calvin responds to this passage, "Here the apostle is casting down the foolish confidence of the Jews, who claimed for themselves the sole knowledge of the law, even while they were its greatest despisers."  The Law is works based, but that does not mean that we are able to be justified through our works.  Not one man has ever fully kept the Law, therefore no one can be saved by it.  Calvin states it this way: "the righteousness of the law lies in perfection of works; no one can boast that he has fulfilled the law through works; consequently, there is no righteousness arising from the law."

There are numerous Psalms where David and other authors appeal to their works before God.  They claim their innocence and righteousness.  Calvin explains that these saints recognize their sinfulness and are not claiming that they are free from guilt.  "While they appeal to God's judgment to approve their innocence, do not present themselves as free from all guilt and faultless in every respect; but while they have fixed their assurance of salvation in his goodness alone, they still, trusting in him as avenger of the poor afflicted beyond right and equity, assuredly commend to him the cause in which the innocent are oppressed."  In many of these passages, the writers of the Psalms are calling for God to be a judge between themselves and the ungodly people who are oppressing them, not bragging to God about how good they are.

There are a number of passages speaking of those who are upright are counted as righteous.  Calvin writes, "But let one of Adam's children come forward with such uprightness."  There are none who have lived up to this standard.  There are those who speak of "accepting grace," which is a false doctrine that claims God accepts works by ungodly people as sufficient for salvation.  Calvin simply responds by reminding us that these works are not acceptable and no works are sufficient for salvation, but it is God's mercy.  There was (maybe still is) an idea in the Roman church that the saints are perfect.  Calvin says that the only time when anyone achieves perfection is after they have put off this "sinful flesh" and "cleave wholly to the Lord."  Augustine wrote, "When we call the virtue of the saints perfect, to this very perfection also belongs the recognition of imperfection, both in truth and humility."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.18.1-3.18.5

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scripture About Justification to Works, Part I

There are certain passages throughout Scripture that by themselves might incorrectly lead someone to believe that our justification is works based and not faith based. Over the next two days we are going to read about a number of these passages and try to understand what is meant by them. Calvin does not address every single instance, but tends to lump them into categories.

This first section tackles promises of the Law versus the grace of the Old Coventant. He stipulates that these "promises of the law" are "those properly pertaining to the law" that "declare that there is recompense ready for you if you do what they enjoin." However, there are passages in the Old Testament like 1 Kings 8:23 which speak to God's mercy, "LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts." This is the grace of the Old Covenant to which Calvin is referring.  God's mercy does not depend on the works of man.  But good works are a sign that we belong to Him, "because in those who are directed to the good by his Spirit he recognizes the only genuine insignia of his children."  Later he writes about works, "It is not the foundation by which believers stand firm before God that is described but the means whereby our most merciful Father introduces them into his fellowship, and protects and strengthens them therein."

There are passages in the Old Testament which speak of the righteousness of the works of the Law.  Calvin acknowledges this to be true.  He writes, "perfect obedience to the law is righteousness...but...due to the weakness of our flesh, it is nowhere visible."  We can have a works-based righteousness, but only if we perfectly adhere to every law our whole lives.  Once we have broken the law, we have eliminated the possibility of earning righteousness.  We earn no praise from God for a good work because of all the transgressions we have committed, plus the good work is impure because we were the ones performing it. 

Some would contend since both the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6) and the deeds committed by Phinehas (Psalm 106:31) were both reckoned as righteousness, our righteousness must rely on justification by faith and by works.  "Since Paul knew that justification of faith is a refuge for those who lack righteousness of their own, he boldly infers that all who are justified by faith are excluded from works righteousness."  Calvin contends that only after the forgiveness of sins can works have any value, but they must be covered in Christ's perfection to hide the imperfection of our works.  Calvin defines justification as: "the sinner, received into communion with Christ, is reconciled to God by his grace, while, cleansed by Christ's blood, he obtains forgiveness of sins, and clothed with Christ's righteousness as if it were his own, he stands confident before the heavenly judgment seat."  It is only after all imperfections have been blotted out, all sins have been forgiven, and Christ covers the imperfections of our works, that the good works performed by believers are able to be reckoned as righteousness.

The next section, Calvin makes one point.  People who believe in a works-based righteousness still recognize that this righteousness begins with a faith-based righteousness.  Therefore, faith-based righteousness is seen as the stronger of the two because works-based righteousness still depends on it.  "For unless the justification of faith remains whole and unbroken, the uncleanness of works will be uncovered."

It is only after we have received pardon for our sins that our works are acceptable to God.  "Therefore, as we ourselves, when we have been engrafted in Christ, are righteous in God's sight because our iniquities are covered by Christ's sinlessness, so our works are righteous and are  thus regarded because whatever fault is otherwise in them is buried in Christ's purity, and is not charged to our account."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.17.11-3.17.15 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Promises of the Law and the Gospel

There are those who still try to discredit the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Calvin responds, "For justification is withdrawn from works, not that no good words may be done, or that what is done may be denied to be good, but that we may not rely upon them, glory in them, or ascribe salvation to them."  God's mercy is sufficient for our salvation.  The "Scholastics" who argue against justification by faith employ several means to discredit the doctrine.  "First, they return to the promises of the law that the Lord has made to the keepers of his law, and they ask us whether we wish them to be completely nullified or effective."  There is no reason for us to think of the Law as being nullified.  Christ even said that He had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  The Law contains both promises of blessings for the faithful and curses for lawbreakers.  "For the Lord promises nothing except to perfect keepers of his law, and no one of the kind is to be found."  There is no one who could perfectly keep the Law except Christ alone.  The opposers to the doctrine of election say that we are trying to allow carnal freedom to sin.  Calvin responds that "it is a spiritual freedom, which would comfort and raise up the stricken and prostrate conscience, showing it to be free from curse and condemnation with which the law pressed it down, bound and fettered."

Since we are incapable of perfectly executing the Law, we must rely on God's mercy in order to receive the promised blessings of the Law.  Calvin says that the promises would all be "ineffectual and void" if God's goodness had not helped us "through the gospel."  He continues, "Thus the Lord helps us, not by leaving us a part of righteousness in our works, and by supplying part out of his loving-kindness, but by appointing Christ alone as the fulfillment of righteousness."

Because we cannot follow the Law, the promises contained in the Law by themselves have no benefit for us.  These promises are originally based upon the merit of works and we are not good enough to earn these merits.  "But when the promises of the gospel are substituted, which proclaim the free forgiveness of sins, these not only make us acceptable to God but also render our works pleasing to him."  There are three reasons why works still win God's favor.  (1) "God...embraces his servants in Christ, and...reconciles them to himself without the help of works."  (2) "He raises works to this place of honor, so that he attributes some value to them."  (3) "He receives these very works with pardon, not imputing the imperfection with which they are all so corrupted." 

Calvin writes about a "double acceptance of man before God."  There is nothing in man's miserable nature that causes or allows him to be worthy of God's acceptance.  We are totally corrupt and unworthy of God's love and mercy.   However, the exciting news is this: by virtue of God's grace, we become worthy of our heavenly callings.  Calvin summarizes this double acceptance by writing, "God's sole reason to receive man unto himself is that he sees him utterly lost if left to himself, but because he does not will him to be lost, he exercises his mercy in freeing him."

Once again, we are incapable of performing good works on our own and making them acceptable for salvation.  So we might wonder in what sense the Lord is pleased with our good works.  Calvin writes, "God 'accepts' believers by reason of works only because he is their source and graciously, by way of adding to his liberality, deigns also to show 'acceptance' toward the good works he has himself bestowed."  In other words, God accepts our good works only because He granted them to us to begin with.  They are not our own works, but His.  "God's children are pleasing and lovable to him, since he sees in them the marks and features of his own countenance."  He sees His image in us, His creation.  Finally, Calvin reminds us that believers are still sinners, therefore for God to accept our good works they must be embraced in Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.17.6-3.17.10

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Arguments Against Justification by the Papists

As we have all learned by now, the Roman Catholics argued against the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. They really wanted to make works a part of justification and redemption. Here in this chapter Calvin tackles three objections that were raised by the papists.

The papists argued that the doctrine of justification did away with good works. They claimed that the Reformers attempted to do away with good works, encouraged men to not worry about good works, lured "into sin men who are already to much inclined to it of their own accord." Calvin argues against these claims in two ways. The first is that good works do not lead to salvation. If the only reason good works are being performed is in the hope of eternal life, then these works are done in error. However, if performing good works are done in gratitude for the saving grace of Jesus Christ who loved us first, then they are being done for the right reason.

The papists argued the the doctrine of justification stifled zeal for good works. This too is not true. Calvin responds by saying, "in saying men will take no care to regulate their lives aright unless hope of reward is held out to them, they are completely in error." People do not need a carrot dangled in front of them to do the right thing IF they are responding to God's mercy. Performing good works is then a natural response because of gratitude for God's love. If we did not perform good works, it would highlight our ingratitude for what Christ did for us. The writers of the New Testament were big on telling their readers to perform good works. "All the apostles are full of exhortations, urgings, and reproofs with which to instruct the man of God in every good work, and that without mention of merit. Rather, they derive their most powerful exhortations from the thought that our salvation stands upon no merit of ours but solely upon God's mercy."

The papists argued that the doctrine of justification is incitement to the sinful. Calvin responds, "But it is the most worthless of slanders to say men are invited to sin, when we affirm the free forgiveness of sins in which we assert righteousness consists." Romans 6:1-2 reads, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"  Calvin speaks more about the "free forgiveness of sins," and that it is only free for us.  It was not free for Christ "who dearly bought it at the cost of his most sacred blood, apart from which there was no ransom of sufficient worth to satisfy God's judgment.  When men are taught this, they are made aware that they cannot do anything to prevent the shedding of his most sacred blood as often as they sin."

The main points Calvin is making throughout this chapter are that God's gift of mercy is a free gift to us that we cannot earn.  But those who are truly called by God respond by doing good works, not with the hope that it will earn salvation, but because it is the appropriate response for our gratitude to Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.17.1-3.17.6

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rejection of the Substitution of Man's Merit for Christ's

One of the former youth at our church one time told me in a Bible study that her Bible teacher at school taught them that Calvin invented predestination.  Apparently the teacher had not read Ephesians 1:4-5 before, because she would have seen the word "predestination" included here by Paul who lived 1500 years before Calvin.  She would have then recognized that Calvin did not invent predestination, but God did.

Christ is the sole foundation of our faith.  1 Corinthians 3:10-11 reads, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.  For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." He is the beginning of our faith and He is the perfecter of our faith.  Calvin asks the questions "What sort of foundation have we in Christ?  Was he the beginning of our salvation in order that its fulfillment might follow from ourselves?  Did he only open the way by which we might proceed under our own power?"  Sounding much like Paul, he answers his own questions, "Certainly not."  According to 1 Corinthians 1:30 Christ became our wisdom from God, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption.  We get these gifts from nowhere else.  Calvin quotes Ephesians 1:4-5, "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."    Our salvation and all good gifts come from God alone.  "In brief, because all his things are ours and we have all things in him, in us there is nothing."

Calvin next tackles Roman doctrines which take away from Christ's might and honor.  They taught that man can perform all sorts of "'moral' good works" which are pleasing to God, even before they are engrafted into Christ.  "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life," 1 John 5:12.  How can someone who is dead perform good works on his own?  Or Romans 14:23b reads, "for whatever is not from faith is sin."  If there is no faith, than no good works can arise.  All works without faith are sinful.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, as soon as you become engrafted into Christ through faith, you are made a son of God, an heir of heaven, a partaker in righteousness, a possessor of life; and (by this their falsehood may be better refuted) you obtain not the opportunity to gain merit but all the merits of Christ, for they are communicated to you."

Roman theology does not believe in justification by faith, but they speak of man being justified by "formed faith."  This concept is that man is justified through his good works which come out of faith.  They are mistaken in believing that good works can come out of free will, through which they believe all merit exists.  Of course Calvin paraphrasing Augustine writes, "all our merit is but of grace and not obtained through our sufficiency but wholly comes to be through grace."  This Roman theology takes away reliance in God's mercy and places it on man's works.  "Finally, while they repeatedly inculcate good works, they in the meantime so instruct consciences as to discourage all their confidence that God remains kindly disposed and favorable to their works."

The final section contains two parts, both are mostly quoted Scripture.  The first half is the example that Christ showed us as the fulfillment of piety and holiness.  The second half is Scripture which give consolation for the faithful.  One of my favorites is Romans 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (KJV).

Tomorrow's reading: 3.16.1-3.16.4

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Boasting of the Merits of Works

For the past few days, we have been reading about our works. At this point, we have covered the main issue, but now we are getting to go deeper into the problems of certain aspects of works-based theologies. Calvin reminds us of what we previously read, "If righteousness is supported by works, in God's sight it must entirely collapse; and it is confined solely to God's mercy, solely to communion with Christ, and therefore solely to faith." Once again he states, "no man is justified by works unless, having been raised to the highest peak of perfection, he cannot be accused even of the least transgression." He then asks the question that even though works do not count toward salvation, should they at least earn some favor with God?

He opens the next section complaining about how the word "merit" has been applied to the works of men "over against God's judgment". He then uses a number of quotes from Augustine, Chrysostom, and Bernard. Two of the quotes from Augustine are as follows: "Let human merits, which perished through Adam, here keep silence, and let God's grace reign through Jesus Christ." Then, "The saints attribute nothing to their merits; they will attribute all to thy mercy alone, O God." The tail end of a quote from Bernard reads, "For merit, it suffices to know that merits do not suffice."

There is no value in good works by themselves. We could run around all day performing good works and would gain us nothing. Our good works are full of uncleanness. However, "There is no doubt that whatever is praiseworthy in works is God's grace; there is not a drop that we ought by rights to ascribe to ourselves." They are only "good" works because God has made them good.

The Sophists, in trying to prove that we can perform good works on our own, claimed that the phrase "merit toward God" is found in Scripture. The first passage is from Ecclesiasticus 16:15, "All mercy shall make a place for every man according to the merit of his works, and according to the wisdom of his sojournment." First, we must note that this is not a canonical book, but it is a book from the Apocrypha. Secondly, this translation (and the translation Calvin used) came from a Latin copy of the text, not the original Greek. Calvin then translates the Greek as really being, "He will make room for every work of mercy; man shall find according to his works." The other passage the Sophists used was Hebrews 13:16, "But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Calvin's argument against their interpretation is this, "There is no reason why, in The Letter to the Hebrews, they should try to ensnare us in one little word when in the Greek words of the apostle nothing else in meant than that such sacrifices are pleasing and acceptable to God."

Our good works are not for naught because we have a loving and generous Father.  Calvin writes, "Yet because he examines our works according to his tenderness, not his supreme right, he therefore accepts them as if they were perfectly pure; and for that reason, although unmerited, they are rewarded with infinite benefits, both of the present life and also of the life to come."  Works do not in any way justify us or bring salvation to us - that is God's mercy.  However, it is pleasing to God when we do perform good works even though they are stained with sin.  Calvin concludes with a final reminder about God's mercy, "Whatever, therefore, is now given to the godly as an aid to salvation, even blessedness itself, is purely God's beneficence."  

Tomorrow's reading: 3.15.5-3.15.8

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our Works

Yesterday's reading contained a discussion about supererogatory works, or works that are above and beyond what is required by God. We continue this morning with Calvin's case against supererogation.

Some have apparently argued that 1 Corinthians 9:12 shows that Paul considered certain actions to be supererogatory.  Calvin, of course, thought otherwise.  He wrote, "But if this was duly required of a prudent servant of the gospel, I say that he did what he ought."  The theologian Chrysostom wrote, "all our belonging s have the same status as the possessions of slaves, which by right belong to their master himself."  In other words, our good works - no matter how much effort we put into them - belong to God.  I think this is especially true of God's people because they willingly submit everything to Him.  Calvin then explains that works of supererogation are not commanded by God, approved by God, nor will they be accepted by God as such.

"We must not put any confidence in the righteousness of works, and we must not ascribe to works any glory."  God's mercy is what is important, not man's works.  Calvin tells us that works are only capable of arousing "God's vengeance unless they be sustained by his merciful pardon."  The first half of Job 10:15 reads, "If I am wicked, woe to me; Even if I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head." In this one sentence Job stated his recognition for the need of God's mercy and not his own works.

Philosophers considered four causes contained in Scripture for the outworking of things.  In regards to salvation Calvin notes that none have anything to do with works.  The first cause is the "efficient cause of our obtaining eternal life" which is God's mercy.  The second cause is the "material cause" which is "Christ, with his obedience, through which he acquired righteousness for us."  The third cause is the "formal or instrumental cause" which is faith.  Calvin notes that these three causes can all be found in John 3:16.  The fourth and final cause is the "proof of divine justice and in the praise of God's goodness."  Calvin then compares all four causes to Romans 3:23-26.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Now after all this discussion about how works amount to nothing, Calvin then adjusts just a little.  He writes that the saints recall their own uprightness in two ways.  "either comparing their good cause with the evil cause of the wicked, they thence derive confidence of victory, not so much by the commendation of their own righteousness as by the just and deserved condemnation of their own righteousness as by the just and deserved condemnation of their adversaries.  Or, without comparison with others, while they examine themselves before God, the purity of their own conscience brings them some comfort and confidence."  Calvin only discusses the second way in the following section, but he is very clear that the saints do not rely one bit on their own works for salvation but solely upon God's goodness and mercy.  This "purity of their own conscience" gives them assurance that God is working through them, not that they do anything good on their own.  Knowing this, they then feel God's love for them and have assurance of their salvation.  These good works are not the cause but simply the effect of God's mercy.  Calvin continues this idea in the next section where he calls works "fruits of the call."  These good works are a sign of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Works are gifts of God which we "may recognize his goodness and as signs of the calling by which [we] realize [our] election."  In no way do these works take away from the free righteousness that we attain in Christ.  Calvin quotes Augustine from his commentary on Psalm 137:18.  He is asking God to look upon his works, but at the same time he says. "For whatever good works are mine are from thee."  He knows that his multitude of sins overwhelm his good works.  Calvin writes, "From this it comes about that his conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance.  Therefore, he would like God to look upon his good deeds only that, recognizing the grace of his own call in them, he may finish the work he has begun."

In the final section of chapter 14, Calvin notes that sometimes Scripture speaks of good works as being a reason for divine benefits.  He restates the four causes from earlier, but then Calvin states, "These do not prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes."  "Those whom the Lord has destined by his mercy for the inheritance of eternal life he leads into possession of it, according to his ordinary dispensation, by means of good works."  He proposes an order of dispensation.  First, God's choosing.  Second, God's justifying.  Third, man producing good works.  Last, God glorifying in the good works (eternal life).  It is God alone who saves.  He is the true cause of choosing and justifying His people.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.15.1-3.15.4

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Justification of Believers and Supererogation

Yesterday we read about three categories of men: those with no knowledge of God, hypocrites, and marginal believers. Today we read about the fourth and final category: true believers.

As true believers, we acknowledge that apart from God we can do no good works. Even though we are believers, we still cannot do only good deeds. However, "through his Holy Spirit he dwells in us and by his power the lusts of our flesh are each day more and more mortified; we are indeed sanctified, that is, consecrated to the Lord in true purity of life, with our hearts formed to obedience to the law." We are not perfect, but there are still traces of our imperfection which bring us humility. Calvin even points out that our best works are still marred with impurities of the flesh because we, ourselves, are imperfect beings.

Employees know the old idea that one "oh-no" effectively wipes out all "attaboys" that have accumulated, meaning that just one mess-up and your boss forgets about all the praises that others have sung about you. God is our boss and Ezekiel wrote that the same principle applies with Him, "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die" (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV).  Thankfully we are forgiven, but once we are forgiven it does not mean that we seek righteousness in the law from that point forward.  No, we are still incapable of living by the standards of the law.  And surely we do not want to be judge by the law because we would all be doomed.  "If we are judged by our own worth, whatever we plan or undertake, with all our efforts and labors we still deserve death and destruction."

Calvin makes two points here about works, "first, that there never existed any work of a godly man which, if examined by God's stern judgment, would not deserve condemnation; secondly, if such a work were found (something not possible for man), it would still lose favor - weakened and stained as it is by the sins with which its author himself is surely burdened."  The Schoolmen had a misunderstanding about works.  They believed that once a believer is reconciled to God, that their good works then had some sort of merit and were acceptable to God.  Only a man's faith can be counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:3 reads, "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'"  And that faith came as a gift from God, not even anything Abraham did on his own.

He continues to show problems with the Schoolmen's teachings.  For instance, they spoke of "accepting grace."  Apparently some of these Schoolmen we would now consider Arminian or semi-Pelagian.  They believed that grace was a choice.  Calvin replies, "that 'accepting grace' as they call it, is nothing else than his free goodness, with which the father embraces us in Christ when he clothes us with the innocence of Christ and accepts it as ours that by the benefit of it he may hold us as holy, pure, and innocent."

Some had this idea of "supererogatory" works or works that go above and beyond what God called us to do.  Calvin responds that "The Lord often testifies that he recognizes no righteousness of works except in perfect observance of the law."  So it stands to reason that there can be no such thing as supererogatory works since perfection is the standard and we cannot exceed perfection.  He points out that all of our good works wrapped up cannot cancel out even one of our sins because sin is so distasteful to God.  Forgiveness of our sins is a free gift of God.  It requires no satisfaction to be made beyond what Christ has already done for us.

Luke 17:10 reads, "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"  There is no way to reconcile the concept of "supererogation" to a passage such as this.  If we are true servants, all we do is for our master and what we do is our duty.  Calvin summarizes this by stating, "there is nothing that can come to mind which contributes to the honoring of God or the love of neighbor that is not comprised within God's law.  But if it is a part of the law, let us not boast of voluntary liberality when we are constrained by necessity."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.14.15-3.14.21

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Process of Justification

Calvin breaks men down into four categories and we will spend the next couple of days examining each class. He says that men (1) have no knowledge of God, (2) are Christian in name only, (3) hypocrites, or (4) truly regenerated by God's Spirit. The first classification of men are those who have no knowledge of God. "Not one spark of good will be found in them from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet." There are many passages then listed in this section, all dealing with the wickedness of those who have no knowledge of God. An interesting point that Calvin makes is that any apparent good seen in these men should still be examined in light of the fact that they do not know God. Their intentions are necessarily not right because the good they do is not for God but for some other motivation. Good works on their own have no merit.

Even though their motivation is off, "all the notable endowments that manifest themselves among unbelievers are gifts of God." It is God that has given all men a sense of morality - a basic understanding of what is good and what is evil. We know that all virtues come from God because all things that are praise-worthy come from Him.

Once again, all virtue comes from God. There is no "true virtue without true faith." Calvin speaks to intention here, which is what Christ taught many times such as in the Sermon on the Mount. Calvin states that "duties are weighted not by deeds but by ends." He agrees with Augustine when he wrote about non-believers not having the right intention in their good works, therefore they actually defile God's good works. Calvin states, "Therefore, because they do not look to the goal that God's wisdom prescribes, what they do, through it seems good in the doing, yet by its perverse intention is sin."

Augustine wrote, "Our religion distinguishes the just from the unjust not by the law of works but by that of faith, without which what seemed good works are turned into sins." Paul tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. If someone is apart from Christ, then he does not have salvation. It is only when we rely on Christ that we will be saved. Augustine also made a clever comparison to faith and a runner along a path. "It is better to limp on the path than to run outside it." In other words, it is better to have faith and struggle with good works than to have no faith and perform many good works.

A recurring theme with Calvin and all the Reformers is that we are saved by grace alone. There are no good works that have the ability to save us. Calvin examines several Scripture passages which emphasize that God finds nothing in the hearts of men good enough to cause God to save him. It is always God's grace that saves us, never any merit of our own. Titus 3:4-7 reads, "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Calvin says about this, "By this confession we deprive man of all righteousness, even to the slightest particle, until, by mercy alone, he is reborn into the hope of eternal life, since if the righteousness of works brings anything to justify us, we are falsely said to be justified by grace." Calvin continues to defend God's mercy as our hope for salvation and none of our own works contribute to it.

Calvin lumps hypocrites and nominal Christians together in the next sections. These two groups lack regeneration in their lives. This absence of regeneration points to the fact that they must have a lack of faith. If they have a lack of faith, then they must not have been reconciled to God, nor have they been justified before God. These benefits come from faith. They may believe that they have earned God's favor by some of their good works, but they are wrong. "As soon as any very wicked person has performed one or another of the duties of the law, he does not doubt that it will be accounted as righteousness; but the Lord proclaims that no sanctification can be acquired from this action unless the heart has first been well cleansed."

Just like the unbelievers in the first category, "works manifesting even the highest splendor are so far away from righteousness before the Lord that they are reckoned sins." If the motivation is wrong then the action is necessarily wrong. Calvin goes on, "Accordingly, they have spoken very truly who have taught that favor with God is not obtained by anyone through works, but on the contrary works please him only when the person has previously found favor in his sight."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.14.9-3.14.14

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Free Justification

Calvin addresses two items in this chapter. The first is that "the Lord's glory should stand undiminished good repair." The second items is that "our consciences in the presence of his judgment should have peaceful rest. and serene tranquility." In short, we should (1) give God His due glory (which is all glory) and (2) have the faith that He loves us and will give us the salvation which we have done absolutely nothing to deserve.

To his first point, "We see how often and how earnestly Scripture urges us, wherever righteousness is concerned, to give thanks to God alone." We are not righteous on our own. Only when we are clothed in Christ's righteous before the judgment seat of God do we appear righteous. We should never give into the illusion that somehow our good works make us righteous. It is insulting to God when we think too highly of ourselves in this regard. We are undeserving of any glory. "For, so long as man has anything to say in his own defense, he detracts somewhat from God's glory." Paul quotes the prophet Jeremiah in saying "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD" (1 Corinthians 1:31, NKJV).

When we attribute to ourselves glory that is rightfully the Lord's, then we are going against God.  "We never truly glory in him unless we have utterly put off our own glory...whoever glories in himself, glories against God."  We never want to take away from what belongs to God.  Calvin tells us that we are only fooling ourselves if we think that we have any righteousness at all that we are not glorying in ourselves.  Calvin continues in his discussion of righteousness, "the praise of righteousness remain perfect and whole in the Lord's possession, since it was to manifest his own righteousness that - as the apostle attests - he poured out his grace upon us 'so that he himself may be righteous, and the justifier of him who has faith in Christ' [Romans 3:26, Vg.]."

The question next presented is how can our conscience be made quiet before God.  Calvin answers by saying, "we shall find the only way to be that unmerited righteousness be conferred upon us as a gift of God."  It is God's free gift, nothing that we have earned.  It is not because of our righteousness that we will have peace in our salvation but in that unmerited righteousness that He pours out onto His people.  And we can truly take comfort in this.  However, "The conscience, if it looks to God, must either have sure peace with his judgment or be besieged by the terrors of hell."  If we truly have faith in God and His love for us, then we ought to have sure peace and not terror.  Part of this comfort comes from knowing that righteousness totally comes from God and not our own doing.  We cannot earn righteousness by following the Law.  "For no one can ever confidently trust in it because no one will ever come to be really convinced in his own mind that he has satisfied the Law."  Relying on our own strength will always lead us to uncertainty whereas relying on the grace of God will give us security.

Calvin returns to the dangers of believing in our own righteousness.  If we believe in our own good, how much good must we have to earn God's blessing?  That is a question that can never be answered.  "The promise [of salvation] will be fulfilled only to those who have faith in him" and not to those who have faith in themselves.  God has promised salvation to His faithful, and "whatever God mercifully promises, he also faithfully performs."  Calvin quotes Augustine, "Christ will reign forever in his servants.  God has promised this; God has said this; if that is not enough, God has sworn it.  Therefore, since the promise is firm not according to our merits but according to his mercy, no one ought to proclaim with misgiving what he cannot doubt."  God has made a promise to us and we can take comfort in knowing that He will always fulfill what He has vowed.

We can have faith in God's free grace.  He has promised it to us and no one can take it from us.  A favorite passage of mine is Romans 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  We will always be cared for by God.  Finally, Calvin speaks one more time about righteousness.  He writes, "Therefore, we must come to this remedy: that believers should be convinced that their only ground of hope for the inheritance of a Heavenly Kingdom lies in the fact that, being engrafted in the body of Christ, they are freely accounted righteous."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.14.1-3.14.8

Chosen By God, by R. C. Sproul

Every once in a while, I am going to start recommending some of my favorite Reformed books to everyone who reads Coffee With Calvin. "Chosen By God" is one of my favorites by R.C. Sproul. It really helps the reader understand Biblically what predestination is and why it is so important to us. I do encourage you to consider buying this primer on predestination, plus every sale through the attached link helps to support

Friday, July 16, 2010

Humbling Ourselves Before God

Like yesterday's reading, Calvin discusses how our egos cause us to not have the right attitude before God. We must humble ourselves before Him. Calvin uses a great metaphor here, "For if the stars, which seem so very bright at night, lose their brilliance in the sight of the sun, what do we think will happen even to the rarest innocence of man when it is compared with God's purity?" When we are before God's throne, all the good works which we have performed will be of no benefit, "purity of will alone will be demanded of us." We will eventually discover that all of our good human works, "when judged according to their own works, are nothing buy filth and defilement."

We must still compare ourselves to the standard of Christ. "Let us not be ashamed to descend from this contemplation of divine perfection to look upon ourselves without flattery and without being affected by blind self-love." We almost always think more of ourselves than we ought. We judge ourselves on a relative scale using other people as the measuring stick. We measure our outward actions to the actions of others. That is not what God has called us to do. Calvin writes, "...while man flatters himself on account of the outward mask of righteousness that he wears, the Lord meanwhile weighs in his scales the secret impurity of the heart."

Humility before God is an acknowledgment that we are "wholly poor and destitute" and yielding to God's mercy. If we vainly believe that there is something good in us of our own doing, we are not humble. Calvin points out a few Scripture passages where God speaks of the proud and the humble. One such passage is Zephaniah 3:11-12:
In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds
In which you transgress against Me;
For then I will take away from your midst
Those who rejoice in your pride,
And you shall no longer be haughty
In My holy mountain.
I will leave in your midst
A meek and humble people,
And they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
Christ made the point a number of times that He was sent to call the sinners, not the righteous.  Calvin looks at the parable of the the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.  This is Christ clearly teaching that it is the one who humbles himself that pleases God, not the proud one who shows off his own good works.  That parable ends with the words, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  I think it is much better for us to humble ourselves rather than waiting on God to do it for us.

Calvin then commands us to not be arrogant or complacent before God because this will prevent us from knowing Christ.  "Arrogance arises from a foolish persuasion of our own righteousness, when man things that he has something meritorious to commend him before God."  That is what the Pharisee thought.  He truly believed that all his good deeds counted for something before God when he was really doing them to show off before his neighbors.  "Complacency can exist even without any belief in works.  For many sinners are so drunk with the sweetness of their vices that they think not upon God's judgment but lie dazed, as it were, in a sort of drowsiness, and do not aspire to the mercy offered to them."  This is also the wrong attitude of heart.  This "que sera sera" attitude is prevalent in our society.  We must care about our salvation and the mercy that God gives us.  So we should not be proud of ourselves, but should strive to please God.  That is the balance that we should achieve.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.13.1-3.13.5

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Righteousness Before God

There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.

Romans 3:10-12
Calvin does not quote Romans 3 in this section, but he very well could have.  This section is devoted to our lack of righteousness before the judgment seat of God.  On earth, we tend to compare our works against those of other people.  We compare our righteousness to human standards.  There is no righteousness of man that compares to that of our Lord.  We cannot measure up to His standards, and it is against His standards that we must concern ourselves.  We are "concerned with the justice not of a human court but of a heavenly tribunal lest we measure by our own small measure the integrity of works needed to satisfy the divine judgment."  God is the supreme Judge, and Calvin uses many images of God from Scripture to paint a downright scary picture.  When we compare our lives to the law that God has given, we know that we fall short of His standard and are deserving of death.  "In short, this whole discussion will be foolish and weak unless every man admit his own guilt before the Heavenly Judge, and concerned about his own acquittal, willingly cast himself down and confess his nothingness."

When we compare ourselves to other men, our egos will get inflated.  We see how righteous that we are compared to others.  "Indeed, it is easy so long as the comparison stops with men, for anyone to think of himself as having something that his fellows ought not to despise."  But, when we lift our eyes toward God, we quickly realize how lowly we are.  We understand how short of His standard we fall.  We are reminded again in this section "we are clearly told the nature of God's righteousness, which will indeed not be satisfied by any works of man.  When it examines our thousand sins, we cannot be cleansed of even one."

Augustine wrote, "All the pious who groan under this burden of corruptible flesh and in this weakness of life have one hope: that we have one Mediator, Jesus Christ the righteous one, and he is the appeasement for our sins."  These words provide such comfort after reading two sections about how we will never live up to the righteousness of God.  We have Christ who has paid the penalty for our sins and we are clothed in His righteousness before the judgment seat of God.  Bernard wrote, "Where, in fact, are safe and firm rest and security for the weak but in the Savior's wounds?  The mightier he is to save, the more securely I dwell there.  The world menaces, the body weighs us down, the devil sets his snares.  I fall not, for I am grounded upon firm rock.  I have sinned a grave sin.  My conscience is disturbed, but it will not be perturbed because I shall remember the Lord's wounds."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.12.4-3.12.8

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Justification and the Righteousness of Christ

We pick up today's reading in the middle of Calvin's explanation of how we receive salvation through faith and not through any of our own works.  Galatians 3:11-12 reads, "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.'  Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'"  Works are required only for a law-based righteousness.  We can never achieve this type of righteousness because we will continually fail.  Works are not required for a faith-based righteousness and we count on God's grace for it.  Calvin writes, "From this relation it is clear that those who are justified by faith are justified apart from the merit of works - in fact, without the merit of works."  Romans 4:4-5 makes it clear, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness..."  Grace is free.  We cannot earn grace.

The Sophists had a hard time with the word "alone" in the phrase "justification by faith alone."  They claimed that only the ceremonial works of the law had been excluded, and not the moral works of the law.  Therefore, according to them, we must still perform and uphold all the moral works required in the law to earn our righteousness.  It is clear that the law is unable to justify us.  When this is taught in the New Testament, it is clear that the entire law is what is being referred to.  For instance, Galatians 3:10 reads, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.'"  This specifies "all things," not just "ceremonial things."  Their argument just does not hold water.

Does this mean that works are entirely meaningless?  Can we just do whatever we want and ignore what God has commanded?  Absolutely not.  Calvin writes, "Though works are highly esteemed, they have their value from God's approval rather than from their own worth."  On their own, works are meaningless.  Their value comes from man's intention to show obedience to God.  Not even Abraham could be justified through his works, and the covenant that God made with him occurred 430 years before the law was given to Moses.

We have read about righteousness, but Calvin now takes time to define it.  He writes, "the righteousness of faith is reconciliation with God, which consists solely in the forgiveness of sins."  So what is reconciliation?  "Sin is division between man and God, the turning of God's face away from the sinner; and it cannot happen otherwise, seeing that it is foreign to his righteousness to have any dealings with is God's enemy until he is restored to grace through Christ."  We are restored to grace through Christ in that our sins are forgiven.  We are made righteous "solely by the fact that [we] are purified when [our] spots are washed away by forgiveness of sins."

Some have apparently tried to differentiate between righteousness and reconciliation.  Calvin shows that Paul used these two words interchangeably.  II Corinthians 5:19,21 show this.  "that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation...For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  Calvin said that the words were used "indiscriminately, to have us understand that each one is reciprocally contained in the other."  Calvin quotes Augustine and Bernard.  Augustine wrote, "The righteousness of the saints in this world consists more in the forgiveness of sins than in perfection of virtues."  Augustine recognized our utter dependence on God's mercy for our salvation and not our own adherence to the law.  Bernard wrote this profound statement, "Not to sin is the righteousness of God; but the righteousness of man is the grace of God."

We are not righteous in and of ourselves, but through Christ are we clothed in His righteousness.  Calvin writes that the righteousness we have is not our own but of Christ communicating His righteousness to us by imputation.  "For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that, in some wonderful manner, he pours enough of his power to meet the judgment of God."  Ambrose compared this to the story of Jacob wearing his brother's coat and going before his father, Isaac.  Ambrose wrote, "That Isaac smelled the odor of the garments perhaps means that we are justified not by works but by faith, since the weakness of the flesh is a hindrance to works, but the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of sins, overshadows the error of deeds."  Calvin responds, "And this is indeed the truth, for in order that we may appear before God's face unto salvation we must smell sweetly with his odor, and our vices must be covered and buried by his perfection."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.12.1-3.12.3

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Faith Versus Works

In Calvin's time as well as our own, so many people in the world believe in a hybrid faith+works system of righteousness and salvation.  Anytime you watch a TV show or movie where salvation is discussed, it always is often "so-and-so was a good person so he is in heaven" or "as long as you have faith in something you will go to heaven."  Usually though, it is a combination of the two.  Calvin says that when one exists (faith righteousness or works righteousness) that the other is necessarily overthrown. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8-9, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith."  We can have one or the other, but not both.  Once we accept faith as our righteousness, we realize that there is no amount of works that will make us righteous.

The Sophists tried to sidestep the issue by claiming that these works were not spiritual works, but good works done by non-Christians under their own will apart from God's grace.  Calvin's answer to that is that there is still no one who can achieve righteousness through their own works.  Faith righteousness is the only righteousness we can hope for.  It does not matter what title is given to works, they are still not enough.

Calvin turns his attention to the Roman doctrines which call for a combination of faith and good works.  He says, "we confess with Paul that the doers of the law are justified before God; but, because we are all far from observing the law, we infer from this that those works which ought especially to avail for righteousness give us no help because we are destitute of them."  None of us are saved by or through the Law.  None of us can live up to the Law.  Calvin continues, "As regards the rank and file of the papists or Schoolmen, they are doubly deceived here both because they call faith an assurance of conscience in awaiting from God their reward for merits and because they interpret the grace of God not as the imputation of free righteousness but as the Spirit helping in the pursuit of holiness."  They are wrong on both accounts.  We have no "good merits" for which we should expect God to reward us.  Romans 3:10-12 reads, "As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.'"  We also know that God's grace the free gift of salvation, the Spirit helping us in our pursuit of holiness is sanctification.  The two processes are not the same and should not be confused.

Calvin then says several of the most important things about righteousness and justification: "But Scripture, when it speaks of faith righteousness, leads us to something far different: namely, to turn aside from the contemplation of our own works and look solely upon God's mercy and Christ's perfection."  Calvin recognizes that justification is made up of two components.  "God deigns to embrace the sinner with his pure and freely given goodness...Then God touches the sinner with a sense of his goodness in order that he, despairing of his own works, may ground the whole of his salvation in God's mercy." 

Paul taught the difference between faith righteousness and works righteousness.  Faith is able to justify because it embraces the righteousness offered in the gospel.  The Law does attribute righteousness to works, however, through faith our righteousness is apart from those works.  We can never perform enough good works to achieve salvation.

For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Romans 10:5-13 NKJV

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.18-3.11.23

Monday, July 12, 2010

Objections to Osiander's "Essential Righteousness"

We started reading Calvin's objections to Osiander yesterday, and today that is all we read about.  According to my original schedule, it should continue tomorrow as well, but I am cramming two days worth of reading into one so we can move on.

Luther's motto was "justification by faith alone," but that does not mean that faith in and of itself has the power to justify.  Only God can justify.  Osiander and Calvin both agree on this point.  Faith by itself is weak and imperfect.  Where Osiander went wrong was he failed to understand that each member of the Trinity has the same abilities as any other member of the Trinity.  He does not transfer the power of justification between God the Father and God the Son.  Calvin writes, "...then we transfer this same function to Christ because he was given to us for righteousness."

Christ is both God and man - fully divine and fully human.  Osiander attempted to divide these two natures.  When we are told in Scripture that Christ was made righteousness for us, Osiander claimed that this was Christ's divine nature only.  Calvin argues that this is not the case, but we "do not divide Christ but confess that he, who reconciling us to the Father in his flesh, gave us righteousness, is the eternal Word of God, and that the duties of the Mediator could not otherwise have been discharged by him, or righteousness acquired for us, had he not been eternal God."

Likewise, Osiander wrongly argued that justification could only be ascribed to Christ's divine nature.  Calvin squashed this idea be reminding his readers that Christ fulfilled the office of priest in His human nature.  "In his flesh, Christ's righteousness has been manifested to us."  We are justified through Christ and His atoning sacrifice for us.  His sacrifice was made for us while in human form, not His divine nature.

Calvin discusses next the nature of our union with Christ.  When we are apart from Christ, we are deprived of His righteousness.  But when we become His, we are engrafted into His body.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts - in short, that mystical union - are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed."  We have a spiritual bond with Christ.  Osiander contended that Christ was poured into us, not that we become part of His body.  Calvin compared this idea to transubstantiation, which Osiander also was a proponent of.  Also, Osiander contended that God "breathed His righteousness upon us" so that we may be actually righteous ourselves, not just clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Calvin concludes in the last two sections here that Osiander's doctrine "nullifies the certainty of salvation."  His idea of us becoming righteous along with God inflates our egos and prevents us from being totally reliant on God's mercy and grace.  Osiander believed that God would never justify those who remain sinful.  Calvin clarified again that justification and regeneration are separate acts.  Traces of sin remain in those who are justified therefore God grants justification to His people not in part but liberally.  Regeneration is a separate process, gradual in nature, leading to a newness of life.

One more point that Osiander makes which I think is all out heresy is that Christ the man was not righteous, but Christ is only righteous in His divine nature.  Scripture is clear that Christ is righteous, always.  He claims that the righteousness of Christ that we receive is from His divine nature, but Calvin responds that the righteousness we receive is bestowed upon us is the righteousness of God, but it was in Christ's death and resurrection that there is righteousness and life for us. 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.13-3.11.17

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Justification by Faith

The famous battle cry of Martin Luther - "Justification by faith alone!"  Although Calvin has hinted at it greatly so far, he decided that this was the point in The Institutes to dedicate some pages to it.  He writes a beautiful overview of the doctrine to start off.  "Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith.  By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life."  A few sentences later he adds, "faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God."  It is a free gift of God.  We can in no way earn faith or mercy.  It is essential that we rely wholly on God's grace for our salvation, not God's grace plus our works.

Calvin illustrates the concept of justification for his readers.  If someone is standing before a judge, he is considered "justified" if he is blameless.  Calvin even highlights that a "fair" judge (like God) will find an innocent man justified.  There are two ways to be justified before God.  The first is to live a perfect, sinless life.  Those of us who cannot live a perfect life must rely on the righteousness of Christ through faith.  Only then will we be seen as righteous before the Judge.  "Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.  And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ's righteousness."

Next, we read a number of Scripture passages that speak of justification.  One verse was Galatians 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'"  God is the one who justifies us through faith.  Another verse was Romans 3:26b, "that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."  Once again it is God who justifies, not us who bring about our own righteousness.  Calvin writes that "'to justify' means nothing else than to acquit of guilt him who was accused, as if his innocence were confirmed."  It is like we are blameless when we are before God, but only because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - not our own.

Several more passages are highlighted where Calvin demonstrates that other words are used to mean justification.  For instance, Ephesians 1:5-6 reads: "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved."  The word "accepted" refers to justification here.  In Romans 4, the word "imputed" is used a number of times.  Paul is speaking of justification as the "imputation of righteousness."  In other places Calvin shows that justification is also the reconciliation of us to our Father.

Calvin then spends the next 8 sections (so we will continue looking at this tomorrow) arguing against the misunderstandings of Osiander's doctrine of "essential righteousness."  He argues that Osiander's error comes from a misunderstanding of the bond of our union with Christ in the secret power of His Spirit.  Osiander goes beyond the righteousness that Christ has given us through His obedience on the cross.  Instead, he claims that we become righteous before God through the infusion of Christ's essence and His quality into our being.  Osiander continues in his error by confusing forgiveness of sins with rebirth.  He believed that somehow God transforms our vices into righteousness.  Calvin agrees that righteousness and sanctification are inseparable, but it is like the light and the heat from the sun: they are related but not the same.  We are clothed in Christ's righteousness, but that does not make us perfect in this life. 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.7-3.11.12

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Present Life and the Things in It

I can't help but wonder if some of today's readings were directed toward the monks of Calvin's day.  The whole point he makes is that in life we can allow ourselves to enjoy some of the goodness and beauty of this world as long as we do not allow it to distract us from God.  He calls this the "right use of earthly benefits."  Sure, we could technically live off of bread and water for our entire lives, but is God really making that demand of us or would that be something imposed by human thought?  Of course the flip-side of this is just as dangerous.  We should not give in to every indulgence in this life with no restraint on our consciences at all.

Calvin writes that "the use of God's gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us, since he created them for our good, not for our ruin."  We should enjoy a good meal.  Not only will it satisfy our hunger, but is will also provide "delight and good cheer."  The beauty of nature is ours to enjoy, not to ignore.  Calvin points out Psalm 104:15, God gave  " that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine..." God has given gifts to us that are beyond the basic needs for living.  If God gave us these things out of His kindness, we should not dismiss them saying that these things are not necessary to sustain life.

We should be aware that lust and overindulgence turn our hearts from God.  We may enjoy some of the good things in this world, but in moderation and with our hearts still focused on Him.  Food and wine we may enjoy, but gluttony and drunkenness are absolutely to be avoided.  Wearing more than a potato sack is perfectly acceptable, but we should not be so focused on the finest clothing that we forget about God.  Any sort of ostentation must be avoided since it distracts us and those around us from God and His Kingdom.

Calvin gives several "rules" for the present life and the things in this world.  The first is that "those who use this world should be so affected as if they did not use it."  That is a great way to look at it.  Yes, we should enjoy what we have, but we must keep things in the right perspective.  The next rule is "they should know how to bear poverty peaceably and patiently, as well as to bear abundance moderately."  Paul spoke of being content in life, no matter what.  This is exactly what Calvin is sharing here but in his own words.  Calvin quoted someone that he referred to as "Cato," who I believe may have been Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman of the 2nd-3rd century BC.  He wrote, "'There is great care about dress, but great carelessness about virtue.' To us the old proverb: those who are much occupied with the care of the body are for the most part careless about their own souls."  We should avoid excessive indulgences and licentiousness. 

Another "rule" which is really just a restatement and clarification of the second rule above (in fact he also calls this on the second rule), "they who have narrow and slender resources should know how to go without things patiently, lest they be troubled by an immoderate desire for them."  This gets back to the tenth commandments about not coveting anything.  Calvin illustrates how to spot this in ourselves and others.  He writes, "he who is ashamed of mean clothing will boast of costly clothing; he who, not content with a slender meal, is troubled by the desire for a more elegant one, will also intemperately abuse those elegances if they fall to his lot."  Calvin also writes about a third rule which is that God has given us these gifts out of His kindness toward us and for our benefit, but an account of these gifts will be made by us to God in the end.

Finally, Calvin touches on God's calling in our lives.  "The Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling."  He has a plan for each one of us.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses even better than we know ourselves.  We should look to God's direction for our lives.  Our duties in life are our callings, not just our careers.  God has them for all of His people.  Not only should we listen for God's calling as to what we should do, but also what should be left up to others to do.  Calvin uses an example of the removal of a tyrant from power.  This is a good thing, however if an individual private citizen attempts to do this it goes against God's calling for him.  This should be left up to public people in the political arena to handle.  Just because it is a good thing to do does not mean it is good for us to do if God has not called us for it.  And it does not matter how small a calling is: if we perform our calling according to God's will for us, it is very precious in His sight.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.1-3.11.6

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our Future Lives

Today's reading had to do with longing for our eternal life and not loving our current life.  Isn't that what this life is about, preparing ourselves for the next life where we are present with Christ for eternity?  That in itself should make us look forward to eternal life.  We also must endure hardships in this life which also should make us focus on the future.  "Whatever kind of tribulation presses upon us, we must ever look to this end: to accustom ourselves to contempt for the present life and to be aroused thereby to meditate upon the future life."  This is something that significantly differentiates us from all other creatures on earth: we look forward to heavenly immortality.  No other animal does this.  Sometimes we are lured back into loving this life too much.  God knows this and assists His people by sending appropriate afflictions to combat particular failings.  Examples that Calvin uses are like someone who is too secure in this world, God may allow him to be robbed or drawn into wars or allow other injuries.  Someone who loves his riches may be subject to fire, flood, theft, exile, or other means to draw his attention back to the future life instead of loving this one.  God wants us to be discontent with this life so we can focus on our future lives.  "For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it be previously imbued with contempt for the present life."

There is no compromise: either we must reject this world or love it.  The present life has many alluring features to make us want to love it, but it is not the present life that we should love.  We often act (and even feel) that this present life will last forever, but clearly it will not.  Like I tell people, there is just about a 1-to-1 ratio for death among people in this life.  It is for our benefit that God reminds us what this world is truly like.  This world has been broken by sin, and we need God to teach us this truth.  "But if God has to instruct us, it is our duty, in turn, to listen to him calling us, shaking us out of our sluggishness, that, holding the world in contempt, we may strive with all our heart to meditate upon the life to come."

Now here is a fine line that must not be crossed.  Although we are called to hold this life in contempt, we must not hold any ingratitude against God.  Even though this life is rife with miseries, we must still count them as blessings from the Father.  These miseries are a preface to eternal glory.  Scripture and nature both exhort us to "give thanks to the Lord because he has brought us into its light, granted us the use of it, and provided all the necessary means to preserve it."  For God has deemed that those who are destined for eternal life must first experience and struggle in life on earth.  We do struggle on earth, but we must be thankful to God for this present life.  These struggles prepare us for our future.

Calvin looks at the attitudes of men without salvation toward birthdays and funerals.  He says that unbelievers who wished that they had never been born or wished to die quickly, that rejoice at funerals and morn at birthdays are of sound judgment (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3).  Calvin says in contrast, believers should despise this current life in comparison to our heavenly lives to come, however, we should never despise life itself.  "Let the aim of believers in judging mortal life, then, be that while they understand it to be of itself nothing but misery, they may with greater eagerness and dispatch betake themselves wholly to meditate upon that eternal life to come."  Later he writes, "For, if heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile?"  Although this is a temporary place for us, we must "be prepared to abide in it at the Lord's pleasure, so that our weariness may be far from all murmuring and impatience."

It is natural to fear death.  It is an unknown and I think that is what most people fear about it.  None of us know anyone who has come back from death and told us of his or her experience.  It isn't like taking a vacation to an exotic destination where friends have told you the best sights to see.  However, it is something for Christians to look forward to.  Calvin writes, "But monstrous it is that man who boast themselves Christians are gripped by such a great fear of death, rather than a desire for it, that they tremble at the least mention of it, as of something utterly dire and disastrous."  All life desires to endure, but God loves us in a way that only He can make our lives endure forever.  We should "joyfully await our day of death and final resurrection."  Calvin tells us that we should await the Lord's coming "not only with longing, but also with groaning and sighs, as the happiest thing of all."  This sentence reminded me of our doberman that we lost last year.  When he would climb into our bed and would receive affection from us, he would groan and sigh because to him this was the happiest thing of all.  This image of his happiness, helped me to really appreciate the longing we should have for the coming of the Lord.

We are comforted in this world by the hope of our lives to come.  We can bear the miseries of this broken world knowing that we are going to a perfect world.  "To conclude in a word: if believers' eyes are turned to the power of the resurrection, in their hearts the cross of Christ will at last triumph over the devil, flesh, sin, and wicked men."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.10.1-3.10.6

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thankfulness in Suffering

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," (Matthew 5:10, KJV).  Calvin, as Christ did, tells us that we should take comfort in suffering persecution for righteousness.  Interestingly, he even says that this applies not only to those who are defending the gospel, but those who in any way are maintaining the cause of righteousness.  For when we suffer for righteousness, God blesses us.  "But when the favor of our God breathes upon is, every one of these things (poverty, misery, exile, contempt, prison, disgrace, and even death) turns into happiness for us." 

When we are suffering under the cross, "we are too ungrateful if we do not willingly and cheerfully undergo these things at the Lord's hand."  When we look at our suffering from a worldly point of view, we see only the downside.  We see the misery and despair.  When we recognize that our suffering is part of God's plan to conform us to the image of His Son, we become thankful and cheerful that He has chosen us for growth.  I often find myself praying to recognize God's hand in the midst of suffering.  I pray this for myself and I pray it for others when they are going through their own struggles.  Once I can recognize God's hand in my struggles, I become thankful because I know He is using these times for my growth and enrichment.  I can then face them willingly and cheerfully.  But Calvin does warn against being like the "new Stoics" who show no emotion.  For even Christ "groaned and wept both over his own and others' misfortunes."  Aren't we called to be like Him?

Calvin speaks of a "double will" that exists in the face of adversity.  The example he uses is with Peter, who suffered death for being a Christian.  He knew that his martyrdom would glorify God, but it is still hard to willingly be led to your death.  Unlike the Stoics, we believe that it is okay to feel and even show emotion, as long as it does not overtake us so that we act rashly.  As long as we recognize God's will in our suffering, we will not succumb to our emotions.  "But the conclusion will always be: the Lord so willed, therefore let us follow his will."

Finally, Calvin compares patience between philosophic and Christian understanding.  In a nutshell, the philosophers which Calvin is referring to believe that we must obey God and endure suffering because "it must be so."  Scripture, according to Calvin, teaches that we should have a different understanding of God's will for us.  First, we should see God's will as "righteousness and equity."  Then we should see God's will as "concern for our own salvation."  It is through suffering that we grow in Him.  It is through this that we are assured of our salvation.  "...our most merciful Father consoles us also in this respect when he asserts that in the very act of afflicting us with the cross he is providing for our salvation."  It is then with thanksgiving and praise to God that we bear the tribulations that our brought upon us, because we know that it is for our ultimate good.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.9.1-3.9.6

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bearing Our Crosses

"We all have our cross to bear." How many times have you heard that old expression? We rarely think of this being a good thing. Often it is an expression recited to bring some comfort to someone who is struggling.

Calvin has a better take on this expression. To him, "bearing one's cross" is a good thing. It shows that we belong to God and He is improving us. "For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil." The fact that we suffer helps us to relate to Christ and the suffering he experienced for us. And when we are going through our own sufferings, it can ease our pain to know that it is God preparing us throughout the situation. "How much can it do to soften all the bitterness of the cross, that the more we are afflicted with adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed!"

When we are suffering, we tend to focus more on God. I am sure that everyone here has experienced that - I surely have. It has been times of great adversity in my life that my faith has grown the most because I recognize my utter dependence on God. During the good times of life, that is when we tend to drift away because we get inflated egos thinking that we are in control. Calvin writes, "...we are by nature too inclined to attribute everything to our flesh - unless our feebleness be shown, as it were, to our eyes - we readily esteem our virtue above its due measure."

We recently watched the movie Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandella. Several times during that movie, Mandella quoted the line from a William Ernest Henley poem which reads, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." You would think that someone who suffered as much as Nelson Mandella would recognize a bigger master and captain than himself. God uses suffering to help us recognize His power and realize how feeble we are. Calvin writes, "Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions."

"And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope," (Romans 5:3-4, NKJV).  We receive blessings through bearing our crosses, especially hope.  Calvin lists ways that the cross strengthens our hope.  We are cleansed of a blind love of ourselves.  We become more aware of our incapacity and learn to distrust ourselves.  In our distrust of ourselves, we may learn to trust God.  Our trust in God will help us persevere to the end.  In the end we may be able to "stand in his grace that [we] may comprehend the truth of his promises; to have unquestioned certainty of his promises that [our] hope may thereby be strengthened."

Another use of affliction by God on His people is to "test their patience and instruct them to obedience."  Although God has blessed His people, he still needs to test and train them in His ways.  His people will become better servants when they are instructed by God.  The classic example Calvin uses is when God tested Abraham.  This clearly demonstrated Abraham's faith.  Abraham became a great servant for God.

The cross can also be seen as medicine for us.  Calvin compares God's people to horses.  If a horse is allowed to get fat and not be yoked, when the time comes for that horse to work, he will refuse.  It is constant training that a horse needs to be a productive animal.  Each horse needs to be trained according to that horse's temperament.  Likewise, God treats us according to our needs.  "The Lord himself, according as he sees it expedient, confronts us and subjects and restrains our unrestrained flesh with the remedy of the cross."

Finally, God uses the cross to "correct our past transgressions so that he may keep us in lawful obedience to himself."  He does not do this because He is a bully, nor does He do it to ruin or destroy us.  But God wants to "free us from the condemnation of the world," and this is how he accomplishes this freedom for us.  Calvin addresses how Scripture views similar sufferings by unbelievers in that they only become worse and more obstinate through sufferings.  God's people attain repentance because they recognize their sinful ways.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.8.7-3.8.11
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