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

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