Calvin on Avoiding Ungodliness and Worldly Desires

While reading through Banner of Truth’s beautiful gift edition of Calvin’s A Guide to Christian Living, which is itself a short section from his Institutes, I read this powerful section and thought it quite worth sharing.

But really, buy and read the whole thing.

Ligonier also published a translation called A Little Book on the Christian Life.

Elsewhere in Scripture Paul describes more clearly, if briefly, the elements which make up a well-ordered life. ‘The grace of God’, he writes,

has appeared for the salvation of all men, teaching us to cast away all ungodliness and worldly desires, and thus to live sober, righteous and holy lives in this world, as we await the blessed hope and revelation of the glory fo the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity and to make us his hereditary people, purified for him and devoted to good works (Titus 2:11-14).

Having thus encouraged us by recalling us to God’s grace, and wishing to open for us the path which leads to God’s service, the apostle removes two obstacles which could greatly hinder us.

The first obstacle is ungodliness, to which we are all too prone by nature; the second is worldly appetites which extend even more widely. The term ‘ungodliness’ signifies not just superstition; it also includes whatever is opposed to the true fear of God. Worldly appetites are equivalent to the desires of the flesh. That is why Paul bids us give up our natural reluctance to observe the two tables of the law, and to have done with all that our reason and will suggest to us.

For the rest, Paul reduces all our actions to three elements or categories: sobriety, righteousness and godliness. Sobriety doubtless designates chastity and moderation, and a pure and disciplined use of God’s gifts, together with patience in time of poverty. Righteousness includes the idea of equity, which determines how we live alongside our neighbors, so that we render to all what is rightly theirs. Godliness, which the apostle places third, cleanses us from the world’s defilement, and unites us to God in holiness. When all three virtues are inseparably joined together, they constitute complete perfection.

Nothing, however, is harder for us than to abandon reason, master our appetites and indeed totally renounce them, in order to devote ourselves to God and our brethren, and to contemplate, while mired on earth’s slime, the life of the angels. Paul therefore seeks to free our souls from all their bonds by reminding us of the hope of blessed immortality. He declares that we do not fight in vain, because Jesus Christ, having appeared as our Redeemer once and for all, will at his final coming display the fruit of the salvation he has won for us. In this way the apostle weans us from all the seductions which habitually dazzle us, and which prevent us longing as we should for the glory of heaven. In the meantime, he urges us to walk as pilgrims in this world, so that the inheritance above is not lost to us.


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