QUOTE OF THE WEEK
God has manifested Himself as Father to us. If we do not manifest ourselves as sons to Him in turn, we prove ourselves to be extremely ungrateful (Mal. 1:6; 1 John 3:1).9
In this chapter, Calvin addresses how Scripture commands Christians to live, which is not intended to be an exhaustive study of each godly virtue but rather “to identify a certain universal principle to guide Christians in their duties” (4). The main theme that comes forward is that we should love righteousness and pursue holiness, which is fostered in us by the manifold beauty of the gospel. He then concludes with a word about professing Christians who do not pursue holiness and a word of encouragement as we continue to wrestle against our sinful nature.
For being such a small chapter, volumes could be written simply digesting the nuggets of scriptural truth that Calvin presents. Not having time nor the space to do so, I will make a few comments on portions that were of particular note to me, and I would love nothing more than to hear some favorite quotations and insights from you all on this chapter as well!
It would be a shame to pass over the very first sentence of the book: “The goal of God’s work in us is to bring our lives into harmony and agreement with His own righteousness, and so to manifest to ourselves and others our identity as His adopted children” (3). Here, at the start, we glimpse how deeply Calvin’s theology has been shaped and molded by Scripture. Today, as well as throughout many periods in history, religion is fundamentally seen as man-centered. Of course, paganism has always been centered around man, for even their ‘worship’ of gods is little more than bargaining for better outcomes in life. The same was also true of Roman Catholicism is Calvin’s day, and present-day evangelicalism is largely no better. How many professing Christians today subconsciously treat God as though He were some sort of mystical force that can be leveraged for achieving blessings?
Calvin, however, roots his book squarely in the vein of Scripture by noting that God is in the business of bringing us into harmony with His own character, with making us clearer images of Himself. The heart of true religion, therefore, lies not in what God may do for us but rather in how God is making us more like Himself. Like the Scriptures, Calvin’s theology is a God-centered theology. As it should be.
Next, consider Calvin’s statement that the first instruction from Scripture on the Christian life is “that a love of righteousness—to which we are not naturally prone—must be implanted and poured into our hearts” (6). Indeed, Paul testifies to this thought by citing Psalm 14, declaring that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 13:10-11). Being sinful and unrighteous at heart, we naturally reject even the pursuit of righteousness or at least righteousness for God’s sake. Some do, of course, do righteous works, but without the supernatural act of the Spirit, we tend to do them in order to be see as righteous by others or to convince ourselves that we are righteous. A selfless righteousness that is aim at imitating and pleasing the Righteous One, however, can only be granted by God. It must be an imputed righteousness, one that is truly “implanted and poured in our hearts.” It comes from outside ourselves.
On pages 9-11, we witness Calvin’s marvelous call to pursue holiness in light of the gospel. Steven Lawson notes that in Geneva Calvin constantly wrestled against a group of Libertines, “who boasted in sinful licentiousness… arguing that the “communion of the saints” meant that their bodies should be joined to the wives of others.” They argued that the grace of the gospel made sin permissible; Calvin, however, shows that the gospel actually summons us into an even deeper war against sin. Yet notice that he also avoids the other extreme of legalism, as if our works of piety could ever add to the work of Christ. Take note how Calvin presents first the work of God (“Christ has cleansed us by washing us with His blood, and has communicated this cleansing to us through baptism”) and then presents how we should respond (“It would be inappropriate, therefore, for us to defile ourselves with fresh filthiness”). He does not call us to refrain from sin in order to be accepted by God; instead, our war against sin flows from having already been cleansed of sin by Christ’s blood. Neither does our cleansing in Christ negate our need to kill sin; rather, it empowers our mortification of sin.
He makes this case with five other scriptural portraits of the gospel on pages 9-11, and each is worth taking time to meditate over what is said.
In his discussion of false Christians, we would do well to consider the following:
Such nominal Christians demonstrate their knowledge of Christ to be false and offensive no matter how eloquently and loudly they talk about the gospel. For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.12-13
First, let this paragraph shatter the caricature that any might paint of Calvin as being focused solely upon the intellectual aspect of doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth! Second, note the pastoral heart of Calvin in the final sentence. He calls the false, professing Christians to stop lying, to cease their hypocrisy and admit that they are not followers of Christ. Or, better yet, he calls them to another option: be true disciples of Christ. Even as he rebukes false Christians, his hope is clearly that they would turn in repentance and prove themselves to be true Christians.
Finally, the encouragement that Calvin gives on pages 14-17 should not be overlooked. “I’m not saying that the conduct of a Christian will breathe nothing but pure gospel, although this should be desired and pursued” (14). Such perfection within this life, a life of “pure gospel,” is unattainable; even still, we should strive for such conduct and affections. We must aim for unstained holiness, yet we must be content with “staggering, limping, and crawling on the ground” (16). And we should find encouragement so long as we are making progress in the faith, even if it is only incrementally.
Let us end in Calvin’s own words:
So let us fix our eyes on the goal with sincerity and simplicity, aspiring to that end—neither foolishly congratulating ourselves, nor excusing our evil deeds. Let us press on with continual striving toward that goal so that we might surpass ourselves—until we have finally arrived at perfection itself. This, indeed, is what we follow after and pursue all our lives, but we will only possess it when we have escaped the weakness of the flesh and have been received into His perfect fellowship.16-17
 Steven Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, 16.
Note: page numbers correspond to this edition of the book.