No ordinary life

Book 3 Chapter 6 Section 1-5

Calvin groups chapters 6 to 10 of Book 3 under the banner of “The Life of the Christian”. Beginning with this short chapter on how the bible exhorts us to live a holy life, he then moves onto a study of Matthew 16.24 in two part – self-denial (7) & carrying the cross (8) and finishes with two meditations on the future (9) and present life (10).

Calvin first of all presents the call of God to personal holiness. Scripture would have two things focus our attempts at holiness – 1) the love of righteousness and 2) the denial of self. Calvin reminds us that we are to be holy because God is holy. He states that holiness must be the bond in our union with God “not that by the merit of holiness we come into communion with him, but because it greatly concerns His glory not to have any fellowship with wickedness. Again “for to what end were we rescued from the iniquity and pollution of the world into which we were plunged, if we allow ourselves, during our whole lives, to wallow in them?”

While the philosophers can only exhort us to live agreeably with nature, we have a higher goal. For God “has impressed His image upon us, to which He would have us to be conformed.” And that image is His Son. Calvin presses us to live a holy life and gives numerous reasons for holy living, all originating in the blessings of God:

  • Ever since God exhibited Himself to us as Father…
  • Ever since Christ purified us by His blood…
  • Ever since He ingrafted us into His body…
  • Ever since He who is our head ascended to heaven…
  • Ever since the Holy Spirit dedicated us as temples to the Lord…
  • Ever since our soul and body were destined to heavenly incorruptibility and an unfading crown…

“These, I say, are the surest foundation of a well-regulated life, and you will search in vain for anything resembling them among the philosophers.”  He finishes this chapter by considering the challenge before us to be holy as God is holy. He admits that although all true Christians will aspire to a completely pure life, none will achieve it.  Nevertheless, we should be resolved to “set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim.” We must seek to always make progress, even in some small way – “let us not despair because of the slender measure of success.”

Response

It is encouraging to see the compassionate Calvin in this chapter recognising the frailness of our nature and our lack of progress in genuine godliness. We must hold these two things in tension throughout our entire pilgrimage – the unadulterated call of God to complete purity and the frailty of the human nature in progressing in holiness. To over-emphasise the former leads to despair and inner condemnation, to over-emphasise the latter leads to over-indulgence and self-justification.

In all our teaching and preaching we should never water down either truth, but rather we should preach with all our heart that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Only with the Spirit’s enabling can we ever make progress in a holy life. As He enables, we are able to walk with the Spirit and as we do we find that we suddenly are not so inclined to satisfy our selfish desires. Does God call us to do the impossible? Yes, humanly speaking. But as Peter could walk on water as long as he kept his eyes focussed on Christ, so we too are able, in some measure, to live a God-honouring life.

“So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5.16+24-25

Father, enable us to keep our eyes focussed on Jesus for more of each day, every day. May we grieve the Spirit less and quench the Spirit less each day of our lives. We know we will never be perfect, but keep us from willful sins and keep us pressing on. Amen.

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