Monday, March 14, 2016

Chapter 19: Justification by Faith

What is Justification? Why must it be by Faith Alone?

(3.11.1)  “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 spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life”  

'The End', or so you would think. 
Turns out, Calvin has a much more to say on Justification because humanity is just too dumb, too deaf, too arrogant, to faithless, and too influenced by Roman teaching to understand this simple concept.

(3.11.2)  “Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance of with which God receives us in his favor as righteous men (people).  And we say that it consist in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” 

Right!  God says, “Because you have faith, it’s all good.”   But Calvin continues...

(3.11.3)  “Therefore, “to justify” means nothing else than to acquit of guilt on him who was accused, as if his innocence were confirmed.”  

By now, I hope you are seeing a pattern here.  

In days past, I’ve had conversations like this in a bar at 1 am, dude talking, and saying the same thing over and over.  I doubt Calvin was high at the time, but he is writing in great detail so that there is no misunderstanding.  Calvin considers every possible argument and the way people might approach this concept.  There is NOTHING we can to do merit favor with God.   

From 3.11.5 - 15 Calvin sets straight someone known as Osiander who didn’t understand the simple and beautiful concept of God’s grace to us through Jesus Christ. Now as simple as this concept is, wouldn’t you know, we still find a way to mess it up with pride.  Calvin takes up this error by writing about humility

(3.12.5) Away with all Self-admiration!  “In order that we may rightly examine ourselves, our consciences must necessarily be called into God’s judgement seat.  For there is need to strip entirely bare in its light the secret places of our depravity”  God gives to us a clean slate by faith alone and ‘some people’ get all haughty thinking they are now ‘Holier than Thou.’ 

Watch it, Calvin warns.

(3.12.8) “For we will never have enough confidence in him unless we become deeply distrustful of ourselves; we will never lift up our hearts enough in him unless they be previously cast down in us; we will never have consolation enough in him unless we have already experience desolation in ourselves.”

I believe what Calvin is trying to say is, “Tim dig yourself brother.  Just because God’s grace is promised to you through faith in Christ and you are justified in God’s eyes, that don’t give you any excuse to go acting like a fool and messing around in those things you used to be messing around in.”  (Calvin speaks to me that way sometimes).

Now in (3.14.1) Calvin lays four classifications of men, (people) who are in the process of Justification:  1. Endowed with no knowledge of God and immersed in idolatry, or 2. Initiated into sacraments, yet by impurity of life denying God in their actions while they confess him with their lips, they belong to Christ only in name; or 3. They are hypocrites who conceal with empty pretenses their wickedness of heart, or 4. Regenerated by God’s spirit, they make true holiness their concern.

You all are in category #4 right?  Amen? 
If you can’t say Amen, you better say ‘Ouch!’

The last two sections of this chapter (3.14.3-4) deal with what Calvin calls the ungodly.  Those without Christ and it’s pretty harsh, they’re doomed.  I wonder what Calvin would have thought and said had he lived to know of the ‘new world’.  Millions of soul lost because they were born and died on a distant continent.  If Calvin had continued to hold this theology, I think I would have told him that he was a fool and knew nothing of the Grace of God.  (I talk to Calvin that way sometimes)

What would you say?


  1. I love the image of Calvin having "spirited" debates with barflies!

    I might join your side of the debate over the question of grace. I continue to struggle with the seemingly oppositional forces of predestination vs. grace. I understand the logical argument for predestination (I think). I also understand Calvin's concerns about free will (I also think). What I don't understand is why God's grace and our relationships with God through Christ aren't sufficient for universal salvation. I'm just not convinced that God is intent on excluding anybody.

  2. The other side of the coin for universal salvation is where is the justice? The horror of the cruelty that we witness in our daily news feed testifies that right does not always triumph. I find comfort in knowing that God is just. So I go back and forth with this thought, the judge is the redeemer - the redeemer is the judge. I need not worry how it all works out. We should all focus on our own progress and how we help nurture others. It's the best we cando.

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  4. Hey Tim, great summary. I like how you make it immediate to our own current condition. As to your question about the "ungodly", I am myself of two minds about it. Before seminary, I have often said that a just God would not condemn those who had no opportunity to hear God's word. I think there is a revelation of God in nature. That perhaps God holds those who could never have heard the word accountable on that level. I think that is where we might see God's justice. But then how about all of those in countries where there is severe persecution of Christianity? This reminds me of all of the early church arguments about what to do about apostates.

  5. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for this excellent summary. As I read through your post, my mind immediately wondered back to Matthew 13 where Jesus told the parable of the sower. These four kinds of people connect me to those in Jesus' story.

  6. I tend to lead towards Grace. Scripture says over and over again that God orchestrated all of creation to speak for the Creator. People who may not even know or hear of Jesus Christ still has the ability to feel through the concept of a God who exists. But even in today’s culture I come across people who live in neighborhoods where they pass church’s everyday getting home that have no concept of Jesus and what He actually did while He was on this earth. We have the responsibility to share our faith even the most basic concepts or thoughts are important because we take for granted the fact that people might never have heard the name of Jesus Christ outside a curse word or a religious joke. That is more alarming than undiscovered Indians in the new world.

  7. Someone asked me in Sunday School this morning if I thought that the only way to salvation was through Jesus Christ. I said yes. The next question was, what about those that haven't heard about Him?
    My immediate response was that this was above my pay grade:)
    Then I replied, I have to believe that because Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." I do believe the Bible. I believe Jesus is our Savior. I also believe that I am commissioned to tell others about Jesus and what He did for me/us. I wouldn't do this if I didn't believe this was true.
    This to me is where faith steps in. I can't even begin to comprehend God. But, I know Him and love Him. He is not capable of anything but love. Why would I question what He is going to do. I simply must trust and believe. God is good all the time!

  8. Calvin's comments in regard to those who have not accepted the Word (yet), did and still upsets me. To allocate one to be doomed is, judgmental and surprises me that Calvin would not see his words here as knowing someone's heart.. which is only the Lord's view. What would I say? I would say that God is God and I am not. I often use the scripture which shares that God will have mercy on whom he has mercy... My thought is that Calvin in his attempt to encourage and to be clear over-spoke in this section (as I feel he has in a few other areas). I do my best to speak of the way in which the Lord has moved in and through my life, I speak of Jesus and I speak to all who will listen. I do not try to know, to see if this or that person is a 'believer'. I just speak to all as I speak ... to all. My journey has been one of a gradual awakening to the complete providence and sovereignty of God. And so, maybe I am less needy to know 'how far along someone is on the journey'. And so I would not have gone to the extremes Calvin has to classify individuals as he has in the Institutes. I cannot see how that is helpful, there must have been a reason, some counter-argument which was ongoing for Calvin to be clear and concise in this way.

  9. Interesting comments from everybody. I keep thinking about Calvin's clear theology of God's sovereignty and the idea that God can do anything or can save anyone God pleases. He is definitely inconsistent in his overall argument as he says in the early chapters that humanity is naturally imputed with knowledge of God but then turns to 3.14 and claims that humanity could be "endowed with no knowledge of God." He continues to explain that gave certain humans virtuous traits will be punished for their lack of true faith. I agree that this is really hard to swallow, but I keep trying to think of Calvin's audience.

    I shared before my experience with atheism. I had started to attend church and the pastor at that church was very critical of anyone who questioned as, in his view, it was not true faith and therefore reflected insincerity. I don't believe that this pastor desired to make his flock feel damned, like I felt, but rather to encourage them in their faith. I read his argument upside down. Thinking about Calvin and his desire to feed his flock, not feed doubt and skepticism, I wonder if he wrote this portion in part to encourage or at least provide an encouraging framework for reformed pastors. Faith is from God, it is in the hearts of your believers, it is the foundation of salvation and the root of virtue. We come at this with modern eyes and read it with a skepticism that Calvin would not have.

    I am reading Calvin as parallel lines. 1. An explanation of how it all works. God's sovereignty, our faith, our salvation. 2. How we as human being act day by day and process the "how it works" in our own terms.

    Therefore, Yes, we from our insignificant worldview must act in response to God. We should be doing good works, have faith in God, spread the Good news etc. This, however, is ultimately, at its core the work of God not us but we in our human limitations can't fully grasp God and therefore, we think we have choices and therefore we must respond like we do. Therefore, we must god out and spread the Good News to reach those who have not heard the word even though God has already ordained that this would happen.

    I think

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