When he wasn’t blasting the ‘effrontery’ of his opponents (dubbed miscreants and asses), John Calvin could write with gracious clarity and depth. The excerpt below shows the characteristic skill of his pen. I have long sensed a need to take more time to read passages like these with care. “Books,” says Thoreau, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”
Since I don’t have to work too hard to find material like this today, I have to fight the reality that the abundance of good reading can turn me in to a page skimmer rather than a reader.
We frequently read about great theologians- which is helpful, no doubt- but we need to devote time to hearing from them directly:
Faith does not promise us length of days, riches, and honors, (the Lord not having been pleased that any of these should be appointed us;) but is contented with the assurance, that however poor we may be in regard to present comforts, God will never fail us. The chief security lies in the expectation of future life, which is placed beyond doubt by the word of God. Whatever be the miseries and calamities which await the children of God in this world, they cannot make his favor cease to be complete happiness…
In short, if we have every earthly comfort to a wish, but are uncertain whether we have the love or hatred of God, our felicity will be cursed, and therefore miserable. But if God lift on us the light of his fatherly countenance, our very miseries will be blessed, inasmuch as they will become helps to our salvation.
Thus Paul, after bringing together all kinds of adversity, boasts that they cannot separate us from the love of God: and in his prayers he uniformly begins with the grace of God as the source of all prosperity.
In like manner, to all the terrors which assail us, David opposes merely the favor of God,- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” (Ps. 23:4). And we feel that our minds always waver until, contented with the grace of God, we in it seek peace, and feel thoroughly persuaded of what is said in the psalm, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Ps. 33:12).
~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Rom. 2:28-29
Circumcision, for the Jews (the “people of God”), was a ceremonial symbol of identification and distinction. But each one, personally and individually, had to place his faith in God. That is why the “real” Jew, according to the apostle, was not one who just carried the outward symbol but possessed a real inward distinction of surrendered trust in the Creator/Redeemer.
Now that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law for all, we who are in Christ are the people of God by faith, meaning: in my heart and mind- at the level of thought and desire- I am set apart and devoted to Jesus Christ. That symbol of identification and distinction is “circumcision of the heart.”
The apostle is driving home the difference between real fruit that grows naturally from within the tree, as opposed to aesthetic fruit that is superficially pinned to a dead branch. Externals, symbols, and group identifications do not put us in right standing with God and certainly do not fulfill His purposes.
Reconciliation to God through faith is not by identifying with a group or keeping a ritual, but by a personal surrender to Jesus Christ and singular trust in His sacrifice to redeem me to Himself.
God sees your heart. What is He finding?
This is a guest post by Adam King. Adam is a recently ordained graduate of Piedmont International University, and a new father. Adam and I had the opportunity to go with our pastors to Alistair Begg’s Basics Conference in Ohio last spring, where we forged a true friendship over our shared appreciation for theology and coffee.
Faith, at first appearance, is the simplistic means by which someone becomes rightly related to God. In keeping with reformed thinking, we should certainly understand that it is simple to enter into covenant relationship with God by faith only, not by any works or complex human effort. However we should not quickly assume that faith itself is simple. One way to demonstrate the complexity of faith is by asking a few Christians to define faith from the Scriptures, there will certainly be a wide variety of answers and exposition.
My own typical approach to defining faith was to turn to Hebrews 11 and quote “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11.1 may be a good starting point for helping understand what it means to have faith, but as I study and continue my walk as a Christian, the simplistic faith seems to become more complex. The question, “is my faith dependent upon reason and logic, or independent of it?” and any ensuing answer proves the complex nature of faith.
So how is the Christian to understand faith? I do not claim to have the answer but can offer an approach I have found helpful, which is, do not try to define faith, but dive into the Scriptures and look at the stories of people who lived lives pleasing to God. I believe this is exactly what the author of Hebrews intended in writing Hebrews 11 and concluding it with his statement in 12.1-2. What does 12.1-2 tell us? That the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 are all examples to us, and we would do well to follow them by laying aside every sin and weight that will cause us to trip and fall in the race of our lives, not forgetting the one who is the champion of our faith, Jesus.