Category Archives: John Calvin

21 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

The Remedy against Sin

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Galatians 5:17

suggested further reading: Romans 7

Though we fervently pray and strive to tame our evil desires, we will always have weaknesses in whatever we do. I am not speaking about hypocrites here but the true children of God. Even those who increase in holiness can only approach God by limping. They do not do as they would want to, as Paul goes on to say.

Yet believers, once they have become aware of their wickedness, sincerely and without pretense seek the remedy in God. They feel the need for him to help them overcome their evil desires. Hence, Paul says, “ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This does not mean that for the rest of our lives we will never again be tempted by Satan to do evil. For, indeed, our flesh still has many goads urging us to do wrong. All kinds of sin will tempt us, but we can still resist those through the grace of God.

Paul, in exhorting believers not to allow themselves to lose control, speaks of “the flesh having no dominion over them.” He does not say that evil desires and sinful lusts will no longer dwell within us. We will only be rid of sin when it pleases God to take us to himself. Until the day that we leave this world, we will always have spots and stains within us, and we will always be bent down with the burden of our sins and weaknesses. This is to humble us and to show us that our life is a constant battle against sin.

Though sin dwells within us, it must not have dominion, for the Spirit of God must conquer it. This can only happen if we flee to God with fervent zeal, praying that he will remedy the evil that we cannot change and that he would grant us more gifts of his Spirit so that we might overcome everything that has weighed us down.

for meditation: Do not lose heart if your struggles with sin continue until the day you die. You should not be pleased with the status quo or make a truce with sin; we must fight it tooth and nail! But do not doubt your salvation because you cannot perfect yourself. Instead, hope in God and his unfailing promise to help you battle sin.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 374). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

20 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Walking in the Spirit

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

suggested further reading: Romans 6

Paul tells us here that we are to walk in the Spirit. If we do this, “we will not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” By this he issues a warning to all who revel in their sins and allow themselves freedom to do evil under the pretext that they cannot resist it. He stirs them up here and shows them that they have no excuse for sin; that though completely disposed toward evil, they nevertheless ought to search for the remedy.

What is the remedy? It is true that we will not find the answer in ourselves, but God is sufficient for this. He will give us grace to fight against our carnal appetites and evil desires. He will make his Holy Spirit reign in us and have the victory. God has no intention of disappointing us when he makes such a promise. Flee to him, therefore, like a sick person running to a doctor.

Paul anticipates the excuses yet to be made as well as those to which people are already accustomed. They say, “Look at us—we are carnal. Love is an angelic quality; therefore, how can we be expected to exhibit this if we are wholly disposed to evil and overtaken by sin? If we were not under the dominion of sin, we could be expected to be united under God, but we are too weak for that!”

This is what many people say, and they expect to be absolved as a consequence. However, Paul, as it were, says, “It is true that we are full of evil, and yet men choose to remain in this state; they are serving the devil and their minds are increasingly darkened. Nevertheless, we are to seek a remedy. God calls us to himself through the gospel and offers us his Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must condemn evil and hate it. Then God will work in us and overcome all our fleshly desires.”

for meditation: Without the Holy Spirit’s power, we are unable to conquer our natural sinful inclinations. But believers have the Holy Spirit and thus are without excuse if they do not walk in that Spirit and refuse to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We are no longer slaves to sin! Rejoice and be encouraged to press on in your daily fight against sin.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 373). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

19 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Giving up Anger

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. Galatians 5:15

suggested further reading: Proverbs 14:16–27

This warning of Paul’s is not superfluous, for in it he wishes to shame those who become so enraged that they refuse, even from the very first, to be subdued or restrained by reason. When a man is thus fiery-natured and throws caution to the winds, we need to give him an appropriate reproof that will make him ashamed and draw him back to obedience unto God.

Paul therefore seeks to help us so that we might overcome our passions little by little, for they are far too powerful. Then, the next time we feel prompted to hate someone or to take vengeance upon him, we will first think, “What will happen in the end? If we fight like cats and dogs, we will only consume one another!”

Have we really taken note of this? Indeed, we could go further and say that, even when hatred would be the most useful thing in the world to us and would mean that we could have greater victory over our enemies when we have come to the end of all our projects and schemes, yes, even when we could only profit by giving vent to our anger, yet we would provoke the wrath of God if we did not submit to him so far as to love the unlovable.

This being the case, let us submit to each other in all humility. If this is difficult for us, let us more earnestly work at it until God has mastery of us and until we have denied ourselves. For we must leave behind everything that pertains to our nature and preserve the sacred union that God has placed among us by making us one body.

for meditation: Proud creatures that we are, most of us find it very difficult to love our enemies. How can we love those who criticize us? Here are six helps:

  • Consider how Christ treated those who hated him.
  • Become better acquainted with your enemies; you cannot love those you don’t know. Seek to understand them.
  • Assure them that you want to learn from them and that you want iron to sharpen iron—and mean what you say.
  • Ask the Spirit for grace to be willing to forgive any injury done to you.
  • Pray with your critic when you are with him and pray for him in private. It is difficult to stay bitter against a person for whom you pray.
  • Follow 1 Peter 2:1 in putting away anything that inhibits love.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 372). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

18 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Loving your Neighbor

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Galatians 5:14

suggested further reading: Matthew 5:43–48

If we give way to selfish interests, it is a sure sign that we do not know what it means to bear the yoke of God, for we are simply following our natural instincts.

Indeed, as we shall shortly see, people are wholly inclined to evil and therefore give rein to their appetites, waging war upon God. Their whole life is spent in rebellion against God. This proves that the devil controls our affections, indeed, so much that God cannot make use of us until he has overcome everything that pertains to our nature.

The person who loves his neighbor demonstrates that he is not looking after his own interests and is not selfish. Loving our neighbor is a sure and certain mark that we are seeking to obey God and to regulate our lives according to his Word. The Lord Jesus begins with this when summarizing his own teaching by saying that we must first learn to deny ourselves. For if we followed our natural course, we would undoubtedly walk in the opposite direction to the path set out by God. Thus Paul has good reason to say in this passage that the law is fulfilled by this one thing: that we love our neighbor.

We must realize that when God uses the word neighbour, he does not only include our relatives and friends, from whom we hope to gain some profit or advantage, or who deserve some kind of reward from us. He wants us to be aware of the kinship that he has placed between all of us. We are all made in the image of God and bear his stamp, so we share a common nature. That means we ought to maintain a sense of unity and brotherhood among all of us.

for meditation: Loving our neighbors as ourselves takes incredible selflessness. It is not so difficult to be pleasant or civil toward another person, but to actually love him or her requires much more. This kind of love thus serves as a great test of the genuineness of our desire to fulfill the law. How are you loving your neighbors?[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 371). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

17 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Forming Christ in Us

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. Galatians 4:19

suggested further reading: Colossians 1:9–20

When Paul speaks of Christ being formed in us, he is warning us that it is not enough to have a sketchy knowledge of our Savior; we must have a real-life experience of him. We need to have a vision of his power, his grace, and all his benefits impressed upon our hearts to the extent that his image in us can never be erased.

Earlier in the epistle, Paul says that whenever the gospel is preached in true power, as it should be, it is as though Jesus Christ is crucified in our midst (Gal. 3:1). He is not only vividly depicted but is presented before us upon the cross, with his blood flowing from him, offering the ultimate sacrifice to God the Father to blot out all our sins and transgressions. Since God has been so gracious to us, our response should be never to allow the message to pass us by unheeded.

Many people seem to blossom after hearing only three words of the gospel, as it were. They believe that is sufficient, yet in reality their understanding of Scripture is very shallow. We ought not to be surprised if they fall into temptation, however small, and become forever lost. All they thought they believed is of no avail in such circumstances, for God is punishing them for their lack of true commitment.

Therefore, now that God has graciously permitted us to know his Son, we should have this vivid picture impressed upon our hearts whenever we hear a sermon. We need to remind ourselves and refresh our memories of this so that the devil, who seeks to cloud our minds and to overcome our faith, will not have the victory.

True believers will have such a clear picture of Christ engraved deeply upon their hearts that they can say that Jesus Christ is truly formed in them.

for meditation: Jesus’ accomplishment of redemption was graphic. It was substantial and visual. Christ should likewise be vivid inside us. We should not be content with blurry concepts and ideas but with a clearly defined and experientially known Son of God. Do you have Christ formed in you?[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 370). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

15 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Listening to our Accusers

Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Galatians 4:12

suggested further reading: Galatians 2

When someone reproves me for my sin, Paul says it is because God has ordained this and has sent the person to me in his stead. The person does this so I will not have to stand before the majesty of God to give an account of myself for this sin. For if I do, I will be condemned a hundred thousand times more severely. Thus, when God sends us human judges, it is because he has taken pity on us. He hopes that we will be ashamed of ourselves and return to the right path.

If God is gracious enough to take pity on us in this way, we ought to take advantage of his grace rather than become embittered against him and full of imaginary thoughts that we are hated, persecuted, envied, or victimized by any kind of evil treatment that we can conceive. Let us banish all such thoughts and accept warnings and reproaches, if they are indeed true. In short, the best thing we can do when we are accused is to consider whether or not our own consciences have been giving us the same message.

Next, we must conclude that we have been rightfully challenged. How strange that those who become enraged when they are criticized and who rant and bare their teeth would find plenty of reasons to condemn themselves if they truly searched their own hearts. But they prefer to act like madmen when face to face with God, despising his warnings rather than judging themselves and being humble before him.

Therefore, this is what we must do: when rebuked, we must listen to our accusers.

for meditation: What a positive view Calvin presents to us of criticism! Though our critics seldom present their case against us without at least some exaggeration, few criticisms don’t hold at least a grain of truth. Who is being critical of you at the present time? Isn’t he or she in some way helping you to see some aspect of your distorted emphases, blind spots, areas of neglect, attitudes and actions contradictory to stated commitments, and perhaps even outright failings of faith and practice? Try being less defensive, and ask yourself: Even if my critic doesn’t intend my betterment through his criticism, how can I grow from this criticism?[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 368). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

14 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Finding Blessing in Rebuke

Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Galatians 4:12

suggested further reading: Psalm 141

When we are reproved for our faults, we are not to raise barriers against that by falsely imagining that the person hates us and is therefore out to criticize us as part of an attack of Satan.

Though we are by nature inclined to analyze whether or not we are being vilified and criticized out of hatred, our first thought must not be that the person is against us because of any personal reason. The devil stirs up such thoughts within us. If we have fallen and someone rebukes us, the message has surely been sent to us by God, regardless of who conveys it to us. For God does not want us to perish but seeks to bring us back to the right path, even if the messenger is motivated by less than righteous intentions. Even if a person only seeks to criticize to avenge himself, God can use that to help us so that we do not perish.

Satan, on the other hand, will not allow us to accept this medicine, for he puts in our heads the idea that the other person, when reproaching us for our faults, is motivated by something other than holy zeal. He convinces us that the person is on the attack and is ready to kick us in the teeth because he is driven by some hidden ill-feeling toward us. Satan puts these imaginary ideas into our minds whenever we are bothered over something to make us so angry that we reject what we have been told and consequently rebel against God himself.

Let us, therefore, remember this lesson when we are next challenged because of our sin. Then we will realize that the messenger has been sent to judge us on behalf of God so that we may not have to face him as our judge in this matter.

for meditation: The greatest problem we face when receiving rebuke is pride. Unable to conceive of the possibility that we might be wrong, we immediately think of how the other person must be wrong. But if we are genuinely in error, others have been sent by God to bring us back into line. It would be a terrible thing if our pride were to keep us from receiving God’s rebuke.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 367). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

13 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

What It Means to Believe

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26

suggested further reading: Matthew 15:21–28

Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and for his sake God owns and accepts us as his children. Believing this means much more than people generally imagine.

Those who are not familiar with Holy Scripture may find it strange that we can receive blessing simply by believing. They may think faith is not enough of a virtue to earn us such a reward. However, believing in Jesus Christ is not equivalent to believing a story that we were told or that we have read; it means truly receiving him as presented to us by God the Father. We must embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who has paid for our sin to reconcile us to God. We must entirely trust in him for salvation, assured that he has provided all that we need to gain our eternal inheritance.

If we are certain of these things, it will not surprise us that we become children of God simply by believing. Yet we must also remember that faith has no merit in itself; it is not a question of weighing our faith in the balance to assess its value as a virtue. No, we become children of God through free adoption.

If you are looking for the cause of this, I tell you the true source of salvation is in the mercy of God alone in choosing to take pity upon us. This is achieved by means of faith, as we have said before. When all our pride and vain presumption has been taken away and we recognize that we are lost by nature, then we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is teaching us here.

for meditation: Here Calvin brings together three mottos of the Reformation: faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone. For Christ’s sake, faith and grace are best of friends, not competitors. Gracious faith, then, embraces Christ the way a ring embraces its diamond, as Luther put it. Faith gets all its value from its object, Jesus Christ. Even if your faith is as weak as a single strand of a spider’s web, if that strand is attached to the rock, Christ Jesus, your salvation is absolutely secure. If you are a believer, meditate humbly on your security in Christ today.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 366). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

12 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Accepted into the Family of God

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:14

suggested further reading: Ruth 4

By faith we receive the promise of the Spirit and become united to the Lord Jesus Christ. We also become part of the spiritual seed of Abraham. Though we do not physically descend from his family, it is enough that we are united together with him by faith.

Indeed, we have been regenerated by incorruptible seed, as Peter says, by the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Having been transformed, we understand that God accepts us as part of the body of his only Son. Though of Gentile descent, we can still be joined to his church, since faith is all that is required.

Here, all pride in human virtues and merits must cease, and people must recognize that they shall be utterly confounded unless they seek God in the way that he has appointed. Let Jesus Christ be sufficient, since our salvation depends entirely upon him. We will lack nothing if we have an interest in him. This is the point to which Paul frequently returns in this book. Furthermore, he wants us to hold fast to God’s truth, knowing that it does not allow any additions. Were we to add to it, we would corrupt, pervert, and falsify the covenant upon which our salvation depends.

Having embraced our Lord Jesus Christ, we must fully remain dependent on him, because this one man has sufficient grace for us all. In him, we can boldly call upon God, knowing that though we descend from the accursed race of Adam, we nevertheless receive blessing in Jesus Christ, and God now accepts us as his children and freely adopts us. He wants this message to be heard throughout the world since there is now an open door and free access by which we may draw near to him.

for meditation: Calvin presents us here with a wonderful confirmation of how the Reformers emphasized solus Christus (“Christ alone”) for salvation. Does your mind and heart resonate with the Christ-centeredness of his approach? What a blessing and what a relief it is for poor sinners like us to find all our salvation in Jesus Christ! Thank God today for his “unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15), our Emmanuel.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 365). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

11 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

Becoming a Curse to Bless Us

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. Galatians 3:13

suggested further reading: Philippians 2:5–11

Two facts must be carefully held together; that God has said whoever hangs upon a tree is cursed, and that it was his will for his own Son to suffer thus. It may seem harsh and strange at first sight that the Lord of Glory, who has all sovereign authority and before whom all the angels of heaven tremble and prostrate themselves, should be subject to such a curse.

But we must remember that Paul said gospel teaching is foolishness to the human race, who regard themselves as wise (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). Indeed, in this way God humbles us for our folly. For there is enough wise and good instruction (if we care to heed it) in the heaven and earth around us, yet we are blind and shut our eyes to God’s wisdom displayed in nature. This is why he has opened up a new way to draw us to himself through something that we deem foolish! So we must not judge by our human reasoning what we read here concerning the curse to which the Son of God was subject.

Instead, we should delight in such mystery and give glory to God that he loved our souls so much that he redeemed them at such inestimable cost to himself. Indeed, may we all glorify God, for our Lord Jesus Christ refused to consider it robbery (as Paul expresses it) to reveal himself thus in his infinite glory (Phil. 2:6). He willingly emptied himself, not only taking upon himself a human nature and becoming a man, but also submitting to a most shameful death in the sight of both God and man.

How precious we must have been to him for experiencing such extreme suffering for our redemption! If we could taste something of what this implies, we would forever magnify his unspeakable grace which surpasses all human understanding.

for meditation: The great cost of redemption should never cease to bring us to our knees. That Christ was willing to bear the sins of the world and to die such a shameful and accursed death for sinners like us is shocking and glorious and humbling. We did not deserve such sacrifice, yet God did it out of sheer love and grace. What a glorious truth to meditate on throughout today![1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 364). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.