At church today we were asked “what is your motivation to go to church?” This is a subject that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the past two years and this is pretty much what I’ve come up with. Understand that I don’t mean what I think of as the role of the Church, but what I am looking for in the heart of a church service.

My motivation to go to church is to view the deus nudus – the naked God – in all His glory: Holy, perfect, and just. He is forever separated from me because of these qualities. I want to be reminded that my humanity and my innate sin nature keeps me from standing in His presence forever, then to be reminded that it is Jesus and His sacrifice in my place – on my behalf, that purchased, cleansed, and redeemed me. That Jesus’ work on my behalf has not only paid the price for my sins but adopted me into the family of God and granted me a place at His table and free access to His holy throne room forever. Before this happened my only chance to see God was from His judgment seat but now it is from His lap, as a child speaking in prefect safety and trust with the Father who he knows loves and cares for him forever. That is my motivation when I go to church. Show me my God, my separation, and my Savior.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
~ Titus 3:3-7 ESV

Remember that prayer that you prayed, or the time you raised your hand during an “altar call”? Yeah – that didn’t save you. Jesus saved you. You’re not good enough to save, you’re not smart enough to have God look at you and say, “I HAVE to have THAT GUY with me in Heaven!” There’s no amount of “good deeds” that you can do to warrant God’s saving work to be applied to your life. If anything, everything you do to “work off” your salvation or make yourself worthy is just an affront to God and mock Him for His work on your behalf. It’s not you who hold onto God, but God that holds onto you. You can’t be lost – you can’t “walk away” from your faith because it’s not “your faith” to begin with. God is the one who started the ‘good work’ of salvation within you and He will not lose a single one whom the Father has given Him. You are secure because of God’s love for you, not because of God’s love of you.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Translating that which was first in French, then translated into the King’s English into regular English so y’all can follow along. Buckle up, good theology ahead!

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 4: “How God Works In The Hearts Of Men.”

Section 6: While some actions themselves are neither good nor bad, the freedom with which they are acted upon has not yet been explained. While man has no ability to do good, God has the ability to use men for His own purposes. Throughout the old testament God has repeatedly stepped into the lives of people to turn their affections in the manner of His choosing. This is shown in the following places in scripture: Exodus 11:3; Genesis 43:14; Ps 106:46; 1 Sam. 11:6; Lev 26:36; and Deut. 28:65.

Section 7: Those examples cannot be assumed to be the general rule. They are written in scripture because they are peculiar and to show that God can and does direct people (or their situations as to lead people to His intended end) for His own purposes. Our judgement fails – even in simple things, our courage wanes, our resolve dissolves, and our strength weakens. Who are we to say that God is not the cause of these events? Solomon agreed with this when he said, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both” (Prov. 20:12), and “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). God can guide the thoughts and intentions of all mankind to fulfill His plans – peasants and kings. Augustine states, “Scripture, if it be carefully examined, will show not only that the good wills of men are made good by God out of evil, and when so made, are directed to good acts, even to eternal life, but those which retain the elements of the world are in the power of God, to turn them whither he pleases, and when he pleases, either to perform acts of kindness, or by a hidden, indeed, but, at the same time, most just judgment to inflict punishment,” (August. De Gratia et Lib. Arb. ad Valent. cap. 20).

Section 8: Free will is not, therefore, a question of what someone can do regardless of outside influence, but whether he has freedom to judge and desire. If men possess both of these freedoms, he is as free in a prison as he would be while ruling a country.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Translating that which was first in French, then translated into the King’s English into regular English so y’all can follow along. Buckle up, good theology ahead!

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 4: “How God Works In The Hearts Of Men.”

Section 1: Thus far we’ve determined that man cannot of his own good nature aim at good either in wish or pursuit, and that a distinction has been drawn between compulsion and necessity where it’s clear that even though man sins necessarily, nevertheless he sins voluntarily. From here we recognize that man seems to be more led by the devil’s will than his own, it’s necessary to explain the agency of each will and if man’s bad actions can be attributed to God. Augustine compares the will of man to that of a horse and that God and the devil are the two possible riders. “If God mounts, he, like a temperate and skillful rider, guides it calmly, urges it when too slow, reins it in when too fast, curbs its forwardness and over-action, checks its bad temper, and keeps it on the proper course; but if the devil has seized the saddle, like an ignorant and rash rider, he hurries it over broken ground, drives it into ditches, dashes it over precipices, spurs it into obstinacy or fury.” It is not that the will of man is forced to submit to the devil, but that it is so fascinated by his promises that it yields to his guidance. God grants those whom He does not favor over to the agency of Satan. In 2 Cor 4:4, Paul states that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, and in Eph 2:2 he describes the devil as the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. These are called the works of Satan, though their cause is not to be found anywhere but in the sinful hearts of men – where the root of evil lies.

Section 2: Calvin now turns to Job to show God’s sovereign hand in what happens in the life of someone who has been elected by God to obedience and salvation. The wicked acts of the Chaldeans upon Job, stealing his flocks and killing his shepherds, is by the hand of Satan, but was originally found at the hand of God. Job recognizes this in Job 1:21 where he states,”The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” How can this evil act be attributed to God? He allowed this situation to take place to exercise Job’s patience through adversity. To Satan, he had the ability to do whatever he wanted but in actuality he was limited to only what God allowed. “God also is said to act in his own way; because even Satan when he is the instrument of divine wrath, is completely under the command of God, who turns him as he will in the execution of his just judgments.” There is no inconsistency in attributing the same act to God, to Satan, and to man, “while, from the difference in the end and mode of action, the spotless righteousness of God shines forth at the same time that the iniquity of Satan and of man is manifested in all its deformity.”

Section 3: Ancient writers have often had trouble relating those things well for fear that they were speaking irreverently of the works of God. Calvin, while agreeing with their fear of God does not see any problems with merely reflecting what Scripture clearly states. Augustine himself states that sins are not merely of divine permission or patience, but of divine power. Those who say that God merely grants permission to people to commit sin merely are either not reading the text clearly or are cowards, afraid of the truth of Scripture. “God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission.” There are two methods by which God acts which are depicted in scripture: First, where He takes His light away, His Spirit is withdrawn and we immediately turn from the right path. The second is where God acts through Satan by granting him limited reign over our lives to wreak havoc and lead us to sin. In both instances, God is the cause but He does not sin. “Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.”

Section 4: Where do we see this in Scripture? For the first method, where God reels back His guidance and lets people walk according to their own will, we see the following references:

Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders ~ Ezekiel 7:26

He pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes ~ Psalm 107:40

He deprives of speech those who are trusted
and takes away the discernment of the elders. ~ Job 12:20

He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth
and makes them wander in a trackless waste. ~ Job 12:24

O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage. ~ Isaiah 63:17

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. ~ Exodus 4:21

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, ~ Exodus 7:3

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, ~ Exodus 10:1

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. ~ Exodus 3:19

It is clear from the text that God executed His judgment in these actions to bring about His will. God hardened and turned their hearts against His plans or His chosen people and left the sin to those whom He had hardened. God also turns hearts and minds to bring good things for Israel:

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! ~ Isaiah 5:16

In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. ~ Isaiah 7:18

And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there. ~ Ezekiel 12:13

I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against me. ~ Ezekiel 17:20

Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! ~ Isaiah 10:15

When men sin, they do so by their own hand, but the end result of that sin is owed to the hand of God alone.

Section 5: Satan is used to bring the unconverted to action when the Lord so desires it to accomplish His works. It is said repeatedly in first Samuel that an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul and troubled him (1 Sam 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). This cannot be the act of the Holy Spirit, but an impure spirit which acts under the will of God. Paul adds to this in 2 Thess. 2:11-12 where he states, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” There is always a wide gap between what God and Satan do, in that Satan is merely a tool of God who acts as controlled chaos to bring about the will of God; for our good and His glory. Satan, however, only has control over the lives of the unconverted whereas God reigns over both.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 3: “Everything Proceeding From The Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”

Section 12: Some people say that Paul in 1 Cor 15:10 states the he was a co-operator in grace. This is absurd as he does not say that the grace of God labored with him, but he pushes the whole merit of the labor to grace alone. He states clearly that in the labor which he provided, he did so more than all the other apostles, and that his labor (which was more than the others) was inspired, engineered, and acted through him and completed by the grace of God alone. He was nothing but an instrument in the hands of his master.

Section 13: Turning to Augustine to defend this point as there are Pelagians in any age who will refuse to accept it, Calvin refers to the second chapter of Treatise De Correptione et Gratis addressed to Valentinus where Augustine explains at length that Adam had the power to preserve in goodness but not the will to use that power. Quoting Calvin, “The grace offered by the Lord is not merely one which every individual has full liberty of choosing to receive or reject, but a grace which produces in the heart both choice and will: so that all the good works which follow after are its fruit and effect; the only will which yields obedience being the will which grace itself has made. In another place, Augustine uses these words, “Every good work in us is performed only by grace,” (August. Ep. 105).”

Section 14: Man is not drawn by an outward compulsion to trust in Christ, but is inwardly led so as to obey from the heart. Declaring that grace is given specifically and without measure to the elect, Augustine writes to Boniface, “We know that Divine grace is not given to all men, and that to those to whom it is given, it is not given either according to the merit of works, or according to the merit of the will, but by free grace: in regard to those to whom it is not given, we know that the not giving of it is a just judgment from God,” (August. ad Bonifac. Ep. 106) He later argues strongly that grace is not given to human merit as a reward for not rejecting the first grace. Pressing Pelagius to confess that unmeasured grace is necessary for us to complete any action, and since it is true grace, works are made of no effect. Quoting Calvin, “The matter cannot be more briefly summed up than in the eighth chapter of [Augustine’s] Treatise De Correptione et Gratia, where he shows, First, that human will does not by liberty obtain grace, but by grace obtains liberty. Secondly, that by means of the same grace, the heart being impressed with a feeling of delight, is trained to persevere, and strengthened with invincible fortitude. Thirdly, that while grace governs the will, it never falls; but when grace abandons it, it falls forthwith. Fourthly, that by the free mercy of God, the will is turned to good, and when turned, perseveres. Fifthly, that the direction of the will to good, and its constancy after being so directed, depend entirely on the will of God, and not on any human merit.” Thus the “free will” which is left to man is one which can neither be turned to God, nor continue in God except by grace, and that will derives all of its ability to do good at all from grace.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 3: “Everything Proceeding From The Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”

Section 10: When our will moves us, we cannot choose to obey or resist it, but it pushes us until the end result is achieved. This is not the idea that God merely offers aid and we choose to accept it, but that God drives toward the goal of salvation despite our desire against it. If it were left to us, no one would ever be saved – our fallen natures would prohibit it. “The Apostle’s doctrine is not, that the grace of a good will is offered to us if we will accept of it, but that God himself is pleased so to work in us as to guide, turn, and govern our heart by his Spirit, and reign in it as his own possession. Ezekiel promises that a new spirit will be given to the elect, not merely that they may be able to walk in his precepts, but that they may really walk in them (Ezek. 11:19; 36:27).” Everyone who is led by God to salvation, is saved, and cannot be broken free from this salvation. Augustine goes further, stating, “How came you? By believing. Fear, lest by arrogating to yourself the merit of finding the right way, you perish from the right way. I came, you say, by free choice, came by my own will. Why do you boast? Would you know that even this was given you? Hear Christ exclaiming, ‘No man comets unto me, except the Father which has sent me draw him.’” Jesus clearly refutes those who refuse to believe in predestination or election, when He states in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

Section 11: Those who refute the idea of the eternal perseverance of the saints, have lost the battle before they even began to fight. If our salvation is orchestrated by God, as we have already shown so clearly, and if God has promised to hold us to Him, after replacing our hearts and converting our will, then it is impossible for us to fall away as it is our sovereign Creator who holds us fast to Him. Scripture defends this in Philippians 2:13 where Paul states, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If God is the one who works in us to His own good pleasure, then how can we fall away, even when we do sin. Our sin has been paid for by our Creator. We do not “co-operate” in our salvation by any means. If we did, we would not be able to hold ourselves to Him who saved us. “If it is meant that after we are once subdued by the power of the Lord to the obedience of righteousness, we proceed voluntarily, and are inclined to follow the movement of grace, I have nothing to object. For it is most certain, that where the grace of God reigns, there is also this readiness to obey. And whence this readiness, but just that the Spirit of God being everywhere consistent with himself, after first begetting a principle of obedience, cherishes and strengthens it for perseverance? If, again, it is meant that man is able of himself to be a fellow-labourer with the grace of God, I hold it to be a most pestilential delusion.”

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 3: “Everything Proceeding From The Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”

Section 6: Calvin now turns to investigate the work which God does within the heart and mind of the natural man leading toward conversion. Philippians 1:6 states that it is God who begins the conversion of our will, and who will continue to keep us until Jesus comes back. “God, therefore, begins the good work in us”, states Calvin, “by exciting in our hearts a desire, a love, and a study of righteousness, or (to speak more correctly) by turning, training, and guiding our hearts unto righteousness; and he completes this good work by confirming us unto perseverance.” This is not God “aiding” us toward Him, but a whole replacement of our will and desires. Ezekiel 36:26-27 states, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” We have already proven that the heart and desire of man is evil continually; how is it that now we can achieve righteousness with only a few causal promptings from our divine creator? It is impossible! Instead, it is necessary that our whole will is removed and replaced with one that is engineered to seek God. We are not only incapable of doing God’s will without His direct intervention, we are ill-equipped. God, therefore, HAS to work within us to lead us to Himself. Philippians 2:13 drives this point home when it states that “it is God who works within us, both to will and to work for His own good pleasure.” Remember, that is not directed toward the unconverted, but to the Christian. If God so has to work in those whom He has justified, how much more does He work in the lives of the unconverted, who is wholly bent toward His destruction, to bring him to trust in Jesus alone for his salvation? All good things that we have in our lives come from God alone (1 Cor 8:6; 12:6), and the good works that we perform are merely an act of worship to the God who redeemed us. The whole of our turning, repentance, trust, salvation, restoration, justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification are from God alone, to God alone, for His glory alone.

Section 7: Refuting the idea that, once God prepares the will for conversion, that it then acts on its own to bring about the trust that leads to salvation, Calvin quotes Augustine, “grace precedes every good work; the will accompanying, not leading; a handmaid, and not a guide (August. ad Bonifac. Ep. 106).” The Lord destroys our depraved will, and replaces it with a good will from Himself. It is this good will, which is a replacement of our human will, that is receptive to God’s call for repentance.

Section 8: Since this is the crux of the issue for most who refute Calvin’s claim that it is God alone who orchestrates our salvation, He turns to Scripture to support him. He states that while his belief is founded in the writings of Augustine, he wants to make himself clear. First, while it is easy to prove that goodness comes only from God, and that no one of their own will is inclined toward good, the cause of election must be sought out. It follows that a right will is not native to that of mankind, but a gift from God. The beginning of right will and action is founded in faith, and that faith itself is a gift from God. There is nothing within man himself that leads God to provide that saving faith to man, so it is therefore founded in grace alone. God opts, out of His own good pleasure, to give to mankind what is necessary to bring him to repentance and faith, not based on the merits found in that man, but based on God’s own desire to see that man saved, paying no regard to whatever works, good or bad, he may have committed. “When the Lord, in the conversion of his people, sets down these two things as requisite to be done—viz. to take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh, he openly declares, that, in order to our conversion to righteousness, what is ours must be taken away, and that what is substituted in its place is of himself.” Where is this supported in scripture? Jeremiah 32:39-40 states, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Ezekiel also states, “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19) Calvin concludes, “It always follows, both that nothing good can proceed from our will until it be formed again, and that after it is formed again in so far as it is good, it is of God, and not of us.”

Section 9: This is confirmed in the prayers of the saints. Solomon prays that the Lord may “incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” (1 Ki 8:58), stating that the heart of man is perverse and it is God who must turn our wills toward Him, and keep us focused on His good pleasure. Psalm 119:36 states, “incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain”, relating the same idea of our own failure to focus on God until He does the work to turn us. This is reflected in God’s insistence that the Jews follow God’s rules regarding the Sabbath – that they work hard during the week, but stop and rest every 7 days and trust that God will defend and support them. Jesus verifies this for us in John 15:1,4, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” We, according to our Savior, will wither and die if we are separated from God who sustains and supports us as the vine supports all those who are attached to it. Continuing this theme, Jesus, in Matthew 15:13, states that “every plant that [God] has not planted will be uprooted.” As we discovered before in Phil 2:13, it is God who does all good works within us, and who sustains us to do those good works for His good pleasure. “Were it said that God gives assistance to a weak will,” states Calvin, “something might be left us; but when it is said that he makes the will, every thing good in it is placed without us.” God also sustains us until we are called home into glory. David asks God to protect him from sin, that it may not have control over him (Psalm 119:133). This reveals that God not only begins the work of salvation and sees it through to completion, but that he is actively involved in our daily lives, protecting us from sin, and leading us toward Him in repentance and faith.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 3: “Everything Proceeding From The Corrupt Nature of Man Damnable.”

Section 1: Scripture is key in learning about the nature of mankind. If man is perfectly described by the words of Jesus, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Jn 3:6), then he must be a very miserable creature. John states in Romans 8:8 that to be carnally minded is death, and that it is hostile against God, because it does not and cannot submit to God’s law. For those who say that the term “flesh” regards only the carnal desires and that the soul is somehow capable of a higher purpose, Jesus’ statement in John 3:6 refutes it in that our Creator states that we ARE flesh – in our complete being. The soul of a natural man is as corrupt as the flesh itself. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 4:23 that the natural man is corrupt through deceitful desires, and implores us to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds”. This emphasizes that corruption has its seat in our desires – which are born in our souls. There is no part of the natural, unconverted man which is without corruption. “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Eph 4:17-18) The heart of the unconverted man is wholly set against God. David drives the point home when he says, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psalm 62:9) There is no one, rich or poor, who can bring anything to God of any worth.

Section 2: “In no degree more lenient is the condemnation of the heart, when it is described as ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,’ (Jer 17:9)”. Calvin then goes on to state that it is Romans 3:10-18 that describes in detail the truth about the heart of man:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3)
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.” (Ps 5:9; Jer 5:16)
“The venom of asps is under their lips.” (Ps 140:3)
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (Ps 10:7)
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery, (Prov. 1:15-17; Isa 59:7-8)
and the way of peace they have not known.” (Lk 1:79)
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Ps 36:1)”
~ Romans 3:10-18.

It is clear that Paul is not claiming that there are certain people who are in sin, but all people who are in sin, and their sin is grievous to the heart of God. This is not to bring people to repentance but to teach that none is without sin before God and that deliverance needs to come from God alone.

We are not corrupt because of customs or upbringing but because it is our nature. Paul’s point is that we are, outside of the grace of God, totally separated from the salvation that God provides because we automatically disqualified in our nature. In this passage, Paul strips man of his intelligence, integrity, and purity – subjecting their God-given bodies to their blasphemy against Him, and seek only their own pleasure at the expense of all around the. Ultimately concluding that they refuse to acknowledge their Creator and Protector. Calvin concludes, ” If these are the hereditary properties of the human race, it is vain to look for anything good in our nature. I confess indeed, that all these iniquities do not break out in every individual. Still it cannot be denied that the hydra lurks in every breast.”

Section 3: What about those who have, all their lives, devoted themselves to virtue? (Think: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, etc) While it would be easy to spot their sins before God once you examined their lives closer, and the virtuous acts which they performed will be judged by God, for the sake of this discussion, let’s look at the issue at hand and determine how that devotion may be found in them if they are wholly corrupt. There seems to be some evidence from Scripture to the fact that mankind has the ability to curb his basest desires – in that we cannot possibly imagine the horrors that would erupt if God allowed mankind full vent to his lusts. The fact remains that it is only by the cause of divine grace that natural man to performs virtuous deeds, and even appears to do so from their own desire.

Section 4: Calvin now refers to someone named “Camillus” who appears to be an unconverted person who was committed to to virtuous acts. “I admit”, says Calvin, “that the specious qualities which Camillus possessed were divine gifts, and appear entitled to commendation when viewed in themselves.” But how are these actions proof of a virtuous nature? In a nutshell, they aren’t. We’ve already shown that all mankind is bent toward evil. It is then a special gift from God when someone is granted the ability to love and serve others, sometimes even at their own expense. He also grants special abilities to those whom He designates for certain roles; kings, princes, rulers, military generals, scientists, artists, etc. Understand, however, that these given virtues are not leading to eternal life, but are a means to an end. No one comes to the Father except through the Son.

Section 5: When the will is chained as a slave to sin it cannot pursue goodness. Every step toward goodness is, therefore, a gift of divine grace. Jeremiah prays, “bring me back that I may be restored” (Jer 31:18), showing that our sanctification comes from God alone. Continuing that thread, in Jeremiah 31:11, he states that it is the Lord who redeemed Jacob and ransomed him from one stronger than himself. There is no way that man can free himself from his sin to pursue righteousness, and it is something that God Himself has to purchase for us. It is not that we are deprived from our will, but that our will is deprived of wisdom. “Thus simply to will is the part of man, to will ill the part of corrupt nature, to will well the part of grace.” The will is not free to decide its fate, but is led by compulsion to evil by our Adamic nature. It is necessary for the will of man to pursue evil because this is how he is wired. As he continues in sin, his will conforms to the compulsion. Bernard relates, “Thus the soul, in some strange and evil way, is held under this kind of voluntary, yet sadly free necessity, both bond and free; bond in respect of necessity, free in respect of will: and what is still more strange, and still more miserable, it is guilty because free, and enslaved because guilty, and therefore enslaved because free.” (Bernard, Sermo. super Cantica, 81).

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 2: “Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved”

Section 26: Moving on to the will now where the question of freedom principally rests – the power of choice belonging to it rather than the intellect. Now, all men realize that the act of free choice depends on the options which are made available. You cannot choose to do “anything” if “anything” is not an option. For instance, you cannot choose to take a wheelbarrow to the moon if you do not have the means to do so. What we do then, is to make a choice based on the options presented to us – choosing what we determine to be the best course of action. Calvin clarifies the issues, “The question of freedom, therefore, has nothing to do with the fact of man’s being led by natural instinct to desire good. The question is, Does man, after determining by right reason what is good, choose what he thus knows, and pursue what he thus chooses?”. The “appetite” (or desire made manifest) is a natural inclination and what is “good” is not what is virtuous or righteous, but what is the correct choice in that situation. Calvin then states, “In fine, how much soever man may desire to obtain what is good, he does not follow it. There is no man who would not be pleased with eternal blessedness; and yet, without the impulse of the Spirit, no man aspires to it. Since, then, the natural desire of happiness in man no more proves the freedom of the will, than the tendency in metals and stones to attain the perfection of their nature, let us consider, in other respects, whether the will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil, or whether it retains some portion uninjured, and productive of good desires.”

Section 27: It would seen that our natural will has the power to aspire to holiness, yet we do not have the power to pull it off. Paul confirms this when he states that what he would will to do he is incapable and that which he wills not to do, he does (Rom 7:15, 18). Of course is speaking of the struggle of the Christian here, in that the natural man cannot will to do the right thing by his own power – at least not in a manner that glorifies God. The Christian is constantly in struggle against against sin (Rom 7:20) whereas the natural man doesn’t care if he sins. Paul continues, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7:22-23). The natural man, however, is incapable of thinking a good thought (2 Cor 2:6), and whose every thought is of evil continually (Gen 8:21). We are, by our nature, sinners and if sinners, then servants of sin, under bondage and unable to rescue ourselves (Jn 8:34). If we could attain salvation through our own free will, then it Paul could not have said that “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Even when the believer prays that God would have their heart trained to the obedience of the law, it is a prayer from God through them that they would seek Him more diligently (Ps 51:12). In conclusion of this chapter, Calvin states, “Let us therefore rather adopt the sentiment of Augustine, “God will prevent you in all things, but do you sometimes prevent his anger. How? Confess that you have all these things from God, that all the good you have is from him, all the evil from yourself,’ (August. De Verbis Apost. Serm. 10). Shortly after he says ‘Of our own we have nothing but sin.'”.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Book 2: Of the knowledge of God the Redeemer, in Christ, as first manifested to the fathers, under the law, and thereafter to us under the gospel.

Chapter 2: “Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will, and Miserably Enslaved”

Section 22: Now onto the third branch of the knowledge of spiritual things – how we properly regulate our conduct or “works of righteousness”. This appears to be a branch in which the human mind seems to have more discernment than the other two. Paul even makes a point of this in Romans 2:14-15 where he states that the Gentiles, who don’t even have the law of God can properly discern how they should and should not live. If they have this naturally in their minds, we cannot say that they are wholly blind in regards to the rule of life. For what reason was man given this revelation? It was given to them in their conscience so that they may be without excuse on the day of judgment. Despite this knowledge of good, however, he continues to try to suppress the knowledge of his sin so as to enable him to act in a manner that is contrary to his conscience.

Section 23: Themistius (Paraphr. in Lib. 3 de Anima, cap. 46) states that the intellect is very seldom mistaken in the general definition or essence of the matter; but that deception begins as it advances farther, namely when it descends to particulars. What does that mean? That the natural man, when he sins, believes that he is doing the best good at the time in that circumstance. Now there are times that people knowingly waltz into sin or, when faced with a hard decision choose the easier option which happens to be, in itself, sin. In these circumstances it is very often the case that the person does not see the wickedness of their sins until after it has been completed and upon that revelation repentance immediately follows.

Section 24: Mankind has been granted by God a sense of justice and injustice in order that they may have no pretext to allege ignorance. Using the ten commandments as God’s standard for purity, Calvin exposes how futile it is that man can honor God on his own. Beginning with the first section (relating to us and God) none of us, by our own will can worship God as we ought. More than that, it is the heart of the converted man who continually seeks after God as the profane man returns to his old ways as does a dog to his vomit. In the second section of God’s law (how we relate with one another) it is easy to see our failures in that our own ability to honor one another often descends into bickering over rules and conflicting prideful misunderstandings. We proudly find fault in others, yet completely miss them in ourselves as it is contrary to our pride and we cannot stand to see our own failures.

Section 25: What says Scripture on this matter? Paul states that we are not sufficient to judge our own goodness and that God alone has the authority to do so (2 Cor 3:5). The implication here is not that we are somehow not intelligent enough to see it but that we are so blinded by our own perceived goodness that we cannot, without the Holy Spirit working within us, acknowledge our own failures in light of God’s perfection. The Holy Spirit, however “knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain” (Ps 119:34) and that every thought of mankind is of evil continually (Gen 6:5; 8:21). Since everything that we conceive, meditate upon, plan, and do is always evil, how can we ever think of doing what is pleasing to God who embodies perfection, holiness, and righteousness? It is with this in mind that we are driven to God alone who is the one who brings us to Him (Ps 119:34). Paul continues this thought when he states that he continually prays for the Colossians that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10). This does not imply that the ability to do so is within man, but that it is God who does it for them in their lives. David also states that it is God who keeps him from wandering from the truth (Ps 119:10), and that it is God who acts upon him to renew his spirit when he has acted contrary to the nature of God living within him (Ps 51:12).

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

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