Book 3 - Chapter 1
This chapter begins Book 3. This Book is entitled “The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us From It, and What Effects Follow.” Book 1 was all about God the Creator. Book 2 was all about God the Redeemer (Jesus Christ). This Book will show us how the saving work of Jesus comes into our lives and how that work changes us.
Summary: Calvin begins with a question: “How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son-not for Christ’s private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy man” (pg. 537)? His answer begins with the understanding “…that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (pg. 537). An analogy might be that we are sick, we go the doctor and get medicine. The medicine is useless until we ingest it. Christ has made salvation and new life possible but until it gets within us and changes us it is of no use.
Calvin’s answer to the question of how we receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection is contained in a single word, faith. “It is true that we obtain this through faith” (pg. 537). This concept however, raises another question. Why do some people have faith and others do not? Calvin will leave this question unanswered for a bit…but he will return to it.
Rather than directly answer this question, Calvin wants to make a couple of important points about the Spirit and Christ. First the Holy Spirit is not simply the Spirit of God but is also the Spirit of Christ. He quotes the Apostle Paul, “You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his” (Romans 8:9) (pg. 539). This means that Jesus sends, through the Spirit, the benefits he made possible in his death and resurrection. Calvin asserts that if this were not so, then Jesus, “…would have come in vain if he had not been furnished with this power. In this sense he is called the “Second Adam” given from heaven as a life giving spirit” (pg. 539).
Second, Calvin next turns to several of the titles which are given in scripture to the Holy that describe the Spirit’s work. These include the “spirit of adoption”, meaning that God freely chooses us; “the guarantee and seal” of our inheritance, meaning that the Spirit insures that we do not lose the gifts we have been given; “life” and “water”, meaning that the Spirit nourishes us into becoming new people; “oil” and “anointing” meaning that we are restored by the “stream of grace” poured out upon us; “fire” meaning that the Spirit burns away those parts of our lives which are contrary to the will of God; and “spring” because it is the place from which all heavenly graces flow.
At this point Calvin returns to the question of why some people have faith and others do not. The answer for Calvin is that people have faith because the Spirit has given them faith. “But faith is the principle work of the Holy Spirit” (pg. 541). Faith is in fact “…a supernatural gift that those who would otherwise remain in unbelief receive Christ by faith” (pg. 541). He continues “Accordingly, that we may become partakers of it (salvation) ‘he baptizes us in the Holy Spirit and fire’, bringing us into the light of his gospel and so regenerating us that we might become new creatures…” (pg. 542). Thus, for Calvin, even faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. This belief is going to send down the road of what is called the doctrine of Election, meaning that it is God who choses us and not we who choose God.
Reflection: Coming to faith in Christ is not always a straightforward experience. There are people I know who always knew that they were loved by and that they believed in God. I know others who had a radical conversion experience that changed their lives. I was one of those. After not believing in God for more than a decade, I had an encounter with God, meaning I suppose the Holy Spirit, in which my life was completely redirected. That experience convinced me that Calvin was right when he affirmed that it is the Spirit that adopts us, rather than we adopt Jesus.