Book 2 - Chapter 16
HOW CHRIST FULFILLED THE FUNCTION OF REDEEMER TO ACQUIRE SALVATION FOR US. HERE, ALSO, HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION ARE DISCUSSED, AS WELL AS HIS ASCENT INTO HEAVEN
In this chapter Calvin focuses on the “how” of Jesus’ “saving work.” In so doing he will cover several portions of the Apostles’ Creed.
Summary: Calvin begins where all good Calvinists begin, with a reminder of the fallen/sinful state of human beings. This state according to Calvin is one of our being “…condemned, dead and lost in ourselves…” (pg. 503). He continues that, “No one can descend into himself and seriously consider what he is without feeling God’s wrath and hostility toward him…” which will lead human beings to “…anxiously seek ways and means to appease God...” (pg. 504). Even as Calvin lays out his view of our sinfulness and thus our deserving of the wrath of God, he also realizes that somehow God had to love us in order to have sent Jesus to save the world. “For how could he (God) have given us his only begotten Son a singular pledge of his love to us if he had not already embraced us with his free favor” (pg. 504)?
In some ways, this is a balancing act for Calvin because on the one hand Calvin believes that God is so holy that God “cannot love the unrighteousness that he sees in us all” (pg. 505). On the other hand, Calvin believes that, “…because the Lord wills not to lose what is his in us, out of his own kindness he still finds something to love. However, we remain sinners by our own fault, we nevertheless remain his creatures…thus he is moved by pure and freely given love of us to receive us into grace” (pg. 505-6). Calvin continues this line of thought by quoting Augustine. “God’s love is incomprehensible and unchangeable...he (God) has loved us before the world was created, that we might be his children along with his only begotten Son- before we became anything at all”[i] (pg. 506). Calvin sums up this balancing act by once again quoting Augustine. “God knew how at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made” (pg. 507). In a sense, he is saying God hates the sin but loves the sinner.
With the concept of God’s love for us established, Calvin moves forward with his discussion of how “Christ abolished sin, banished the separation between us and God and acquired righteousness to render God favorable and kindly toward us” (pg. 507). The answer is that Jesus accomplished this ‘…by the whole course of his obedience” (pg. 507). Calvin understands Jesus’ saving work as having begun the instant Jesus “took the form of a servant” by being obedient to God’s will for his life. Even so Calvin makes it clear that it is in Christ’s death and resurrection that salvation was obtained and made real for us.
Calvin begins by discussing Jesus death. Jesus death mattered because Jesus took upon himself our sins. “The Son of God, utterly clean of all fault, nevertheless took upon himself the shame and reproach of our iniquities, and in return clothed us with his purity” (pg. 510). And in so doing, Christ “…gave himself over to its (death’s) power in order to deliver us from it” (pg. 511). Thus, Calvin leads us to the two outcomes of Jesus’ death which are “…liberation from the death to which we were bound, and mortification of the flesh (meaning we become new people)” (Pg. 512).
Reflection: How do you find the balance between a Holy God and a Loving God? This has always been the struggle for Christianity. Some churches have come down on the side of a Holy God who demands perfect obedience while others offer a God who is all loving and so cares little about sin. Calvin works diligently to find the balance between the two; such that we feel ourselves both called to a holier life while at the same time, knowing that we exist in God’s love.
[i] Augustine, John’s Gospel cx 6
In the previous lesson, we covered Calvin’s belief that even though we deserve God’s hatred because we are sinners, we are saved because God loves us. We also began to examine the “how” of salvation, which was accomplished through Jesus death and resurrection. In Jesus’ death Calvin tells us that Jesus took our sins upon himself, thus defeating the power of sin and making us new people. In this chapter Calvin continues this discussion by examining several portions of the Apostles’ Creed.
Summary: We pick up Calvin’s discussion as he examines the concept of Jesus having “descended into Hell” from the Apostle’s Creed. Calvin begins by affirming this doctrine as one that has been part of the Christian faith since its earliest days. This descent is based on I Peter 3:19 where Peter states that Jesus, after his death, went and preached to the spirits in prison. For Calvin this means that both the godly and ungodly in hell had a “common awareness of Christ’s death” (pg. 515). More importantly however, Calvin believes that Jesus descent happened because Jesus had to experience the completeness of death in order to “grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death” (515). Thus Jesus needed to be totally estranged from God in order to fully achieve our salvation.
At this point Calvin takes up “And on the third day, he rose from the dead:” again from the Apostle’s Creed. Calvin wants us to understand that even though our salvation was accomplished on the cross “…nevertheless “’we have been born anew to a living hope’ not through his death but ‘through his resurrection’” (I Peter 1:3) (Pg. 520). Calvin continues, “For as he in rising again, came forth victor over death, so the victory of our faith over death lies in his resurrection alone...therefore, we divide the substance of our salvation between Christ’s death and resurrection as follows: through his death, sin was wiped out and death extinguished; through his resurrection, righteousness (meaning right relationship with God) was restored and life raised up, so that thanks to his resurrection, his death manifested its power and efficacy in us” (pg. 521).
Calvin moves next to the phrase that Jesus “ascended into heaven.” The ascension, one of the least discussed doctrines, matters for Calvin first because he believes that only at Jesus’ return to God did the Kingdom begin to come into being, and second because Jesus’ presence was more useful because he was no longer, “…confined in a humble abode of flesh…but was free to spread his power and energy…beyond all bounds of heaven and earth” (pg. 523). Calvin sums up the importance of the ascension by saying that, “The three benefits we receive from his ascension are that Jesus opens the way for us to heaven, that he appears before God as our advocate, and that he gives us spiritual life and spiritual gifts” (pg. 525-6).
Finally, Calvin examines Jesus as the one who judges the living and the dead. This is good news for us because “we will be brought before no other judgment seat than that of our redeemer, to whom we look for our salvation” (pg. 526)! He concludes with, “In short, since a rich store of every kind of good abounds in him (Jesus), let us drink our fill from the fountain, and from no other” (pg. 528).
Reflection: In the church in which I grew up, children were in worship every Sunday. There were plenty of times when I was totally bored, but I did learn certain things; one of those being the Apostle’s Creed. I could not have told you it was Trinitarian in nature, but it did teach me the basics of the faith. It taught me that God was creator, Jesus was savior (and I learned the basic highlights of his life and death) and that the Spirit was still present. Calvin’s discussion of the Creed, allowed me to revisit not only those earlier days of my life, but to be reminded that our faith has a story that we can all tell.