Friday, August 10, 2007

John Calvin on the primacy of Christ's work vs our faith regarding our salvation and justification

I like these words of Calvin, which highlight the primacy of what God has done in Christ, rather than our faith, as the ground of our justification:
We see that the first place is assigned to the love of God as the chief cause or origin, and that faith in Christ follows as the second and more proximate cause. Should any one object that Christ is only the formal cause [Note: The French adds, “C’est a dire, qui n’emporte en soy vrai effect;”—that is to say, which in itself produces no true effect], he lessens his energy more than the words justify. For if we obtain justification by a faith which leans on him, the groundwork of our salvation must be sought in him. This is clearly proved by several passages: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10). These words clearly demonstrate that God, in order to remove any obstacle to his love towards us, appointed the method of reconciliation in Christ. There is great force in this word “propitiation”; for in a manner which cannot be expressed, God, at the very time when he loved us, was hostile to us until reconciled in Christ. To this effect are all the following passages: “He is the propitiation for our sins;” “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell, and having made peace by the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself;” “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;” “He has made us accepted in the Beloved,” “That he might reconcile both into one body by the cross.” The nature of this mystery is to be learned from the first chapter to the Ephesians, where Paul, teaching that we were chosen in Christ, at the same time adds, that we obtained grace in him. How did God begin to embrace with his favour those whom he had loved before the foundation of the world, unless in displaying his love when he was reconciled by the blood of Christ? As God is the fountain of all righteousness, he must necessarily be the enemy and judge of man so long as he is a sinner. Wherefore, the commencement of love is the bestowing of righteousness, as described by Paul: “He has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). He intimates, that by the sacrifice of Christ we obtain free justification, and become pleasing to God, though we are by nature the children of wrath, and by sin estranged from him. This distinction is also noted whenever the grace of Christ is connected with the love of God (2 Cor. 13:13); whence it follows, that he bestows upon us of his own which he acquired by purchase. For otherwise there would be no ground for the praise ascribed to him by the Father, that grace is his, and proceeds from him. (Institutes, 2.17.2)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Circumcision and Keeping the Law

I've been working through 1 Corinthians in four different settings this year, and here is another comment related to chapter 7, having looked at it again recently. But this post is about 7:19. I think the verse has significant relevance to distinguishing between ceremonial and other aspects of the "Law" (e.g. threefold or tripartite division of the Law), and reminds me of of Romans 2:26-27. Here are the two references in full:
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. (1 Corinthians 7:19; NKJV)
Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? (Romans 2:26-27; NKJV)

What is significant is that Paul distinguishes between being circumcised and keeping the commandments of God, or fulfilling the requirements of the law. Someone can be said to keep God's commandments and law, without having to be circumcised. Yet, in other places, such as Galatians 5:3, circumcision seems to be identified as a part of the law. Hence Paul can sometimes speak of "the law", not including particularly Jewish markers like circumcision. Sounds a bit like distinguishing between "ceremonial" and "moral" aspects, doesn't it? There are those those who don't like dividing up or distinguishing between different aspects of the law, treating it as all or nothing, saying that is more "Biblical". But in doing so they are not actually being true to Paul's own non-simplistic references to the law (Torah)...