Brief Outline of ‘Institutes of Christian Religion’ (Book 3)
Reason for Writing: This section of the ‘Institutes of Christian Religion’ shows us how, through the spirit we can share in the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fruits this produces.
Section One: Calvin expounds on how we benefit from the work of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Section Two: Calvin defines faith and expounds upon its distinguishable characteristics.
A definition of ‘faith’: “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”
Certain Aspects of Faith:
a. Supernatural Knowledge Supplied by God
b. Certainty in God
c. Believing The Promises of God in Experience
d. Understanding the Nature of the Flesh
Section Three: Calvin expounds upon the relationship between regeneration and faith, and a proper understanding of repentance.
A proper understanding of ‘repentance’: a “real conversion of our life unto God, proceeding from sincere and serious fear of God; and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and the old man, and the quickening of the Spirit.”
Certain Aspects of Repentance:
a. Exhibits a transformation of the person
b. Flows from a healthy fear of God
c. War against flesh, quickening of the Spirit
Lastly, Calvin explains the implications and application of a proper theology of Repentance
Institutes of Christian Religion (Book 3)
Calvin rightly begins by asserting that no matter what we do in life, salvation is not achievable in any sense, it is bestowed in and through Christ, which is a biblical theme. Calvin then explores the relationship of man and the Holy Spirit as the means to enjoying Christ, noting that it is by the grace and energy of the Holy Spirit alone that man is given faith for salvation.
As for faith, Calvin notes that Christ is the object of our faith, and we cannot find our way to Him without the guidance of the gospel. This guidance comes from the Word of God itself, asserting that there is an inseparable link between the Word and faith. Yet, Calvin rightly guards against misconceptions that faith is mere mental assent to biblical facts, but a realization of God’s will towards us which is sacred and absolutely true. Calvin remains true to the bible in asserting that it is through the bible that one rightly ‘knows’ God. Calvin then posits that God brings men to this realization through fear of wrath and indignation. With this as the mode of operation, Calvin proposes that through these circumstances men seek God for safety and are assured in His deep interest in their welfare. It is the mercy of God that allows such faith in the truth of His word.
This mercy was revealed on the cross of Christ, as a pledge of love. Christ work lifts the dark veil that blinds the minds of unbelievers from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of God. Christ’s work also changes the heart, which is, by nature, deceitful and doubtful. From this Calvin proposes the following definition of faith, “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.” Yet one must remain certain that God’s word is true, even when experience brings about doubt. The end result must prove that faith surmounts the difficulties faced in life.
The result of this faith is then discussed in the last section of our reading on repentance. Calvin asserts that without repentance, faith is useless. Calvin argues that repentance is produced by faith, therefore faith precedes repentance. The ordering of faith then repentance, verses repentance then faith is a matter of conjecture based on biblical text. Therefore it becomes problematic to assert that Calvin remains true to biblical teaching here, or to the contrary. It can be said that true faith does not exist without repentance; this statement does follow biblical evidence. Based on these foundational beliefs, Calvin defines repentance as follows, “real conversion of our life unto God, proceeding from sincere and serious fear of God; and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and the old man, and the quickening of the Spirit.”
Calvin proposes the aspects of repentance as a transformation of the person, which flows from a healthy fear of God, and lastly exhibits itself in the spiritually powered waging of war against the flesh. All of these aspects come from the Christians union with Christ, from a ‘new birth’ which is wrought by the Spirit. For Calvin this was the means by which God purified the church. Lastly Calvin points that it is only by God’s grace that we are not charged with the sin that would make us sinners in need of judgment. Overall, Calvin does stay true to a theology derived from the Bible. But on some matters, which can only be drawn from inference, such as the timely order of faith and repentance, Calvin draws more from a philosophical standpoint. This is not problematic when understanding the institutes as a foundational handbook to understanding Calvin’s theological system, which was meant to accompany the readings of his commentaries.