Calvin: Assurance Fills Our Sails

The seducers that had infiltrated the Galatians and corrupted the purity of the gospel…Paul stops here, and says that if we are being forced and obliged to perform this task for God and to enter into this covenant with him, Jesus Christ will not profit us.

…Why? Because they look no further than the external act…making us think that we are obliged to do it to be acceptable to God; we have entered into a covenant with him based upon doing our duty. Whoever has fulfilled his duty has made God his debtor, according to the devilish doctrines…We can only obtain grace by our merits, and the memory of our sins and iniquities can be wiped out by making our own satisfaction for sin and thereby appeasing God’s wrath. We see, therefore, that if we can obtain our own pardon, Jesus Christ is made of no value and cannot profit us at all. Why? Because Jesus Christ is not our righteousness if we do not seek remission of our sins through the sacrifice of his death. We need to be sure that God is our Father, and that we can call upon him with a peaceful conscience, having been adopted through the Lord Jesus Christ.

…We need the assurance that he accepts us as his children and supports us so compassionately that he approves of what we do, though it is worthless, because of the fatherly love he bears us. If we do not have this assurance, the thought of serving God will make us grind our teeth. If, however, we are persuaded that God looks upon us favourably; if, though we are weak and can do nothing worthy of his approval, he accepts us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will surely be filled with courage. We will be like a ship’s sail that has been stretched and filled by the breeze! Thus, our hearts will run to obey him, like a ship driven along by its sail, when we know that God delights in us and accepts our works, not wanting us to be compelled into servitude. He is happy for us to be his children, and that we desire to obey him. Knowing this, we can serve our God with all the more zeal. With his grace as our foundation, we are so filled with his joy that we can offer the sacrifice of praise. Likewise, having sought him in prayer, we can know that he will answer us and, in return, we can thank him for the priceless gifts that he communicates to us every day.

—Calvin’s Sermon on Galatians 5:1–3, 1557–58; HT: John Fonville)

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  1. Is John Piper seducing us with his distinction between justification before God and later “going to heaven”?

    Piper—“The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.

    “We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and power ours through faith. And in union with Christ, faith is living and active with Christ’s power.

    Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but . . . a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God.”

  2. Romans 3:2 7 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law?By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…..Romans 4: 4 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But to the one who does NOT WORK, but BELIEVES ON HIM who declares the ungodly to be righteous, the object of his faith is credited for righteousness.

    Romans 5: 1 Therefore, since we HAVE BEEN declared righteous THROUGH FAITH , we HAVE peace with God THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We HAVE also obtained access through Him THROUGH FAITH into this grace in which we stand, and we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God…..11 And not only that, but we also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have NOW received this reconciliation through Him.

  3. Machen, Notes on Galatians, p178–“You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”

    Benjamin Keach, The Marrow of True Justification: The Biblical Doctrine of Justification Without Works, Solid Ground Books, Birmingham, Alabama USA, 2007, p 80—“Once we are justified, we need not inquire how a man is justified after he is justified. God has not appointed this personal evangelical righteousness, in order to our Justification before Him. By that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the Justice of God is satisfied; therefore all Works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our Justification before God.”

  4. OPC leader Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38—”The antithesis between law and gospel is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.”

    Gaffin—- Calvin brings in the proposition, “faith without works justifies” although this needs prudence and sound interpretation. For this proposition that faith without works justifies is true, yet false… according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition that faith without works justifies by itself is false. Because faith without works is void. But if the clause, “without works,” is joined with the word, “justifies,” the proposition will be true. Therefore faith cannot justify when it is without works because it is dead and a mere fiction…. Notice what Calvin says. It needs prudence and sound interpretation. It is true yet false. Now there is a paradox. True yet false, depending on the way it is read.

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