Monday, February 9, 2009

February 10- Calvin and Sin

February 10

“:All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

We are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God. This perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits- the works of the flesh- just as a burning furnace gives forth flame and sparks, or water ceaselessly bubbles up from a spring. Or nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle. Whatever is in human beings from the understanding to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with concupiscence [lust or strong evil desire]. (Institutes II.1.8)

For Calvin, a knowledge and relationship with God was the key to life and eternal life. God actually places inside of each of us this knowledge (“He has set eternity in the humans heart” Eccles. 3:11; Inst. 1:3). Yet, this knowledge of God is corrupted. It is corrupted by superstition, sin, pride (foolishness), and hypocrisy. Socrates supposedly said, “Know thyself.” But knowledge of self brings an awareness of our own sinfulness.
Later Calvinists would talk of Total Depravity (The “T” In the five pointed TULIP of Dutch Calvinism). There is nothing in us that is good. We are, as Ephesians 2:1 says “dead in our sin.” Dead people do not choose God, God must regenerate them- make them alive to Himself- open the blind eyes- unstop the deaf ears.
Someone once said that universal sin is an inarguable fact that crosses every nation, culture, and language group. It is important to recognize our own sin for many reasons. Reinhold Niebuhr once said that “most of the evil in this world does not come from evil people. It comes from people who consider themselves good.” Too often a problem with those in power is that they consider themselves incorruptible- that they are the rider on the white horse with the white hat who are going to fix all of the world. Only Jesus can do that. Sometimes the best we can do is to put our sin in check. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer, once said, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The first question that must be answered in joining a Presbyterian Church is “do you admit that you are a sinner.” If we cannot humble ourselves enough to admit that we mess up, fail, make mistakes, miss the mark, sin, then we cannot come to God. I have often thought that the humbling times in life and in society are opportunities to call out to God, and to see God’s hand at work. I pray that during this humbling time in our nation we will not forget to call out to God.
One more quote. Pascal said it, and it goes right along with Calvin: “The knowledge of God without that of our wretchedness creates pride. The knowledge of our wretchedness without that of God creates despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way, because in Him we find both God and our wretchedness.” Calvin was saying that we need to recognize our sin that has corrupted our knowledge of God. Yet we also do not need to despair or give up in life. There is hope. It is found in Jesus Christ who came down for us, and died on the cross for us.

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