Introduction to the Author
Born in Noyon, France and educated at the University of Paris, John Calvin grew up in an atmosphere of wealth and nobility. His father wanted him to study theology, but John felt a yearning to study law. However, he had keen insight as a theologian and the heart of a pastor. Although he was never ordained, he became the curate of St. Martin de Marteville in 1527. In 1534 he was converted to Protestantism, which resulted in two short imprisonment's.
In 1536 he wrote his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion at the age of 26. By 1541 he had gone to Geneva, Switzerland and had influenced that city to the point that he had gained a large following. Under Calvin's leadership, and in spite of opposition to him, Geneva became famous for its high moral standards, economic prosperity and educational system. Many consider him to have been the father and founder of both the Presbyterian and the reformed Protestant churches.
He was deeply influenced by the writings of Martin Luther and St. Augustine, especially Augustine's strong predestination theology. It is safe to say that no theologian holds a higher or clearer understanding of the sovereignty of God than John Calvin. He was well known for his stern temperament and austere lifestyle.
The following selection deals with self-denial, which Calvin believed to be essential in the life of every Christian. As with other devotional masters, the words of Calvin are sobering to the modern mind-set that sees restraint in wholly negative terms.
Excerpts from 'Golden Booklet of The True Christian Life'
1. A very excellent key principal
It is the duty of Believers to 'present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God' (Rom. 12:1) This is the only true worship. The principal of holiness leads to the exhortation 'Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God' (Rom. 12:2) It is a very important consideration that we are consecrated and dedicated to God. It means that we will think, speak, meditate and do all things with a view to God's glory.
2. Our only legitimate goal
If we are not our own, but the Lord's, it is clear to what purpose all our deeds must be directed. We are God's own; to Him, therefore, let us live and die. We are God's own; therefore let His wisdom and will dominate all our actions. We are God's own; therefore let every part of our existence be directed towards Him as our only legitimate goal.
3. The most effective poison
Oh, how greatly we have advanced when we have learned not to be our own, not to be governed by our own reason, but to surrender our minds to God. The most effective poison to lead us to ruin is to boast in ourselves, in our own wisdom and willpower. The only escape to safety is simply to follow the guidance of the Lord.
Our first step should be to take leave of ourselves and to apply all our powers to the service of the Lord. The service to the Lord does not only include implicit obedience but also a willingness to put aside our sinful desires and to surrender completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
4. A great advantage
Let us therefore not seek our own, but that which pleases the Lord and is helpful to the promotion of His glory. there is a great advantage in almost forgetting ourselves and in surely neglecting all selfish aspects; for then only can we try faithfully to devote our attention to God and His commandments. Christians ought to be disposed and prepared to keep in mind that they have to reckon with God every moment of their lives.
5. Leaving no room
Christians will measure all of their deeds by God's law and will subject their thoughts to God's will. If we have learned to regard God in every enterprise, we will be delivered from all vain desires. the denial of ourselves will at last dominate all the desires of our heart.
The denial of ourselves will leave no room for pride, haughtiness or vainglory, nor for avarice, licentiousness, love of luxury, wantonness or any sin born from self-love. Without the principal of self-denial we are either led to indulgence in the grossest vices without the least shame, or, if there is any appearance of virtue in us, it is spoiled by an evil passion for glory.
6. Nearer to the Kingdom
God is so far from being pleased either with those who are ambitious of popular praise, or with hearts full of pride and presumption, that He plainly tells us 'they have their reward' (Mat. 6:5) in this world and that repentant harlots and publicans are nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven that such persons.
7. The remedy of all
There is no end and no limit to the obstacles of the one who wants to pursue what is right and at the same time shrinks back from self-denial. there is deliverance in store only for the one who gives up selfishness and whose sole aim is to please the Lord and to do what is right in His sight.
8. A well regulated life
Paul, in the Letter to Titus says that the grace of God is necessary to stimulate us, but that for true worship two main obstacles must be removed; first, ungodliness and second, worldly lusts. Ungodliness does not only mean superstitions, but everything that hinders the sincere fear of God. And worldly lusts mean carnal affections. Paul urges us to forsake our former desires which are in conflict with the two tables of the law and to renounce all the dictated of our own reason and will.
9. Sobriety, righteousness and godliness
Paul reduces all the actions of the new life to three classes; sobriety, righteousness and godliness. Sobriety undoubtedly means chastity and temperance, as well as the pure and frugal use of temporal blessings and patience under poverty. Righteousness includes all the duties of justice that everyone may receive just dues. Godliness separates us from the pollutions of this world and by true holiness, unites us to God.
Read: Philippians 2:1-11
1. John Calvin points out that 'we are not our own'. How does this relate to the issue of self-denial?
2. In section 3, Calvin writes about abandoning
our reason in favor of following God's will. When have you experienced
clash between your reason and what you felt to be the will of God? How did you respond?
3. A central theme of this section is the division
between those who surrender themselves completely to God and those who
do not. Those who do not, writes Calvin, are 'restless people'. have you ever felt this restlessness? Describe it.
4. The key principal of holiness, according to
Calvin, is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice and to be not conformed
to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. In what ways have you been conformed to the world?
5. In what ways does the humility displayed in
Phil. 2 coincide with the self-denial discussed by John Calvin?
Are there any ways in which the two ideas differ?
6. John Calvin writes 'Let every part of our existence
be directed towards Him as our only legitimate goal.'
Discover ways that you can make God the goal of all you do this week by doing 'all things with a view to God's glory'
7. Pay attention to the ways in which this world
tries to conform you to its attitudes and actions.
As you watch TV, analyze the commercials, asking 'How is this advertisement trying to shape the way I think, feel and act?'
8. Calvin counsels us to 'reckon with God every
moment'. Allow this practice to become your own this week.
moment by moment, let God be your source of direction and inspiration.
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