We Belong to God: John Calvin on the Duty of Believers


As I read through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion this summer, occasionally I am sharing sections that strike me with particular force. Here is Calvin reflecting on the summary of the Christian life beginning in self-denial in order that the life of Christ might spring up within us by God’s grace.

Even though the law of the Lord provides the finest and best-disposed method of ordering a man’s life, it seemed good to the Heavenly Teacher to shape his people by an even more explicit plan to that rule which he had set forth in the law. Here, then, is the beginning of this plan: the duty of believers is “to present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him,” and in this consists the lawful worship of him [Rom 12:1]. From this is derived the basis of the exhortation that “they be not conformed to the fashion of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of their minds, so that they may prove what is the will of God” [Rom 12:2]. Now the great thing is this: we are consecrated and dedicated to God in order that we may thereafter think, speak, meditate, and do, nothing except to his glory. For a sacred thing may not be applied to profane uses without marked injury to him.

If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor 6:19] but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life.

We are not our own: let not our reason no our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are nor our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom 14:8; cf. 1 Cor 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sol haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

Let us therefore be the first step, that a man depart from himself in order that he may apply the whole force of his ability in service of the Lord. I call “service” not only what lies in obedience to God’s Word but what turns the mind of man, empty of its own carnal sense, wholly to the bidding of God’s Spirit. While it is the first entrance to life, all philosophers were ignorant of this transformation, which Paul calls “renewal of the mind” [Eph 4:23]. For they set up reason alone as the ruling principle in man, and think that it alone should be listened to; to it alone, in short, they entrust the conduct of life. But the Christian philosophy bids reason give way to, submit and subject itself to, the Holy Spirit so that the man himself may no longer live but hear Christ leaving and reigning within him [Gal 2:20].

[From John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphias, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960), 689-690.]

The Real Gospel (discussion questions)

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we continued our series, “Free: A Study on Galatians,” by looking at the real gospel from Galatians 2:1-21. Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Real Gospel,” which is the second part of our series.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As we continue our series, “Free,” this weekend, we are looking at Galatians, chapter 2. Whether on your own or with a small group, take a moment to begin with prayer, asking God to speak through your study of the Scripture. Next, read that Bible passage out loud.
  2. Background: The first two chapters of Galatians include a lot of biographical background on Paul’s life and ministry. This is important because it helps to show that Paul’s message and calling were derived from God and not human authority. It also helps us understand some of the challenges Paul is facing in the Galatians churches.
  3. How would you characterize Paul’s reasons for going to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10? What role did the leaders in Jerusalem – James, Cephas (Peter), and John – play in his ministry and the unity of the early church’s work with Jews and Gentiles?
  4. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul relates an incident with Peter while they were in Antioch that he sees as a challenge to the gospel. What is the challenge and how does Paul address it?
  5. It is a fascinating moment to see tension arise between two heroes of the faith, Peter and Paul. Why do you think Paul viewed this issue as significant enough to make such a big deal about it with Peter, instead of simply letting it go?
  6. How important is the core gospel message to you? Do you think it is it worth getting excited or riled up about? Why or why not?
  7. It is likely that Paul is using these stories to address the tensions in the Galatian churches. In verses 15 and 16, Paul outlines the fundamental issues at stake in the Galatian churches. What are these fundamental issues and why are they important?
  8. Galatians 2:19-21 have been described as “the central affirmation of the letter.” What is being affirmed here and what is its significance for Paul and his message, the Galatian churches, and us today?
  9. Name one thing you will take away from this study on the real gospel? If you are with a small group, take some time to discuss these things with one another. If you are alone, share that with someone this week. Close in prayer.

Action step: Pastor Matt encouraged us to memorize Galatians 2:20 during this series as a way to let the gospel message sink deeper into our lives. One way you could do this would be to write Galatians 2:20 on a notecard and keep it in your pocket, pulling it out to memorize it. Another way you could do this would be to print it out and place the verse in several prominent places where you will see it often.

[Next week: We continue the “Free” series by looking at Galatians, chapter 3. Prepare by reading this passage ahead of time.]

The Real Gospel

Free Series Gfx_FacebookThis weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Free,” in which we are walking through the book of Galatians, by looking at the real gospel that Paul outlines in Galatians 2:1-21. In my message, I contrasted the real gospel with the pale imitations of legalism and libertinism. I referenced fasting as a helpful spiritual practice, and you can read more about fasting here.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. Mark Lynch did a great job starting off the series last week, so if you haven’t viewed his message, I’d encourage you to take a look here.You will be able to view all the messages from the “Free” series here as the series unfolds. Comment on the series on social media using the #ebcfree hashtag.

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