Category Archives: Thoughts From Scripture

On Self-Denial

“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)…” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1)

How important is self-denial in Calvin’s theology? Which Scriptures shape his understanding? How should self-denial be related to self-care? In other words, what, if any, are the limits of self-denial?

The Context

3.6.1 Calvin aims to briefly summarise the duties of Christians.

3.6.2 Since we have been united to God, we should seek to enjoy holy fellowship with him (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:15-16).

3.6.3 Jesus Christ is our example. We should respond faithfully to Christ’s work for us and in us.

3.6.4 We must not only be Christians in name. We must seek to follow our Saviour from our hearts.

3.6.5 We cannot attain perfection in this life but we should daily strive to grow in goodness.

The Content

3.7.1 We are to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). We are not our own but the Lord’s (1 Cor 6:19). So, firstly, we must deny ourselves and our own worldly desires.

3.7.2 We must, secondly, devote ourselves to the Lord, seeking to do his will, and seeking to display his glory. We must look to our Lord in all things. We can only do this if we have denied ourselves.

3.7.3 Paul reminds Titus about this (Titus 2:11-14), urging him to turn from ungodliness and worldly desires; commending a sober, upright and godly life; and pointing to the joy of our Lord’s return.

3.7.4 Self-denial concerns our attitude to men. We are to consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). We are to seek their good (Rom 12:10). This is difficult since we are so easily filled with pride.

3.7.5 We will only be willing to serve our neighbour once we have denied the urge to serve ourselves. We receive gifts from God for the good of others (cf. Exod 23:19; 1 Pet 4:10; 1 Cor 12:12-31).

3.7.6 We must seek to do good to all people without exception. Every person is made in the image of God.

3.7.7 We must seek to do good out of a sincere love for others, not seeking anything in return.

3.7.8 Self-denial, also, chiefly, concerns our attitude to God. We must renounce worldly ambitions and fears. We must seek our prosperity and security in the Lord.

3.7.9 Once we realise that all true happiness arises from the Lord’s blessing, we will not pursue worldly goals by worldly means.

3.7.10 If we deny ourselves, we will be able to praise the Lord even in times of trouble (cf. Ps 79:13).

The Cross

3.8.1 Jesus Christ calls us to bear our own cross (Matt 16:24), meaning that we must be prepared for hardships in the Christian life. Through these hardships we are conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29).

3.8.2 The cross demonstrated Christ’s obedience to his Father. It keeps us from pride.

3.8.3 The cross demonstrates the Father’s faithfulness. He gives us the strength to endure.

3.8.4 The cross teaches us patience and obedience.

3.8.5 The cross keeps us from forgetting our Lord, which otherwise, in our prosperity, we would be tempted to do.

3.8.6 The hardships we experience are sometimes a form of fatherly discipline to correct past transgressions (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-8).

3.8.7 It is not only those who proclaim the gospel who suffer persecution but also any who seek to uphold the cause of righteousness. Those who suffer for Christ’s sake are blessed.

3.8.8 We should rejoice even while we suffer, knowing that we have great consolation in our God.

3.8.9 We groan and we weep, yet we do so with joy and peace (Matt 5:4).

3.8.10 We painfully endure what we would rather avoid, for the sake of our Saviour (cf. John 21:18).

3.8.10 Our afflictions are for our good. Therefore “the bitterness of the cross” should always “be tempered with spiritual joy.”

Further reading

Calvin writes more about self-denial in 3.3.8; 3.15.8 and 3.18.4.

Theological Reflections

Self-denial is an essential part of Calvin’s teaching on Christian living. It must be twinned with devotion. We deny ourselves so that we might be devoted to God. Self-denial involves suffering but it is not without joy. There is the joy of knowing that we are following the example of our Saviour, and the joy of knowing that we are living under our Father’s blessing. The key texts are those cited above, especially Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:19 and Titus 2:11-14.

Our Heavenly Father gives us many good gifts to enjoy in this life. We must seek to use these good gifts in the right way. This is the subject of Calvin, Institutes, 3.10, and, God-willing, the subject of the second part of this post.

Theophany

(I posted this a little while ago on another website but I wanted to re-post it here.)

“A theophany is a visible manifestation of God to human beings… Jesus is a theophany… but much more. Only in the case of Jesus did God become flesh permanently, being conceived in the body of a woman, experiencing a human infancy and growth, and increasing in wisdom and stature, subject to sufferings of this life and to death itself.” (Frame, Doctrine of God, 585-86)

How should we understand these manifestations of God? How should they affect our doctrine and practice?

The Bible begins with a God who appears. He formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils (Gen 2:7). He planted a garden eastward in Eden, and he placed Adam in that garden (Gen 2:8). He brought all kinds of animals before Adam (Gen 2:19). He formed Eve from the side of Adam, and he brought Eve to Adam (Gen 2:22). He walked in the garden in the cool of the evening (Gen 3:8). He called to Adam, and cursed Adam (3:9, 19). He made garments of skin for Adam and Eve (3:21). Then he drove them out of the garden of Eden (3:24).

The Bible ends with a God who appears. God will make a new heaven and a new earth and his dwelling will be with men (Rev 21:1-4). We shall see his face (Rev 22:4).

In between these two events, God is largely hidden. This is a consequence of sin. Sin separates us from a holy God (Isa 6:5; 59:2).

God appeared to Abram, when he lived in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:4). God appeared to Abram at Shechem (Gen 12:7-9). God appeared to him twice when he was ninety-nine years old (Gen 17:1, Gen 18:1).

God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:20; 34:5-7). He also appeared to Moses, Aaron, his sons, and the seventy elders of Israel (Exod 24:9-11). God appeared to Moses and Joshua at the entrance of the tent of meeting (Deut 31:14-15).

At other times, God appeared to the patriarchs and prophets in signs, visions and dreams. Jacob saw the Lord on his way to Haran (Gen 28:11-22). Moses saw the burning bush (Exod 3:4). Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted (Isa 6:1-5). Ezekiah saw the glory of the Lord in the midst of a storm (Ezek 1:1-28; 10:1-22).

As we go through the Old Testament, we see that God appeared at critical moments in Israel’s history: to call a man and his wife out of idolatry, to call a nation out of Egypt, to make a covenant with them, to warn them about exile, and to give them hope in exile. Yet each of these appearances were fleeting.

Then, gloriously, God appeared in a new way.

In the person of his Son, he took on a human nature—not only appearing like us but becoming one of us, while remaining fully God (John 1:14; 14:9).

All previous appearances of God were mediated through the Son (John 1:18). But the incarnation is something unique and new. For a little while, the Son is hidden from us. He has ascended into heaven but he will return. And when we see him, we will be made like him (1 John 3:2). This is something to rejoice in and something to build our life upon.

Doctrinal Considerations

We should understand God’s invisibility in the light of his appearances. Although he is not ordinarily seen by us, he is able to make his presence known. He does this through the mediation of his Son.

Practical Considerations

We should respond to the great hope of seeing God by seeking to be pure (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 John 3:3). This is what our Saviour desires (Eph 5:25-27).

Bibliography

Frame, John M. Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg, N. J.: P & R, 2002.

12 Reasons for Christmas

  1. Jesus came to preach the good news of salvation…

  2. Jesus came to set at liberty those who are oppressed

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).

    1. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance

When the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:16-17).

      1. Jesus came to do his Father’s will

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:37-39).

      1. Jesus came to serve…

      2. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:43-45).

      1. Jesus came that we may have life…

      2. Jesus came that we may have life abundantly

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly (John 10:9-10).

      1. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:8-10).

      1. Jesus came to bring division

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53).

      1. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil…

      2. Jesus came to destroy him who had the power of death

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:7-8).

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Based upon a similar list by John Piper: www.desiringgod.org/articles/12-reasons-for-christmas.

Preach the Word

Our aim, as a church, is to “preach the word” – not our word but His  word, the words of Scripture. This may not be very fashionable but it is vitally important, as we see from Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy.

2 Timothy chapter 3

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy chapter 4

 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.