Calvin’s Institutes Chapter 14 (707-719)

July 19, 2020

Christian Freedom

In the last two years, I have read two different books that dealt with the conscience and freedom extensively, and so as I read Calvin’s treatment of it, although his content is good, it is is not as compelling because it is brief and not as deep. I love his comment at the outset about freedom properly understood: “Unless we know about freedom, neither Jesus Christ nor the truth of the gospel can be rightly understood.” (707). And, I appreciate how he lays out the Christian’s motivation:

“The second part of Christian freedom depends on the first. It allows consciences to serve the law not as if constrained by legal necessity, but as those who, delivered from the law’s yoke, freely obey God’s will. And because they are in fear and terror as long as they are subject to the law, they will never resolve to obey God’s will gladly and with eager hearts unless they have first obtained this deliverance.” (709)

I do wish Calvin would have used the word “grace” in this paragraph, but his insight into our motivation here is excellent.

Calvin also nails an essential aspect of Christian freedom that many struggle to grasp:

“Paul includes this word of comfort based on freedom from the law. In effect he says: ‘Although believers do not yet feel that sin has been extinguished in them or that their lives are fully righteous, they must not lose heart and despair, as if God were still angry with them because of these vestiges of sin. For by his grace they are freed from the law, so that their works are no longer judged by its rule.’ And those who reason that we can safely sin since we are no longer under the law, should know that this freedom can never be theirs, for its purpose is to arouse and persuade us to do good.” (711).

And finally, Calvin’s “sum up” statement here is beautiful:

“To sum up, we observe that freedom is given to this end, that we may use God’s gifts as he intended, with a quiet conscience and a calm mind, and that, assured of his generous its toward us, our souls may have peace and rest with God.” (712-713).
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