Blog 137: 3.18.6 - 3.18.10
Calvin continues to address objections to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I want to focus on two points of interest in Calvin's teaching here: first, the relationship between God's promises and his righteousness; second, Jesus' answer to the rich young ruler.
God's promises are effective only if they are preceded by God's free covenant mercy--without which there would be no salvation. Even though our works are unworthy, we can have confidence that God in his grace rewards them. God's righteousness in this case is not an example of paying us back for the good work we have done, but rather his remaining truthful to the promise he has made.
You'll recall that the young legal scholar asked Jesus what good deed he need to do in order to gain eternal life, and Jesus responded that if you want to enter life, keep the commandments. Calvin says that to understand this rightly, we have to consider the young man's (1) character and (2) question. This was a man confident in works and interested in legal righteousness, asking Jesus what works of righteousness are necessary to obtain salvation.
Here is an outline of the logic that Calvin sees at play here:
1. If we seek salvation in works, we must keep the commandments (a mirror of perfect righteousness).
2. None of us can keep the commandments (hence excluding us from righteousness).
3. Therefore, we must seek another remedy from righteousness apart from seeking it by works (namely, faith alone in Christ alone).
Does this exchange have relevance for us today as Christians? Calvin insists that it does. Unless we understand the pathway of legal righteousness and how far we fall short and how far afield we have wandered, we will not want to cling only to Christ. Only when we seem the impossibility of the way of works will we want to flee for refuge to Christ.
Thanks be to God who has rescued us from our futile attempts at self-righteousness and self-justification and who has graciously and righteouslessly provided a means of being both just and the justifier.