I’m still in the same section as of last, continuing Calvin’s argument about the meaning of the commands and imperatives of Scripture.
In the last post, we discussed the context of Philippians 2 and demonstrated that Paul was exhorting the believers to have the mind of Christ, since God was at work in them. Their practice was to put their knowledge of Christ to good use. Theory and application always go hand in hand.
The above quote from John Calvin continues the argument from last regarding Calvin’s view that EVERYTHING we do is all God—and that we have no participation in it (except for passive action, which I stated Calvin forgets because it is still an action).
Notice that Calvin says “He [Peter] only AROUSES THE SLUGGISHNESS OF OUR FLESH, BY WHICH FAITH ITSELF IS STIFLED.” What does it mean to be sluggish?
A synonym of “sluggish” is “slothful,” or what most of us know as “lazy.” So our flesh can become slothful, or lazy. But this is not all: not only can our flesh become lazy—but “faith itself” can be “stifled.” What does it mean to be “stifled”?
Merriam-Webster defines “stifle” as:
transitive verb1 a: to kill by depriving of oxygen : SUFFOCATE b (1): SMOTHER (2): MUFFLE2 a: to cut off (as the voice or breath) b: to withhold from circulation or expression : REPRESS
So when Calvin says that faith can be “stifled,” he is really saying that faith can be KILLED.
Wait a minute! Faith can be destroyed? John Calvin said this? I know it seems as if I’m reading words that aren’t on the page…but HE SAID IT! Our slothfulness, our laziness, can kill our faith. But this is John Calvin, who many times states in his “Institutes” that those of the elect God gives the strength to PERSEVERE to the end. But yet, even in the elect, faith can be KILLED? Why does Calvin fear that believers can LOSE FAITH, if, as he says, they’re part of the elect who persevere because of the Spirit in them?
I think this is where we catch John Calvin having stumbled in his own words. If faith can be killed, EVEN in the elect, then we don’t have an elite group of people that God perseveres; what we have however, are a bunch of Christians who are RESPONSIBLE for continuing to labor in their faith. This, then, becomes a matter of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY—and God is not to be held responsible for “the elect” group of John Calvin.
Having said this, it is now time to examine the passage he quotes from in the quote above: 2 Peter 1. Let’s see what Peter himself had to say about the believer.
“For His divine power HAS GIVEN US EVERYTHING REQUIRED for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3, HCSB).
I got to thinking about “His divine power” and a fellow passage came to mind—Romans 1:
“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, BECAUSE GOD HAS SHOWN IT TO THEM. From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, HIS ETERNAL POWER and DIVINE NATURE, HAVE BEEN CLEARLY SEEN, being understood THROUGH WHAT HE HAS MADE. AS A RESULT, PEOPLE ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE” (Romans 1:18-20, HCSB).
Paul tells us in Romans 1 that, because God has revealed Himself to all of humankind in nature (what we call “general revelation”), God is no more responsible for those who do not accept Him—or for those who would like to claim “ignorance” regarding the existence of God. It’s easy to claim ignorance when you don’t know something; it’s hard, however, to claim ignorance when the truth or some knowledge has been revealed. Now, ignorance no longer stands, and the responsibility to perform an action lies with the person to whom the knowledge has been revealed. Paul is saying that the world cannot stand before the Lord at the end of time and say, “I didn’t know you existed,” or “I didn’t know there was a God.” God has already done His part—to reveal Himself—and now, humanity has a part to play. They cannot invent any good reasons that will trump God’s judgment upon them.
And this is what Peter is saying in 2 Peter 1. Because God has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED, we are not justified to turn around, point the finger at God, and say, “But Lord, I didn’t have everything, so it’s not my fault I didn’t live up to my vow.”
Let’s look at the example of a teacher and her students: if the teacher gives a syllabus and says, “students, you will need these five items for my math class,” it is then the students’ responsibility to go out and get the materials. Usually, if the students are pretty young, the parents take the supplies list and go to Walmart to buy whatever the child needs. Why do the parents invest their time and money in getting the needed supplies? So that their children will have NO EXCUSE when it comes to grades. The child then, upon getting bad grades, cannot say, “I didn’t have a calculator for math class,” or “I didn’t have enough notebook paper so I didn’t get to take down the last two days’ of notes in the class,” etc. Once the teacher has given the supplies list, the teacher has done his or her part; once the parent buys the supplies, the parent has done his or her part. The responsibility to excel academically NOW LIES WITH THE STUDENTS! And if the student fails the class, the student cannot blame mom or the teacher—the student can only blame himself or herself.
I want to point out some things from the text. Notice that, when Peter starts listing the qualities to add to faith (v.5), that he mentions “knowledge with SELF-CONTROL, SELF-CONTROL WITH ENDURANCE, ENDURANCE WITH GODLINESS” (1:6). Have you ever wondered why Peter lists these qualities in this order?
I think he does so to tell us something about God and ourselves. He just told us that God has given us all we need for life and godliness (v.3). Not only has God given us what we need, He has even given us promises (v.4). God has gone ABOVE AND BEYOND in His role as Lord, and it is now our turn to put to use what He has given us. This is why Peter writes, “For this very reason, MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO SUPPLEMENT YOUR FAITH…” The Greek word for “make every effort” is “pareisphero,” meaning “to support, to bring to bear, to APPLY.” The word is a compound Greek word: it consists of the words “para” (meaning “alongside of”), “eis” (into, in, to), and “phero” (to bear, to carry). Combining these three Greek words, we get a wooden translation of “to bear ALONGSIDE OF,” or to bear “IN” something.
But, if Peter is saying, “bear these things ALONGSIDE of something,” he is exhorting the believers to produce these qualities ALONGSIDE or along with, their faith. In short, faith MUST BE PROCEEDED by works—or, as James said, “Faith without works is DEAD” (James 2:26, HCSB).
Back to verse 6: once the knowledge is gained, then comes SELF-CONTROL. The knowledge of Christ is what will help us learn to curb our sinful, fleshly desires. But we are still charged with SELF-CONTROL. Now, as Calvin would say it, the Spirit does everything; but if that is true, why would the Holy Spirit produce a fruit in us called SELF-CONTROL? It evidently took no praise away from the Spirit to provide this fruit for believers by which they are to discipline themselves. Simply put, the Spirit still gets praise for His fruit—but we are called to cultivate that fruit and grow more in our walk with Christ. In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the FRUIT of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. I think he was showing the believers there what it meant to do the work of a Christian.
After Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5, he writes this: “…about WHICH I TELL YOU IN ADVANCE—as I told you before—that THOSE WHO PRACTICE SUCH THINGS WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD”(Gal. 5:21, HCSB). The question then becomes, “Why does Paul write these harsh warnings to the BELIEVERS at the church at Galatia? Because he’s telling them that to CONTINUALLY do these things will lead to Hell itself.
To make matters worse, check out Paul’s words in verse 25 of the same chapter:
“If we live BY the Spirit, we MUST also FOLLOW the Spirit.”
Notice that the end of the verse is DEPENDENT upon the first part. Based on the condition that we live BY the Spirit (the Spirit is the means), we follow the Spirit (we yield to the Spirit’s work). The fact that Paul is exhorting them clearly testifies to the fact that, even as a believer, a person can choose to walk AGAINST the Spirit, and deny the Spirit the opportunity to work in their lives.
Looking back to 2 Peter 1, we find verse 8:
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, there is a possibility that I can become unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ? Yes; but this PRESUPPOSES that I am supposed to bear fruit. Why, yes of course! How can the works of the flesh be contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit IF I’m not supposed to bear spiritual fruit (Gal.5)?
The word “useless” in the Greek is “argous,” which literally means “lazy, idle, careless.” So if a person doesn’t increase their qualities in their Christian walk, then they can become lazy. Funny, but isn’t this what John Calvin was saying about the imperatives?
“Accordingly, when Peter exhorts us to ‘add to faith virtue’ (2 Peter 1:5), he does not concede to us the possession of a second place, as if we could do anything separately. HE ONLY AROUSES THE SLUGGISHNESS OF OUR FLESH, by which faith itself is frequently STIFLED” (“Institutes,” 205).
So faith can be killed by sluggishness of the flesh? Evidently, Calvin is forced to do something with the imperatives other than just deny them. How does he respond to the imperatives?
“In fine… what properly belongs to God is transferred to us ONLY BY WAY OF CONCESSION…” (206).
So, what is Calvin saying here? That the Lord would actually assign something to us that isn’t true? Is he saying here that, although the work is all of the Spirit, that the Spirit would actually give credit to human nature (since the human does absolutely nothing)? Surely Calvin is not going to deny Scripture and say, “It doesn’t say what it says,” is he?
2 Peter 1:10 tells us to “MAKE EVERY EFFORT to confirm your calling and election, BECAUSE IF YOU DO THESE THINGS YOU WILL NEVER STUMBLE. For in this way, ENTRY INTO THE ETERNAL KINGDOM of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you” (vv.10, 11).
The word here for “make every effort” is “spoudasate,” meaning “to be zealous, to hasten.” But there is also something else here of noteworthy importance: while the Holman Christian Standard translates the Greek word “bebaian” as “confirm” (along with the use of the verb “poieo,” to do or to make), the word in the Greek means “PERMANENT, SECURE, CERTAIN.”
Wait a minute! Aren’t believers ALREADY CERTAIN about their election? I mean, after all, if believers profess faith in Christ, everything is secure, right? Nope. Not according to 2 Peter 1:10. The verse literally says that a person has to continue to produce fruit IF they are to make their calling and election PERMANENT, everlasting, non-temporary, long-lasting (and not shortlived). The permanence of the election comes through spiritual discipline, not a simple confession made before witnesses.
Verse 11 says that the entry (or access) into the eternal kingdom (Heaven) will be given only to those who continue to produce fruit for the kingdom. Right here in verses 10 and 11, we see CONDITIONAL ELECTION—being a part of God’s church ON THE BASIS OF BEARING FRUIT. Bearing fruit, doing the work of the Lord, trying to live godly and holy before Him, is the only thing that will keep you as part of the elect.
Let’s go back to the original quote of John Calvin. If Peter writes this verse (2 Pet. 1:5) only to arouse my flesh from sluggishness, then that means that I have to be doing something to aid in my sanctification. The possibility of faith “being stifled,” choked off, or died out, is the one thing that works AGAINST the Calvinist: for if the elect are God’s chosen, bound for Heaven and guaranteed in their perseverance, then why is it that the flesh of EVEN THE ELECT can become sluggish, that even the ELECT came become lazy, and unproductive, and unfruitful, and miss Heaven?