“These few explanations will make it very easy for the reader to disentangle himself from the immense heap of passages (containing both precepts and reprimands) which the ENEMIES OF DIVINE GRACE are in the habit of piling up, that they may thereon ERECT THEIR STATUE OF FREE WILL…we must, therefore, attend to the admonition of Paul, when he thus addresses believers, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:12, 13). He ascribes to them a part in acting THAT THEY MAY NOT INDULGE IN CARNAL SLOTH, but by enjoining fear and trembling, he HUMBLES them so as to keep them in remembrance, that they very thing which they are ordered to do is the proper work of God—distinctly intimating, that believers act (IF I MAY SO SPEAK) PASSIVELY inasmuch as the power is given them from heaven, and cannot in any way be arrogated to themselves” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” page 205).
I’ve been reading some more of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion today. I had planned to go about my posting as planned, with stuff already behind chapter 5 that I wanted to post on. But I felt so strong about certain comments I read today, that I just couldn’t run past them—or save them until another time.
With the quote above, I found it fascinating that John Calvin would give us such an interpretation of Philippians 2:12-13:
“He ascribes to them a part in acting THAT THEY MAY NOT INDULGE IN CARNAL SLOTH, but by enjoining fear and trembling, he HUMBLES them so as TO KEEP THEM IN REMEMBRANCE, that they very thing which they are ordered to do is the proper work of God—distinctly intimating, that believers act (if I may so speak) PASSIVELY inasmuch as the power is given them from heaven, and cannot in any way be arrogated to themselves.”
But look at what Calvin said earlier in his Institutes about this passage:
“Accordingly, in the passage already quoted from the Apostle Paul, he attributes the whole operation to God, ‘It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). The first part of a good work is the will, the second is vigorous effort in the doing of it. GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF BOTH. It is,therefore, ROBBERY FROM GOD to arrogate anything to ourselves, either in the will or the act” (185).
How does one “ACT PASSIVELY”? In the words of John Calvin, it is to allow the “power…given from heaven” to be at work in them. And Calvin isn’t alone: Arminians believe the same.
But let’s look at the structure of Philippians 2:12-13. First, there is the imperative: “work out your soul salvation with fear and trembling.” Then there is the reason: “For it is GOD who is working in you.” So, the thought behind this passage is that the believers are supposed to have a reverence for God that allows them to do what is pleasing to God. Why are they doing this? Because GOD is at work in them. This acknowledges God without taking away from human responsibility.
If one examines the context of Philippians 2, it will be seen that Paul has just finished showing the believers at Philippi the example of Christ, His submission to the Father, and His selfless act as Savior—to be obedient to the Father, even to the death on the Cross. Paul uses the example of Christ because he is emphasizing that the believers need humility by which to conduct themselves:
“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in HUMILITY consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone SHOULD look out not [only] for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your attitude THAT OF CHRIST JESUS…” (Phil. 2:3-5, HCSB).
As we can see, the issue with the believers was learning how to CONDUCT themselves as believers. So in verse 13, when Paul states that God is working in them for His good will and good pleasure, He is saying that, BECAUSE this is true (God is at work), the believers should conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates that God is at work in them.
But, did you notice Calvin’s comment about how believers act? “Believers act PASSIVELY (inasmuch as the power is given them from heaven), and cannot in any way be arrogated to themselves.”
There’s a problem with this statement though: while believers do “act passively” and do not resist the Spirit of Grace, by so doing, they COOPERATE (work with) the Spirit. For Calvin to say this is a huge breakdown of his entire argument. He has spent time in the last two chapters arguing that it is the Spirit that does everything—believers do nothing. Now, he’s saying that believers “ACT”!
In case you think my context is a bit off, let’s continue to examine the context of Philippians 2. After Paul’s remarks about having the mind of Christ, Paul writes these words:
“So then, my dear friends, just as you HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, WORK OUT your own salvation with fear and trembling…DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT GRUMBLING AND ARGUING, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, AMONG WHOM YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE WORLD. HOLD FIRMLY THE MESSAGE OF LIFE. THEN I CAN BOAST IN THE DAY OF CHRIST THAT I DIDN’T RUN IN VAIN OR LABOR FOR NOTHING” (Phil. 2:12-16, HCSB).
The theme of these last five verses is OBEDIENCE—“Just as you have ALWAYS OBEYED…” I found the definition for “obey” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary online:
1) “to follow the commands or guidance of.”
2) To conform or comply with
What does it mean to “follow”?
“to act in accordance with, to accept as an authority, to copy, to imitate,” etc.
All these definitions show us what humans do when they “obey.” But, to distinguish, let’s see what happens with objects when they “obey”:
“Falling objects OBEY the laws of physics” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obey)
What does an object do when it OBEYS? It does nothing. Because the laws of physics contain a gravitational force which pulls on the object, the object (such as a rock) follows the law and FALLS to the ground. It does not get a choice to resist; it has no way of resistance, no ability of resistance within itself. Why? Because it’s an object; and objects HAVE NO MIND, or INTELLECT, or ABILITY to do other than what the scientific laws call for.
But with humans, we are different; we are not like objects in that we simply “fall” into whatever the laws say. Now, while we are forced to obey laws like the law of gravity, there are certain things we can do against nature—like, for instance, build homes, cars, trucks, vans. Humans everyday find ways to make nature “bend” to whatever their desires are. Currently in our world, we are striving to learn how to use healthier car fuel other than the gas emissions we have—so that we can better protect our environment. While our abuse of natural resources has led to pollution and ozone layer thinning, our good use of these resources has led to the preservation of near-extinct species, as well as medicines to fight sicknesses and diseases. We are helping people live longer today—and creating new “anti-wrinkle creams” so that women can fight the signs of aging. In short, we are making an impression upon our society.
But objects cannot do this. Objects are simply “pulled along.” And that is the major problem I have with Calvinism. It seems as if Calvinists make the Holy Spirit out to be some mystical “force” that jumps into my body and DRIVES me to do certain things. It kinda reminds me of the movie “Ghost” that I saw about two or three months ago, where the spirit of a deceased man (played by Patrick Swayze)jumped into the “spiritual advisor’s” body (played by Whoopie Goldberg), and made Whoopie Goldberg say EXACTLY what the deceased man wanted to tell his wife (played by Demi Moore). But the problem is, that this IS NOT how the Spirit works. He does not FORCE us to do things. We are not OBJECTS, but PEOPLE; and as creation made IN THE IMAGE AND AFTER THE LIKENESS of our Creator, the Spirit responds to us AS SUCH—humans who are capable of making decisions. If God wanted to make us as objects or automaton who simply do His bidding, He could have done that. However, He made us IN HIS IMAGE, AFTER HIS LIKENESS…and if He did that, don’t you think that our will, the component of our constitution that allows us to make decisions, is part of the LIKENESS of God that we bear in ourselves?
I will continue my discussion of Calvin’s Book II, Chapter 5, in my next post.