Calvin Fridays: Confused by a Great Brilliance

John Calvin 17

Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power- the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.“- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 2.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’- 1 Corinthians 1:28-31.

By human measure, we can all do good works. Surely in human estimation giving food to the hungry, building wells for the waterless, adopting orphans, and helping an old lady across the street are all good works. But if a person desires salvation, he must recognize that even his best works, when compared with the Brilliance and Perfection of God not only fall short but are extremely wicked. For they are all, even the best ones, mixed and polluted with selfishness, pride, and a measure of disdain. The Brilliance of God unravels our human notions of righteousness and goodness. Even my good works done as a Christian are still tainted by the stains of sin. God only accepts them and delights in them because my works, though dirtied and tattered, are packaged in the perfection of Christ. The only hope of Christians, then, is that they are clothed in an alien brilliance, the righteousness of Christ, and unified to that source of alien brilliance, Christ, Himself. The only penetrating, brilliant light accepted by God is a brilliance not wrought of our own strength, for our own strength can fashion only darkness, but a brilliance worked by the One who alone can work true righteousness. Let us abound, though, in good works! Let us care for the poor, let us carry groceries for one another, let us strive to rid the world of hunger! But let us deeply grasp that the only way God will accept and truly delight in any of it is if we are clothed in His brilliance, and that we are IN the One who is the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ (Malachi 4:2). Let this be the boast of Christians, Jesus Christ; nothing else and surely nothing more.

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