Prayer – Why do it?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin addresses why anyone should pray to God:

For there is a kind of [communication] between God and men, by which, having entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to his promises, that when necessity requires they may learn by experiences that what they believed merely on the authority of his word was not in vain.

Now, he takes as a given that we hold to this:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

And have done this:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (ESV)

Calvin goes on to say that it is both necessary and useful to pray to the Lord for every good thing that He promises us. God reveals His promises to us in His word. Therefore, we should know the bible well.

Calvin points out that our only safety is in calling upon our heavenly Father:

Since by it we invoke the presence of His:

Providence to watch over our interests,

Power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, and

Goodness to receive us into favor, though miserably loaded with sin.

Through prayer, we call upon Him to make evident to us all his excellent attributes.

As a result of calling upon Him, Calvin states:

Admirable peace and tranquility are given to our consciences; for the straits by which we were pressed being laid before the Lord, we rest fully satisfied with the assurance that none of our evils are unknown to him, and that he is both able and willing to make the best provision for us.

Next week, we’ll consider the question: “Why Should We Pray If He Is All-knowing?”

The Conversion of Paul - Caravaggio

Conversion on the Way to Damascus, circa 1600-1601, Caravaggio (1571–1610), public domain in the US

Sin No More

I’d always worried about the meaning of Christ’s phrase: “sin no more.” Only in the last few years have I come to a settled understanding closer to what the Lord meant by it:

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has many words to say about this verse. Here are a few of them:

After these things Jesus found him. …When he charges him, sin no more, he does not enjoin him to be free from all sin, but speaks comparatively as to his former life; for Christ exhorts him henceforth to repent, and not to do as he had done before.

Lest something worse befall thee. …When we are incessantly pressed down by new afflictions, we ought to trace this to our obstinacy…There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if God makes use of severer punishment to bruise us…when moderate punishment is of no avail; for it is proper that they who will not endure to be corrected should be bruised by strokes.

…Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be effected by remedies applied for a short time.

Calvin’s entire commentary on the verse implies, among other things, that the man was made well through God’s grace, and not only that, but raised from the dead to new life in Him.

Recently, while researching a blog post on Idols, concerning a passage in Matthew:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

I ran across this statement by Calvin:

…It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it [i.e., obedience] by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

This is a deep and encouraging statement about the sanctification process that God performs in His own to bring about their maturity in following His Son. And He brooks no counterfeit.

Sanctification leads to a maturity outlined by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23 (ESV)

To this passage, Calvin says:

But the fruit of the Spirit. In the former part of the description he condemned the whole nature of man as producing nothing but evil and worthless fruits. He now informs us that all virtues, all proper and well-regulated affections, proceed from the Spirit, that is, from the grace of God, and the renewed nature which we derive from Christ. As if he had said, “Nothing but what is evil comes from man; nothing good comes but from the Holy Spirit.”

So let’s lay aside the deeds of the flesh and press on to do good works and exhibit fruit of the Spirit.

Carpathian National Park from Hoverla

View of Carpathian National Park from Hoverla, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine, 22 September 2013, 12:22:41, by Balkhovitin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Titus’s Charge

Paul, in his letter to Titus, charges Titus to finish establishing the church in Crete:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— Titus 1:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

As I read the letter, I was struck by how often Paul urged Titus and the people in his congregations to love and good works. Especially, good works.

After speaking about those who are insubordinate, Paul admonishes:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, [and] unfit for any good work. Titus 1:15-16 (ESV)

After describing characteristics those in the congregation should display, he admonishes Titus to:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)

After a nutshell declaration of our sanctification:

[Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14 (ESV)

Prior to a description of our justification:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)

And again, as a bookend to the aforementioned description:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Titus 3:8 (ESV)

And finally:

Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:13-14 (ESV)

Condensing what Paul says about good works:

Good works are acts done for the benefit of others.

Of course, good works don’t save you. They demonstrate your faith in Him.

We were created for good works so let’s go do them.

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus, 12 June 2009, Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported