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…It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it [i.e., obedience] by the sinful desires of the flesh.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

Sanctification

Paul writes to the church in Rome:

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:19-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Westminster Confession Shorter Catechism Question and Answer number 35 states:

What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

What does John Calvin say about these verses in Romans here and here?

I speak what is human, etc. He says that he speaks after the manner of men, not as to the substance but as to the manner. So Christ says, in John 3:12, that he announced earthly things, while yet he spoke of heavenly mysteries, though not so magnificently as the dignity of the things required, because he accommodated himself to the capacities of a people ignorant and simple.

…As though [the Apostle] had said, “I might, by comparing sin and righteousness, show how much more ardently you ought to be led to render obedience to the latter [righteousness], than to serve the former [sin]; but from regard to your infirmity I omit this comparison: nevertheless, though I treat you with great indulgence, I may yet surely make this just demand — that you should not at least obey righteousness more coldly or negligently than you served sin…”

As you have presented, etc.; that is, “As you were formerly ready with all your faculties to serve sin, it is hence sufficiently evident how wretchedly enslaved and bound did your depravity hold you to itself: now then you ought to be equally prompt and ready to execute the commands of God; let not your activity in doing good be now less than it was formerly in doing evil.” He does not indeed observe the same order in the antithesis, by adapting different parts to each other, as he does in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, where he sets uncleanness in opposition to holiness; but the meaning is still evident…

For when you were, etc. He still repeats the difference, which he had before mentioned, between the yoke of righteousness and that of sin; for these two things, sin and righteousness, are so contrary, that he who devotes himself to the one, necessarily departs from the other. And he thus represents both, that by viewing them apart we may see more clearly what is to be expected from each; for to set things thus apart enables us to understand better their distinctive character. He then sets sin on one side, and righteousness on the other; and having stated this distinction, he afterwards shows what results from each of them…

What fruit, then, etc. He could not more strikingly express what he intended than by appealing to their conscience, and by confessing shame as it were in their person. Indeed the godly, as soon as they begin to be illuminated by the Spirit of Christ and the preaching of the gospel, do freely acknowledge their past life, which they have lived without Christ, to have been worthy of condemnation; and so far are they from endeavoring to excuse it, that, on the contrary, they feel ashamed of themselves. Yea, further, they call to mind the remembrance of their own disgrace, that being thus ashamed, they may more truly and more readily be humbled before God…

Ye have your fruit unto holiness, etc. As he had before mentioned a twofold end of sin, so he does now as to righteousness. Sin in this life brings the torments of an accusing conscience, and in the next eternal death. We now gather the fruit of righteousness, even holiness; we hope in future to gain eternal life. These things, unless we are beyond measure stupid, ought to generate in our minds a hatred and horror of sin, and also a love and desire for righteousness…

For the wages of sin, etc. …This verse is a conclusion to the former, and as it were an epilogue to it. He does not, however, in vain repeat the same thing again; but by doubling the terror, he intended to render sin an object of still greater hatred.

But the gift of God. They are mistaken who thus render the sentence, “Eternal life is the gift of God,” as though eternal life were the subject, and the gift of God the predicate; for this does not preserve the contrast. But as he has already taught us, that sin produces nothing but death; so now he subjoins, that this gift of God, even our justification and sanctification, brings to us the happiness of eternal life. Or, if you prefer, it may be thus stated, — “As the cause of death is sin, so righteousness, which we obtain through Christ, restores to us eternal life…”

I Could Laugh (feat. Chris Taylor) performed at BD’s House, 2014, by Michael Roe

Legalistic?

I’ve heard it said that those who profess Christ shouldn’t try to put off the old self and put on the new self, to pursue sanctification, or intentionally obey the word of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some would have you believe that Paul must have been mistaken. John Calvin comments on these verses:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration.

…There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?

Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. …For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

…For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God.

Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination.

As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 11:20)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. …For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence…

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. …Salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny…

We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

Addressing the whole issue, James wrote ironically:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

Know this then, that faith without works is dead.

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18, 6th century, Public Domain in US