The following is a summary of and reflection upon an abridged version of Calvin’s Institutes produced by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (see it here on Amazon). I should note that I did not read the final book, Book IV: Outward Means by which God Helps Us, in its entirety; and therefore, it was directly not taken into consideration in the writing of this review.
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Calvin’s understanding of how men know God, know themselves, and the relationship between these two types of knowledge is seemingly foundational to the entirety of his theology (1:1:1). For Calvin, knowledge of self is intrinsically linked to knowledge of God while knowledge of God results in proper assessment of self (1:1:1). Genuine knowledge of self necessarily assumes knowledge of God. One cannot fully grasp the existence of the creature apart from his fundamental relationship to his Creator and Sustainer (1:1:1). Comprehension of man’s falleness assumes an ideal, one that is rooted in God’s creative-design; transgression implies the reality of Judge (1:1:1). On the other hand, without knowledge of God, no one ever truly knows himself (1:1:2). Lacking insight into the purpose for which He was created, ignorance of his original nature and its divine intent flourish. Unaware of God’s standard of righteousness, man consequently assesses his moral condition inaccurately (2:1:1).
In light of J.D. Greear’s helpful description of Faith as a Posture (see this previous post), he says the following about leading young children to Christ.
As a father of four young children, I have often reflected on the best way to lead them to faith. I want their decision to follow Jesus to be significant, but I also don’t want them to go through what I went through [continual doubt about salvation]. I know that when you present kids with a “Don’t you want to be a good girl and accept Jesus and not go to a fiery hell?” of course they say, “Yes.” “Praying the prayer” in such a situation may have little do with actual faith in Christ and have more to do with making Daddy happy.
For that reason, many parents don’t want to push their child to make a decision for Christ. What if we coerce them into praying a prayer they don’t understand, and that keeps them from really dealing with the issues later when they really understand it? Might having them pray the prayer too early on inoculate them from really coming to Jesus later, giving them false assurance that keeps them from dealing with their need to be saved?
David Wells wrote a book on conversion called Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural.
He describes conversion with this statement:
Christianity without conversion is no loner Christian, because conversion means turning to God. It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend his righteousness to us. Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.
In contemporary Christianity it is very common to hear that someone “got saved” or to have someone tell you that they were “saved” at such and such a time. But beyond that, the concept of “salvation” remains dormant. I believe this stems from a misunderstanding of salvation, that is, salvation in its entirety.
Now, it is true that many believers can point back to a specific moment of turning from sin towards initial trust in Christ for salvation. In theology we call this moment conversion and it is also the moment we are regenerated (given spiritual birth and life) and justified (counted as righteous before God). In this sense, then, we can rightly say that we were saved upon our conversion. But the idea of “salvation” is Biblically and theologically much more comprehensive than just that one precise moment.