Book 3 Chapter 13 Section 1-5
I’m sure you have seen the posters on the walls of schools – the picture of a triumphant football squad with the winning trophy, and below is the line “There is no I in team“. As a spotty teenager who loved my football I got the message – there is no room for those who are only out for themselves in a team sport.
Here in Chapter 13 Calvin is teaching us something of God’s jealousy for His own glory. When it comes to who gets the glory for our salvation it is either us or God, there is no middle ground, there is no “we” in glory. For whoever “glories in himself glories against God.” God would have every mouth closed before Him as the world stands in silence in their guilt (Romans 3.19). We should beware of attributing any part of our salvation to our own wisdom, inclinations or desires, “for so long as a man has anything, however small, to say in his own defence, so long he deducts somewhat from the glory of God.”
Calvin’s aim in this chapter is to uphold two principles that should shape how we understand justification by faith. Firstly, that the glory of God be maintained unimpaired and, secondly, that our consciences be at peace. Regarding the former principle Calvin argues from many New Testament passages that God conferred salvation upon us in order that He might show forth the glory of His name (Eph 1.6, 2.8; 1 Peter 2.9). He alone will be praised and adored for redeeming us from the curse of our fallen natures, He alone will be seen to be the author and perfector of our faith.
Rather than detracting from our sense of peace, removing all credit from the creature actually strengthens our comfort. For how could we ever expect to have any peace from our conscience, let alone the heavenly court, if we trust, even a fraction, in our own goodness and righteousness? For “conscience, when it beholds God, must either have sure peace with his justice, or be beset by the terrors of hell.” By putting every last ounce of our salvation squarely in God’s hands we can find peace by relying in His promises and not our own efforts. For “never could anyone rest securely in it, for never could he feel fully assured that he had fully satisfied the law.”
Whatever beginnings of righteousness we may have now were given to us through the righteousness of Christ, whatever desire we had for God before our conversion was due to the secret drawing of God. We can take no credit for the work of the Spirit in our lives. But this is not to say that God does not reward our good works (as we shall see in chapter 18 of Book 3), or that we will not be one day bask in reflected glory.
For the wonder of God’s grace does not stop at our justification, but is made complete in our sanctification and glorification (Romans 8.30). We will never be the source of glory, but through God’s transforming work we will become mirrors of His glory – when “we” are enabled by our generous God to share in His glory.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3.18