Book 3 Chapter 16 Section 1-4
In this very short chapter on Justification by Faith Calvin addresses two objections that people raise against this teaching – firstly that this doctrine destroys our motivation for good works and secondly, by making salvation too easy, people will be emboldened to sin more. The question at the heart of these objections is this – will people live a more upright life if they believe that this is contributing to their salvation? And even if we recognise that this isn’t what the bible teaches, is it better to keep them obedient and respectable than tell them the truth and risk them abusing the grace of God?
Calvin starts by reminding his readers that contrary to his opponents view, justification by faith actually solidifies the place of works as being fundamental to the presence of a real and living faith. Calvin readily admits that “we are justified not without, and yet not by works.” For “we dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor a justification which can exist without them.” There is most certainly a place for the good works that have been prepared in advance for us to do, but that place is within service, not salvation.
Calvin next reminds us that God demonstrates His generousity just as much when He rewards good works as when He justifies freely. Calvin will deal with this in more detail in the next chapter. However, Calvin stresses that the rewards for our work should not be the motivation for our service, for God “desires to be freely worshipped, freely loved” and seeks those who “even if all hope of reward were cut off, would cease not to worship Him.”
Arguing that the implications of a certain doctrine are too risky has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of that doctrine. If God is prepared to risk His grace being abused by people taking Him for granted, then who are we to be wiser than God in how people should be motivated to obey? God wants our motivation for serving Him to be love, not fear of punishment. He is happy to reward us, but he wants us to serve Him from a secure and thankful heart. However, in the final analysis God is not taking a risk, for He knows and sees our every desire and will one day separate those who are His from those who are taking advantage of His mercy.
Paul preached this dangerous grace and was criticised for it by people who believed that it would lead others into sinning more. But Paul did not modify his teaching, instead he appealed to believers to remember the devastating effect of their sin and the height of their new position in Christ. We too must be prepared to take the risk of people taking grace for granted if we would be faithful to the God of grace.
“What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6.1+2